If you’ve ever played the F-Zero or Wipeout series of games for consoles, or are old enough to have played S.T.U.N. Runner for Atari, then you’re pretty familiar with the concept of racing super cool-looking ships around futuristic, neon-lit tracks, all while gripping your controller so hard you’re afraid you might break it. Ion Racer from SGN is a new game for iOS that aims to include itself in that pantheon of white-knuckle thrill rides, and it comes so very, very close.
The concept here is simple: You fly a ship that looks like it came straight out of Blade Runner around a series of basically never ending, Vegas lit tracks. You whip around the tracks, smashing blue barriers for points and trying to avoid the red barriers which can blow up your ship. You gather energy orbs for your ship that allow you to do a Focus move that slows down time ala Max Payne, or you can do a strike move that causes you to gather speed so your ship can safely smash through the red barriers.
In the future, all lights will be neon.
Each mission has a different series of objectives you have to complete, like gathering a certain number of orbs, attaining certain speeds, or smashing a certain number of barriers. Even after you accomplish these objectives, though, you can still race, going faster and faster and getting more and more points as the track goes on.
After a mission you’re awarded ‘kions,’ the game’s version of money, and you can use these to upgrade your ship with better orb collectors, or a faster engine or stronger shields. You can also purchase ‘perks’ which are items you activate before a race starts and allow you to have things like regenerative shields or a slightly better engine. Perks can only be used once per mission, and once you use them they’re gone. You eventually will have to upgrade, or even buy some perks, in order to progress as the game gets harder and harder, and some objectives are virtually impossible to complete without an improved ship.
You can also buy different ships or buy different paint jobs for your current ship. The currency system is a big stumbling block, as you attain kions at a fairly slow rate and upgrades, perks, and new ships are all pretty expensive. Unless you want to spend actual real world money, expect to do a lot of grinding to get the badass ship you really want.
You control your ship with either tilt based controls or with buttons on the sides to steer. We preferred the side button option, as it seemed to offer tighter controls for the ship. There are also buttons on the bottom for activating Focus and Strike modes. The music is an awesome techno-inspired soundtrack that’s a nice complement to the adrenaline-inducing gameplay. The graphics are also pretty good, with appropriately bright, almost dizzying tracks and the ships, as mentioned above, wouldn’t look out of place in Blade Runner or The 5th Element. The chief concern here is that the different tracks all basically look the same, with different colors or textures being the only real aesthetic alterations.
Ion Racer is no frills game. It does what it does and it does it well. We only wish it did a little bit more. A few different game modes, less reliance on grinding, and some greater variety in the presentation would be much appreciated, and could greatly extend the life of the game. However, as it stands, the fun and intense gameplay that is currently there, and the crisp graphics, tight control and cool music make this a pretty entertaining racer for the platform and the price.