On July 21, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: The Best First Racing Games, a feature article looking at three different 3-D racers developed for the iPhone OS. This review focuses on Freeverse’s Wingnuts Motoracer ($10); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above. Note: This game has since been renamed Moto Chaser, and its price cut to $6.
All three of these games are, at least as of press time, saddled with the same limitation: they’re forced to use the iPhone’s accelerometer and touchscreen rather than a traditional gamepad or steering wheel for controls. No matter what might be claimed about the iPhone’s integrated controls, they are—like the iPod Click Wheel—not well-suited to serious game play. Depending on the angle the device is held at, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, under harsh or soft light, and how you’re sitting or standing, you may find either steering or seeing the screen to be a challenge. We continue to hope that an add-on digital or analog game controller with dedicated buttons is in Apple’s immediate future.
The last and simplest of the iPhone’s racing games is Freeverse’s Wingnuts Motoracer ($10). Unlike the other two, this is a motorcycle racing game where you can select from three characters and 10 tracks, which are unlocked one after another as you play. Motoracer’s inspiration isn’t Super Mario Kart, but an older Sega motorcycle game called Hang-On, which rather than giving you full freedom to turn around on a 3-D track basically optimized the gameplay to keep you going forward, and have you respond to things that come straight at you. Your goal here is to pass through multiple checkpoints before your clock runs out, staying as much as possible on paved roads, and avoiding obstacles that can slow you down.
Most of the obstacles are, predictably, on the sides of the tracks—trees, rock walls, and unpaved ground will delay you by crucial seconds and stop you from making a checkpoint. Miss one checkpoint and the level ends, forcing you to start from the beginning. Occasionally, you’ll find a turbo-charging coin on the track that gives you a jolt of speed, and in some locations, you’ll hit a big jump that will let the camera switch to a dramatic slow-motion angle. Moving cars can also be impediments, while other motorcyclers will, in the spirit of Electronic Arts’ now-classic Road Rash, require you to punch your way to freedom.
The good news is that the tracks are at least a little different and stay interesting from level to level, even if the objectives and action stay pretty much the same, and occasional glitches—especially in later tracks with narrow roads—cut into the action somewhat. On the easiest difficulty level, the game is a breeze to cut through, but the fewer seconds you have on the clock, the better your chance of needing to play a level multiple times before completing it.
Unfortunately, Wingnuts Motoracer is a pretty shallow game, with highly repetitive music, camera issues that could easily have been corrected, and controls that would really benefit from a user sensitivity adjustment. While it’s very obvious that Freeverse knows how to create interesting 3-D worlds, there are parts of the game—a winding mountain pass, for instance, where you spend way too much of the time with only the road texture in your face, and only the slightest movement is enough to turn you off the beaten path to your death. Additionally, like Cro-Mag Rally but unlike Crash, you have to keep one finger on the gas button almost all the time, but then need to release it to throw punches at other motorcyclers. There has to be a better way to control the game than this.
Overall, Wingnuts Motoracer isn’t precisely the same type or depth of racing game as its iPhone launch comrades, but it’s an interesting diversion with good graphics and straightforward gameplay. You’ll find yourself cursing thanks to the sensitive controls if you’re playing on a bumpy subway, train, or plane, and we think that $10 is too much for what you get, but as time-wasters go, this one’s not bad.
Company and Price
Title: Wingnuts Motoracer
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G