TNT Racers Review (Xbox360)

Let’s not beat around the bush here; TNT Racers is a clone of the old Micro Machines games. But given that the toy-licensed racing series has been dormant since 2007 and that TNT Racers is actually pretty good, you can forgive developer Keen Games for their lack of originality.

For those not in the know, the Micro Machines titles were top down racers that placed a strong emphasis on knocking out the competition rather than simply placing first. The action is restricted to a single screen view and when players fall too far behind the lead racer and off the edge of the screen they’re knocked out. The last one remaining (usually the person in first place) nets some points and then a new round begins, repeating the process. The first participant to reach the predetermined score wins.

Unlike the Micro Machines series you aren’t driving toy cars though the vehicles retain similar comic proportions

This forms the basis of TNT Racers’ game play, particularly the primary Knock-Out mode. However the game does add a few wrinkles to the traditional formula across its various modes. In Score mode coloured coins litter the track to provide another means of hitting the required score barrier. The Single player campaign has a few further exclusive game types like an obstacle course where you have to avoid traffic cones.

TNT Racers’ strength, as was Micro Machines’ strength before it, lies in its simplicity. The game requires only the use of the analogue stick for steering and three buttons, one each for accelerating, braking and activating items. Add in the three different speed settings and customisable AI difficulty and this is a title that I could see just about any one being able to pick up and play.

Much like the later Micro Machines games TNT Racers features power ups that can be used to attack or sabotage the opposing racers. Expect your typical Spy Hunter-inspired oil slicks and smoke screens complemented with a couple of interesting ones like a tractor beam for dragging opponents back and a giant comedy hammer that causes an earthquake.

As with Micro Machines, multiplayer is really the heart of the experience here. The action is already frenetic and fun but throw in other real players and this can be a genuine riot to play. Thankfully the developers have seen fit to include just about every customisable option here that you could hope for. It supports up to four player local single screen and Xbox Live multiplayer with the ability to tweak everything from game type, speed, map and AI difficulty.

Power-ups litter the tracks in the form of Mario Kart-esque question mark balloons

Sadly, like many Xbox Live Arcade titles TNT Racers’ online landscape is a wasteland. I couldn’t find a single person to play with after trying several times at various times of day. If you’re hoping to jump into a match with strangers you’re probably going to be out of luck, though the customisable bots do a good job of keeping you company if you’re without friends to play with.

In conjunction with its multiplayer focus, longevity is another particular strength of the game. It features nine unique tracks to race through each of which have a mirrored version, technically totalling to eighteen courses altogether. Though the differences between vehicles are purely aesthetic there are eight zany super-deformed cars to choose from. When you fire up the game for the first time you only have access to four of them and a couple of maps but it’s pretty good at providing a steady stream of unlocks simply for continuing to play.

The presentation is probably the only aspect of the game I can level a genuine complaint at. The art assets look like an up-ressed standard definition game (which makes sense given that TNT is also poised to appear on the Wii’s downloadable service) lacking fidelity and polish in a lot of places. Its race tracks just about hold up thanks to its stylised cartoony design but the vehicles look a little too boxy with blurry textures. A rock solid frame rate and a highly intelligent sweeping camera save it from looking downright ugly though.

Vehicles range from muscle cars and hot rods to hovercraft and fire engines

The real oddity here though is the soundtrack. The game’s audio motif is what can only be described as a pre-1950s jazz soundtrack. While it injects some uniqueness into an otherwise largely derivative title it doesn’t particularly suit the mood for a racing game, even one as whimsical as this.

So TNT Racers is a surprisingly good little game. It doesn’t really break any new ground and comes in under par on an audiovisual level but it’s fun, accessible and fully featured. Its asking price is also right at 800 Microsoft Points. A great one for a family game night.

Top Game Moment: Knocking one of your friends down a cliff with a well-timed power up.

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