Kickstarter is a fantastic way for small independent game developers to bring their gaming ideas to life. Back in March of last year, small two man developer Flippfly successfully funded their latest project, Race the Sun. With over 1,000 backers, and $1,000 over their initial funding goal, it was successfully funded for PC/Linux. After its initial successful release, Flippfly announced that Race the Sun would be coming to Sony platforms. But did Race the Sun have a smooth landing on PS Vita?
To put it simply, Race the Sun is an endless flyer. Chances are you have played countless games like it before. Games such as Jungle Run, Canabalt and Jetpack Joyride all fall into the same category, with their main appeal being that they are ‘pick up and play games’ that encourage you to try and beat your score in every addictive playthrough. Although Race the Sun has all the ingredients for a fun little endless flyer, it never quite reaches the heights it is desperately reaching for.
You pilot a ship on a plain non de-script planet which is populated by large solid structures. Your job is to navigate these structures, as collision means instant game over. The aim is to get as far as possible without crashing, and to rack up as many points as possible. Sounds pretty generic so far, but the added twist is the fact that your ship is solar powered, and the sun that dominates the skyline is setting fast. The sun acts as your timer, and if it sets, or you spend too much time in the shadows left by the variety of structures, your ship will quickly disintegrate. Although it does add a slight sense of urgency to the game, thanks to countless pick ups to lift the sun higher into the sky, you will rarley feel that you are actually racing the sun. Shadowy areas are also few and far between and only very occasionally did I find my ship running low on solar power. The biggest thing to fear? Is the oddly creative structures that litter the world. These take on a huge diverse range of shapes, from towers, to stone hills to obsessive blimps, which seem only interested in flying directly into your path and ruining your day. Discovering new manoeuvres to dodge these dangers is addictive, and the sense of achievement when you safely progress past a particularly tricky area is very satisfying.
One of the best features in Race the Sun is the ever changing map layouts. Maps change every 24 hours, and no two days are the same. This adds a nice insentive to keep coming back, and racing through the new days new layout. One day I found myself speeding past massive stone hills, the next navigating a windmill farm. It really is a nice touch and works extremely well.
There are no checkpoints in game, instead the endless flyer is split into infinite regions. Within each region are a host of differnet obstacles all attempting to end your journey. From windmills, to missiles, the arsenal of dangers thrown at you are vast, and as your progress, the difficultly is very swiftly cranked to 10. Luckily there are a nice selection of pick ups to gather. The landscape is filled with blue pyramids (known as tris), which help to increase your multiplier which is constantly raking in the points as you fly. The more you collect, the bigger your final score, but slightly scrape any structure, and your multiplier will instantly evaporate. Though the tris are spread plentifully throughout each region, collecting a high amount in one area provides a strong challenge, as you swerve in and around walls, loops and ramps. They are spread all over the infinite map, and it always feels satisfying when your multiplier increases into double figures after a good run.
Challenges are also present in the main game. Challenges are the straight forward affair, such as completing a region without touching any surface or collecting a certain amount of tris in a certain amount of tries. Completing these ranks you up, and unlocks a variety of goodies. These include power ups, such as allowing you to jump to great heights over ominous structures or the ability to teleport to the end of a region instantly. You can also add attachments to your ship, which range from holding two power ups at once, to the ability of turning your ship slightly quicker. These are a nice touch, though my obvious favourite was the magnet attachment, which gives you the ability of obtaining power ups scattered around the region, even if you miss them my a country mile. The last unlock is that of ship customisation ‘skins’ which can be added to your ships left wing. Though the idea of customising your ship is appealing, the unnoticeable designs barely stand out on your ships silver exterior and feels pretty pointless.
Which leads on to a major issue with Race the Sun. For a game that puts emphasise on the natural beauty of sunsets, the visual design in the game is surprisingly bland and bereft of colour. Whether you’re in the menu screens, or speeding past vast towering structures, the mostly grey colour palette does little to draw you into the games futuristic space setting. It feels like a missed opportunity, and give the impression that the developers simply ran out of time to implement an appealing colour scheme. There are some slight variations in other in game modes, such as the frantic apocalypse mode, though these never really feel right and once again feel rushed.
Menus and load screens are also bland and uninteresting, with simple white and black designs doing little to add a sense of excitement to a game based around the thrill of piloting a space ship hurtling across a vast landscape. Another major issue is the load times. For a game that will barely scratch the surface of your Vitas memory card storage, load times can be surprisingly long. The main issue occurs when a world is loaded for the first time, and although it does slightly improve after an initial playthrough, a game thats main target is the ‘pick up and play for a couple of minutes’ market, higher than average waiting times are more than likely to put people off.
Luckily the game controls exceptionally well, and is thankfully extremely responsive. You main port of call will be the left joystick, which is used to navigate your ship as it glides along at break-neck speed. Other buttons are called into play when you collect certain pick ups, and all work well together. Leaderboards are also a nice addition, and you can easily see how you rank day-to-day and against your friends. The ability to port your saves over from the PS3 version is nice, and of course the addition of cross-buy between PS3,PS4, PS TV and Vita is a welcome inclusion.
Race the Sun is a fun game at its core, and the added twist of racing a setting sun is a good idea that just doesn’t really work as well as it should. It will distract you for a while, but will become really old really fast.