App of the Day: Disc Drivin'

Flicking with friends.

I don't think I ever used the word 'asynchronous' before iOS took over the world, but it seems you can't escape it these days. What happened to good old 'takey-turny' multiplayer, eh? Why do we have to have a fancy new word for it? And while we're at it, what ever happened to 'skill' as a term of appreciation?

Of course, back in the day we didn't have games like Disc Drivin', so thank goodness for progress. It's a game where you compete with up to three online opponents - or seven if you're playing a pass-the-iPad game - across a number of courses with hairpins, bumps, boost pads, oil slicks, ramps and assorted other racing game clichés.

In truth, it should probably be called Disc Flickin', as there's not really much drivin' involved. For each turn, you drag your finger left and right to aim your circular vehicle, before swiping briskly upwards to propel it in the appropriate direction. It doesn't automatically follow the intended trajectory, however: if you don't keep your flicks straight, then you can find yourself veering off course. Most of the time you've got barriers on the sides of the track, but in some places the walls disappear and you're at risk of falling off and losing valuable ground on your rivals.

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A recent free update added five snow-themed tracks, bringing up the total course tally to a generous 23.

If you do fall behind, there are power-ups to help you catch up. There's a meter that builds as you glide down the track, and once filled you tap the icon in the bottom-right of the screen to trigger it. More often than not, you'll use the boost to travel further - do it on a straight and you can sometimes get enough distance to earn a refill - but if you're ahead you can drop oil slicks and bombs to trouble the chasing pack, or trigger an emergency stop if you're about to plummet off the side. Sneaky players will use the invisibility power-up to pass through obstacles, or to clear entire sections of track. Most tracks have a shortcut or two, though they're tough to exploit with any consistency - which is as it should be.

Everything's smart, clear and readable, from the UI to the crisp graphics. You can chat with other players, get an overhead view of the track, and view replays of your opponents' most recent turns (though a YouTube upload feature for your most spectacular shots is sadly still lacking). Every interaction is laudably brisk: loading times are short, and the wait from tapping on a race to finding yourself on the track is barely a couple of seconds. It makes the still-excellent Hero Academy feel positively sluggish.

Even the IAP is delicately handled: you can pay for new disc decals if you wish, but you've got two free designs with your initial download and you can change their colour without paying any more.

In truth, it's not really any of the above that makes Disc Drivin' great. With two players, in fact, it can be quite boring, especially on tracks where you spend several turns awkwardly bumping against walls to negotiate corners. But with three similarly skilled pals, it's an absolute delight, particularly when you've got several races on the go at the same time. I've been playing the game for months now with the same opponents and it still makes me smile when I look at the app icon and see a little '6' in the top-right corner.

It's the spirit of friendly competition that makes it, really; it's admiring a brilliant shot, gently mocking an unfortunate fall, laughing at the back marker who keeps hitting the flipper on the other side of the canyon (it's always me). I've played plenty of multiplayer games on iOS, but I've never used the chat feature as frequently as I do here. For me, it has the convivial feel of a local multiplayer game even though it's online. There might be better takey-turny games on the App Store, but I don't love any of them quite as much as this one. It's totally skill.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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