Here’s something you don’t see very often. What we have here is another indie game in 16 bit pixel-art style. It’s also a forced perspective isometric racing game. So far, so indie by the book. But when the indie dev in question hails from Korea as 21.c Ducks do, that’s the unusual part. Their previous work seems to have been mobile and iPad based; at least that’s what we can glean from their website; so this is an accomplished home console debut.
Super Pixel Racers is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Beneath the cute pixelated exterior lies a fantastic racing game with several different game modes. We initially assumed that the game would hew close to the template well-trodden by the likes of Super Off Road or RC Pro-Am. We’re happy to report we were wrong on that count.
The cute sprite based vehicles should be familiar to anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, the C class cars being based on the classic Fiat 500, Ford Escort and Mini Cooper, all of which excelled in their respective class during rallying’s amateur heyday. The developers have rendered them lovingly from sixteen distinct angles to simulate the rotation of the car as you negotiate Super Pixel Racers’ courses. Subsequent vehicle classes include the Subaru Impreza and Lancer Evo, recognisable to anyone who played Sega Rally.
At the outset, you’ll be asked to choose a control method be it “pointing mode” or “classic mode”. Pointing is just that, your car will turn in whichever direction your left thumbstick is pointing. Classic is steering in the more conventional sense, left and right are relative to the direction your car is pointing. The former option was suggested for easy control, but to be honest we found classic mode far more intuitive. Certainly we found ourselves crashing into walls less to start with.
Super Pixel Racers starts you off easily enough with C class introducing you to rally cross mode which is a simple case of completing a multi-lap race around a circuit, placing third or better. A third place allows you to progress to next event, but for the most part you’ll generally place first without a great deal of effort.
You’ll be struck by the sheer number of particle effects on display, each vehicle leaving a plume of dust in its wake and if your vehicle is critically damaged, billowing smoke and flames. In circuit races, vehicles will leave skidmarks on corners where they’ve struggled to stay on track. It’s a lovely little detail of the sort Super Pixel Racers excels in.
There are two key mechanics you’ll have to master to progress, drifting round corners is often the most efficient method for getting round a track unscathed. This in turn fills your nitro meter which is just that, an immediate burst of speed that allows you to keep up with the rest of the pack or get yourself off the verge quickly.
Next up you’ll have a classic time trial with no other vehicles to get in your way. Your default car is likely to struggle in its base form, but a couple of speed upgrades later will see you getting past these races fairly easily.
Our favourite game mode follows next, Takedown mode is a brilliant take on the formula well refined by Destruction Derby and Flatout on previous console generations. Using your nitrous is the key to this mode, smashing into your opponents often leads to them flying into an adjacent barrier and immediately exploding. This also fills your nitro back up to let you do it again. Lesser devs would flesh out an entire game on this mode and it’s to 21.c’s credit that this is just one of the game modes on offer.
We also have Drift Show, not dissimilar to the drift areas you’ll encounter in the Forza Horizon series, where you have to drift like crazy around a course within a fairly strict time limit accruing enough points to progress.
The last but one game mode is Land Rush where you have to negotiate a classic rally stage while duking it out with AI opponents. There’s a three minute time limit hanging over your head, but you’ll find once you’re in a podium position you’ll generally manage to stay in front as long as you don’t crash out. Just as in the other modes, third place is sufficient to progress.
Gratifyingly, the computer controlled drivers are just as prone to errors as you are so you’ll sometimes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when you happen upon a fellow racer who’s stacked it into a wall. This might just be a quirk of the programming, but it’s nice to have a racing game where you occasionally stand a chance of catching up.
Finally there is Rally Mode where you start with 45 seconds on the clock, needing to reach a predetermined distance, say 75km. There are usually checkpoints every 10km, or at least you expect there to be. Annoyingly more than once we cleared 50km but there was no checkpoint evident, ran out of time and a good couple of km later a checkpoint appeared. With time margins as tight as they are, this can feel needlessly punitive. Didn’t stop us from trying again and again, just one more go before calling it a night.
Refreshingly, Super Pixel Racers tracks your trophy progress in a sub-menu. This a nice touch, although we did find some trophies popped prematurely. For example we fulfilled the requirements for 300 crashes into opponents and the trophy for repairing our vehicle 100 times popped instead. Also when we completed the C class championship, the trophy for A class unlocked instead.
Another bugbear, there’s an online trophy for winning a race with a full field of eight racers. This is the sort of niche title that you’ll probably struggle to find anyone to play online with, let alone seven other people. Were it not for that, we’d feel compelled to get gold trophies on every single event and a platinum for our trouble. As it is, it’s an annoyance we can do without. This game is far more likely to have people huddled around a television with local multiplayer, online is likely to be dead at launch.
In conclusion, Super Pixel Racers is a well implemented retro-flavoured rally game with hours of play and great vehicle handling to boot. It’s probably the most fun we’ve had from a racing game on PS4 this year.
+Excellent variety of game modes
+Lovely pixel art and environmental effects
-Erratic checkpointing in rally mode
-Indie game online trophies. Stop. Just stop.