Once part of the staple diet of all types of gamers, the top-down racer has fallen out of fashion somewhat in recent years. Where there were once the likes of Championship Sprint, Micro Machines, Super Cars, Ignition, and Mashed, the genre seems to have migrated, with new games seemingly limited to mobile devices. VooFoo’s Mantis Burn Racing is looking to single-handedly kick things back into life on consoles though.
There’s a certain skill to getting an overhead racing game just right – which is just one reason why they’re thin on the ground. It’s easy to look back at the genre through rose-tinted spectacles, but it should be borne in mind that for every Micro Machines: Turbo Tournament, there was an Aspar GP Master. Handling is where most of the bad apples go rotten, but Mantis Burn Racing turns in an excellent performance when it comes to getting your vehicle around the track.
Controls are limited to accelerate and brake on the triggers, with a rechargeable boost applied to the X button and the way the cars handle is as easy to pick up as that controller layout. Drifting is the key to success in the majority of races and it doesn’t take long at all to get to the point where you can start a drift on command and push it to the limit before flicking the car back into a straight line.
Though the controls are easy to pick up, further depth is added to the gameplay as you progress through the lengthy career mode. As you progress through Mantis Burn’s divisions – Rookie, Pro, and Veteran – new cars are made available for use. When you first take to the track, you’ll find that even after upgrades, the rookie-level cars probably won’t require you to even think of using the brake all that much. Once you get into a pro vehicle, you’ll find that letting go of the accelerator for a split-second is all you need to bleed enough speed to be able to get around tighter bends. Move up the ranks even more and braking comes into play, meaning that putting in a truly quick lap time is a real challenge of skill.
Further depth is added in the form of the ever-increasing skills of the AI racers that you have to take on. The challenge that Mantis Burn Racing provides starts out at a level that may prove to be too easy for some players early on but before too long, most racers will have reached a sweet spot where their skill level is in line with what the AI is bringing to the party. At this point, the game becomes a truly addictive experience, especially when the progression system is considered.
To progress to the next level of racing, players have to obtain a certain number of “Gears” to unlock the final race of the season they’re competing in. Each event has six gears up for grabs. Three are reserved for your finishing position, with the other three being meted out for beating specific challenges. During the rookie seasons, you’ll likely pick up enough gears to progress without having to go back and retry events, but when you reach the pro level, it’s a different story.
The extra challenges that players will spend plenty of time going back to beat just add more playing time to a game that already provides a very nice amount of gameplay for the asking price. If you could barrel through event after event, there would still double-digit numbers of hours of action on offer, with events ranging from straight races to hot laps to overtaking challenges and back again.
While the event rules vary enough to keep things from becoming dull, the tracks unfortunately do not. Two locations are available in the form of the bumps and jumps of Sand Town and the asphalt based tracks of New Shangri-la. Both of these locations are visually outstanding and multiple tracks are contained within each of them. Reverse versions of the tracks also attempt to add some variation to proceedings but given the overriding feel of the locations in which they take place, this isn’t necessarily a successful venture.
Fortunately, the action is so fast-paced and challenging that feelings of repetitiveness are often thrown out of the window before they really become a problem. It would have been nice to see just one or two more settings for that action to take place in, though.
Offline multiplayer is catered for, with up to four players being able to take part in split-screen events. The usually rock-solid framerate does dip quite a bit as you add more players to the mix in this way though and aside from single events, there’s nothing any deeper to take on.
When it comes to taking your skills out into the big wide world, online lobbies are available, but there are some bugs to be found. A good third of the games I took part in online had some sort of flaw, from races never ending, to unnamed non-existent players winning events while all the real players were relegated to 2nd place and below. When it works, online play is just as enjoyable as when playing offline, so I’m hoping that some patches will be put out to shore things up. Although, given the limited number of people playing online, whether or not that’s likely remains to be seen.
Outside of standard online racing, a weekly online single-player challenge scenario is available and adds a little bit of something to take on outside of career mode for those that like to race solo. It’s just one challenge a week though, which means that once you’ve bested the career and picked up all of the gears on offer, there isn’t a great deal to do unless you want to jump into the flawed multiplayer action. It’s a good job picking up all of those gears will take a good long time, then.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Even though there are flaws in the multiplayer offering, the single player mode gives more than enough bang for your buck. Pixel-perfect control, fast action, and plenty of events to take part in mean that Mantis Burn Racing isn’t far away from arcade racing perfection.