Monster Trucks Nitro 2 is one of those fun little games that seems to have found its natural home on the iPhone. You take control of a Monster Truck (well, duh!) and must drive it over a serious of challenging courses, finishing first to progress to the next race.
Monster Trucks is an instantly appealing little game that has plenty of short term fun, whilst also offering a genuine long term challenge. The simple gameplay makes it instantly accessible and the courses are well designed, gradually introducing you to different elements. The earliest levels help you to master the basic controls of the car, before throwing in additional obstacles such as cars (which must be driven over) and ramps (which have to be jumped over). Early levels teach you how to keep your Monster Truck as level as possible (essential for completing the course in the best possible time) and provide you with little tips and tricks on mastering the game.
At first glance, the gameplay appears rather shallow and you worry about the long term appeal. A few levels in, though, you discover there is a surprising amount of depth. Different vehicles handle in different ways and require you to adapt your driving style, whilst the terrain also affects handling. On the first few tracks, you can just race along at top speed with no issues; try this on later tracks and you will soon come a cropper. As such, you need to learn how to drive on different tracks and alter your style accordingly, giving the game a nice strategic element. Throw in plenty of levels to unlock and this is a game that can offer some pretty long-term fun.
Graphics are reasonable, although slightly blocky at times. The game is viewed from a side on pseudo 3D perspective which works surprisingly well. It gives you a reasonable view of the track so that you can see up-coming hazards easily, but the screen doesn't feel too cramped.
Sound is also excellent, if somewhat minimal. A suitably loud and heavy tune accompanies the main menu screens, although in-game effects are pretty limited (there's not even much of a roar from your truck's engine). Normally, I'd complain about this sort of thing, but somehow it works for Monster Trucks Nitro.
Controls too have been well thought out. Rather than using a standard accelerator/brake button arrangement, you use a slider at the bottom of the screen (well placed, so that it doesn't obscure your view of the course). Moving this to the far right makes your truck go at top speed; sliding it right to the left activates the brake. This is a novel control method, but one which works surprisingly well. To keep your vehicle as level as possible (to avoid crashing nose first into the ground or tipping over), you tilt the phone either left or right. After just a couple of games, this all becomes surprisingly intuitive.
The one negative aspect to the controls is the "flip" mechanism. When on ramps, you can flip your truck over on itself in a complete loop to gain a nitro (speed) boost which can be crucial in helping you win a race. However, to do this, you need to tilt the phone at such an extreme angle that you can barely see the screen - which makes judging your landing rather difficult!
The game falls down slightly on the issue of speed as on many levels, there is no real illusion of speed; your truck appears to be very sluggish and trundles along at a snail like pace. OK, I appreciate that speed is not the key aspect of this game and that in real life, monster trucks are lumbering behemoths. However it does mean the game feels a little slow at times.
Another issue is that the graphics and gameplay are a little too demanding performance wise. Just occasionally, you experience a bit of lag where the action stops for a split second, before the phone's processor catches up and re-starts. This doesn't happen often enough to ruin the game, but it's slightly off-putting when it does.
OK, so that's a couple of the minor issues out of the way; onto the more serious things. The most significant of these relates to the curious gameplay decision not to allow you race against other (computer-controlled opponents). This might the reality of "proper" monster-truck racing, but this is a computer game; reality doesn't need to invade too much! Sadly, you only ever race against a "ghost car" controlled by the computer which can't be crashed into. Finish the race ahead of the ghost car and you qualify for the next; finish behind it and you have to retry.
Racing against a solitary, "invisible" opponent is just not as much fun as multi-player action, and it reduces some of the excitement and competitive element that driving games normally possess. It also reduces each level to "all or nothing". You have to finish first or be doomed to repeat the level. Most driving games require you to finish in the top three, which gives a greater margin for error and means you don't have to suffer redoing the same level again and again.
And finally, the most serious issue of all: the cost. Although the game is fun and has plenty of levels, it is quite repetitive. As such, the asking price of £1.99 is quite steep. It's more suited to a 99p price point (at a push, £1.49). Worse still, you pay your £1.99 and STILL have to suffer in-game adverts. I can cope with ads for free titles, but inserting them into a paid-for app is a complete no-no.
Still, despite these flaws, Monster Trucks is good little game. It's just slightly frustrating that, with a little bit more thought and care, it could have been a great game. Probably too expensive to be really worthwhile, but if it comes down in price, it might be worth considering.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012