Rad Racing in Pixel Boat Rush
Pixel Boat Rush is an impressive exercise in taking a rather complicated concept and simplifying it without losing too much depth. Racing games have been a big part of video gaming virtually since its inception, but it’s a genre that was almost always pushing towards a 3D perspective before the technology was even remotely adequate for such things. The earliest games in the genre used various bird’s-eye perspectives and visual tricks to simulate the third dimension.
That makes a lot of sense, since a lot of the excitement of racing comes from racers whipping around each other on the track, passing the racers ahead of them and trying to block those behind them. Simply put, it’s not a genre that has traditionally taken well to a side-scrolling perspective. The few strong examples of this sort of game tend to put the head-to-head racing elements aside in favor of other challenges like performing stunts or doing some light platforming.
Pixel Boat Rush doesn’t do that. This is very much a game about overcoming the other racers and placing first. And it is certainly a side-scroller without any sort of skewed perspective. How does it do this without losing the appeal of racing? Well, with guns. Not entirely with guns, mind you. But the guns are doing the heavy lifting, to be sure. Passing in this game doesn’t require you to carefully find a gap and rush past the other racer. You can’t collide with other racers even if you wanted to. So where’s the tension?
Simply navigating the waters in Pixel Boat Rush isn’t all that tough. You’ll be accelerating most of the time. You’ll also be braking regularly to avoid being thrown too far into the air by waves. This is important because you move a lot slower in the air than you do on the water, so it’s better in general to keep your craft out of the sky. You may want to grab some items hanging in the air at times, but absent other factors you’ll typically just want to lean on the accelerator and brake when ascending waves.
The other factors, of course, include the other racers. Since they can’t bump into you, the biggest way you’ll interact with them is through your weapons. You can shoot at the racers ahead of you, slowing them down and eventually destroying them. They can do the same to you. Being destroyed usually only costs you some time, but certain events require you to keep your ship in one piece until the very end. This element means you’ll sometimes want to cede your lead to the racer behind you, allowing you to shoot them out of the water. It also gives you another reason to take to the sky, since it’s harder for opponents to shoot you while you’re airborne.
It’s an excellent trick to make the positions of the other racers relative to you count without trying something as tough as making collisions possible on a 2D plane. As you get new boats, new weapons, and other new bits of gear, the interplay between you and the other racers gets more complex and tense. This is a real racing game, even if it has to use a little mayhem to get there. A rather challenging racing game, as it turns out.
Luckily, even if you lose, you’ll probably still come away with something useful. The money to buy new boats is largely earned by placing in the upper positions of a race, but even the losers get some wrenches which can be exchanged for upgrades to your existing boat. You’ll most likely be in a better position to win the next time that you tackle the race. This ensures that any player, if they are stubborn enough, will be able to make progress through the game’s main mode, the Career Mode.
There’s a bit of dialogue to make the Career Mode stick together, mostly comedic. What really keeps you coming back is the desire to earn a gold trophy in every race, collect every boat, and upgrade everything to your satisfaction. This mode is driven by a nice sense of progression, having you perform certain challenges to earn licenses, which gives you access to new races to run and boats to buy. Finishing those races opens up the next license challenge, and so it goes. There’s quite a lot to do here, with more than fifty events to tackle.
Once you’ve exhausted the Career Mode, or when you want to take a break from it, the game offers two other modes to try out. The Endless Mode gives you exactly what it says on the tin, challenging you to get as high a score as possible by passing other boats and shooting them out of the water. The Arcade Mode allows you to customize various parameters and head out on whatever kind of race you want. They’re good for a bit of fun after you’ve cleared the Career Mode and earned all of the gold trophies.
While the 64 boats in the game ought to have at least a few to your favor in their number, the game also includes a workshop you can unlock that allows you make your own customized boat. You have full control over the visual design, so you can create whatever look floats your fancy. It’s a fun extra that can be ignored if you have no interest in such things, but provides a lot of value for those who enjoy expressing their personal artistic creativity in their games.
With simple controls, a lot of gameplay depth, tons of content, and more options than you would expect, Pixel Boat Rush pulls off the Herculean task of giving mobile players a full-fat racing experience in a style that probably could have been pulled off on an 8-bit console. It’s a very unique game that keeps the action coming in hot for its entire run, and there’s very little out there with the same feel.