Do you remember the golden age of video arcades? They were dark, smelly places where spotty teenage boys would crowd around the latest cabinets as loud music, bright neon and happy smiles filled the room. Alas it seems that the video arcade is a dying institution now as home consoles provide just as much power and gaming with your mates means playing someone online that could well be on the other side of the world! In those days games seemed somewhat purer, simpler, more honest, straightforward and immediate. They were also usually very hard.
Black Mamba Racer harks back to those days of old and invokes memories of classic bygone titles such as Super Sprint, Spy Hunter and APB. The game is a simple top down racing game that takes place across nine different tracks and 25 missions. Included are power-ups and the ability to damage your car which adds to the replay-value and variety of the game.
Upon starting the game it’s clear that Black Mamba Racer isn’t going to win any awards for its visual appearance. This is not to say the graphics are particularly bad, they do capture a retro feel quite convincingly, but rather in today’s’ world of high presentation values and professionally designed games BMR looks a little too ‘homemade’.
It is a testament to iPhone gamers that BMR has been a success despite of its looks. It’s one of those games that you must play to really appreciate; static screen shots just don’t do it justice! The release of a lite version has certainly aided sales and enabled the title to stay in the higher echelons of the iPhone games chart for many weeks. It shows that small developers can create a successful title without having to match the big boys in terms of production values just as long as the game-play is good.
In this case the game-play is good. Your car skids and slides like crazy and feels very retro in the way it handles, a far cry from the ultra realistic car handling mechanics found in most racing games today. In the early stages of play you feel as if you’re driving on ice. The over played momentum and drift provide a frustrating experience and then, as in all great games, something clicks and you find yourself gliding majestically round the tracks like Lewis Hamilton – only better! BMR uses on screen pseudo buttons rather than using motion control and is better for it. You do lack the tangible feel of press down on a mechanical switch but after a little play even novice players will be timing their cornering to perfection.
BMR features only 9 tracks which are unlocked in a linear manner, first you take part in time trials for the right to face the drone cars and then ultimately face off against the black mamba herself. The game features 25 missions or challenges in total and once you have learnt the track layouts most players won’t have too many issues completing them fairly easily. Indeed if we were to find fault in Black Mamba Racer it would be in the poorly balanced difficulty and progression. The times do get more challenging and the drones faster but once you’ve beaten the first three tracks the rest are fairly straightforward. The drones also don’t display the same vehicle behaviour as your car which does look rather strange.
One added bonus is the option to play against a friend using local WiFi and this does add a degree of longevity to the title although I’m sure most players won’t use this feature. The game would have benefited from having a number of racing cars to select from and an upgrade path with new parts purchased from a shop or garage to allow each player to tweak their vehicle to their own individual driving style. Starbyte might well be planning to add these features to forthcoming updates, a wise move if they did!
In summary Black Mamba Racer delivers exactly what you would expect. It’s a game that harks back to a bygone era where game-play mattered more than fancy visuals. If you like top down racing games and are prepared to spend some time getting used to the ‘feel’ of your racing car and enjoy the retro feel then you won’t be disappointed. If you prefer your racing in a more serious, realistic manner then you’ll probably struggle to get to grips with it. It’s a lot of fun, offers great value for money and is a good example of substance triumphing over style.