The Kinect on Xbox 360 is approaching its third birthday, and recently the Kinect releases have been slowing down a bit. Some factors are at play here; hype has died down a bit for the device and a new Kinect for Xbox One is on the horizon, just to name a few. Developer Smoking Gun Interactive looks to get us back off the couch again with the XBLA release of Freefall Racers
, a Mario Kart
style racer with the premise of racing squirrels that free fall to the finish line.
The game's concept is novel enough. Feel the wind beneath your arms as a flying squirrel falling through a race course, using powers and boosts to get ahead. There are eight racers and eight tracks in all, which seems about right for an arcade title. You'll probably never really get attached to any of the characters, though. Some were cute while others felt a bit generic. The tracks on the other hand, have a bit of character to them. With spiraling caverns, moving obstacles, long diving straightaways and more, most of the tracks offer something unique. The game modes cancel out the uniqueness of these levels, though. There's either Single Race, Time Trials, or Circuit. There are several circuits but each one of them just put together 2-3 courses and that's it. The game modes leave more to be desired, which makes the tracks start to wear on you after a while.
Even more so than a controller based title, Kinect games need a solid backbone of good controls in order to avoid being an absolute disaster. Thankfully, Freefall Racers
has such a backbone. The controls feel natural, immersive, and are easy to pick up. Extend you arms out to fly, pull them to your sides to dive, and kick to use items. The loading screen gives you a quick crash course on this without the need of a tutorial. After a race or two though, you'll begin to notice that there's more to the controls besides these actions. Unfortunately, the loading screen only tells you about these basic actions. The advance controls are tucked away in the Help & Options menu. These advanced moves include leaning forward to activate a boost when the appropriate meter is full, and a brake performed by holding both hands forward. Seeing as the basic controls were displayed in the loading screens, why weren't these advanced ones there, too? The loading screens mention the boost meter but not how to use it. A one-time tutorial would have helped with any early confusion.
The racing is pretty fun and the steering is responsive for the most part. You'll be leaning side-to-side and carefully positioning your arms for proper height. The game uses your whole upper body without really working you over too much. Besides steering, there are acorns that grant you powerups and acorns to fill your boost meter. The powerups are pretty self explanatory but, as mentioned, the boost meter needed a bit of investigation.
We have a fun premise here, one that is executed well. Unfortunately, after this, Freefall Racers
is plagued with quite a few issues. We'll start with the dull presentation. The menus are boring and bland and there is no controller support so you're left slowly navigating with your hand. Each track gets a fly-by at the beginning, which begins to grow old when there are only eight tracks and you're unable to skip. You'll also have to contend with viewing and navigating race results, too. Once you're done with a circuit, you start the whole process over again because it brings you to the main menu.
The racing seems carefree when you start out on Easy; you'll most likely win every race. Crank it up to Hard for a challenge, or a couple of achievements, and you start to see some flaws. Like any Mario Kart
-like racer, you're going to have to contest with some cheap items. On Hard you really get a taste of how cheap they are, as some send you flying into a wall, dropping you from first to last. There's rarely enough track left to make up the time and you'll be lucky to hit the middle of the pack, assuming this doesn't happen again. You might have the skill set to succeed but luck seems to play a factor, sadly.
How do we top off all this frustration? Freezing issues. The game froze several
times. This usually occurred during a loading screen after a circuit so it didn't interrupt an epic race. However, it always resulted in a console restart where you again get to watch the pre-game Kinect screens, and then see the handful of companies involved with making the game. Then we come full circle back to the main menu to start this delightful cycle all over again.
Can Freefall Racers
be saved by its achievements? I'm afraid not. Most of the list is rather boring and straightforward. How do you unlock more characters and tracks? The game doesn't tell you, but I played through circuits and got two 'batches' of new content to unlock everything and to unlock an achievement. The list is mostly easy, besides the achievements for playing on Hard. A healthy challenge is always welcome but you'll be battling cheap AI, loading, menu navigation, and freezing more than anything while going for these.
There is split-screen multiplayer as well, both cooperative and competitive. A flaw I found in split-screen is when one player finishes, the screen momentarily skips, which could send you into a wall if you're in the wrong spot. Xbox LIVE races would have been nice, especially where achievements are concerned, but can you really blame the developers for not adding online races? Why bother writing net code for a Kinect arcade title that will (let's be honest here) see no active players.
The full gamerscore for this game will take you 3-5 hours depending on how you fair on Hard difficulty. After dealing with all the issues mentioned above, I was glad it was done. The game modes don't offer much to do and after all the freezes I had given up on trying to enjoy myself. Freefall Racers
had some real potential and, with some polish and shine, it could have been so much better. You could cherry pick a few things out of this review to justify buying this game: the relatively easy achievements, accurate Kinect controls, or simply something a little different for the Kinect. I think the overall dull presentation and the list of issues overshadows these things, however.
A few hours was all that litepink
needed to see everything this game had to offer and pop all of the achievements. The reviewer shelled out a few of her own acorns to add this game to her personal collection and for the purposes of this review.