GrooveRider Slot Car Racing
Playstation 2 version reviewed, also available for X-Box and GameCube.
I picked up this up the other day from, of all places, my local Safeway for a mere £9.99 which is apparently the RRP - it looks like old-style budget software might be on the way back (now, when can we return to the days of £1.99 Spectrum games?
). To the best of my knowledge this is only the third computer game on the subject of slotting to be released. A few years ago Mattel Hot Wheels released a PC game with "controllers" that fitted in the joystick ports (which I saw only once for sale and never bothered to purchase - suffice to say this would have been an interesting curiosity to own and I've kicked myself ever since) and, back in the 1980s, Scalextric sponsored a game for the 8-bit machines which featured a track construction system but gameplay involved no slot action at all! Once you had built a track the game itself was a fairly typical race game in the style of Pole Position/Pitstop
So what is Grooverider
Well I'm not sure if this started life as a "straight" slotcar simulation to which were added powerups and lane changing because the original model turned out to be boring, or if it started life as a standard futuristic racer (think WipeOut
) that got dressed up in slot car drag. It's somewhere in the middle.
Four lane plexi-track layouts run around locations such as the dining room and the bedroom floor. You power your car with the left analogue stick, equating directly to the trigger position (where dead centre is off, and fully forwards is full chat). Certainly at the lower powered 3v motor level the cars will zip around corners like double magnet beasts or BSCRA thingies, but it is possible to overcook it - usually you get warned with a red exclamation mark appearing above the car prior to a deslot, but not always which I imagine is a factor of exactly how ridiculously fast you are about to crash. Deslotting is followed by an agonisingly long 'bouncing' animation but it still gets you back in the slot quicker than many a Scalextric club marshal. (No names, no pack drill...
Assuming you are going just that little bit faster than the limit, you will be warned by the car oversteering then going up on two outside wheels before leaving the slot. I noticed that the cornering technique isn't quite the same as the real thing - you can't easily lift before a corner followed by easing the power on because the stick is too sensitive (much like trying to run a magnet-less car with a 15ohm controller) so you end up holding a mid-throttle position throughout tight corners.
I think even the purists amongst us would accept that a "straight" slotcar game would be a little dull and not a patch on the real thing so the developers have thrown in lane-changing, powerups and obstacles.
Lane changing is acheived by tapping the shoulder buttons and shifts the car one lane per tap - there is no 'inbetween' a lane concept so three taps will move you from gutter to gutter. You can change lane at any time (usually... see later).
Powerups are of the Mario Kart
ilk. Drop a mine on a lane, fire a laser up the lane to deslot an opponent, summon a shield to protect yourself from all of the above. Like Mario Kart
there is a degree of tactics in the use of this and just like the Nintendo game I find it useful to hold back an offensive powerup on the last lap in case I get overtaken. Unlike Mario Kart
though powerups don't seem to dominate the game, although this may change at later, tougher levels.
Obstacles. Hmmmm... Not to sure about this bit. Scattered around the track are big lighted signposts shoved in the slot and you have to steer around them. A slow tap into one will just stop the car in the slot, anything faster deslots you in violent fashion. You will have to lane change around these and on later levels gameplay becomes what we children of the 70s called "twitch gaming" or "wristsplinter" - you scream through a complex at daft speeds, frantically lane changing to avoid the obstacles. This is perhaps the hardest thing in the game for a slothead to accept (I mean I've suffered with debris in the slot like the best of us but never quite at this magnitude...) but again I suspect the game would be extremely dull without them.
This is where I think the game might have started life as a futuristic racer - I can imagine a game whereby racing spacecraft shift between paths to avoid obstacles where someone in the development team said "hang on... this is a bit like Scalextric".
Coloured Lanes - Well as if the above wasn't enough to think about not all of the track is nice, shiny nickel. Green sections give you something of a power surge. Red sections slow you down (somebody get the lighter fluid out!). The Blue sections are magnetic which I assume means you can't deslot (it's difficult to find out exactly what since the manual is very skimpy) and the Yellow sections lock you into that slot for the duration of the yellow 'bit'.
Graphically the game is quite nice. Not stunning but certainly attractive and with a quite a few "slot" visual cues. The difficulty level is comprised of three settings, nicely termed 3v, 6v and 9v. Even nicer still when you select a level it shows you a chassis with a motor inside - the 3v motors look like el cheapo cans from battery-powered sets and the 9vs have two inline capacitors and a Ninco-style foil label.
From the start of the game you get to play with two Muscle Cars and two Jap supercars. These are anonymous for licensing purposes but are basically a Dodge Charger, Ford Mustang, Supra and NSX. Winning the first championship opens up a field of Lotus 7s another nice feature is that the 3d model for the Lotus has a guide flag and wiring poking out of the front. So the cars really are slot cars, rather than miniature versions of the real thing. I haven't noticed any real difference between the cars as regards handling or speed.
There is quite a lot of stuff in the game that has to be unlocked before you can use it, unlocking is a feature of completing championships (which opens another "room" for play in) and winning championship races (which opens up cars). Later car selections include GT cars, Formula 1 and NASCAR. I'm always a bit ambivalent about having to unlock stuff in games - part of me thinks that I paid my money for a game and I want to play with all of it and another part acknowledges that this adds length to a game and a lot of people hold that to offer value for money. No doubt the cheats will turn up on line sooner or later to open everything anyway.
So, as a slot car enthusiast should you buy this? Well not if you want a simulation of slots or something to practise on when the clubroom is shut. It's a more of a reasonably fun PS2 game that has a slot theme, but remember that you get what you pay for and this is only a ten quid game. Perhaps one for the younger slotter.
I don't have any facility to take screen shots so I suggest you have a lot at some of the following sites if interested in pretty piccies.