When I was a kid I never really got the appeal of Hot Wheels. Taking time out of my busy 11-year-old schedule to weave an exaggerated plastic track down my staircase simply never seemed that appealing to me.
The tiny cars were also a bit of a turnoff. In my juvenile mind, to make things more fun you needed to make them bigger not smaller. I would much rather have run around with a life-sized replica of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber (the awesome green one, not the blue one that killed a dozen baby Jedi), than push a miniaturized race car around the kitchen table.
I’m 23 now, and for the first time in my life I’ve started to regret missing out on these minuscule automobiles. I owe my newfound remorse to a game called BlazeRush which released last week for the Oculus Rift.
BlazeRush is a racing game that embraces the unique capabilities of its immersive new platform in fun and inventive ways. Rather than strapping you into the familiar cockpit setting that most VR driving games opt for, BlazeRush grants you a giant’s perspective on the courses instead.
The result is the best Hot Wheels track you’ve ever played with. This viewpoint gives BlazeRush an immediate sense of toybox-like fun, and the cars themselves – which battle, bounce, and boost around these mini-raceways – further increase the sense of childhood wish-fulfillment that the game provides so well.
The controls in BlazeRush are just as counter cultural as the perspective when compared to traditional racing titles. To accelerate, you simply tilt the control stick in the direction you want your car to go rather than holding down A or right-trigger. At first this was counter intuitive, but once I got the hang of it I actually felt as if I had greater control over my car during each race than I usually do when playing a racer.
BlazeRush values simplicity and fun over realism and this core principle leaks out into almost every aspect of the game. A plot is present -your group of rag-tag space racers is trying to stay one step ahead of the evil galactic construction company that insists on turning planets into parking lots – but it doesn’t add a ton to the experience and is mostly there to justify the extravagant alien environments and racetracks of the game.
Gameplay is similarly simple. Each race or event only takes about 3-5 minutes to complete. There are usually only 4-5 other racers competing against you which feels just right on the smaller courses. In addition to traditional races, you will also be able to participate in time trials, a last man standing style race against a massive space-age steam roller, and several other game modes as well.
Combat is basic but can lead to some deeply satisfying moments. The game teaches you how to use a steadily increasing arsenal of weapons, boosts, and power ups as you progress. These can range from a rapid fire mini-gun, to an opponent spinning buzz saw, to a pair of G-force inducing rocket engines.
The only way to truly slow your opponents down is to knock them off the track all together. This is a refreshing change of pace from the “every weapon blows you up or stops your car” mantra that Mario Kart popularized decades ago. Items feel less gimmicky and combat strategy becomes more important when the goal is to move your opponent off of the stage rather than blast them willy nilly.
The gear will fall from the heavens seemingly at random as you drive around the track and picking up each item will augment your car accordingly. Grabbing the nitrous, for instance, gives your car massive mufflers on either side that will remain until you decide to unleash the blue, flame-spewing speed boost that they offer. Racers at the back of the race will have more access to the item-rain which adds terrific balance and keeps races competitive until the very end.
There’s a good amount of content to keep you occupied in BlazeRush. A simple play through can take anywhere from three to six hours, depending on how well you drive. Getting the best time in every time trial or winning first place in every race, however, adds a significant amount of time to the overall experience.
Online mode is another fun addition. Going head to head with up to eight friends on these toy-like racetracks is another way this game brings the childhood fantasy of Matchbox cars to the point of ultimate fulfillment.
There are a few cons to discuss here as well. Music in the game is a bit weak and the character roster – while plenty extensive at 16 – is also a big generic. You never feel too connected to any one character and the models for the cars themselves also share a few too many design elements to feel all that unique. The different modes are inventive and fun, but the game does focus a bit too much on the last man standing challenge which is also the most arduous to complete.
Studio: Targem Games
Platform: Oculus Rift
Release Date: March 28, 2016
Blaze Rush should be applauded for taking us out of the cockpit and making VR racers fun in an entirely unique way. This game is a fantasy come true for anyone who ever tried to jump a tiny police car over the family cat by sliding it down a plastic ramp. The inner-child in all of us will be delighted by this game. And, at only $9.99, it offers great value to any Oculus owner’s gaming library.