Another cool racer, Phaze, recently made available in the App Store (developer Pazzazz), and now reviewed--has all the finely-honed graphics, speed and excitement of a pod-racer and then some. It also has a good mix of tracks, difficulty settings, and vehicle choices. It could do better, however, in the strategy aspects of it’s championship mode, and a few other tweaks would make this a superb racing game. Read on for all the gory details.
Install and Setup:
Install Phaze as you would any other title by hunting it down in the App store app on your device or via iTunes on your PC (link provided above). The game will hog up a tiny 10MB of space, which is rather lightweight comparatively to similar games. It is compatible with both iPod touch and iPhone (2.0 or later), and I tested it with version 3.0. There is a lite free version which provides limited gameplay. The full version allows you to unlock more tracks/ships and to choose between difficulty levels. It is recommended to reset your device after installing a new program (hold down home and sleep/wake buttons for 10 seconds or so).
After install, you can quickly start racing by launching Phaze. I suggest you try a few easy level races (there are 4 difficulty settings) using each of the 3 starting level vehicles to get a feel for the handling, and to find a vehicle that suits your racing technique best. There is a helpful “How-To” that explains the controls, which are also pretty standard for accelerometer-based game handling (tilt forward-accelerate, tile back-brake, tilt sideways-steer).
If you find that the steering is too touchy or not touchy enough, you can adjust the sensitivity in the options menu (as well as tweak the game sounds/music). I went with the default settings, and managed to get through 6 levels using the first available vehicle, which is probably the most optimally configured in terms of speed, agility and endurance for the beginner.
During game play, if you tilt the screen too far forward, the game warns you by shading the screen red, and eventually will display a message of “Too Flat”. This feature is helpful, as it is easy to get caught up in the game and to start making more and more drastic motions with your unit. The game appears to only support a right-handed landscape orientation (it won’t flip if you reverse this).
Racing and Gameplay:
There are 2 racing modes available: Single Race--good for practice and replaying levels; Championship--by which you can progress to new tracks and unlock more capable racing vehicles. The tracks are a variation in futuristic themes, with winding, climbing and twisting turns throughout.
The variations of the planetary backgrounds are both engaging and mind-bending. For instance, in certain sections, the track will twist to a side-angle in respect to the background scenery (like the planet surface pictured in the pix above). The human eye is not accustomed to the horizon suddenly going vertical, and this creates a confusion of your reflexes in turn--a very cool aspect of the game, if I say so. You have to train yourself not to respond to these twisting changes to keep from ramming a wall or barrier.
This game is very similar in many respects to another title I reviewed not long ago, called Low Grav Racer. These games do not feature a pure racing challenge, but add the much more fun element of offensive and defensive measures. Your computer opponents also benefit from these gameplay enhancements (to your detriment). This includes the ability to use missiles, rockets, bombs and shields by running through power- ups that appear at various intervals throughout a track. A fundamental difference with Phaze, is that your ship has a power life percentage across the top. Striking any other solid object (other ships, walls, etc) shaves that down, and with some ship types, considerably so.
Getting blasted while unprotected usually means instant death, and enough damage will also bring about your demise. There are certain energy power-ups that add life back to your queue, but even if you run out (and die), this is not the end of the race for you. A new ship (after a pause) appears from the top. Of course, you are essentially starting from a stop, and your opponents have likely left you far behind. To win in championship mode and advance to new tracks requires placing at least 3rd. I think the resurrection feature could be improved by limiting the number of new lives you get during a race. It seems you can die as many times as you like--the overall effect though, is that you will likely find yourself in last place if this happens enough.
The power-ups appear as colored rotating columns of hash marks, and I have not yet puzzled out which color goes with which type. Energy power-ups give back greatly needed health as just bumping another racer can dramatically lower your power percentage. Shields protect your ship from damage for a short time. When a danger is approaching from ahead (a previously laid bomb) or behind (a rocket). The screen will indicate a warning of “INCOMING!!” In reality, many parts of this game happen so fast that it really does not help that much. You also have no way of knowing if the danger is in front or behind. You can deploy power-ups by selecting the button icon to the right of your ship (which will also indicate the type), but you can only retain the latest. If you had a rocket, and didn’t get a chance to use it, it will be lost if you then grab a shield power up.
The game features a “boost” power-up that will speed up your racer significantly for a short stretch. The tracks are also littered with what look like square portals called “boost pads” (think warp speed). Running through them will increase your speed dramatically, and the effect seems cumulative as you hit other portals in series up to a point you are careening down the track and cannot reasonably control your ship through turns! Likely you will soon scrape along a wall, lose power in huge amounts and die. So, I recommend that you first get the lay of each track and try to use the warp portals during relatively wide open and straight stretches. Another quick tip is to try to tail the leaders, staying in the middle of the pack safely conserving life energy until the final lap. On the last lap (or last half of the track), then attempt to hit every portal available in a final, fantastic burst of speed that will blast you past the other cars (and possibly into every wall as well). It works sometimes.
Overall Impressions and Recommendations:
I like Phaze, and recommend it. It’s a truly solid racing game, which you would expect from a vendor with one good racer under their belt already (GPS World Racing--my review here), but Phaze lacks some features that will be missed by hard-core racing fans. The speed of the game, the tracks and the backgrounds are impressive. It runs super smoothly on my iPod touch, but Pazzazz uses the same settings and gameplay modes as for their other action titles, and I think they should seriously consider changing/improving this one. For one, you can’t play turn-based, (Bluetooth head-to-head would also be cool) or have simultaneous profiles/championships going, as the game only allows one saved profile to be retained. Phaze could graduate to a much higher level with a few choice tweaks. I made a wish list and e-mailed to the vendor for version 2.0 (or maybe 1.1). I only noted one behavior I would consider a bug, and that was on the Continue screen (when saving and returning to the championship mode). Selecting your ship icon caused the game to exit for no reason that I can discern. Minor gripes aside, it’s not too shabby for a version 1.0 title at less that $5. This game offers some seriously good racing challenges, with a high-velocity rush. Go grab it at the link below, or on your device…