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Mad Tracks (Xbox 360) artwork

Mad Tracks (Xbox 360) review

"One odd mechanic that definitely will affect how you play is the acceleration feature. You press the right trigger to accelerate, but as you do there’s a gauge on the bottom of the screen that reflects a dwindling supply of energy. Thus, simply holding the trigger for a race’s duration is going to come back to bite you at the worst possible moment. Strategy is necessary."

For the acceptable sum of $10, you can download the full version of Mad Tracks, a racing game brought to the Xbox Live Arcade by the good people at D3 Publisher. They’ve gained themselves quite the reputation as a budget publisher with occasional good taste, and Mad Tracks is a release that mostly falls into that category. Though you probably wouldn’t care to buy a boxed copy off the shelf at twice the price, what you get here in exchange for 800 Microsoft Points is worthwhile.

Like Micro Machines before it, Mad Tracks puts players in control of tiny little vehicles as they race around environments that suddenly seem huge by comparison. You’ll drive across billiards tables, for example. The difference here is that the ‘miniature cars in a big world’ theme isn’t executed to its full effect. It’s just sort of there, which is disappointing but not the end of the world.

One odd mechanic that definitely will affect how you play is the acceleration feature. You press the right trigger to accelerate, but as you do there’s a gauge on the bottom of the screen that reflects a dwindling supply of energy. Thus, simply holding the trigger for a race’s duration is going to come back to bite you at the worst possible moment. Strategy is necessary. When you’re coasting down a hill at top speed, for example, that would be a good time to let your momentum carry you. Then as you start up the next incline, you can squeeze the trigger to reach the top, go airborne and perhaps claim an item that will give you an edge against your opponents. The unexpected acceleration mechanic had the potential to add a lot to the game, but mostly only matters when you forget about it and suddenly find your vehicle stalling on the middle of a hill. Oops!

You can bet your opponents won’t make such mistakes, but it’s entirely possible to supply them with other things to worry about. Mad Tracks is a bit like Mario Kart, in that you can grab power-ups and wreak havoc. For example, the snowflake icon means you can fire a shot to turn them into a nearly uncontrollable block of ice for a few seconds. Alternatively, a missile can send them flying off their intended course and you can also grab shields to prevent your opponents from trying such tactics on you. These power-ups make the race to the finish line more engaging, for sure.

There’s more to Mad Tracks than just the straight-up race, though. On the billiards table I mentioned, your goal is to knock the balls of your color into the pockets, as if you were playing an actual game of pool with a cue stick. There’s something extremely satisfying about driving straight toward a ball, then ramming it and sending it flying exactly where you wanted. This would probably be a great deal of fun if your vehicles had the means of whipping into reverse decently to get a new angle on a ball, but alas they do not.

That flaw crops up in the other modes, too. Consider one area, where you have a relatively straight line with three pedestals lined up. You and your computer-controlled teammate win by racing along and lighting up each of those pedestals before your opponents do. The team that wins is the one that manages to set the trio to glowing in a single hue. Unfortunately, turning around to make a run toward the other end of the arena takes awhile because you back up at a snail’s pace. Racing around a half-circle to get another shot is also problematic. Worse still, your teammate is an absolute idiot. He can’t understand the notion of teamwork, while your rivals have no such problem.

If the various diversions are a hassle in single-player mode, though, then at least they’re good fun when you have friends along. You can play with a second player in the split screen mode. It’s divided vertically and actually gives a good view on the action. Mad Tracks ends up feeling a bit like a party game at such times and can definitely turn into an enjoyable affair if both players are similarly skilled.

For those who don’t have a ready means of human competition within the house, there’s also the online mode. You can play standard games or ranked ones, and I had no trouble finding matches. If you like a specific setup, it’s also possible to create custom games and wait for up to three other players to join in (though I always wound up with only one or two competitors). Challenging people you don’t know is something that either appeals to you or doesn’t, but at least here you have a variety of options and can anticipate a reasonably good time in most cases. Replay value definitely benefits.

Something else that extends said replay value, of course, is the Achievements system. There are 200 points available here, as normal, with 12 different objectives you must complete to rake in all of them. Some are simple and will take place naturally as you play through the single-player ‘Adventure’ mode. Another requires that you play 5 matches with a friend, and yet another insists that you play 20 consecutive races on one course. Then there are the objectives that ask you to find several items within a level and then finish in first place. None of the available Achievements add a new dimension to the experience, but their required inclusion benefits Mad Tracks as much as it does any other Xbox Live Arcade title.

Ultimately, Mad Tracks isn’t going to be remembered as the finest option available on Xbox Live Arcade, but it’s a solid game and a good way to spend your time if you’ve tired of Marble Blast Ultra and Geometry Wars. The visuals are competent enough that it feels like--and is--a full game, and there’s also the promise of more downloadable content in the months ahead. The follow-through on the promising theme falters occasionally and the controls and AI could use a bit of work, but Mad Tracks is still a good deal for the price. Try it. Odds are good that you’ll like it.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 12, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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