TNT Racers – Xbox Live Arcade Review

When you ask most people what TNT Racers is like, you’ll most likely get the following response: “It’s a bit like Mashed, but not as good.” Whilst this may be pretty accurate, it’s not entirely fair, given not only the price, but the few touches of flair that TNT Racers offers. Admittedly the emphasis there should be on the ‘few’, but it has enough to raise it above most other Mashed/Micro Machines rip offs.

First off, it’s 800 points, so stop complaining. If you have Micro Machines or Mashed somewhere in your collection, you probably don’t need this, and can go spend the money on ice cream for your beloved, or whatever. (That said, if you regularly play Micro Machines or Mashed, you probably don’t have a girlfriend, so maybe just an ice cream and a jazz mag, then). This is not an expensive game, and in the absence of a really top-class top-down racer this does perfectly well.

Then, of course, there’s the jazz. Rather than the standard mild-to-heavy rock, or cutesy plink-plonk electro-ambient noise, Keen Games has decided to eschew the standard aural fare for some sweet jive licks and laid-back jazz. Nice. I prefer this to the usual kind of soundscape offered by racers of any genre, and without the intensity, you get a much more chilled out game than you might otherwise. While I respectfully understand that some of you out there might not like jazz, those people can go nail their heads to their asses and take a good sniff. Respectfully of course.

Keen Games, a Frankfurt-based outfit, has an unfeasibly long history of making a seriously odd mix of titles. On the hit list here are ANNO 1701 and Legend of Kay, and on the miss list, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX (GameBoy Colour) and DDR: Disney Channel Edition. Below and slightly to the left of the miss list however, are the tertiary level of games produced by the studio, heaped in a bucket labelled psychotropic-induced mistakes. This strata of crud includes such heinous errors as Jamie Oliver’s What’s Cooking and a whole heap of nonsense titles licensed from second-rate European children’s cartoons. My point here is that in the context of their previous efforts, TNT Racers is a real leap in quality. Not worthy of note in terms of a review score, but a developer to keep an eye on given their upcoming titles: Sacred 3 and Star Trek: Infinite Space.

So, TNT Racers probably represents the best quality game the studio has put out, and while I applaud their efforts, I can’t really say this is a game worth shouting about. To use a phrase from earlier in this piece, “this does perfectly well.” If you really want a slightly staid top-down racer, and can’t be bothered to go to the shops, then this is for you. That might seem a little disparaging, but it’s a situation we’ve all found ourselves in at one point or another.

The real problem is that it offers nothing new, or indeed exciting. The most enjoyable races are the slower ones that fit with the overall chilled vibe of the game. Anything faster than the slowest setting is slightly incongruous. Granted, you’re unlikely to be playing this solely for its pleasant continuity and jazz riffs, but the increased speeds do take something away.

Then there are the courses themselves. These are as simple as simple gets, and easy enough to learn, should you ever feel the need to. Again, there’s nothing exciting about them bar a few jumps and ice patches. It’s this kind of attitude that seems to have kept TNT Racers from being a really top-class game. The apparent consensus to get every aspect of the game to a point at which it’s just good enough leaves you feeling a little disgruntled.

The weapons involved are similarly standard; big flashy mallet, oil slick, nuke, etc… Of course, taking this too far could have the opposite effect, and make the whole thing an unplayable mess (à la Cash Guns Chaos), but I’d rather see a little ingenuity attempted at least. The weapons present are, much like everything else in the game, perfectly serviceable, and do have an appreciable effect. Cars blow up pretty swiftly, and it’s easy to lock on and demolish opponents. Stay out in front for more than around three seconds without a defensive weapon of some sort and you’ll probably find yourself the brunt of some pretty nasty teamwork, and more than likely obliterated.

If you fall off the bottom of the screen, a mechanic ripped straight from Micro Machines, you’re out, and in most game modes come back as a ghost car. In that form, you can make everyone else’s life incredibly difficult without having to worry about wining the race. The damage done by these ghost cars is pretty arbitrary, but if you’re really looking to take someone out, it’s not too hard. The only real problem with this mechanic is that the cars are just too big. You rarely get the opportunity to actually race, it’s more like a free-for-all at the local car wash, with everyone trying to get in before the free wax runs out. Rarely does anyone win in that situation.

There are a few other niggles. For example, you‘re rarely given much advance notice of what kind of race you’re playing. There are a number of modes and each one requires specific win criteria. The trouble is that while you’re told, you don’t have it shouted, drill-sergent-style, into your earhole. Remember most people playing this will be drunk, in some other way inebriated or so apathetic as to be as near as damn drunk, so you do have to make it perfectly clear exactly what is required. More often than not you find yourself racing away for three or four laps before you realise that you’re supposed to be collecting coins. Not a huge problem, but one that could have been solved rather easily.

So, TNT Racers does perfectly well, in the absence of anything modern that really stands out in the genre. At this juncture, it’s worth noting that Harm’s Way, a free download on XBLA, may well serve your needs better, being a little different and a good degree more interesting. You won’t enjoy TNT Racers anything like as much as you enjoyed Micro Machines or Mashed, but at 800 points, it might see you through an evening with a few mates.

Score: 6/10 – Just Above Average

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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