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Remember the days when computer games offered short blasts of adrenalin-pumping fun? When you didn't need to read a manual the size of The Bible just to get off the menu screen? When you didn't need to spend half your life online to unlock secrets or engage in co-operative gameplay with people who were way more powerful than you because they had access to cheat codes? The makers of Mini Motor Racing do, because they've tried to recreate that with this classic racing game where the emphasis very much on fun, rather than realism.
In terms of gameplay, Mini Motor Racing doesn't offer anything particularly new. Your mission is to race round a series of tracks, finishing in the top three to unlock more tracks. Winning races earns money which can be used to upgrade your car and make it more competitive. Yet, what Mini Motor Racing lacks in imagination, it more than makes up for that in presentation and gameplay.
A lot of attention has been lavished on the presentation and it oozes quality from every pixel. A genuinely impressive (for the iPhone) introductory video underlines both the quality of the graphics and the fun nature of the gameplay. This is followed up by some great in-game graphics. The action is presented from an over-head pseudo 3D perspective and the graphics are superbly crisp and clear. Cars look dinky and rather cute, tracks are clearly laid out and it's usually fairly obvious where you need to drive next (although just occasionally track layout is not quite so obvious). Tracks might not the most imaginative in the world, but they do their job and allow for fun, fast races. Scenery adds plenty of atmosphere and the use of some simple effects (some races take place at night, others in the day) adds variety.
Sound is also pretty good. A few innocuous tunes accompany the game; the cars have a fun little roar to their engines, crashing into scenery results in a meaty thump, whilst coming together with other cars leads to a wince-inducing sound of metal upon metal. After so many disappointments, we finally have an iPhone racing game that realises that sound effects are just as important as graphics when it comes to establishing atmosphere.
The trickiest thing about Mini Motor Racing (inevitably) is the controls. However, spend just a relatively short amount of time getting used to them and they will serve you well in the long term. In terms of actual driving mechanics, it's boiled down to basics. Speed and braking is controlled automatically so you just having to worry about steering. Steering is managed via an on-screen steering wheel (other options are available, but I find this the best) which initially seems hugely over-sensitive. Early races are very frustrating as you find yourself moving the steering wheel too far and spinning your car in 360 degree loops. After a few games, though, they suddenly click and you get used to exactly how much pressure is needed to take a bend properly. Once you get the hang of them, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about and find yourself able to drift around the tightest of corners or execute perfect over-taking manoeuvres.
What Mini Motor Racing remembers is that games like this should be FUN. It's not a realistic racer; tracks don't recreate real life circuits in intricate detail. Instead, the focus is on tracks that are simple, but fun. Bends are wide and sweeping, giving plenty of space to overtake and initial tracks are pretty easy to lure you into the game, before some trickier ones kick in later.
Mini Motor Racing offers plenty of challenge with lots of tracks to unlock. Up to three stars are awarded on each track (depending on where you finish in the top 3), so even when you've unlocked all the levels, there's the added challenge of completing the "perfect" race. Even then, Mini Motor Racing is such massive fun that it keeps dragging you back for more. I've completed all the levels and got three stars on each and I STILL keep coming back for another go, because it's just so much damn fun! It manages that perfect balance: offering a reasonable challenge to the average gamer, whilst remaining fun and inaccessible for the casual gamer too.
The game itself is tremendous value for money for the asking price of just £1.49. Of course, you have to factor in the inevitable in-app purchases which are available. These range from 69p (to unlock certain basic game elements more quickly) to £13.99 to unlock absolutely everything. Normally, I'm not a fan of in-app purchases. However, Mini Motor Racing gets it right. If you're the impatient sort who can't be bothered working through the game to gradually unlock stuff, then the in-app purchases offer a quick way of doing this. However, they are not essential to progress, so if you prefer to rely on your own skills, you can just work through the game gradually, unlocking new stuff as you go.
There are a couple of minor downsides. First of all, whilst it is perfectly playable on an iPhone or an iPod, Mini Motor Racing lends itself better to the bigger screen of the iPad which offers just that little bit more room to manoeuvre. On the iPhone, there's also just the odd bit of slow down or lag every so often and that can seriously spoil a race when it happens. Fortunately, it occurs only occasionally (and usually just after loading up the game); for the most part works pretty smoothly, so I can live with it.
The other negative is the size of the download. Weighing in at a fairly hefty 209Mb, it's going to take a fair chunk of the available space on your device. It's well worth making the sacrifice, though, since it's such a brilliant game. There are an awful lot of other apps which are likelier candidates for deletion if I start to run out of space!
Mini Motor Racing is a superb little driving game which captures the sense of fun of old-school 16 bit racers like Super Sprint or Super Skidmarks. It oozes attention to detail and is massive amounts of fun to play. Persevere with the initially tricky controls and you'll find a great game that you will be playing for many months.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012