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 Vivendi Games Mobile’s Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D ($10); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
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.
Of the three titles, Vivendi Games Mobile’s Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D ($10) is the least conspicuous on the App Store, despite the fact that its cast of characters are the best known. For those who may be unfamiliar, Crash Bandicoot was a Sonic the Hedgehog wannabe who started in his own series of platform, racing, and party games for the Sony PlayStation; all of the titles were heavily inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario series games. Three of the racing titles, Crash Team Racing, Crash Nitro Kart, and Crash Nitro Kart 2, are based upon Nintendo’s Super Mario Kart driving games, and Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D is confusingly based upon the latest of those games, Crash Nitro Kart 2.
Like the Mario Kart titles, the Crash Nitro Kart games combine simplified, low-speed go kart racing with on-track turbo boost pads and cartoony weapons. You drive around tracks three times, trying to stay number one of six competitors, using both the turbo pads for speed and the weapons to knock out your fellow racers. One weapon makes you swap places with a leading opponent, others drop missiles, TNT and oil onto the track, and another acts as a temporary shield. The action is lighthearted, easy for players of any age to relax with, and structured in clumps of four track circuits. Beat circuits and collect items like the letters C, R, A, S, and H, and you can unlock additional levels and characters, which are very similar to one another in everything but looks.
One thing we really liked about Crash is the developers’ attempt to deal with the iPhone’s control issues. Unlike the other racers we tested, there’s no gas button to hold down, so most of the game can be played by just tilting the iPhone and occasionally tapping the screen. You do need to tap for weapons, soft jumping, and drifting if you want to use them; but this isn’t as much of a control hassle as having to keep one finger on the screen at all times. Vivendi’s developer Polarbit also includes an accelerometer sensitivity meter, a nice touch, though we think that offering an even more fully-featured calibration option would make driving games even easier until a joypad is released.
Aesthetically, Nitro Kart 3D is a good, but not great looking game. Besides the fact that it falls short of even the original PlayStation title in polygon counts and detail—it looks Nintendo DS-quality, not like a Sony PSP game—the frame rate is inconsistent, and never quite high enough. When a couple of vehicles are on the track at once, the game heavily drops frames, and all of the racing feels choppy rather than smooth. This could change over time, as Vivendi shows the shipping version of the game as version 0.7.4, but we can only review what we see, and what we saw was choppy. Overall, this is a fairly good start for iPhone racers, but we’re expecting more from second-generation titles.
Company and Price
Company: Vivendi Games Mobile
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G