A few years ago, just as iOS gaming was becoming popular, the chances of finding a racing game viewed from the top looking down on the track was limited. You could happily play a viewed-from-behind racing game, many of which are still running today, and boast numerous sequels with silly titles; but the top-down driving game had fallen out of favour.
Near the birth of arcade gaming, top-down racing was the “in” thing, and games like Super Sprint and Spy Hunter ruled the roost, or on various computers and consoles, Codemasters’ highly successful Micro Machines franchise is often remembered fondly.
Amazingly, things have changed and today, the iTunes App Store holds a surprising amount of top-down racing games, so a new entry into the genre needs to really standout if it’s to make an impact. So let’s see how VS. Racing 2 performs.
Strictly speaking, VS. Racing 2 isn’t a new entry, as it’s a sequel to an existing racing game, but as that game was one of the better top-down racers, it has to live up to fan’s expectations too.
This being a racing game, the idea is simply to beat your opponents to the finishing line, thus achieving between one and three stars, depending on your finishing place and the time in which you completed the race.
The tracks range from a basic oval to those with long straights, sweeping bends and tight hairpins. There are 36 in total, although some are duplicated and are simply “reversed”. New tracks are unlocked by earning at least one star in the preceding race, and more tracks are promised by the developers in the future.
You start with a basic sports car, but can purchase more expensive machinery later on, plus you can boost the top speed, acceleration and off-road abilities of each car too. For each race you drive, at the end you’re awarded coins based on your overall performance, plus your behaviour through the race.
These coins soon add up, and you’ll be free to modify your car to help win some more races. Except it’s never that easy, as once you’ve modified your own race car, so your opponents do the same.
Before we go much further, it’s worth saying that VS. Racing 2 is absolutely brilliant. The racing is manic, fast-paced and more fun that any lap driven in Real Racing or the Asphalt series; it’s pure arcade racing joy. It’s most reminiscent of Supercars and its sequel on the Amiga, with its realistic-looking cars and tyre-screeching sound effects.
Where it differs is with your opponents. For once, driving against the AI isn’t either too easy or too hard either, as the difficulty has been set correctly; and although they stick closely to a preset driving pattern, they’re not afraid to bash wheels, cut corners or simply knock you out of the way to win a race.
Of course, you’re free to treat other drivers in the same way, with the added bonus that grinding metal-against-metal gives you a few bonus coins at the end of the race. As with many of the best games, it’s the little things that make the difference. Here it’s the ability to drift around the track.
A turn too far on the steering wheel and the back wheels break free, and a pair of black lines are left on the road as you burn towards the next corner, when a swing the opposite direction can keep the drift going until the next one. It’s not fast, but it sure is enjoyable, and I’ve lost count of the races I’ve lost just trying to beat my “longest drift” achievement.
To perform such manoeuvres takes a good control system, and VS. Racing 2’s is exactly that. The car auto-accelerates, and a virtual steering wheel appears on either the left of the right of the screen. This is swiped around depending on your direction, and if you lift your finger from the screen, you apply the brakes.
It works best on the iPhone, as on the iPad my finger kept slipping onto the tablet’s bezel, sending the on-screen car into a frenzy.
Graphically, the game looks great, and has been specially tuned for Retina devices. The audio isn’t quite as successful, as the in-game soundtrack consists of a constantly revving engine interspersed with a gear change every few seconds. Every car in VS. Racing 2 must have a eleventy-million-speed ‘box, as the up changes never, ever end. If it matched the onscreen driving, it would be perfect.
The other slight criticism is the long loading times between tracks, and the lack of a button to move onto the next race once the option is available. Incoming notifications also seemed to upset the game, particularly if they arrived during while a new race was loading.
On the other hand, VS. Racing 2 earns points for including a local and Wi-Fi multi-player mode, implementing In-app purchases the right way – they’re only for cosmetic changes to the car, and don’t affect the game – and for being a universal app for the iPhone and the iPad. It also costs a mere £0.69.
If you’re an arcade racing game fan, then you need to buy VS. Racing right now, as it neatly slips into the top-down iOS racer Hall of Fame, alongside Reckless Racing, Retro Racing and Death Rally.