A few weeks ago at EGX, I was able to check out Mantis Burn Racing from VooFoo Studios. A top-down arcade racer, it immediately caught my attention on my first day at the show and I’ve been throwing my tiny cars around on the PlayStation 4 since launch. This is my Verdict.
Top-down racers were two-a-penny in the 90s, with Micro Machines perhaps the most popular of the bunch. A lot of games have tried to copy of the essence of the formula first laid out by Codemasters, but normally undo all their hardwork by using a traditional racing camera angle rather than the top-down elegance of Micro Machines. Mantis Burn sticks with the top-down view and does the legacy of this type of racer justice.
This is all about the driving, judicious use of boosts (no weapons here to unfairly knock you out of the lead) and mastering the tracks. When I started to play, I was concerned that the limited number of track (eight, all reversible) would lead to races getting stale as you visit the same track on a regular basis. I shouldn’t have been concerned. As soon you start swapping between the weight classes (Light, Medium and Heavy) and speed classes (Rookie, Pro and Veteran) you will have to adapt your racing style. After moving up to the Pro class in career, I was immediately shaving seconds off my fastest lap times. My first experience with a Pro car threw me off my game entirely as I had to start thinking about breaking, a big change from just throwing the Rookie cars into the corners.
It all means that every race requires some thought, none more so than races where you can choose from between the three weight classes. Is it a street race where the Medium chassis will offer more grip, or should the Light buggies be chosen for the dirt races? Or do you stick two fingers up to the sensible choice and burst out a Heavy so you can smash your way through more shortcuts? There’s certainly an element of strategy, once which becomes more apparent when you start to upgrade your racers.
As you level up and complete different loops to the career mode you will earn improvements to throw on your car. You will have to apply them judiciously, just adding a whole load of engine improvements won’t help your grip levels, you’d have to upgrade your tyres to match. After make a few improvements, you can then upgrade your car, adding new visual flourishes and opening new improvement slots.
It’s a great, and simple way of keeping things varied. The most exciting factor to ensuring you upgrade your cars properly is that you can take them online with you. Of course, you can set up lobbies which won’t allow players to race with customised vehicles, something which will appeal to the more hardcore racers out there. If someone wants to race with Veteran cars which you haven’t purchased yet, you can always Loan one out, so you will never be excluded if you haven’t made much progress in career mode.
The career mode is reasonably deep with a seven seasons on offer. Progression is fairly simple, finish in the top three of a race will unlock the next race in the chain, but to take part in the final race in a season, you need to have earned enough cogs. You earn these in each race with six in total on offer – three for winning the event outright, then two further objectives offering up the remaining cogs. These further objectives can be straightforward enough, say simply finishing the event within a set time. They can be amusing and ask you to destroy 10 obstacles or have 1000 metres of drifting. Some though are a challenge, especially in the multi-race leagues. To earn the maximum cogs in the last event of your third and final Rookie career you must win the event without using any shortcuts or your boost.
You will find that some combinations of objectives can’t be completed in one attempt at the race. Coming first within a time limit might be achievable, but to destroy 10 trackside obstacles would more than likely slow you down too much. I’m sure that I will be returning to earlier events to gather the last remaining cogs as I progress further through the career. There are plenty of race types to keep you entertained with everything from straightforward lapped races, to time trials and eliminators. Perhaps the two most interesting modes, and they certainly will be in multiplayer, are Accumulator and Overtake. In the former you are racing to achieve 10,000 points with the on-track leader accumulating points at the fastest rate, you don’t want to be at back long in this. Overtake charges you with overtaking 8 cars, I can’t imagine that being easy in a local co-op environment where all four players are trying to knock each other off track.
I will note that it has been fairly quiet on the PlayStation severs while I’ve been playing, and there have been a couple of races where an opponents car has appeared to stay at the start line for the entire race, only for them to win. It’s early days, and I’m sure VooFoo are busy working on any networking issues. Depending on your race setup, online events can support up to 8 players, with 4 player local co-op available. Mantis Burn will fully support and make use of PlayStation 4 Pro, offering 1080p presentation for all four players in local co-op. It will be interesting to see if this makes its way across to the PC as well. Regardless of Pro and 4K support, the games looks great running on the normal PlayStation 4, and the developers have worked wonders with the track design. I’m looking forward to seeing new tracks, and maybe new locales, appearing in future updates.
To add some variety to proceedings, Weekly Challenges are present and correct. The current Challenge is to travel as far as you can in 8-minutes on one of the dirt tracks with a Heavy vehicle. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be an option to find friends top scores on the Challenges, but I imagine that would appear in a future update. I’m looking forward to what else VooFoo come up with in regards to the Challenges, they look set to offer a different type of racing to anything else.
Mantis Burn Racing heralds the return of the top-down racer in style, and for £12.99 it does so at a sensible price. My recommendation is to get it, master the tracks and cars, then handsomely beat your friends in some local co-op.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4 (and Pro), Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PlayStation 4
Head here for more on our scoring policy. Review copy supplied by PR.