SlotZ Racer

All you need to worry about in this slotcar sim is managing the throttle.


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SlotZ Racer Review

When we saw a Beta version of SlotZ Racer at Macworld 2009 two weeks ago, we thought the game looked like fun, but it had some noticeable rough edges and we weren’t sure how it would hold up over longer play sessions. Happily, it seems as though publisher Freeverse and developer Strange Flavour have put that time to good use. SlotZ Racer is 100% pure fun–even if you don’t know a slotcar from a Micro Machine–and you won’t find a better casual racing game on the App Store.

If you ask a gamer to list the basic gameplay components of a racing game, here’s what he or she is likely to come up with: acceleration, braking, the other cars, and steering. Many, many iPhone racing games fail to get that last elusive ingredient right, because no combination of touch and tilt controls we’ve seen really matches up to a physical controller.

SlotZ Racer doesn’t even try. Instead, all that effort went into making the game’s one control, the throttle, work almost flawlessly. When you touch and hold the throttle control, your car accelerates as the arc-shaped speedometer climbs towards maximum. Release it, and you’ll immediately slow. It’s so simple and precise that anyone can pick it up in a few seconds… but actually keeping the car on the track is another matter entirely!

The racetracks are filled with loops, twists, banks and turns of all varieties. Attempting to take these at full speed is futile, as your car will fly right off the course, costing you precious seconds. On the other hand, overly cautious play won’t get you anywhere, either’”especially against the computer-controlled cars, which never make big mistakes. So, the entire game boils down to pushing the throttle to the exact threshold of crashing, and holding it there for as long as possible.

It’s the risk-reward dynamic at its most primal, and we were surprised to find that it produces the same adrenaline rush as other great racing games, even without steering. For instance, you will find yourself trying to time the starting lights at the beginning of the race, in order to boost ahead of the crowd without losing traction. You will attempt to wring a few extra microseconds of throttle time out of each turn when racing neck-and-neck against an opponent. And you will swear a blue streak when you push it just a little too far and crash (we did, anyway).

SlotZ Racer’s presentation is what really pushes the game to another level of excitement. In one-player games, it’s all down to the free-roaming camera, which whips around turns so smoothly that it looks as if you’re watching a real slotcar race. You can also opt for an equally smooth behind-the-car camera. During multiplayer games, up to four players get a throttle in each corner of the screen, the camera transitions to a fixed overhead view of the entire track, and the cars are marked by easily identifiable streaks of color. It works famously. The funky menu music is fine, but during races, all you will want to listen to is the engine noise–it’s an important gameplay cue for velocity.

SlotZ Racer packs 23 tracks, several different types of cars (which in turn have a handful of paint jobs each), and a bunch of tournaments that unlock all the extra content. It also has a full track editor, which allows you to build and store up to 16 of your own tracks. We found the editor to be quite intuitive, although we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t download other player-made tracks. In addition, the game is fully adjustable to your liking; you can control practically every aspect of the simulation, from engine noise, to scale model size, to throttle type, to whether or not cars need to stop and refuel (seriously).

Simply put, SlotZ Racer is the real deal. It doesn’t have powerups, cop chases, weapons, money, girls, drafting, nitro, or steering’”and it doesn’t need any of it. All we can say is that we’ve had more fun with this than any other racing game on the iPhone. Buy it.

Four New Freeverse Games, Coming Up!

We just got the scoop on four upcoming Freeverse games on the Macworld show floor, courtesy of Marketing Director Brian Akaka and President Ian Smith!

First up is Slotz Racer, which is in late Beta and should be available later in January for $1.99. This is a casual racing game that simulates the experience of racing toy slotcars, down to constructing your own tracks.

You send these things zinging around the track with a single touch control to manage your acceleration; if you’re going too fast around a tight corner, you’ll go spinning off the track. However, there are a bunch of different cars available with various accelerations, top speeds, and cornering abilities, so you can find a car appropriate to your racing style.

The game also supports 4-player multiplayer on a single iDevice, giving each players a corner for their touch control, and zooming the camera out as appropriate to cover the action (Smith suggested that the game will add WiFi multiplayer via update at a later date). And, as mentioned, you can build your own tracks using a bunch of different pieces.

This zippy little game is a lot more fun than you’d think for a game with only one control!

Freeverse is developing Days of Thunder on behalf of Paramount, so there were fewer commercial details available; we still got to take a testdrive, though.

Freeverse built an all new engine for this racing game, which reminded us a little bit of Burnout. As you zoom around the track and collide with your opponents, both cars take damage; if you run into them enough, they’ll blow up and slough off the track entirely. You can roll into a pitstop for quick repairs, when necessary. Drafting behind other cars also plays a large part in the game, however, so you don’t want to eliminate all of your competition.

Cartoon cutscenes tell the timeless story between races. There are about 10 levels, and no multiplayer. No word yet on pricing or release date.

Flick Sports Baseball will be the newest entry in the Flick Sports series when it comes out sometime in February. Like the other FS games, this will focus mainly on the mechanics of the sport in question–batting and pitching, in this case. The game’s producer mentioned that those controls are still under development, but will probably involve a finger-swipe mechanic to control batting.

FS Baseball doesn’t have the MLB license, but you will be able to customize your league’s teams, as well as individual players. Smith demoed this for us very quickly, applying pinstripes and various jersey colors to his player with a touchable palette.

The game will also feature multiple stadius, as well as night and day play. Freeverse isn’t sure whether a full season mode will make it into the game yet.

Finally, Roads of Ruin is the furthest out in terms of being ready for the App Store (“at least a couple of months away”), so few details were available. Still, we found it the most exciting of Freeverse’s upcoming games. Freeverse described it as a “post-apocalyptic RPG/trading game” that’s one part Mad Max, one part Fallout, and one part Escape Velocity.

It’s set in 2023, after a nuclear war and the disintegration of the US into seven or eight warring sub-states. You play as a motorcycle courier that delivers important messages and goods from one enclave of civilization to another. As in Escape Velocity, the idea is to get rich via arbitrage: buy low in one town, and sell high in another. As you move from place you place, you’ll have to fight off assaults from highwaymen that pull even with your bike.

Interestingly, the game’s story was written by Brad Cook, who writes most of the content for Apple’s game page.

We’ve got video of some of these games, as well as a full interview with Ian Smith that we’ll be putting up as soon as we can.