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.