Thursday, May 28, 2009

Smashing Toys Review

Smashing Toys, developed and published by Leon Brothers.
The Good: Online multiplayer, twenty-four tracks, car upgrades
The Not So Good: Weak car handling, limited weaponry, terrible level design, robotic AI requires perfection to advance, instant respawn times have no usage penalty, must unlock content, bad performance for the graphics, bugs and translation issues
What say you? Mario Kart this ain’t: 3/8

What if toys came alive? Would they revolt against their human overlords? Would they battle across New York for ultimate control of Shia LaBoeuf and his dangerous yet alluring sexiness? Would they take over the Republican Party (some would argue that toys are already in control)? According to Leon Brothers, the developer of Smashing Toys, they were born to race. Sounds plausible enough to me!

The graphics and sound for Smashing Toys are decidedly outdated. The game looks like an independent title, which it is, and for the low price tag ($10), you can forgive some of the shortcomings present in the title’s graphics. The car designs have different toys piloting each vehicle, although you will be passing people at such a high speed that nothing is easily recognizable; having all of the cars behave the same during races further reinforces the lack of distinction. The maps feature some recycled environments and obviously linear tracks with prominent unimaginative walls on either side. Effects are unimpressive: explosions are too small and insignificant. The washed out textures round out a sub-par package. Confusing, then, is the poor performance exhibited by the game at higher settings: whether the constant changes in speed are due to the graphics or the game engine remains to be seen, but it appears as though Smashing Toys chugs significantly whenever multiple cars are rendered on-screen. Sound fares slightly better, if only because of the main menu music that I found to be quite enjoyable. The rest of the sound design, however, is mediocre: other vehicles do not verbally react to passes or weapons, and explosions are generic just like their visual counterparts. I don’t necessarily have a problem with independent games that have poor graphics and sound, but they should at least perform decently.

Smashing Toys lets you smash toys across twenty-four tracks either against the AI or online, and that’s where the good parts of the game stop. The initial load time for the game is a couple of minutes, and each track takes about a minute to load (this is apparently an improvement from the original release version of the game), but you have to sit through another loading process if you restart the race. You must unlock everything in the game, as you are only given one (one!) track at the start. You’ll need to finish at the front, and with the lack of difficulty settings and the random nature of the races, this can be quite a difficult (and almost impossible) requirement. Points earned during races by finishing strong and performing certain actions like running into other cars or jumping long distances can be used to purchase car upgrades. These “improvements” are expensive and the difference in performance is not that noticeable. Multiplayer lets you choose any of the game’s tracks (why only here?) and you can play though the game’s central matchmaking server: a great feature if there were actually people playing Smashing Toys.

Quality tracks can make or break a racing game, and Smashing Toys tends towards the “break” end of this spectrum. Tracks have a constant width and insurmountable walls on either side to keep you restricted to the single pathway. There are never any alternative paths or interesting variations in the track designs, except for the occasional jump where you’ll probably venture out of bounds anyway. Item pickups are always in easily accessible areas, meaning that the leaders will be at an advantage as they get all of the cool weapons; at least Mario Kart solved this issue with multiple pick-ups in a single area. There is also random crap on track for no reason other than to be annoying and in the way. I guess this is there to show off the physics of the game, but since the objects don’t slow you down or impact the game in any way, I have no idea why they are included. I suppose this is as good a place as any to discuss the various bugs in the game. In particular, Smashing Toys always reverses my acceleration and brake keys, requiring me to remember to reset them prior to a race or restart (taking another minute to reload the entire track). There are also some inconsistent translation issues, with some lingering French words remaining in the English distribution of the game. This is not a terrible problem, but it shows the lack of polish in Smashing Toys.

Smashing Toys really trips up when it comes to the actual racing. The cars are set up very loose with no downforce (the opposite of most, if not all, real race cars), making cornering quite difficult and navigating the tracks a pain. The cars seem to weigh nothing, becoming easily airborne with any nearby explosion. Cars also randomly speed up and slow down; this obviously makes controlling the cars quite a chaotic experience. Landing jumps is also hit-or-miss at best, as you can routinely land on your nose and you cannot tweak your trajectory while airborne. Cars also accelerate quite quickly and reach top speed in a second or two. Because of this, it is always better to respawn than to take the time to turn around if you become pointed in the wrong direction. This makes Smashing Toys devoid of any strategy and a completely uninteresting racing game.

Smashing Toys has a derivative list of items you can collect on the race course. You have items dropped behind you (mines, dynamite, bubble (an overly powerful mine)), launched in front (missile), and other bonuses (speed, armor, shield). The items are so plentiful and easily collected that Smashing Toys becomes an exercise in nonsensical chaos as items are dropped ad nauseum and cars fly through the air. The robotic AI doesn’t help: they expertly navigate the course and provide an overpowered opponent that requires you to race almost perfectly to unlock the next event. Everybody runs in one pack, so the gap between first and last is maybe a couple of seconds, making races exceedingly difficult to win if you aren’t in the lead. Always starting in last exacerbates this issue. In short (too late!), the racing of Smashing Toys is a jumbled mess of poor handling cars and plentiful but non-strategic weapons that offers nothing unique or interesting to the arcade racing genre.

Smashing Toys is an arcade kart racing game that almost gets nothing right. The core gameplay is the main culprit here, as I cannot get a handle on the seemingly random handling the cars exhibit, making the races a tedious and frustrating process. Having online multiplayer and twenty-four tracks are nice features, but nobody plays Smashing Toys and you have to unlock every single one of the maps. Good luck with that, as the racing is difficult with robotic, perfect AI opponents. Track designs are dull with high walls that can’t be navigated around and a single path to follow. The cars handle horribly: you never feel like you are in control, as turning the wheel slightly may result in spinning completely around or not turning enough. The plentiful weapons make driving even more torturous, as constant explosions will send your vehicle flying. The graphic are poor but so is the performance: a suspect combination. Smashing Toys is a tedious racing game, and its unpredictability is its downfall. Even at the game’s cheap $10 price, I cannot recommend it.