Version tested: Xbox 360
Let me tell you the story about the time I did the final race of Adventure mode in Mad Tracks. It was a single lap race, taking place on an "Oh God I so desperately want to be Micro Machines, why can't I be Micro Machines?" track in a bedroom, littered with dominos and toy soldiers.
First go: I was far in the lead from the very start, mashing my l33t skills in their stupid AI faces. The track broadens out into a more open area on the bedroom floor, with a ramp ahead and arrows pointing to the left. Up the ramp I go, and head toward the archway in the distance. "Lost?" the screen asks me. "Uh, no, I'm fine thanks." The Lost query appears when you've left the track as a warning you'll be reset to the last checkpoint any moment. But the track was ahead of me, and there were bonus pick-ups littered all over it. So being reset to the last checkpoint, and indeed last place, was a wincy bit annoying.
Second go: It turns out you're not meant to go up the ramp with the big yellow arrows next to it. Silly me! You're meant to meander across the floor, dodging balls and so on, and enter the archway by this route. In I go, in a strong first place, and then hit a wall. You see, the walls, floors and ceiling are all the same blue, and there's no obvious direction to go in. Since the cars steer like dragging a dustbin bag full of semolina through a swimming pool of thick custard, manoeuvring my way to stumble into the correct direction put me back in last place.
Third go: This time I'm through the tunnel successfully, and then crash into the giant metal door that blocks the way, breaking it so all the other cars can sail past and beat me.
Fourth go: I fall off a high ramp very early on. My fault entirely. I'm likely to lose now, so try to find the "restart" button. I can't find it. (Apparently it's on the 'back' button). I finish the race for the sake of practice.
Fifth go: The AI has remarkable reflexes. Not for driving - that's more like the racing skills of a drunken walrus with his flippers tied together - but for its recognition of a power-up and the speed with which it's dispensed. In the same microsecond that it's collected, it's fired off. So on the first bend I'm flung off the track and put far into last place. I then screw it up, and I'm further behind. Sigh, I think, and decide to muck around. I play with the trillions of pick-ups it gives, firing rockets into the air, and trying to work out what the wheel thing on the roof does. And then I was back at that false ramp bit. I thought I'd stop and see if the arrows were as confusing as I'd thought. They kind of are, and the ramp is totally inviting. And there were pick-ups up there! That looked at, I dawdled through the tunnels, again annoyed at the lack of direction, then saw in front of me the other four cars. Um, hello! That stupid door explodes splattering all four of them toward the walls, letting me slide straight through and win gold! So that's how you do it!
Hello please game today yes?
I'd been trying to finish this race so I could move on from stage 1 of the Adventure mode. So, well, yes. Bit disappointing to find that was the Adventure mode. That took an exciting twenty minutes of my life. The obligation to go back and get gold on the few tracks I'd not managed it with wasn't strong enough to overcome the dismal nature of it all. Or I could crank it up to Hard from Medium. Or I could do another Slitherlink. (Additional tracks are to be released, but currently all you can get for your extra 150 points are some crappy pictures or themes.) What an adventure!
The shoddy tone is all-encompassing. Reading the hastily compiled instructions, I was fascinated to learn, "When you start challenges and power ups are locked." I was also reassured to, um, read that, "If you can't read, there is usually a couple of pictures that are often self explanatory."
(By the way readers, if you can't speak Russian, Пожалуйста пойдите к ветрянке).
Your cars, for no discernable reason, are spring-driven. This means if you hold down accelerate for too long, the, um, spring tightens too much and you slow down. So you have to not accelerate for a bit. There's no middle position between on or off, so it's drift, or 'overheat'. That's racing!
The various courses mix it up to the Mad max. (In fact, surely the game should have been called "Mad Tr4xx"? This is a gross oversight.) There's a golf-like game where you must nudge a ball with your car around a single green and into a hole. There's a football game, with two cars on each side, bonneting the ball through the opposing goal. There's even a game that's "just like darts", where you, um, drive your car up a ramp and try to get it to land near the centre of a target on the ground below. Although, come to think of it, if that was just like darts, I'd sure as hell tune in. See, it's not exactly like Micro Machines! Each is as frustratingly sludgy, especially with the potentially fun football game ruined by the pudding-based cars. It makes the mini-games in the Wii's Monkey Ball look positively inspired.
Of course, there's also the requisite power-ups, including rockets, and freezing rays, and so on, each as uninspired and out of Micro Machines as the last. Oh, and there's one that reverses the controls of your opponents' cars - a feature which when included in a game ensures it can never score more than 5/10.
Wheelie bad (NB: there are no wheelies)
The Arcade mode then? It's an awful lot like the Adventure mode, except you can play the fifteen tracks in any order, rather than taking the epic twenty minutes Adventure requires to unlock them. And that's it.
So does multiplayer rescue it? Well, at least the challenge is more even. Everyone is struggling with the controls as much as each other. During one game of the foosball level, I think between the four of us we managed to touch the ball at least twice! And in sweet vindication, I totally thrashed someone on the toy race track, meaning I got to watch my stationary car for a good minute while my hidden opponent trundled his way toward the finish line.
Worse, if you want to play with chums, you're going to have to reselect your gang for every two-minute game, as the interface will dump you all back in the wild as soon as it's over. Easier is jumping in with strangers, but none of the tracks/games hold enough allure to inspire much of this.
I went back for a go on a three-lap race on perhaps the only decent track - a big, twisting, crossing over track with a proper loop-the-loop. Versus three AI players I found myself quickly in the lead, and by lap three was doing splendidly. Hurrah! Until I noticed two of the AI cars parked at the bottom of the loop, just sat there, watching. OR MAYBE DOGGING? We will never know.
3 / 10