Speed Racer: The Beginning is a new officially-licensed Speed Racer game for iOS devices. Developed by Playlithium and published by Social Games International in partnership with Speed Racer Enterprises, Inc, the game is available now as a $0.99 download for the iPhone and is coming soon for iPad.
While one would expect a Speed Racer game to be a racing title, but Playlithium has chosen to create a title more akin to a side-scrolling platformer. Players take on the role of Speed Racer in his iconic Mach 5 car and must navigate a series of treacherous stages in order to become the greatest race car driver ever. For the most part, this involves jumping over obstacles and occasionally triggering powerups.
The Mach 5 is equipped with a jump facility which allows it to leap over obstacles and gaps. This also features a “double jump” capability, where the car may jump again while it is still airborne. The jump function is triggered by pressing a button in the corner of the screen with a letter “G” on it, which is in turn surrounded by the letters A to F. This is supposed to be a recreation of the array of buttons on the Mach 5’s steering wheel, but those unfamiliar with the series will be utterly bewildered as to why the jump button is marked “G,” since the game makes no effort to explain this.
The Mach 5 may also pick up an array of powerups along the way, the first of which is a speed booster. These appear as a virtual button in the lower-right corner of the screen, and may also make one of the letter buttons around the “G for jump” symbol flash. With no explanation of why this happens, this may cause confusion for those less familiar with the series. Later in the game, as players either earn credits or acquire them via in-app purchase, it becomes possible to unlock additional powerups such as saw blades, extra lives, water shields and all-terrain tires.
In order to get to a point where it’s possible to spend credits without having to pay real money for them, however, players must complete the first two levels. The trouble with this is that Speed Racer: The Beginning is an incredibly hard game, often taking the approach of being cheap rather than challenging players fairly. For example, at several points in the first two levels, the player must leap over chasms, some of which are too wide to cross without making use of a speed boost powerup beforehand. There is no indication of how wide the gaps are before getting to them, meaning the player must learn the tracks through trial and error — and remember to both pick up the speed booster and not use it too early. Since the game only provides the player with a limited stock of lives and making a single mistake pushes players back to the beginning of the level, there is plenty of opportunity for aforementioned trial and error, but it is a frustrating experience. This frustration is compounded by the fact that levels must be completed in pairs in order to progress — completing the first level and then running out of lives on the second, for example, means that players must start the whole game over.
As players progress through the levels, they encounter a wide variety of terrain and other hazards and must make careful use of their powerups and jump ability to navigate the various courses. For some inexplicable reason, the game shows a top-down course map before each level, but since gameplay unfolds from a side-on perspective, this is an irrelevant piece of information for the player. Promotional material for the game also claimed that clips from the show would be displayed before and after races, but there is no sign of this, at least in the early stages.
Speed Racer’s presentation is somewhat inconsistent — the menu screens feature good artwork and decent music, but the in-game graphics are passable at best, with some of the rival cars looking noticeably less well-drawn than others. The game’s animation and physics also have their issues — clipping the edge of a canyon with the front fender of the Mach 5, for example, sees the car magically sliding back onto the road in an unintentionally comic manner, while nicking an oil slick or rival car with the tiniest part of a tire sees players skidding off into oblivion or exploding in a ball of fire.
Speed Racer: The Beginning simply doesn’t do justice to its license material. Its unbalanced, level-based gameplay isn’t likely to maintain players’ attention spans. Super-hard, frustrating gameplay has its place in mobile games — “endless running” games such as Canabalt have made their name with such challenges, for example, and Speed Racer: The Beginning would perhaps have been a better game had it taken this approach to its structure with a prominent leaderboard function. As it stands, however, it is impossible to recommend this game to anyone, whether they are fans of the original show or not.
As a new release, Speed Racer: The Beginning is not yet featured in the App Store leaderboards. Shortly you’ll be able to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.