Like Ultimate Stick Fight, Turbo Racing League is game that really has no right to be as good as it is. The former, a stick-figure karate-fighting game, surprised me because of the number of mediocre stickman fighting games on the Play Store. The latter is a tie-in based on a kids movie. A kids movie about a deranged restaurant owner who spends his free time racing modified snails on a series of elaborate, hand-crafted miniature racetracks. Yeah. I hope that description gives you some idea as to why I didn’t exactly come into the experience with high hopes.
I’m not too proud to say when I’m wrong, though, and I certainly was here. Despite the tie-in and the utterly bizarre plot the game’s based on, developer PikPok has created an addictive, engaging title that had me telling myself I’d just play one more race before sitting it down to do a review. It also has the most generous approach to microtransactions I’ve ever seen in a freemium game — due in large part to the Dreamworks connection and some obvious Verizon sponsorship, I’m sure — and enough content to keep you doing new stuff pretty much forever. As far as surprises on the Play Store go, it’s tops.
You’ll spend your first 15 or 20 minutes with Tito, the madman behind the snail racing circuit, showing you the ropes. The whole section is about ten minutes longer than it needs to be. More than once I wanted to grab him by his restaurant’s “uniform” (read: t-shirt) and tell him I knew I needed to touch “Buy” in order to buy the item I’d selected, etc. Once that’s over, though, you’re left to hit the tracks with your squishy, shelled competitor all on your lonesome.
As with a lot of similar Android titles, the racing largely boils down to time-trial modes, each of which has different rules to keep gameplay fresh: One may have you collecting soda cans before you run out of so-called “fuel”, for instance, while others make you hit various checkpoints throughout the track to stay alive, but in the end your main antagonist is always the clock. Standard races come in the form of one-on-one skirmishes vs other snail opponents with names like Speedy and Blaze. Even with the limited modes the game keeps things interesting by only offering you four types of races at a time. Beating one with three stars clears it from the list, making room for the next encounter.
And They’Re Off… Slowly
Turbo Racing League focuses on finesse and handling — though that’s not to say things don’t move pretty fast once you’ve added the appropriate modifications to your salt-allergic racer. You have no control over your acceleration outside of running over booster tiles during races and upgrading your stats between them. Instead, you’re only given direct control over your snail’s movement. If that makes things sound too simple for you, think again. The combination of standard turning and drifting can be surprisingly challenging and a lot of fun, especially as you progress through the ranks and gain access to more difficult events and tracks.
Fair, Fun, Addictive Upgrades
If you haven’t played Fast & Furious 6 yet… actually, nevermind. Don’t play that game. Just know that this game is the exact opposite when it comes to monetization strategies. The currency of choice in the Turbo Racing world is — wait for it — the humble tomato, and they’re positively everywhere: on the track, in your post-race bonuses, and even in your Facebook and Twitter accounts if you don’t mind showing the game a little social media love. You can buy them, yes, but there’s really no reason to unless you’re abysmally bad at the game or the least patient person on earth. I had no trouble unlocking expensive snail spoilers and exhaust systems that come with them, after maybe two hours of gameplay. Things do get a little more expensive as you move up the ranks, but that’s to be expected. A Ford Fiesta costs a lot less than a Mustang. Why would you expect a high-end racing implement/portable home to carry the same pricetag as an ugly old thing from the used shell dealership?
I’ll step off the soapbox after one more point. The game is fairly heavy handed with advertisements. Sometimes you’ll see two of them between races, and many of those are so small it’s hard to hit the X in the corner instead of the advertisement itself. Whether I’ve been conditioned to accept them or I didn’t really mind them to begin with I don’t know. I’m sure, however, that they annoyed me a hell of a lot less than seeing the best equipment possible in the game and knowing there’s no chance I’ll ever be able to afford it without playing way too long or dipping into my own wallet. In other words, the option to buy is there if you want it. If not, you won’t see it. That’s a very good thing in my opinion.
Tracks Out The Wazoo
The track design is top-notch with regard to visuals and variety. Some look like standard racetracks shrunk down to a snail’s size. Others look like the work of, oh, I don’t know, a clinically insane snail racing commissioner, with cardboard roads and hand-drawn advertisements littering the walls on either side of them. Grind rails, which basically work like shortcuts, have the potential to make every lap different from the one before it. Many courses even feature huge leaps, off which your snail can do tricks like spins and front flips. It’s one of the most surprising aspects of an already-surprising game… I could spend a couple bucks on a similar title, see half as many tracks, and still come away satisfied.
Check ‘Er Out
If you’re into racing games at all you owe it to yourself to give Turbo Racing League a look. Like I said up top, I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that a free, licensed title based on a Dreamworks movie for children would be half this fun. Even now I can’t wait to finish this review up so I can go do a few more laps. Those racing shells don’t pay for themselves, after all. It’s free. Give it a download. You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, you’re only out a little bit of data.