Someone who should know about these things once told me one of the secrets behind Nintendo’s success when it comes to the brilliance of its games; every idea is interrogated by each team member to the point of exhaustion, until all you’ve got left is something approaching perfection. Take Splatoon’s painting – what started off as blocks of tofu spreading ink evolved into rabbits then into squids, the ink going from first marking territory to then being able to speed up your progress and recharge your weapons and take down the opposition. A game of Splatoon is chaos, but it’s held together by an order informed by meticulous design.
You sense that same interrogation of thought isn’t quite there in Trailblazers, a racing game that transposes Splatoon’s painting mechanic onto an arcade racer with little by way of grace. It has verve, though, and Supergonk – a new Guildford studio formed from Bizarre Creations, Codemasters and Lionhead veterans – has injected Trailblazers with an infectious kind of energy. Its characters have that old Filmation look nailed down – the bold art suggests that this is every bit the BraveStarr racing game spin-off you always hoped for – and the soundtrack skips along with that same summertime smile as Sega’s Jet Set Radio.
When you’re on-track, some other influences shine through too. There’s a fair amount of F-Zero in its racing, and certainly in its track design; one particular circuit feels like a straight rip of GX’s Aeropolis, which is no bad thing of course, while others share the same predilection for sinewy, high speed thrills. A shame that Trailblazers can’t match the fidelity of control that F-Zero GX benefitted from, and that some of its tighter tracks demand. The drifting is clumsy and inelegant, which is a bit of a problem in a genre that’s often built around the art of driving sideways.
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