Things on Wheels: Tow This Game Away
Back in the days of the NES, racing games really came into their own and began to truly stand out as an interestingly viable genre for gamers and non-gamers alike. The whimsicality of titles likeMicro Machines and RC Pro A.M. inspired interest and continued to draw potential players in with competition that was able to be experienced from the comfort of the couch. Titles like Mario Kart, F-Zero, Need for Speedand even the impeding Blur have such humble predecessors to thank for their existence. However, Things on Wheels, while a brave attempt at capturing the same essence as all the previously mentioned games, fails spectacularly to do so.
At first glance, ToW permeates the necessary aspects to be an excellent Xbox Live Arcade title, but these qualities only go pixel deep. The longer a player spends with the game, the more glaringly visible the flaws become before the player ultimately might even become frustrated enough to delete the game from their hard drive.
Beginning the game will take you to the lobby where you have the option of selecting a tutorial, championship mode or arcade mode. The only primary difference between the two seemingly being that championship mode allows for progression – unlocking cars and race tracks as races are completed.
Starting a new Championship will allow players to select one of three vehicles types. Vintage cars will have the look of classic vehicles such as the Bentley and handle moderately well all-around. Muscle cars on the other hand are the power vehicles, which being relatively slow possess the power to slam through clusters of opponents to get into first place. The sport car is the generic fast-yet-fragile class that can speed ahead of the pack but spins out at the slightest mistake – and sadly, it is extremely easy to make an error as far as that’s concerned.
The most offensive of the problems with Things on Wheels have to do with the design flaws, which are painfully punishing – creating a game that quickly becomes disenchanting, to say the least, and enraging to say the worst. The track layouts are pitifully confusing at times, leaving the player no choice but to follow the AI-controlled vehicles to prevent from getting lost. There are shortcuts that can be taken for the more adventurous, however the hit detection in the game is so poor that cars will often be inexplicably stuck or turned around after bumping into something that anyone would swear wasn’t there. To add insult to injury, the game operates on a checkpoint system, which forces gamers to go through gates in sequence to maintain their place in the mid-race standings. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the game seems to take issue with it constantly.
Racing through the first level, I was treated to one of the game’s many generic power-ups and upon grabbing the boost, accelerated in the hopes of hitting a ramp going as fast as possible. Flying from the ramp, my vehicle landed on the other side of the jump, bounced ludicrously high and flew off landing on a lower level of track sending my vehicle spiraling from first to sixth place because I was now several gates behind where I had been previously. ToW should take a note from the Wipeout series – No game should ever punish a player for going too fast on either a straightaway or a jump – but it does, and shows absolutely no remorse for doing so.
As previously mentioned, the power-ups are extremely generic and fail to stand out from any other racing series when placed side-by-side. There is the red boost, a blue power-up that allows you to slow opposing vehicles down by icing their wheels, a shield that also acts as an area-of-effect bumper to push debris and opponents aside and a yellow lighting power-up that also slows down every other vehicle, regardless of location on the track. Ultimately, nothing about them seems exceptionally capable of setting them apart from other contemporary power-ups leaving them feeling cheap and tacked on.
Even controlling the vehicles feels unpleasant. No matter what car is selected, they all ultimately ended up feeling exactly the same. The game became increasingly aggravating to continue playing and the unlocked vehicles and tracks left little incentive to continue going on to the next race – especially when it usually meant a cornucopia of new, painful challenges to face.
ToW does bravely attempt to capture the capricious and quirky nature of games like Micro Machines and some would argue that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However in this case, Micro Machineswould be sorely offended as would the people who designed that particular 8-bit masterpiece. For everything that Things on Wheels attempts to accomplish as an XBLA title, it simply comes off as lacking any real substance or soul of its own. Summarily, for 1200 MS points it just isn’t worth it. Any gamer would be far better off taking the fifteen dollars spent buying ToW and putting it towards Split/Second or Blur.
Things on Wheels released May 12, 2010 on Xbox Live and is currently available for 1200 MS Points.