Developed by Strangely Named Studios, Bears Can’t Drift!? is a cute little game that recycles a lot of the same racing tropes while mixing in a few of their own. Rather than trying to reinvent the genre and break down barriers in the cartoony kart racing genre, Bears Can’t Drift!? is more inclined towards providing a good time. But despite some interesting, unique elements to its presentation and lack of online multiplayer, Bears Can’t Drift!? struggles to truly stand out from the crowd.
Upon loading up the game, you are dropped immediately into an open world setting with three roads stretching out before you. These three roads are the difficulty levels that you have to choose from. The central road takes you down the beginners route (which is great for getting to grips with the controls), turning to the left takes you down to the normal setting, and right is where the players looking for a real challenge dare to venture. The decision to do away with the standard game menu is an interesting and charming creative choice that promises a dash of uniqueness to the game. Equally when you have picked one of three maps on offer, you are dropped off into a hub world where gateway portals take you to your chosen track. At first, this can be a difficult concept to get a grasp on. With a lack of guidance and instructions for both the controls and the hub world, players are left to discover how the game works on their own. But once you’ve got your head around it it’s far easier to appreciate.
Each track can be played across the three modes available, cycled through with the press of a button. But its three “unique” game modes, as advertised, are not exactly unique. There are traditional races and time trials, but it is with its third and final game mode what Bears Can’t Drift!? brings something to the table; Picnic Mode. Stripped down, this is a traditional battle mode, but it is by far the most fun and chaotic of the three game modes. It has you racing around the track of your choice, collecting as many pieces of food as possible scattered around the map with the intention of being the first to fill up your bar. But while you are collecting food (and amusingly your chosen bear gets bigger as you do), other racers are trying to steal it back. Getting hit by explosions or beehives causes you to lose a portion of your platter which drives more towards a tactical and chaotic thrill ride.
The drawback here is that most of the maps feel like they were specifically designed for this mode, which becomes particularly frustrating when you try one of the other two. Time Trial is a lot more straight forward, as the track is distinctly highlighted and lacks the distraction of other racers. But in a traditional lap race, it’s not as clearly cut. The tracks don’t always compliment a straight run and you can often find yourself getting lost or falling off as they tend to be open ended. Mind you, this does encourage the titular element of the game; drifting, that too comes with its own frustrations.
Considering the adorable title, you’d think that drifting would play a key feature. It doesn’t. Not only is it insanely easy to use (only once you have discovered the right button), it’s not particularly effective. Most of the tracks can be navigated by simply driving around them and drifting doesn’t shift the race in your favour as neither speed nor manoeuvrability is increased as a result.
What Bears Can’t Drift!? does have on its side, is it looks. The game is beautifully stunning and really benefits on the Unreal Engine. Though the general art design is relatively simple, the models and environments are beautifully textured, smooth and bathed in colour. Explosions look beautiful, the carts and inter-changeable bears are adorable and the maps are generally a treat to look at. It’s an aesthetic that works perfectly for the game and is something that I would like to see more of.
But for the most part, it feels like they are playing the same song to a different tune. There are maps that do standard out among the rest and well a bit more fleshed out and interesting, but for the most part they fall into the same pattern. The three arenas to choose from remain the same across the three difficulties, rotating between a Tropical and Artic setting, as well as what can only be described as the Great Wall of China.
There are also only four weapon types, but none of these are renovating. There’s the standard projectile missiles (in the shape of fish), an Owl that gives you a speed boost, a Chameleon that puts up a temporary shield, and a Beehive that drops traps for enemies behind you. Sound familiar? That’s because these weapon types feel like they have been pulled straight out of Mario Kart, or any other racing title that has come before. They’ve just been given a new lick of paint. You could argue that these are the basic essentials, and the game would be lacking without them. But without adding anything new or fresh to the equation, it’s sorely lacking in variety. You can combine them to create more powerful weapons, but there is still room for more compelling types.
Neither do the weapons really feel that threatening. Getting hit by a projectile doesn’t really affect you during a race. Your speed decreases but only very slightly, not enough to really tip the balance in any favour and as a result, doesn’t feel like much of an incentive. The game does a poor job of punishing players, only through occasional frustration, and though this is designed to be an easy, humorous, fun to play game, there are next to no stakes which feel needed for something of this genre.
Local warfare is where you find the best part of the game. There is no online support which is going to count against those who do not own more than one controller, but playing amongst friends is by far where the most fun can be had. The NPCs as you climb the difficulty ladder do come up as a challenge, but the competitive spirit and reckless chaos that comes from playing against humans is far more compelling.
Bears Can’t Drift!? will not offer a great single player experience. It is clearly designed for multiplayer, which is no bad thing. But the lack of an online option and a reliance on local multiplayer will affect the longevity of an otherwise enjoyable title. It isn’t brimming with originality and has its fair share of problems, but it is beautifully designed, full of character with a simple gameplay style that makes it easy to just pick up and play. The local multiplayer is where its strength lies, and for the current asking price, the ability to use this function is essential for players wanting to get its full worth.
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