Top-down racers are one of the more perfect genres for mobile gaming.
Whether you have just a few minutes to spare or want to kill an hour our so, racing games can be quite satisfying and get that adrenaline pumping. Short multi-lap challenges are ideal for brief play periods where you might only have five minutes. While players seeking a longer experience will feel equally as fulfilled after an hour-long series of high-octane throw-downs, or time spent refining their skills as they calculate the best way to shave time off the clock.
Since this is such a popular genre, developers are always looking for ways to have their game stand out in the crowd. Some rely on stunning visuals, others offer players a lot of tracks or game modes, and some even try to come up with a unique control scheme to get noticed. Slingshot Racing does them all and, it does them with a grappling hook and some steam punk sensibility.
Bucking tradition, Slingshot Racing eliminates the virtual steering wheel/buttons, opting instead for a more organic feeling one finger tapping control scheme. On paper, this may sound terribly boring and bit too simplistic, like those terrible ‘slot racer’ games, but in reality it works brilliantly.
Your vehicle is always automatically accelerating forward and there is no distinct left and right steering. Instead, as you race around the track, you press and hold your finger on the screen to fire your grappling hook toward the nearest of the special towers scattered along the course. To release the hook, you simply lift your finger. The goal is to use your momentum and the rope/hook to create a slingshot like motion to propel your car around curves and pickup/maintain speed. There is a slight learning curve, but you quickly realize just how ingenious and intuitive this control mechanic is .
Once you get into the grappling groove, it feels incredibly satisfying and fluid. Instead of the of the more mechanical gameplay of a traditional wheel or button based racer, the gameplay almost starts to feel like a rhythm game or like you are actually dancing around the track. The towers act as your dance partner, and you must time your taps and releases to gracefully twist and turn your way around the dance floor…er track.
The game’s Career mode has total of 64 (unlockable) races, sprinkled with different objectives, each offering their own sets of challenges and unique spin on the basic gameplay. There is your typical multi-lap race where you try to end up crossing the finish line first. Another tests your steering ability, requiring you to pick up a number of specifically laid out cogs within the time allotted. There are also time trial races (which have Game Center Leaderboards) where you attempt to complete the designated number of laps as quickly as possible without the hinderance of other cars. And finally, my favorite, are the chomper races, where you must be the last car standing as a menacing, metal eating contraption chases after the cars on the track.
No top down racer is complete without some sort of multiplayer mode that gives you the opportunity to trash talk your friends and family and prove who is the fastest behind the wheel. Unfortunately, this is Slingshot Racing’s one (and only) short-coming. To be fair, the game’s Tournament mode allows for up to four players (or a combination of real and cpu players) to compete in a same-device multiplayer mode where each player takes a corner of the screen (even on the iPhone). However this just felt a bit crowded and my daughter and I just couldn’t get comfortable playing it.
Fortunately it sounds like the Snowbolt team is hard at work coming up with a solution for this, which will most likely involve a ghost racing system in real-time, similar to that of DrawRace 2. This sounds like the perfect solution to me, and would earn Slingshot Racing its missing half star.
With Slingshot Racing, publisher Crescent Moon Games made a fairly substantial departure from their usual RPG and fantasy fare, but the gamble seems to have paid off. The team at Snowbolt Interactive have crafted a wonderfully fluid and graceful racing game that easily one of the best on the platform. I simply cannot recommend this game enough, and even at $2.99 you are getting a lot of game for your money.