Cars and motorcycles are fun to race in the real world, but if all your high-speed driving happens on a screen, why stick to asphalt? Flashout 3D is a crazy-fast hovercraft racer for Android tablets and smartphones that will bring back fond memories of anti-gravity excitement for old-school folks like myself, and introduce younger players to a classic mashup of everything that was great about 90s racing titles.
Developed by Polish studio Jujubee, Flashout 3D brings in a number of arcade gameplay elements including weapons to take out opponents with, powerups, secret shortcut routes and, of course, Nitro Boosts. The game is set in the future, when race tracks curve around and cut through skyscrapers and vehicles resemble Pod Racers from Star Wars — and that’s a good thing, a very good thing indeed.
At its core, Flashout 3D seems to hark back to vehicular racing/combat masterpieces like Megarace, F-Zero and most notably WipEout — all of which featured futuristic environments and original vehicle designs. You’ll notice throwbacks to these games in Flashout 3D’s menu design, tracks, ships, gameplay, and sound design.
The graphics are a bit of a letdown — both the design and execution through the game are reminiscent of an effort from 2004, and turning up the detail level to High doesn’t help much at all. What’s new here is the high-energy techno soundtrack, as well as an Emmissive Equalizer that applies in-race visual effects based on the current track that’s playing.
Flashout 3D has a career mode that lets you go through Cups, which are series of races against opponents that you have to play through and finish on the podium (come in 1st, 2nd or 3rd) to complete. If you want to get straight to racing without any fuss, you can choose to race in a time trial or against opponents in a single race, choosing from levels and ships that you’ve unlocked.
While that sounds fine on paper, things aren’t all rosy in Flashoutland. For starters, you can’t restart a race, you have to finish a Cup before you can try it again, and Cups consist only of plain-jane multi-lap races. Plus, there’s no multiplayer or even a social leaderboard. I don’t understand — this game has hovercrafts and weapons, which translates to tremendous potential for novel game modes and race types. One can only hope that Jujubee will add these on in the future.
Defying gravity and making enemies
Missing features and lackluster graphics aside, Flashout 3D is a blast to play. As with most touchscreen racers, you can tun left and right and brake, but here you can also activate temporary powerups like Autopilot and Nitro Boost, and fire weapons to decimate the competition. All these and more (including in-game cash, energy, shields, and speed boosts) can be collected throughout each race.
Tracks also feature hidden alternative routes that you can uncover by destroying barriers and hitting spawn triggers. These help you get ahead quickly, but be careful that you don’t bump into mines along the way, as they slow you down and damage your ship. The presence of barriers and mines are the main reason for my preference of machine guns over rockets — you can take them out with just one bullet instead of wasting precious (and far rarer) rockets on them.
You’ll also need to watch out for your opponents, who will not only try to take you out with their weaponry, but will also grab powerups and deny you of the opportunity whenever possible. This makes for fun gameplay, but unfortunately, the competition doesn’t pose much of a threat once you get the hang of the game, which is about three or four races in.
Flashout 3D offers a variety of controller schemes including floating analog sticks, virtual left-right buttons or your device’s accelerometer. If you want to use a controller, you’ll have to buy the other version of the game that only supports the Zeemote; I really wish Jujubee had baked in support for other controllers as well, since this a racer that could definitely benefit from players having more fine-grained control over their vehicles at high speeds.
Tracks and ships
There are six ships to unlock and play with in Flashout 3D, and they only really differ in speed and manuverability. I’d have loved to have seen a few more parameters affecting how ships handle, such as weight and aerodynamics. The tracks too, though set in various locations around the globe, feel a little too similar to each other, and could with a little more variation in terrain than just suspended tarmac in futuristic cities.
When you earn enough cash, you can upgrade your ship with powerups that you can use once per level. These are mostly the same ones that you can find during races, but I highly recommend the Nitro Boost and the Bigger Clips upgrades because they’re always useful when you need to try a couple of last-ditch efforts to make a decent finish.
I really like how Flashout 3D deals with in-game purchases — you can get a lot of cash for simple tasks (unlike TapJoy’s tedious chores) such as liking Jujubee’s Facebook page, rating the game in the Play Store and downloading the studio’s other game. For just $2, you can unlock all ships and get enough cash to buy the best ship, which is very fair. The game itself costs just $1, and you can actually get through an entire career at a respectable pace without having to spend real money on upgrades.
What I think
The game takes a little getting used to, but once you’re comfortable steering accurately, you’ll really want to dig into this, taking out opponents and crushing race times as you go. Flashout 3D is well worth the price, but here’s the thing: the concept and gameplay is good enough for me to consider paying a little more to get better graphics, more race types and controller support.
The lack of multiplayer game modes is a major opportunity loss for both gamers and Jujubee, since Flashout 3D is a title everyone can get into quickly, and could potentially get the studio’s name out there in front of a large audience with regular tournaments and events. Other than that, this is a fine purchase for the price that brings back many wonderful gameplay elements that players have missed so far, and I can’t wait to see what the developers come up with next.