I’m a big fan of overhead racing games, and because I remember the days when the NES reigned supreme I can appreciate things like “old school” graphics, as long as they are done well. Like so many genres on the App Store, however, there are enough games of this type that you have to really do something different to stand out. Retro Racing’s biggest problem is that it really doesn’t, and beyond that it has a couple of issues that actually detract from the fun factor. I think the game is a nice start, but it might be a little too retro even for my retro tastes.
The game is really simple. You select a race, you pick a car and then you race. There are no modes like championship or quick race, and while each car has three stats that do effect how the control during the race, there is no customization available. The three stats are Top Speed, Accelerate and Tires, and while you can run over power ups to enhance these stats during the race, they seem to go back to where they started when you enter the next race. The stars you earn for a race are based on your placement in the race (1 for third, 2 for second and 3 for first), and you must place at least third to advance to the next race.
The only power up besides the ones that enhance one of your attributes is a temporary nitro boost. You can bump other cars without damaging yourself, but it doesn’t really seem to affect them in any way either. As used to be the standard for racing games, it only takes about a second of messing up to basically ensure that you can’t place in the race. And naturally the other drivers all seem to drive almost perfectly. The one thing I really like about this game is that you can actually take shortcuts in the course and not be penalized for it. In fact, it seems like more often than not you need to take those shortcuts in order to win, which I’m not sure how I feel about.
Your only available controls are on screen buttons – there is no tilt option. All the other things I mentioned are tolerable, but when you combine them with uncomfortable controls the game suddenly becomes a lot less fun than it should be. You can decide whether you want the gas pedal on the left or right, and there are three different levels of spacing for the left and right controls, but due to the fact that the game plays in portrait instead of landscape mode the left and right are too close to the gas pedal. It just feels too cramped.
On the plus side, the game looks good. The backgrounds have nice little details littered about but still feel clean and simple. Combined with a bright color palette, it has an old school console game feel to it. The cars look decent, and skid marks through oil puddles at least leave some indication that things on the track affect you (or vice versa). The sound effects are decent for the most part. The voiceover makes me feel like I’m playing the racing equivalent of the old Gauntlet arcade game. The only thing I don’t care for is the constant sound of the motor, which really needs to be downplayed a little bit. The music works and has a nice retro sound to it. Not the kind of thing I’d normally listen to, but it makes good background noise for a high speed race.
Retro Racing has a lot of potential. The look and feel of classic gaming is definitely there. The tracks are pretty decently designed, and the fact that you can take shortcuts without getting penalized is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the extreme difficulty and uncomfortable controls tend to suck the fun out of the experience. Add to that the lack of permanent customization abilities, and Retro Racing really doesn’t offer anything that several other top down racers don’t do better. It’s not a bad game, there just needs to be some more incentives to keep me wanting to come back.
Overall Score: 6/10
App Store Link
This game was reviewed on an iPod Touch 4G running iOS 5.0.1.