|Publisher: DanLab Games Genre: Sports|
|Min OS X: 10.2 CPU: G3 @ 800 MHz Graphics: 32 MB VRAM|
French shareware developer DanLab Games is not at all stupid. In between acing courses in Mac programming and game design, these guys were smart enough to ditch lectures on the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard in favour of Le Market Research 101, where they never the less learned a universal truth: the only two kinds of games that appeal to every man, woman, and child on Earth are (a) puzzlers and (b) racers. Having conquered the Mac market with high-quality renditions of breakout (Creepy Mines), mah-jong (Mah-jong Solitarus), solitaire (Simple Solitarus), and mini-golf (Islands Mini-Golf), DanLab has taken the next logical step with their latest release, Jammin' Racer.
Reversing the clichι that the French do everything slow (be it making love, fighting wars or eating dinner), Jammin' Racer brings to the Mac a turbo-charged, quality kart racing game with the high production values we've come to expect from those industrious croissants at DanLabs. More F-Zero or Extreme G than Mario Kart or PangeaSoft's notable Mac-exclusive Cro-Mag Rally, Jammin' Racer entices the gamers delicate palate with insanely fast gameplay. Strategically placed mud pits, water puddles, jumps, banked turns, turbo accelerators, and blind corners come fast and furious, such that winning a given race at the highest of three CC levels (800cc, 1300cc, and the "crazy" 1800cc) will require enough practice for the track to become intuitive.
But because of the excellent track design, practice makes pleasure in Jammin' Racer. No two tracks feel alike despite the fact that the game contains 24 courses divided into six thematic racing circuits. As is typical with these games, winning circuits will open rewards like further tracks, karts, and other bonus goodies. None of this quality and attention to detail sacrifices variety, which as any promiscuous French citizen knows, is after all the spice of life. Your driver and his/her kart are customizable down to the paint job and accessory kit, including spoilers, fenders, roll cages and mountable bull horns. Its a whimsical and enticing aspect that more games should incorporate.
Unfortunately, this customization has only aesthetic implications since all karts share the same physics. Like most of their games, DanLabs relies on simple, straight-forward controls to make Jammin' Racer accessible as a "pick-up-and-play" quickie. And indeed, the controls are not only tight and the AI believably dynamic, but you also get support for steering wheels and force-feedback joysticks. I bet such toys add a bit of fun to the game, but the controls are sharp enough even on a keyboard to take advantage of the draft-passing mechanism that can slingshot you ahead of the competition when skilfully executed. But other than the draft-passing mechanic, the ability to pick up speed boosts, and the need to fix collision damage (a la Super Mario Kart), there isn't a tonne of depth to the gameplay. Although speed for speed's sake is a lot of fun when combined with great track design, some players might find that the lack of hop turns, power slides, or relative car weight cuts into the replay value of the game.
And for a game that is all about speed, Jammin' Racer oddly omits player records, track times, and lap bests. An included Training Mode and a Split-Screen Two Player Mode add to the replay value somewhat, but the inability to compete against your own best time or for bragging rights against your friends is a notable omission.
Despite its incredible need for speed, the graphics in Jammin' Racer remain well above average for a shareware game, and enjoy a stylistic je ne sais quoi that unites all the elements together as a whole. Lens flares, reflective surfaces, dynamic lighting, sharp textures and a good draw distance will have you squealing "mon dieu!" in delighted satisfaction. The level of environmental detail is also quite good, and the character and kart models are fantastique. Even with all the eye-candy the game can turn out turned on, my Powerbook 1.25GHz, ATi 9600/64 was able to run above 30FPS at my maximum resolution of 1280x854. The game scales down as low as 640x480, so even the down and out should be able to enjoy this tasty bon bon on their home machine.
For a version 1.0 release, Jammin' Racer is an excellent product with great graphics, phenomenal control, pleasing music and sound effects, and lots of intense, raw speed. Whatever it may be lacking, this game is a lot of fun just the way it is. When I contacted Dan at the Lab, I was impressed that Jammin' Racer was lovingly crafted by one man alone working for over a year. He apparently is not content to rest on his laurels though, dropping hints that future expansions would add more circuits, features, and possibly even online competition. We've seen DanLab do this before with free additions to Island Mini-Golf, and I can't wait to experience even more out of the excellent Jammin' Racer engine. Whether or not the game has enough replayability in the here and now to make you want to pony up the $25 registration fee is up to you, but it is more than worth the consideration of all Mac gamers.
A word about the demo: the two track limit doesn't do this game justice. You only really come to appreciate the game after running a couple of circuits in their totality since each particular track itself is over too quickly. Because of its speed, the game is designed not for you to pick and chose your favorite couple of tracks, but to rip through all 24 with heart-pounding focus!
great sense of speed
support for lots of input devices like steering wheels and force-feedback
24 unique tracks, all well designed and challenging at higher CC speeds
good graphics and sound
no time/player records
simple gameplay with little variation
might be too easy for hardcore kart fanatics