May 30, 2007 was a red-letter day for race fans with an Xbox 360. Forza Motorsport 2, probably the most anticipated driving game of the year, hits this day. But the type of road rage found in that game appeals more to gearheads and purists; not to mention those with fairly deep pockets. If you want a lighter, cheaper driving fix on this day of all things fast and motorized, look no further than this week’s Live Arcade offering: Mad Tracks.
Mad Tracks is less a racer and more a mix of Codemasters’ classic MicroMachines series with a bit of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal thrown in for good measure. The idea here is to race around or battle a series of wind-up toy cars. Inside you’ll find everything from straightforward race events and time trials to driving games based on billiards and darts to events where you have to push other cars or items off a giant table.
It all seems a bit chintzy at first. The graphics aren’t particularly great, and the events available to you upon start up don’t seem that varied or interesting. But if you stick with Mad Tracks, you’ll find there’s so much more to enjoy. There are just a load of different game modes and areas to race in. And what’s better? Absolutely every mode and track available in the single-player game is available in both single-system and online multiplayer.
There’s actually a bit of strategy involved here, too. Since these are spring-loaded cars, just holding down the accelerator and steering through each race course isn’t an option. The physics are forgiving enough that you could do this, but your power is based entirely on keeping the spring from winding down completely. As you accelerate, your spring winds down and you gradually get slower. Catching air or simply letting off the accelerator are the only ways to “recharge” your power and keep going. It’s a simple play mechanic that’s actually a bit confusing at first, but adds a whole new level of depth to this delightful game.
For the real-world equivalent of 10 bucks, Mad Tracks is a worthwhile purchase. Early on you may find it hard to justify, but give the game a chance - and a few online matches - and chances are you’ll soon be a fan. Can’t wait to download some of the impending expansion packs.