As more and more developers come out with great-looking 3D games on the App Store, it’s become increasingly clear that there is some decent gaming horsepower under the iDevices’ hoods. Powerboat Challenge 3D takes full advantage of that power, showing off the developer’s technical proficiency as well as an understanding of what makes a racing game fun to pick up again and again. The game has a few flaws and annoyances that keep it from powering ahead of the field, but they are not nearly enough to sink this quality ride.
Powerboat Challenge 3D’s story plays out like a standard racing game, as you unlock dozens of races spanning four different environments. There are also a handful of racing modes, such as tournaments, checkpoint runs, eliminator matches, and time trials. During a race, you have to steer your boat around buoys spread throughout a winding track. The closer you can get to a buoy when you pass it, the more your boost meter fills up, eventually granting you a temporary burst of speed. On the other hand, missing three buoys during a race instantly disqualifies you, so you have to watch your risk. The game has both tilt and touch controls, but we ultimately found the touch controls to be far more effective.
You get to play as one of four characters. Each character has a visually distinctive boat, as well as a personality that settles comfortably into a recognizable stereotype. Each character’s water craft starts with a different balance of the four attributes in the game: Agility, Turbo, Acceleration, and Top Speed. This only serves as a starting point, since every race earns you money for upgrades; nevertheless, the upgrades never completely erase the initial bias of the boat. These upgrades are essential to stay competitive and unlock new races. Meanwhile, the AI opponents don’t do anything particularly interesting on the track, but steering around them does present a bit of a challenge. They’re also good for some entertaining banter between races.
Powerboat’s graphics really shine in terms of composition and art quality. The game’s four environments both play and look quite distinct from each other, and there are some great lighting effects, too. The pretty environments do come at a price, however, as the game frame rate is disappointingly sluggish, and doesn’t really do the sport of power boating justice. This feeling is not quite as obvious when you have upgraded your boat a bit, but we wish it ran smoother right out of the gate. You will also witness occasional physics glitches that can result in your boat flying head over heels when barely touched. Fortunately this occurs very infrequently, since it will almost always ruin your chances of winning. The music, while pretty catchy, is limited to two tracks that you will end up hearing a lot.
We like Powerboat Challenge 3D, but it’s not quite ready to set the bar for racing on the iPhone. It’s too bad that the developer couldn’t iron out the framerate, or find the space to squeeze in a few more musical tracks. Still, it’s a steal at $1.99, since it has more content than most of its budget brethren, and looks better, too.