There’s just something about travelling at high-speed which most of us find exhilarating. Maybe its the fact it feels illegal. Maybe it’s the fact you’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Maybe it’s just the adrenaline rush of knowing that within the next few minutes you’ll either stand proud over your survival or scrubbed off the wall. Doing it in reality though is reserved for those of us with the money, time, or cojones to risk life and limb for a buzz. Lucky for us gamers that developers are more than happy to make up for our over-reliance on self-preservation. For 3DS owners, QubicGames have brought the act of skimming through the air with enough momentum to flip a wombat inside out with AiRace Xeno, the follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed AiRace Speed.
Gameplay revolves around a simple yet tested premise; get around the course fast as possible without bumping into walls or obstacles. While this simple goal isn’t going to suddenly change the paradigms of game design or inspire a generation to solve world hunger, it does give you the drive you keep playing and keep improving. You’re not racing anyone else on the course but the leaderboards make up for that. Climbing just one more place in the charts is immensely satisfying because, for now at least, the boards are quite underpopulated so any time you shave off even half a second on a track is met with a heart-warming hop up the tables.
Sliding on your backside at 400km/h sounds like fun but you’re going to need to get around corners, an action which turns any gamer into a 15 month old learning to walk again – yeah you’re going to have to bear with the metaphor there. When you first jump into a race moving around the circuit is akin to a toddler running towards the patio door; waddling full of excitement before bumping its head into the glass. Unlike an actual toddler where a simple SpongeBob plaster and a rub will magically fix any boo boo, until you’re used to the sensitivity of AiRace Xeno any attempt to rectify mistakes leads to more clumsy scraping across the edges. Turning a series of corners has the same feeling as making that daring corner around the coffee table at age 2.
If you decide to control yourself in AiRace Xeno using the stylus then you’re in for an interesting experience. It’s fun and novel, no question about that, but when playing a high-speed racer holding your 3DS in the small of your palm while steering often leads to confusion. Put it in 3D while using the stylus and you’re just opening the door to a vomit-inducing tunnel of tummy-turning terror. Turn off the 3D however and stylus control is quite fun.
That or buy a copy of Kid Icarus: Uprising and use the stand.
Banking to the left and right adds a sense of flair to racing against the clock but ultimately has no tangible effect on your progress or movement, much like putting stockings on a honey badger – it looks different but they won’t change the outcome of your genitalia being unceremoniously ripped from your groin. Rather than being a valued mechanical addition to AiRace Xeno, the ability to do so is shunted in for nothing more than the sake of appearance. It isn’t as f there’s no place for it in the game. Plenty of narrow passages requiring precise movement race toward you but they’re always of an accommodating width for your craft.
But then, then it all clicks.
After fighting against the twitchy controls and seemingly pointless banking system for an hour or so something in your mind switches on. Suddenly every obstacle is easily avoided. Magically every corner is a sweeping symphony of steering. Miraculously every wall becomes nothing more than a frame for each masterpiece of movement. This strong root of gameplay holds up to hours upon hours of zipping around. The courses themselves just help in this.
Each of the nine tracks drips with a level of quality you’d not expect from a title of this price (£2.29 on the UK 3DS eShop), even if they are all basically the same formula rearranged. Spectacular, twisting tunnels are followed by obstacle ridden straight-aways which then led into narrow curves. The graphical elements on show are frequently reused but every track has a special individuality in its construction. Think of it like a sandwich with the same ingredients from different sandwich shops; they’re all slightly different but have a familiarity all the same.
They are trying to stop you though. Slamming into obstacles will instantly lead to you crashing out, as will grinding on walls for an extended period of time. Rather than having to restart the entire course however you’re pushed back to the last checkpoint passed (generally each track as three) while not losing any time there and then, however you do accrue a three-second time penalty at the end of your race. Most of the checkpoints are placed well but a couple of courses they are directly after a long run that culminates in a difficult obstacle. leading to a great deal of frustration where you’ve got a long, long run back to the same challenge.
AiRace Xeno is also a little sensory delight. Visually its no award winner but the frame-rate is incredibly stable, helping to blend together the details of tracks which at a glance are fairly substandard but at speed it becomes a portrait in speed. Even in 3D everything looks great, aside from a small issue which occurs on the left hand wing of vehicles which leads to a small cluster of pixels which just don’t seem to fit. As an audio experience the team at QubicGames took the genre staple of techno and slathered Xeno’s soundtrack in it. As much as the game requires your concentration sometimes your filled with a need to just suffer a crash and break out the glowsticks.
AiRace Xeno could have quickly faltered if not for the tracks. AiRace Xeno could have fallen apart if it weren’t for the tight controls. AiRace Xero may have been a painful experience if it weren’t for the pleasant visuals. As a complete package, AiRace Xeno is an experience which stands up alongside its peers and takes its place on the podium as one of the easiest games to recommend on the 3DS eShop. There’s enough challenge here to keep any speed freak happy and for £2.29, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than actually buying a super fast car – not to mention the ensuing medical bills.
This review of AiRace Xeno was done using a copy provided by the publishers on 3DS