Version tested: iPhone
Sometimes a game gets almost everything right, then smashes into the wrong platform at 100mph. Burnout Crash was first released on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, and a TV and a pad don't do it justice. The simple touch-screen, whether phone or tablet, reinvigorates it.
Burnout Crash isn't a racing game in any sense. Each level begins with your diddy vehicle zooming towards an intersection, and you're able to steer left and right to choose an approach and ensure you smack right into a piece of traffic (a red-faced miss means a restart). After this initial crash, the name of the game is destruction: multiplier-led, feature-unlocking destruction that sounds like a pinball machine and plays snippets from cheesy hits while an even cheesier yankee comments from the sidelines.
Big money, big prizes - I love it! The production of Burnout Crash is inseparable from the game underneath, and as you'd expect from Criterion it's polished to a shine. The game loads as a Tonka-style car careers from left to right, finally crashing into the title screen, before The Primitives' irresistible Crash (and not the crap '95 remix either) starts up. Bang into the gold car on each stage and you get a few seconds of Spandau Ballet's Gold, trigger a money-laden bank truck and it's Dame Shirley Bassey herself belting out Hey Big Spender. There are many more, and every time they're magic.
With Criteron you also get Autolog, the best social structure around for high-score chasing. There are three modes in Burnout Crash - Rush Hour is about causing as much damage as possible, Pile Up is all about burning stuff and chaining explosions, and Road Block is the one that's actually about pile-ups. Each of these has their particular 'best' scoring tactics, and this is what Autolog is so good at bringing out - if a mate squeaks past your score it's no big thing, but if it's been doubled then pride demands you begin experimenting to find out why.
When it's all about simple destruction, Burnout Crash is furious flicking and instantly appealing - after the entry crash, you can flick the car to make it hop short distances while energy builds up, after which a flick will send it exploding forwards. The scenery's as much of a target as cars, with buildings and fittings all fair game, as well as a hole that lets you drive back into the mess from the level's starting point, which is a great touch.
Fun as it is to destroy, you end up seeing Rush Hour as the appetiser, because Burnout Crash's structure means you play intersections once in each mode, and it's in Pile Up and Road Block that a little more skill comes into play. In Pile Up the best kind of burning is reminiscent of Every Extend Extra - massed groups where lighting the touch-paper results in a massive ongoing chain that pulls incoming traffic into its fiery embrace, where a bit of restraint before setting everything off makes all the difference.
Road Block's even better. It's a mode where you have to stop cars getting from one side of the screen to the other (five of these and it's round over), and playing this like the other two is an exercise in futility, as you never quite have enough juice to chase down every single vehicle.
Instead, it's about turning the intersection into one giant maze of vehicles, a structure that chokes incoming traffic and becomes bigger in the process. You're skipping about on its margins, knocking off stragglers that somehow squeeze by and waiting for just the right moment to blow it all up - and, if you can keep things going long enough, a plane will do that for you by crashing right in the middle, accompanied by a blast of Verdi (they keep it classy for the big moments).
The idea behind Burnout Crash is simple, but the stylish production and clever modes give it substance. It's a bit of a hybrid in other respects too, as a high-score game where a big part is the random luck of where things bounce and what they do (those pinball sound effects aren't here by accident). But there's just enough agency, and bullying traffic is so much fun, that you're always left with a smile. Burnout Crash doesn't feel like the same game that received a mediocre reception on consoles, and it's a mystery why this iOS release came second. It's a game born for a touch-screen, and now it has one.
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