Smashing Toys Review
By Jimmy Goldstein |
Kart racers are supposed to be about fun. After all, if we wanted a serious, realistic racing challenge there are serious, realistic racing sims out there. But when it comes to taking control of a cute little toy racer, zipping around a track, and picking up and using all sorts of dastardly power-ups, there should be a smile on your face. Unfortunately, when it comes to Smashing Toys, a kart racer from French developer Leon Brothers, the only thing on your face will be an annoyed frown. Smashing Toys' sins are many. The gameplay is poorly thought out, the load times are tediously long, the graphics are relatively crude and it's a performance hog at the highest detail settings.
Smashing Toy's concept is that a bunch of different toys have "come alive" and must race to stay alive. That's about it for plot, so it's all about racing on 25 different tracks on three different worlds. The kicker is that you have to earn enough points in each track to unlock the next, a limitation that's all the more painful when it becomes clear just how difficult it is to amass all those points. You basically have to drive perfectly to finish in the top three, which you'll need to do to have a chance at unlocking the next track. Yet the racing action is so chaotic and random at times that it feels practically unfair. Smashing Toys ignores virtually every lesson learned from other kart games. For instance, the handling on the vehicles is ham-fisted, and the driving model feels nonexistent. Just try to drift at high speed in this game; you're more likely to just slam into the wall. Good handling is everything when you're requiring split second reactions to dodge objects, such as mines in your path.
Your toys like to gesture a lot.
Second, the tracks are far too narrow, making the various power ups strewn about the track almost impossible to miss. That's great news if you're in the lead, but if you're in the middle of the pack, odds are that the racer in front of you is getting all the goodies. It's a mind-boggling case of the rich getting richer while everyone else gets nothing. This is especially irritating when it comes to the repair power-up. Your toy racers have health bars; if they take too much damage they start to fall apart. If the bar drops to zero, you're dead and you have to restart the race. Unfortunately, the repair items are few and far between on the tracks, so eight racers might be accumulating damage but only one or two of them can ever get repaired. And, yes, more often than not, it's the guy in the lead who gets there first. If you ever played a great car racer, like the Mario Kart series, then you know the key is to offer plenty of power-ups so that everyone has close to an equal shot of getting something.
The power-ups themselves range between useful to cross-your-fingers. There's a shield which can protect you, a boost that can speed you up, but then there are deployable mines that are completely erratic in effectiveness. The problem is that the mines don't explode on contact; instead, they fly away on impact and explode a half second later, so it's possible to avoid the explosion. When you see the guy ahead of you hit a mine and then escape unscathed but you're the one affected by the explosion, you'll want to scream. The explosion can send you hurtling off the track, which means that you'll have to respawn back into the race. And that brings up another incredibly annoying issue; you might be driving perfectly and a car spawns a car in front of you with no warning and with no time to avoid it. I've lost a race that way.
Get used to seeing this loading screen a lot.As completely random as the racing can be, the loading times are far worse. They're among the longest I've experienced in almost two decades of PC gaming. Seriously, they're that long, which is mind-boggling for "just a kart game." The loading times are so long I could log onto my bank's web site and pay bills while I was waiting. And what's worse is that these load times are pervasive. Let's say you're racing a track and you're not having much luck. If you restart the race (a process that in most racing games takes only a second or two to do), Smashing Toys has to reload the level, a process takes more than a minute on a system with a state-of-the-art Core i7 processor and 6GB of DDR3 memory. That just sucks what little fun there is in the game away.
Now, with load times this long you'd expect the visuals to amaze you. However, Smashing Toys looks dated out of the gate; the textures looked washed out and the environments are rudimentary. Ramping up the detail settings sends the frame rate plummeting without doing much to improve the visuals. The game does spend a lot of CPU power showing off physics effects; the tracks are cluttered with cardboard boxes, barrels, and traffic cones that you can send flying upon impact, though slamming into a barrel doesn't do much to affect your overall speed. It's a physics tech demo at best. The audio has basically two components: engine noises and some electric guitar that alternates between atmospheric soothing melodies and more energetic, driving segments.