I may be going beyond the bounds of my expertise in saying so, but MadTracks for the PC is the best racing battle game, not stemming from a franchise about a lovable plumber duo, that I've played ever (I'll refrain from naming that lovable plumber duo and which game I'm referring to for now, since the comparisons in the rest of the review will give their name's more than enough). MadTracks keeps a gamer's interest by continuously adding new unlockable features, a large variety of tracks and courses, and coming armed with a plethora of creative ideas for races and competitions. While I was recently disappointed by another internet racing game, MadTracks makes up for the blow the genre had received.
While not stunning the graphics are nothing to complain about. The contours are smooth and the animation never suffers from lags or poor programming. The entire matchbox car world is so beautifully rendered that you'll forget that giant candlesticks and wine glasses are slightly out of the ordinary. Furthermore, the animations for the various weapons and accessories available to your car during the race play well and never seem like they were overdone or rushed.
The gameplay keeps it light and simple never requiring the players to struggle to learn. While it's hard to mess up a simple forward, left, right, reverse, shoot control system, the fact that they didn't complicate it means they recognize their gaming audience: people who want quick and easy fun with an internet game. An especially interesting factor is the spring that keeps your car going; if at any point you let the spring wind down too far, your car will be unable to move. Instead you must take every opportunity to let off the gas so your little car can regain some spring charge. A very clever wrinkle that fits in nicely with such an otherwise carefree racing game.
The weapons system is very similar to that of Mario Kart in that you must drive into a free floating box to gain a tool. Unlike Mario Kart, however, you can run into as many boxes as you want and the tools you gain will be saved up for later use. The rocket launcher works similar to the red shells and will track a target if the line of fire is clear. For those far away targets, the mortar launcher takes a little more practice to get used to but provides a nice bang. Other weapons of note include the ice cannon, trick boxes, and time manipulator. The ice cannon freezes a nearby opponent in a block of ice affecting their traction and allowing you to have your way with them. The trick boxes work under the same disguise as the bombs in Mario Kart since they look exactly like the normal boxes needed to get tools, but in MadTracks, the bombs don't kill you but simply reverse the controls for a little bit. Finally, the time manipulator allows you to gain some distance on your opponents as you exit normal time and travel twice or three times as fast as everyone else.
What I found to be especially fun is the wide variety of levels and objectives set forth for you in order to progress to the next levels. Some challenges involve you driving uphill as objects come tumbling down towards you in order to get the fastest time. Others include an interesting take on "King of the Hill" where you need to hit three markers and have them all your color in order to gain a point, meanwhile your opponents attempt to do the same. While MadTracks features plenty of traditional racing opportunities and time trials, the creative variations are what add that extra dose of flavor.
Were I to complain about any aspect of gameplay or programming it would be the unfortunate glitch that once your car has had one side of wheels hop up onto the rails: woe is you. When you get stuck on the rail (maybe you turned too fast or tried to make a jump) there's no getting off. You may as well restart the race. It's a pain in the but because all too often I found myself winning by huge leads only to lose it all when my car suddenly found itself paralyzed along the side. Ouch.
As is customary these days, MadTracks affords its players the capacity to create their own levels and download the levels made by others. MadTracks has prepared itself for an online gaming platform for users worldwide, if only it would get the attention that such a fun little game like itself deserves.
The music is obviously nothing special, but a game like this would never strike out to have anything spectacular on those lines anyways. The more time spent on mastering the soundtrack, the less effort they put into the gameplay...and when it comes down to it the gameplay is all that really matters. A good soundtrack is just a bonus.
Needless to say, with all the options for customization of courses combined with the challenges you can assign to each course, MadTracks has a wicked amount of replay value. Then, when you pile on the worldwide multiplayer factor...MadTracks just seems too good to be true. And while I give this game high praise, it's important to remember that above all: it's a racing game. If you didn't like Mario Kart...you're probably not going to like MadTracks. They go hand in hand. While MadTracks seems to have a pretty good handle on the internet Mario Karting desire that I've wanted to express for quite awhile...this game's success will only help to usher in a full-scale Mario Kart online arena. If such a thing doesn't already exist.
I applaud you MadTracks, for such a simple concept you've given the idea of Battle Racing new life.
Very simple but with added challenges directly related to the matchbox car concept. Fun weapons and fun levels. Good job. But damned be he who curbs upon the rail.
Nothing special but smooth and fittingly cartoonish.
Possibilities are endless.
"Mad Tracks" is on sale May 30, 2007 and is rated E. Racing. Developed and published by Load Inc.