I never had a slot car track growing up, though it was not for lack of wanting. Every time I’d go to a friend’s house who had one, I remember being so enamored with watching those cars zip around the track… until I’d take a corner too fast, and it would fly off to the floor. So when I heard that HTR+ was a slot car simulator for the PS Vita, I was excited that I was finally going to get a race track of my own.
And I quickly learned why my parents never shelled out the money for my own set when I was a kid. Sometimes things are good only in small doses.
HTR+ is a slot car simulator that brings the experience of slot car racing into the palm of your hand. HTR is short for High Tech Racing… which is a bit ironic since there has never been anything very “high tech” about slot cars. But it does provide a slightly over-fantasized version of the toy. The experience isn’t so much how slot cars really are, but more how we wished they were and probably how we imagined it in our minds.
I always dreamed of having my car barrel down the straightaway before flawlessly jumping a gap in the track and finishing up by going into a series of loops only to cross the finish line ahead of my friends. That’s how I saw it in my head, but it rarely played out like that in real life. Cords would get tangled and come lose. The metal connector on the bottom of the cars would always be corroded. The battery for the track would always be running out of juice. But in HTR+, those fantasies finally become a reality.
The menu screen gives you quite a few different ways to play. There’s the standard Championship series of races, which pit you against three other cars on a number of tracks that get increasingly more difficult. Or you can choose to just practice any track to your heart’s delight. The downside to this is that most of the tracks are locked until you race them and finish 1st. So all those cool tracks with the jumps and loops will have to wait awhile.
Upon first firing up HTR+ I was immediately struck with how good it looked. The colors were vibrant and the tiny toy cars looked spot on. Everything moved fast and fluid, and if you take a corner too fast, your car flies off the track and has to be re-seated. The music is rocking and the whine of the cars is pitch perfect. They nailed the look, the sounds, and the feel of a real slot car track. It’s just that controlling everything is a bit of a mess.
The first problem I encountered when I started to play is that making your car move is more of a hassle than it should be. The accelerator is mapped to the analog sticks and how far forward you move the stick will determine how much juice you give your car. The problem is that there isn’t a lot of travel distance in the Vita’s sticks. Chances are you’ll either be going full throttle or at a complete standstill. Trying to hit that sweet spot and maintain it is about as difficult as taking a decent screenshot during a race.
The solution to this is that there is an on-screen throttle you can work with your finger. This method actually allows for a high level of precision in setting your speed, but it makes changing your speed a bit more painful. This would lead me to not wanting to adjust my speed and suddenly everything came tumbling down from there.
Here’s basically how HTR+ went for me from then on: I’d fire up a race on Easy and find that sweet spot on the accelerator where I didn’t fly off the track. I’d usually win, which gives me coins so I can purchase upgrades for my car. I’d buy better tires to grip the track better, and now I could go a bit faster without flying off. It didn’t take long before I wasn’t even racing anymore… in fact, I wasn’t even looking at the screen. I could just place my thumb in a certain spot and wait until the race was over (usually with me as the winner). Track after track, race after race, this is how it played out. Every Easy track, every Normal one as well.
Boosting the difficulty level to Hard makes things a bit more interesting, but then the element of luck also becomes a deciding factor. If you get assigned to an outside track, you could be screwed, or if the other racers find themselves in a collision, you catch a lucky break. This is true in most racing games I suppose, but here it feels more prevalent. There is no middle-ground. Things are either ridiculously easy or out-of-control difficult.
In addition to the Championship series of races, HTR+ also has a track editor so you can build your own monster creations. Put as many loops and jumps in as your heart desires, but the best of luck to you in “closing” the track. It’s almost a shame because the tools for putting the track together work so well, but every time I got to the end, the track pieces would never line up. The other downside is that once you do create a track, it’s locked to your system. You can’t share it with your friends, nor can you download tracks they have built.
HTR+ is a beautiful and authentic slot car racer that is seriously hampered by its controls. It also reminded me that the fun in slot cars isn’t watching a racer zip around a track, but rather the joy of racing against a friend. Sadly neither are available here.