3/4 overhead action racers have been a gaming staple since the NES days. RC Pro-Am was a delight on that platform and has aged quite well. It received a sequel towards the end of the NES days and then Rock ‘n Roll Racing hit on the 16-bit systems and showed that the formula still worked. The PS1 had RC De Go!, which nixed the weapons, and a more race-heavy format has come into vogue with games like Little Racers Street on the Xbox 360 and PC. Now, PC and PS3 owners have a chance to partake in this kind of action if they haven’t done so already.
Like those games, BlazeRush has players racing around with the left stick and then using a variety of face buttons to either attack or boost. It’s a bit weird to not control a game like this with a d-pad, but an analog stick works fairly well even if all of the movement options it provides aren’t necessary. The biggest change is that unlike most racing games, acceleration is controlled with the left stick as well — there are no accelerator or brake buttons. This means that you do have to learn how to properly corner and avoid oversteering or else you’ll be doomed from the start. On-track items are also handled quite a bit differently. Unlike Rock ‘n Roll Racing and the like, they’re not just on the track — instead, they’re dropped from above via helicopter. This makes things a bit more unpredictable as you have to really keep your eyes peeled for a drop and make sure you’re aimed towards it. A helpful arrow shows exactly where you are pointed on the track, which makes that easier and also allows for less guesswork when passing.
Items vary from basic missiles and boosts to things like thrusters that can send you into the air and saw blades; the latter options reminiscent of the Mach 5 from Speed Racer. Each race offers up a different set of items which is honestly a bit disappointing. On one hand, it’s great to see the items optimized for a particular track and not thrown everywhere despite their usefulness or lack thereof. Anyone who’s gotten a mushroom on Rainbow Road in a Mario Kart game knows that plight. Having only a few items per track, however, means the item usage is a bit less confusing and you’re able to learn which on-track icon means what much faster. You don’t have a ton of them bombarding the track and then have to figure out later “okay, so Item X did Y”. It’s a lot easier to follow, which makes things just a bit more fun.
BlazeRush‘s mode selection is fairly robust, with a variety of options for racing, survival and time trials. The goal in every race should be to avoid damage, but in survival races, that’s much harder to do. Beyond there being a round system where death takes you out, there’s also a giant spiked bulldozer (because a regular bulldozer just wasn’t enough) that is barreling down on all competitors. The first person out gets no points for that round, so players must do really well in a couple of rounds to get at least one star and have something to show for their time. Like a lot of games, the star system denotes how well you did and the more stars you get, the faster you can open up new races and cup challenges.
All of the game’s modes are playable online, where the game’s concept can shine. It feels so good to have a bunch of folks playing this at the same time since it’s so frantic and you just know someone’s going to get upset when they lose. Unfortunately, some of that is going to be due to the netcode. During multiple sessions and in every race type, there is noticeable skipping in the gameplay. It’s not quite lag, but there were extended portions of just randomly warping around the style. One second I’d be in third, and then I’d suddenly be in first — it was like the Globetrotters episode of Futurama with time skipping all over the place. It made the experience nearly impossible to genuinely enjoy, but was at least funny with how ridiculous things appeared on-screen.
Visually, BlazeRush looks reasonably good overall. It doesn’t have the highest-quality textures, but everything meshes in the world fairly well. They look a bit cheap at times, with vehicles and the track looking solid, but the area underneath the track looking rather ugly with a lot of low-grade textures. Fortunately, the action is so fast that you don’t really notice it in the game and it’s the kind of game that looks far better in motion than it does in screenshot form. The lighting effects for the various items and how fast everything is without a hint of slowdown is impressive. It’s not the prettiest racer out there, but it looks good enough for the genre it’s in.
Of course, you can’t really have a violent racing game without a rocking soundtrack and BlazeRush delivers the goods there. Strangely, while none of the music stuck with me while playing, I did find myself humming it afterwards. Luckily, since it’s all instrumental and not lyrical music, it spared the world from hearing me sing. It’s one thing to sing badly, and it’s another to do so while singing songs from a video game no one else in the room has likely heard about or played. The sound effects are good thanks to all of the weapon effects. The saw gives off a nice Cutman-style ping, while the high-powered machine gun sounds like it’s tearing through your car. Similarly, getting crushed by the spiked bulldozer sounds about as damaging as it should, with a really satisfying crunch accompanying it.
BlazeRush is recommended for anyone who grew up loving isometric action racers. Faltering due to some bad netcode issues, it’s not the best in its class, but it’s a lot of fun offline. There’s a ton of modes to play with and while the races themselves are short, the game is very replayable thanks to the mode variety. Its steady progression system also encourages extended play sessions. BlazeRush is a solid-looking game that is held back by some iffy textures, but benefits from never slowing down despite tons of stuff happening on-screen.