Review: Pixel Boat Rush for iOS – a tribute to retro racers

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - blue
Review: Pixel Boat Rush for iOS – a tribute to retro racers

Platforms: iOS

Game Name: Pixel Boat Rush

Publisher: XperimentalZ Games

Developer: XperimentalZ Games

Genre: Action, Racing

Release Date: October 9, 2014

Pixel Boat Rush – What We Think:

Pixel Boat Rush from XperimentalZ Games is a 2D combat racing game with a retro aethetic. Generally racing games on mobile devices tend to emulate modern racing games without taking into account the device’s limitations. Pixel Boat Rush, on the other hand, takes cues from early racing games by providing a simplistic control scheme like the challenging Trials series of games by requiring you to be precise and learn its nuanced mechanics to offer up a fun high-speed experience.

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - red

The game features two different modes: Career and Arcade mode. Arcade mode allows you to set up individual races, while Career mode is a much more satisfyingly fleshed-out experience. I highly recommend you start with career mode first, because it teaches you how to play, and the game’s mechanics are surprisingly complex for a two-button control scheme.

Getting Your Sea Legs

When you start the career mode option, you have to first go through a License mode. License mode consists of small challenges that help teach you about the game’s mechanics and does a good job of teaching you the nuanced driving mechanics without feeling tedious. This introductory phase is something you have to complete in order to unlock the standard races in Career mode and, later on in the game you’ll have to complete more License challenges to unlock even more races.

Races are divided into four different classes: C Class, B Class, A Class and S Class. S Class races are the most difficult, while C Class is where you’ll first set out in search of glory. Each class has a set number of race events; in order to unlock the subsequent race in a given class, you must place 3rd or higher in the prior race.

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - shop

Career mode lets you unlock new boats by earning a set amount of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place trophies in a given class. Once unlocked, the boats can be purchased and upgraded using coins and wrenches. These are acquired after every race and doled out based on how well you placed. Upgrading a boat is done buy spending wrenches on stats you want to improve. For example, upgrading your boat’s armor or its acceleration speed requires a certain amount of wrenches.

Batten Down The Hatches

The upgrading mechanic was a nice feature to see; instead of only allowing the purchase of new boats, the game offers you some level of customization to improve a boat’s weaker aspects. I’d focus mainly on upgrading my armor any chance I got – I’ll elaborate on my reasons why later – but first let’s move onto the game’s mechanics…

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - blue

Wave of Mania

As mentioned earlier, the game is complex. Touch at the bottom right of the screen to accelerate and touch the bottom left of the screen to fire your boat’s weapon. The nuance comes in timing when to press accelerate and when to release it.

Since boats are racing on water, during races you’ll encounter many rounded waves. These waves can be used as a ramp to avoid rocks in the water, collect power-ups or just get more air to avoid enemy projectiles. Holding accelerate while you are you hit the top of a wave will send you flying while not pressing accelerate will allow you to stick to the wave, essentially staying in contact with it and riding it smoothly without gaining air. It all depends on what speed you are going when you hit a wave that determines how much air you do or do not get. While in the air you can choose to hold the accelerate button to slowly descend in a somewhat gliding fashion or release accelerate to drop down as fast as possible.

This adds a level of complexity to the game that requires you to pay attention to every wave or bump in a race track; the slightest bump can send you in the air, which essentially slows you down. If you want to keep your speed, it’s important to let go of the accelerator for a split second to stick to the water. Accurate timing becomes a big deal and a catalyst for making the game challenging.

Challenge also comes from the combat aspect of the game: Although you cannot physically collide with other racers, during combat themed events you can destroy them with your projectile weapon. All boats have at least one projectile weapon which can be fired. Hitting a rival driver with your weapon is much easier said than done. Boats can only fire straight ahead, so you have to make sure that you’re vehicle is level with the water in order to hit a boat directly in front of you. Combat requires precise timing and smart ammo conservation.

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - green

Blue Sea Shell

I certainly enjoy the lack of defensive options in combat. Since races happen on a 2D plain, other racers can shoot you from behind, leaving you helpless. Your only options are to either use a wave to get air to avoid projectiles, or slow down and let the racer pass you.

Given how demanding the game is on placing in the top 3, slowing down is never a viable option to take. Oftentimes I replayed a race over and over again while wishing for great defensive possibilities. There are a lack of player-controlled maneuverability options, which makes this into more of an issue. If all boats had a simple shield device to activate that had a negative affect on ammo or speed, it would have helped to make the combat races more enjoyable. As it stands, the lack of agency felt like a shortcoming.

The career mode is very light on story and nothing is elaborated upon. However, the game’s set up is that you super-exploded and you are trying to make a comeback. In order to win back your former glory, you have to compete in races to be the biggest racer around. The narrative aspect had a lot of potential because the game makes no efforts to take itself seriously.

I’ll Make You Famous…

Racers you go up against are references of people or characters in pop culture. You’ll race up against Canoe Reeves, Luke Seawalker, Bruise Willis, Charles Darwind, and Raft Punk. A couple of racers will occasionally interact with you by taunting you directly. Raft Punk – which, for those new to planet Earth, is an obvious reference to electronic musicians Daft Punk – will say “Too bad, you’re going to have to try one more time.” Just one of the many pun filled exchanges you have with him.

The game makes no attempt to be serious, which is why I would have liked to see more interaction with the racers or a more fleshed-out narrative. It would have helped me feel more invested while I played. I’d like to hear insults from other racers in the game, or a wacky plot, just to see what other pun-filled writing the developers could come up with.

Pixel Boat Rush screenshot - Raft Punk

It Floats Our Boat

The game looks and sounds great. Everything is consistent and fits with the retro tone the game strives for. The chip-tune music is fantastic and brings a lot of life into the game by making races more exciting. Thanks to a fantastic art direction and great race course specific songs, tracks feel different from one another. Courses will feature green water or red skies to make the tracks look more visually appealing. Top-to-bottom the presentation of the game is fantastic, it’s an homage to retro games of the past, executed perfectly.

Overall the game is a lot of fun to play. I enjoyed the game’s mechanics even though I had some issues with the its combat themed races. This is a iOS racing game that gets so many things right. It’s simple but complex, it’s challenging but fun, Pixel Boat Rush is a great game that I highly recommend.

Pixel Boat Rush – Official Site

Get Pixel Boat Rush from the iTunes App Store