To be honest, I was fully expecting to spend the last few days reviewing the latest installment of sweaty pantomime simulator, WWE. As it turns out, I am instead reviewing a top-down racer, and as hard as I look I haven’t found a single suplex or ill-advised Lycra garment in it yet.
Game: Mantis Burn Racing
Developer: VooFoo Studios
Publisher: VooFoo Studios
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided by publisher)
Either way, despite its name Mantis Burn Racing has nothing to do with either exotic insects or fires, but it is indeed a racing game (so one out of three isn’t bad, guys). Despite the initial disappointment of this not being a wrestling romp, Mantis Burn Racing is an interesting addition to that now maligned genre; most driving titles have moved more and more towards impenetrable realism, allowing you to customise everything right down to the colour of your air freshener. Which is super if you have a keen interest in cars or just far too much time on your hands, but not quite so interesting for anyone else.
It is therefore refreshing to find a game like Mantis Burn Racing, which only really requires three buttons to play. You accelerate, you brake and you boost (providing you’ve earned it). The game is exceedingly straightforward, being one of those affairs where you never really have to step off the gas pedal, doing plenty of drifting and sliding around the dusty tracks. The courses are fairly indistinguishable on the whole from section to section, and even from each other sometimes. There’s a city one, a desert one, a sort of farm one…. They all have odd right-angle turns and there’s the occasional low-light section which sometimes means you can’t see where you’re going because it turns out racing cars don’t have headlights.
In fact the indistinguishable courses are indicative of a larger issue for Grasshopper Flame Racing; the game isn’t really blessed with much of a personality. The unlockable car models, while plentiful in number and mildly customisable, all look derivative. Human characters pop up from time to time to give you information on how to play in the early stages, but they’re utterly forgettable and could just as well be nothing but speech bubbles for all the personality they bring to the game. You could say that the game could really take a lead out of WWE’s book here to inject some charisma into the game. Either way, couple this with the music, which sounds like a selection of Garage Band samples thrown together in a hurry without theme or consideration for the course they’re accompanying, and you have a largely passive audio and visual experience.
So, it’s all down to the gameplay isn’t it? No pressure there, gameplay. Top down racers are generally exuberant, joyous affairs, with Micro Machines being the obvious all-conquering example. This is why it’s somewhat disappointing that Pyro Beetle Racing hasn’t seized on this, instead taking itself seriously with a fairly stony-faced take on the genre. Nevertheless, Voofoo Studios have hit the mark with the feel and driving here. Despite the lack of indication elsewhere, this plays and feels like a chaotic party game of a racer. Sending vehicles into a drift is easy and satisfying, there’s large dirt jumps to fly over and you can cheerfully bump competitors out of the way. Rather than having realistic crashing and collisions, you rebound off objects and other cars like a wasp flying into a window, which again jars against how the game seems to present itself. It also makes it unexpectedly unforgiving, meaning you can stick an extra five seconds on any lap time if you ping off a barrier at any point.
There are several types of game mode, such as time trials, standard races and an accumulator mode, in which you rack up points by performing certain feats including overtaking and ‘grabbing some air’ *turns baseball cap backwards*, but sadly still no suplexes or DDTs. This is a staple of all the game modes, and each race gives you opportunities to complete certain challenges to earn more Gears, which is the game’s currency. You also get these for completing the races in general, which you can then use to upgrade your motor or buy new ones. You progress through races as if they were levels, working through a flow-chart of challenges until you clear the season and move onto the next one. This makes a change from what I expected from working through a racing game, rather than just being a series of races. The events, regardless of what they are, are always fairly short and snappy, which means it’s easy to get stuck into thinking you’re going to have ‘just one more race’ and spend four hours trying to earn enough points to buy a yellow, muscled-up beach buggy.
The multiplayer is basically the same again but with real people instead of computer AI cars with names like Dr Dirt or Bash King or whatever. This is, like the main game, very compelling and fun in a simple way, so the team obviously decided to not mess with what already works, although some new options would have fleshed things out a bit.
While you could interpret my earlier comments about the lack of customisation options negatively, that isn’t the case. I’m the sort of person who thought a ‘racing line’ was the fastest queue at the supermarket checkout, so am easily lost when games throw too many options at me. Instead, you can add extra slots to your vehicle in which to stick certain perks, such as improved suspension or a better engine. It’s simple, and means you can quickly get to the next race rather than spending hours tuning thing up.
Mantis Burn Racing’s presentation of itself is slightly wrong, and it feels like a game in disguise. Regardless of this, it plays very well despite being fairly devoid of much in the way of character. A cheerful diversion rather than something to really sink your teeth into, Mantis Burn Racing is a jovial experience that could have been much more with a little more creativity behind it.
Also, contains literally no suplexes. Not even a chokeslam.