[10 July 2012]
...And the nostalgia boom continues. There is very clearly a nostalgic bent to Bang Bang Racing, which plays an awful lot like something you might have seen in the mid-‘90s or maybe even the late ‘80s. Micro Machines and R.C. Pro-Am are the most obvious comparisons, though it’s easy to see fans of Mario Kart or even something as seemingly unrelated as, say, Rad Racer being drawn to a racing game that evokes the necessarily simplified approach of the past.
While Bang Bang Racing does bring these things to mind, however (and while I’m sure it works just fine as an Android title on a smartphone), bringing it to Xbox Live Arcade evokes a different kind of nostalgia. This is what games looked like in 2008, back when Xbox Live Arcade was still trying to figure out whether it was a classic games machine or a legitimate venue for new and interesting ideas. This was the time when the size limit of an Xbox Live Arcade game was a mere 50MB (a far cry from the current 2GB limit), when static and unintentionally retro menus along with necessarily limited gameplay options were the norm. Having such a strict size cap brought an implicit understanding of the limitations of such games, and it was easier to forgive the absence of features that would be givens in a boxed game.
At nearly 200MB, Bang Bang Racing still leaves a substantially lower memory footprint than most of its contemporaries. Its price of 800 MS Points, too, seems somewhat nostalgic now that most major releases on the service run more like 1200 or 1600 points.
Even so, the standards that we expect for these games have changed. Making such fully featured experiences as Minecraft, Shank, and the Trials available on the system has brought us to the point of expecting the sort of quality in our downloaded experiences that used to only come in a box.
While it is a cute little diversion, Bang Bang Racing does not live up to the new standards. The most it has going for it is a fantastic sense of color—colorful cars pop out on colorful screens, primary colors are not avoided, and tiny little barrels are actually distinguishable from one another thanks to a willingness to commit to a cartoon aesthetic rather than to a gritty, realistic one. It is a game whose palette screams “fun”, quickly drawing players in with its look rather than by throwing features at the screen like so many darts at a dartboard.
Past the color, however, it is remarkably empty.
While the limited feature set could be seen as a boon—amazing as the games are, the menus of Forza and Gran Turismo can be pretty overwhelming to a new player—there are a few features that really should have been here, the most surprising omission being the lack of online play. Providing such an economical approach is great until you realize that something that you’ve come to take for granted is missing, and when even Nintendo’s ridiculously limited online experience can offer human vs. human online experiences in its utterly limited online experience, you figure that we’ve reached the point where every racing game will have at least some way of racing player vs. player online. This is not so here.
While the nostalgic bent of the game may well be cited as a reason that online racing was not deemed important, that “multiplayer” gaming used to mean plugging more controllers into a single console. Such a thought process is misguided. The people who used to play those games together have largely moved apart. Those who would get the most out of something that they did 20 years ago are those who have a venue to do so that allows them to plug in for an hour in the evening once the daily chores are done and dinners and desserts are fading memories. These people generally aren’t making special trips out to their friends’ houses to play video games anymore, and if they are, it’s for Rock Band or Dance Central or some other such “party game”. These are the laborers, the drones, looking for a little escape, and forcing them to physically get up and go somewhere to experience multiplayer is making them work harder for that escape.
This may sound very dramatic and extreme, but when there are so many ways to play online, the game that lacks it will always lose if everything else is equal.
That’s really the heart of the problem here. There is the dizzying and floaty perspective of the (default) dynamic camera, there is a damage system whose primary strategy seems to be to “knock your opponents into barrels”, and there is a striking sameness to the options that you get when you get to the point where you can choose from multiple cars. None of these are game breaking, though, and they could all be overlooked since the racing is adequate enough to make it an enjoyable—if transient—experience. Really, though, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere and elsewhere could mean Forza 4 or it could mean R.C. Pro Am. Nothing in Bang Bang Racing makes you want to stick with it despite the major flaw that is the lack of an online racing mode, and as such, it falls quickly to the bottom of a pretty deep pile.
Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is fine to a point. Unfortunately, when you start evoking that which you never intended, you’re doomed to fail.