Despite Scalextric barely grabbing headlines when it releases a set based on a lucrative licensing deal, slot car racing is alive and well, with a healthy community still dedicated to the hobby. It’s also an equally prominent part of the racing game genre inside the iTunes App Store, with the latest lining up on the grid being Groove Racer. It comes from Out Fit 7, the developer responsible for, amongst other things, Talking Tom Cat. Could we really get a decent racing game from someone responsible for such a frivolous title?
Groove Racer starts out well, as it’s viewed side-on but in 3D, almost like an isometric platform game. Instead of flicking screen to screen as one may expect from a game with this style, it smoothly follows the car around the track, and it looks excellent. The environment is reminiscent of early Sim City games, as the terrain is made up of small blocks, complete with transparent clouds (which reflect nicely in the water), and a twisting ribbon of tarmac around which you race. The cars are also fun and well drawn, with little buggies, sports cars, police cars and assorted racers all waiting for you.
This being a slot car game, your car is fixed to the track and follows a set path all the way around. Each car is driven by the rear wheels, while the front has the part which fits in the slot. There’s no steering, and the only control is an accelerator which is activated by holding a finger on the screen, with braking achieved by taking your finger off it. It’s just about as simple as you can get, regarding both controls and play.
The object is to get round the track in the shortest amount of time possible, and there are three trophies up for grabs on each track, with a target time to beat for each one. Go faster than the quickest target and you’ll get all three trophies, which are used to unlock other tracks and levels as you progress. It’s a familiar model, and one which works well. If you can’t be bothered to build up a collection of trophies, and would rather play all the tracks from the start, you can pay £1.99 as an in-app purchase, which unlocks all the tracks and has the bonus of removing the sometimes intrusive ads. Otherwise, the app is free to download.
So, as we mentioned, you’re racing against the clock in Groove Racer, and never once do you face an opponent. This makes the game a little lonely, and it would be considerably more enjoyable if there was another slot car lining up alongside of you at the start. After all, each course has one of those lane switching sections, and what fun are those if you can’t orchestrate a massive accident where you both arrive at the same time?
If you accept racing in Groove Racer is a solitary affair, here’s how it plays. As with real life slot car racing, the challenge comes at the corners, as keeping your finger mashed against the screen will see you little car spin out of control, and you lose valuable seconds. The art is to control the throttle as you enter the bends, making sure spins don’t happen. You have the option of playing with traction control on, through an Easy Mode, which minimizes the spins, but doesn’t eradicate them completely. It’s far less challenging though, and at least with it switched off you can power slide round the track with reckless abandon.
There are ten different cars and 66 different tracks in the game, and while the cars do offer variety – in that they get faster – the tracks are all fairly similar. The game would benefit from more imaginative tracks, as when you’ve played one, you’ve really played them all. The cars all handle predictably enough, and there are handy orange markings on the track to indicate the very tight turns, and it does take some practice to keep the car at an almost steady speed when zipping through the corners.
For a free game, Groove Racer is worth a download, and it’s great to see it compatible with both the iPhone and the iPad. It’s best suited to the phone though, as each track is completed in less than a minute, making it great for passing a few free moments. Its long term appeal is seriously lacking, particularly as you’re only racing against the clock, and the repetitive courses won’t see you coming back for long either. If you love racing games on the iPhone, then Groove Racer is good for an hour or so of fun, but you may want to look at something like Retro Racing or VS. Racing 2 if you’d like a more lasting challenge, where you also get to race against other cars on more diverse tracks.