By Alice Liang 08/08/2007 Remember back when you were a kid with those little motorized cars that ran around and around on a single track? Well the PSN game PixelJunk Racer is reminiscent of that, but with several tracks on windy courses and tons of tiny little cars. Oh, and did we mention explosions, fireballs, and cars that inflate like balloons? What's more, you can change lanes left or right with the D-pad; it's an important gameplay mechanic and one of only two basic controls, the other being the pressure sensitive R2/L2 triggers that dictate acceleration speed.
SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all PixelJunk Racer screens.
The objective of this top-down racer is simple -- complete all qualifying tournaments in one tier and meet its final requirement to move onto the next. The requirements usually involve winning a competitive race, but can also be a specific number of gold or silver cups (you get cup rankings after each tournament). But, the tournaments aren't just all races; in fact, generally speaking coming in first isn't usually necessary, and some of the modes don't even require you to "finish" a race in the traditional sense.
Some, like Sunday Drivers require you to meet the goal before time runs out -- in that case, it's to overtake 100 cars on a jam-packed course while all cars, except yours, move slow as molasses. Hot Pursuit asks you to smash an opponent car (black, while the rest are white, and your car is red) before time runs out -- a feat that's harder than it sounds since you easily zoom past the slower moving black car and frequently get blocked by others on the course. Then you get the unexpected modes like Balloon Burst and Fireball Frenzy, where your little red car takes on amazingly un-car-like attributes such as inflating like a balloon only to expel air for a speed boost, or gradually bursting into flame (so you can mow everyone down afterward) as you overtake other drivers.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of these varied modes is that the difficulty of each one is also highly varied. You come across some stupidly easy ones like In the Zone, where all you have to do is maintain a specific speed for a few seconds, keeping your car within a glowing circle next to an opponent car to blow it up. Then, you encounter Sudden Death (within a one tier difference), which loyal to its name usually ends with an abrupt explosive end to your car. You must overtake 100 cars within a short time limit, all the while without getting hit once -- a high demand when you factor in the considerable traffic congestion.
The tracks aren't much to look at, with some windier and more entangled than others. And while the backgrounds do change from one tournament to the next, you don't really notice it. This could be due to the fact that you spend much of your time tunnel-visioned on your red speck going round and round, trying desperately to avoid hitting other cars (unless the mode calls for it) as that slows your speed. Unfortunately, it seems nearly impossible to change lanes quick enough when you're at fast speeds, and the other cars can sometimes totally block all lanes -- then, it's a waiting game. It doesn't help that the top-down camera is pulled far out to encompass the entire track so all the cars look like little rectangles. If you wear glasses, you'll definitely need them for this game.