In the early 90s, I had an Amiga 500+. I remember playing Lombard Rally on it to show my friends the amazing graphics and that the driver moved the wheel AND changed gears. I would shout “get ready” as gear change was coming and then “look” as he did it. Whilst a stripy road passed by and a tree every once in a while.
But for me, the Amiga wasn’t all about these flashy and graphics. My memories of playing on it were about the games that you just played for fun, no achievements, no bragging rights about lap times. There was a genre that I forgot I loved until recently. I want to mention a game called “Super Skidmarks”, that really was its title and it was about gameplay and fun. The graphics were pretty good for the Amiga if I remember it as it was (Edit: just checked and they are shit) but it wasn’t about graphics, it was about the sheer enjoyment of playing. Whizzing around corners and sliding all over the place.
Pure fun, in fact, the Amiga sparked my interest in gaming. My first computers were Spectrum ZX80 and then ZX81 and even though the latter had an incredible 16k of memory which I, like a madman, boosted to 32k with the addition of a 16k RAM pack, were a bit of a fuss to game on. You had to load programs with a cassette tape which took a few minutes if all went well. Because of this and the ease at which you could load a game with a floppy disk meant that the Amiga was my gaming nirvana.
Amiga games were mostly about gameplay, something that today’s developers put behind graphics and getting the game into early access so they can make money before they have to sell the game on its own merits.
That’s not true for indie devs VooFoo studios. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play this Birmingham based developers latest title Mantis Burn Racing and I really feel like I got a slice of my youth back.
Initially, I have to say the muted pallet put me off but I was immediately reminded why I play games at all. For fun.
Mantis Burn Racing is about skill, no not picking the correct racing line or being able to get a headshot first, I mean real skill, using a gamepad or keyboard to whip a car around a corner, drifting perfectly and for as long as possible to increase your boost, almost kissing the apex with the nose of your car as you come out of the corner as quickly as possible because there are no pickups or floating track boosts to make the game unfair. This is about you being good at a game and no gimmick is going to help that. The controls with a gamepad are near perfect and I think it is clear this is the way the game should be played, triggers control acceleration and braking, a single face button to use the vehicle’s boost, which builds as you drift of jump and shoulder buttons to control the camera. Using a keyboard is also simple and whilst I preferred the gamepad I had a few laps with a keyboard, to be honest, though I didn’t do nearly as well.
The game starts very simply but the tracks get tough in short order and this is when you can find the tight controls come into their own. There is a sheer joy in slipping around a corner knowing that the only thing that could let you down is your own poor driving.
There is an awful lot to do in the game with very large career mode spanning 7 years all playable at 3 difficulty levels. The races themselves are made up of Sprints, Overtake challenges Accumulators, knockout eliminations, time attacks and even mini championships. There are up to 7 opponents in these races and their skill range is quite broad.
You can upgrade your vehicle with XP and cash earned during a race but the real challenge in a game is collecting the gears. These allow you to progress but they are also where a lot of the fun comes from. It’s not sufficient to simply win a race, although this will get you three of the six gears available, no, you also have to perform tasks that could include jumping or drifting a certain distance or breaking items at the side of the track, beating a specific time or winning without boosting. It makes each race or series of races a little bit more interesting particularly early on when you play through again as your skill level will be too much for the competition, hopefully.
Cars are either light, medium or heavy and fall into categories like Rookie, Pro or Veteran with each having its own handling characteristics. You will need to develop some pretty decent cars in each class to beat career mode. The tracks themselves are good, they lend themselves very well to the type of racing and there are plenty of opportunities to show off some skill while drifting into a corner. The settings whilst not too varied do lend themselves very well to this type of game and will allow you to have some great fun drifting in Sand Town whilst Shangri-la is great for setting some very fast lap times with such improved grip. I would like to have seen more variation here but it is what it is and it works well.
For me, and my 6-year-old son, multiplayer was perfect, the top down view and up to four player split screen is fantastic for some multiplayer racing action. We struggled to find a race mode to agree on as we each liked different things, he loves the carnage and I the finesse but we had some great fun. Unfortunately, the online modes just don’t have enough players. Right now, at 15:10 hrs on a Thursday, there are 4 players online, the average for this week is 0.9 and I am pretty sure most of that was me waiting for a game. I hope Steam finds a way to support titles like this a little more in the future as it really deserves a bigger player base.
We played the reasonably priced (£1.99) DLC Battle cars. This was something my son loved. The fact you get to play a car racing game that is this fun AND blow up Daddy made this week and it really is a fun and recommended addition to your game. If you are like me however and want to play the career mode without a gun then the less said about Battle cars the better. When there is more than one of you though, it would be a part of the game that you couldn’t do without. My son literally had milk coming out of his nose because he was enjoying watching me get blown up so much.
There is a free and much-needed environment DLC called “Snowbound pack” that I highly recommend getting too and I would like to see maybe a Jungle or even swamp DLC in the future as I think this would only add to the fun.
The sounds are great and there is a retro 8-bit feel without them becoming grating. At 44 I know all about being irritated by noise, I am an expert on being miserable and I can say, I didn’t even try to turn the music off.
I could have a moan now about the UI outside of the races, I could talk about them having more environments but I really don’t want to put this game down. It does its thing so well that you really do have to play it to see just how much fun it is.
However, it costs £12.99 and I am afraid to say at this price it will never have a large player base. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly worth £12.99 but you will only know this after you have played it for a while and become a little obsessed.
I think if they wanted to sell a lot of copies and have a large player base that a price of around £3.79 would be a more realistic figure. The reason for this is the fact that it is not a triple-A title, people do want to see the super realistic looks of Forza or Project cars.
This game then is not overpriced but undersold and more should be done to show people its brilliance. The controls are nearly perfect, the handling of the cars is super fun, predictable (that’s good) and strikes the perfect balance between being easy to learn but difficult to master. It is a well-made, top-down racer that will give anyone who gamed on an Amiga a warm fuzzy nostalgia and for any less than ancient gamers, I will quote my son, “this is really good fun, I blew you up a lot”!