From the moment I set eyes on the trailer for Race.a.bit I was intrigued. A racer that lets you race across and create tracks based on classic retro games? Count me in. Of course the reality of it isn’t as simple as jumping in and playing tracks based on the likes of Frogger and Super Mario Bros. The trailer itself has a disclaimer that states “the visuals and images expressed in this trailer are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the true potential of possibilities of the game you might consider purchasing” – at least they were up front and honest about it. Whilst you might not get the nostalgic trip you were hoping for from Race.a.bit, the game still provides plenty of hours of fun with its racing and track building gameplay.
Race.a.bit plays in the style of a top down 2D racer – think something along the lines of the classic Micro Machines games. Controls are fairly straightforward with separate buttons for accelerating and braking, though if you hit turns at enough speed you can drift a little too. Cars are fun to control and it certainly has an arcade feel to it. Don’t go into race.a.bit expecting realistic car movement though – what do you expect from a retro stylised top down racer?
The game features visuals that seem to fall somewhere between 8-bit and 16-bit, offering vibrant colours that don’t pack in too much detail due to a limited colour palette. I actually really liked the visual style and its nostalgic feel – it offered enough detail that you can identify the difference between a tree and a rock, whilst all the cars looked pretty cool with some even including fancy visual effects. It’s very much a case of ‘simple, but effective’ visuals.
Of course, a racer wouldn’t be complete without a decent variety of tracks and this is an area Race.a.bit excels in. You have the standard set of tracks that the developers produced for the game, but you also have the ability to play the hundreds upon hundreds of tracks that the Race.a.bit community have created. The game has a huge focus on building and sharing your own tracks, and there’s nothing quite like a track creator to show how creative some gamers are. Seriously, some of the player created tracks I raced through were superb, sending me on chaotic races across roads, ice and lava all whilst being launched through the air over perilous pitfalls.
The track creator itself is pretty robust, offering a wide variety of tools for you to craft your own racing playground. You’ll create your track layout, any obstacles you want in place, any checkpoint locations, hazards and speed boosts – you’re given full freedom to create the track exactly how you please. You can even have UFOs pursue the cars if you like…
The game doesn’t really offer any form of tutorial to the track building though, so you’re left to work out everything on your own. It’s not too difficult to work out how everything works but it would’ve been nice to have some introduction to what each tool does – especially since the icons that represent them aren’t always that clear. You’ll get used to it quick enough though and it won’t take you too long to start uploading your own creations and sharing them with the world.
Whilst Race.a.bit is a racer, you won’t actually take part in competitive races with other players or the AI. Instead it’s structured around track times with a global leaderboard showing where exactly you place amongst other players all around the world. The time trial style of gameplay is neat and you’re able to challenge the ‘ghost car’ of rival racers on the leaderboard as you attempt to beat their time, though I do wish there was some sort of competitive racing aspect included in the game. It would’ve been great to blast down a track I created whilst actually racing against someone as opposed to trying to beat a lap time someone has already set. The time trials are enjoyable, especially when you’re competing against your rival’s ghost that set the track time you’re trying to beat, but they don’t feel as rewarding as an actual competitive race would.
There’s a decent variety of cars on offer in Race.a.bit, some of which will only unlock once you’ve completed certain objectives such as played a certain amount of community tracks, beat a track’s authors time or even just completed all the official tracks of the game. Whilst the cars look pretty cool, none of them really feel that different to race with. I actually noticed a bit of an inconsistency with their performance too. One particular car I used multiple times over the same track and it would seem to start with different speeds each time. It was unusual and with such an emphasis on beating track times a speed inconsistency could be the difference between ranking first or second on the leaderboard.
One area where the game really excels though is with its soundtrack. I’m a big fan of chiptune music so I really appreciated the banging tunes included in Race.a.bit. Composer Bit Shifter did an absolutely fantastic job and it’s great to listen to the upbeat tempos of his tunes as you’re racing across the hundreds of tracks in the game.
If you treat Race.a.bit just as a racing game you’re going to be slightly disappointed. You’re limited to time trials, the cars all feel the same to control and there are no real competitive multiplayer modes to take on other players.
However, the longer you spend with the game the more you’ll appreciate what it does offer. The track creator is great and gives you full creative freedom to make some chaotic tracks, there’s a huge amount of content for you to get through that’s constantly growing, and most importantly the game is great fun to play. You’re not getting an authentic racer here, but something you’ll keep coming back to for enjoyable short bursts. It’s satisfying to see people set new records on your created track, but it’s even more satisfying to beat their time and reclaim that top spot. What more could you ask for from a reasonably priced arcade racer?
– Enjoyable arcade racing that’s enjoyable to play in short bursts
– A robust track creator that allows you to create chaotic but fun tracks
– An amazing chiptune soundtrack
– Seeing people set new best lap times on your created tracks, and then beating them
– Cars don’t feel that different to use
– No competitive racing with the game limited to time trials