Mantis Burn Racing marks a much-needed and long overdue return to the classic top-down arcade racing genre. Unlike recent miniature racing offerings such as Table Top Racing, Super Toy Cars and BlazeRush, developer VooFoo Studios has done away with power-ups in favour of keeping the focus on the racing action - much like we used to see in racers from years gone by.
It's certainly a brave move, but this means the game will stand or fall on the strength of its racing action. It is perhaps fortunate, then, that the racing and handling of the vehicles is satisfying enough for the game to hold up without the need of any power-ups.
Mantis Burn Racing is all about drifting around turns which is fantastically pleasurable thanks to a well crafted drifting mechanic which allows for fine control and adjustments on the fly with use of the brakes and coming off the accelerator as required. Although the game forgoes power-ups, you are given a speed boost which can be refilled by completing jumps, drifting around turns and slipstreaming your opponents.
Length is everything
Mantis Burn Racing features a substantial career mode which is split into seven seasons. Each season has a final championship which is unlocked by obtaining a required amount of gears acquired through events. Three gears can be won in events by simply coming in first place, but you'll also win an additional three through a number of in-race challenges such as drifting a certain distance, boosting a number of times, overtaking cars without hitting them and countless other requirements which do help to keep the action interesting.
If you enter race after race without caring too much about the number of gears you are picking up, you'll eventually come stuck and will need to backtrack to pick up additional gears, so it pays to pick up as many as possible along the way.
Events are chained together in paths so you'll need to compete in one event to unlock the next. Every so often paths will split so you can choose the one which suits you best if you want to get through quickly, or you can work through both paths which often unlocks performance upgrades for your trouble.
Event types are fairly numerous, there's the usual time trial, elimination, overtake and championship events. However, Mantis Burn Racing does have its own unique mode known as “Accumulator”. Here you must accrue 10,000 points before your rivals by crashing through track-side obstacles, drifting, slip streaming and completing jumps.
Doing well in events will earn you money and experience points. Money can be used to buy additional vehicles and unlock further upgrade slots, whereas experience points will reward you with upgrades and money prizes.
Upgrades come in a variety of flavours: there's increased boosts, tyres which improve grip levels, upgraded suspension and more. Each upgrade makes a big difference to your vehicle which is satisfying to see play out, particularly if you are struggling with a certain event.
Early seasons in the career mode mode start off basic and easy enough, although as you progress the challenge becomes greater. However, at no point throughout the game did I feel the difficulty was frustratingly tough: it felt just about right.
Aside from the single player career mode, there's also the option for 4-player local split-screen action and a multiplayer component to sink your teeth into. Unfortunately, my experience with the online component was largely a negative one thanks to a major bug. The bug involved players sitting behind the start/finish line throughout most of the race, only to cross the line prior to the race winner securing them the highest places.
The bug is so widely used that one race I entered had six of my seven opponents using this technique so they could secure the most experience points. This makes the current state of Mantis Burn Racing's online component quite frankly not worth playing for the most part. It's even more frustrating considering playing online is a fairly rare experience as the numbers seem very low to say the least. Editor's note
: VooFoo Studios has since clarified that the bug is due to a PSN issue and that a fix will be released shortly. We will update our review as soon as it has been rectified.
On a brighter note, developer VooFoo Studios offer players the chance to compete in weekly events, which is just as well given the current state of the multiplayer component. The very first event tasked players to drive as many miles as possible (against AI opponents) within an eight minute time limit with a particular vehicle complete with your own upgrades. Upgrade choice then becomes critical to success, adding some strategy to proceedings.
The bad and the ugly
Pre-event loading times are a little on the long side and become more and more grating the longer you spend with Mantis Burn Racing. The music generally seemed too slow for the fast-paced action save for the odd track here and there. The sound of the vehicles is barely audible too, which is disappointing considering this is a racing game after all. I want to hear my vehicle sounds progress as they get beefier and more aggressive - likening the sounds to a hair dryer would be doing a disservice to the hair dryer.
There are nine vehicles in total, with three of each in the following categories: Heavy, Medium and Light. Each vehicle also belongs to a particular tier: there's Rookie, Pro and Veteran to coincide with the Rookie, Pro and, you guessed it, Veteran seasons in the career mode. Naturally, a Rookie tier car can only compete in a Rookie season, and so on.
Often you'll find events come with restrictions on vehicle type essentially limiting you to just the one vehicle. Other events are “open” where you have the choice between all three vehicle types for that particular tier.
Different weight class vehicles feel very different from one another. As you might expect, the smaller vehicles are incredibly easy to drift and feel nimble, whereas the heavy ones are very weighty and require a little more finesse to get them around the tight bends.
Mantis Burn Racing only features two environments: a rocky and dusty desert-like domain and a nighttime metropolis with four tracks apiece. Having such a small amount of environments may have been a trade off for the great looking visuals though - you cannot deny that the game looks great, particularly for this sub-genre of the racing scene.
Mantis Burn Racing is an enjoyable fast-paced racer which gets the basics right: sliding your responsive vehicles around bends is very satisfying and will keep you engaged. You could argue that the career mode is a little on the long side and can get dull in places, but overall there are just enough game types to get you through.
Acquiring gears through the many different in-race challenges is largely fulfilling, and re-playing old events to gain additional gears is not as much of a grind as you'll find in other racers. Mantis Burn Racing does suffer from a largely forgettable soundtrack, poor vehicle sounds, a broken online component and only two environments. However, in spite of all this, the action is so enjoyable I can easily recommend Mantis Burn Racing - especially considering the budget price tag.