Publisher: NEC Interchannel
Release Date: April 17, 2003
Buy 'TUBE SLIDER': GameCube
The announcement last January that corporate giant NEC was planning on getting back into the games business was a surprising one. The house that Bonk built has been MIA for nearly a decade since the rapid decline of sales of their TurboGrafx-16 console back in the early 90’s. But they’re back and the first game being published by the folks at NEC is called Tube Slider. Phallic innuendos aside, Tube Slider is a futuristic hovercraft racer that strives to purport the same sense of style, strategy, and speed found in the F-Zero games, but unfortunately misses the mark by a considerable margin.
Like countless other futuristic racers (read: Wipe Out, XGRA, F-Zero), Tube Slider’s premise revolves around various league races where you’ll need to consistently come out on top in order to progress. There is an assortment of different “Tube Sliders” that you can choose to pilot – each with its own unique strengths, weaknesses, and aesthetic design – and all of which are equipped with turbo boosters and side boosters. You’ll race inside winding tubes full of sudden turns, multiple power-ups, and lots of touchy-feely opponents who like to make your life as a Tube Slider a living hell by constantly knocking you around, thus practically ensuring a last place finish.
These tubular tracks allow you to maneuver your craft in full 360 degrees as you race on the bottom of the track and then position your Tube Slider on the sides of the tube or even the top of it as you round corners. Finding the right method of approach to the twists on the various courses is key to your success as being in the wrong inertial location at the wrong time will often considerably slow down your craft or even grind you to a halt, which makes it nearly impossible to win races. The actual track design is somewhat lacking in terms of creativity, rarely taking advantage of the scalable course foundation and instead opting for simplistic straightforward designs that are neither fast, furious, or indeed even fun. When you’re cruising along at full throttle the sense of speed is surprisingly modest, making it feel more like a casual highway stroll than a all-out balls-to-the-wall free-for-all.
The gameplay options in Tube Slider are scant, offering up a predictable league competition mode, a training mode, and a four-player split-screen mode. In the league competition mode, the only thing you’ll be able to do is race – there are no upgrades or between-race intermissions to push the story ahead, nothing – and to make matters worse, there are only 10 available tracks in the game, which is probably why the enemy AI ramps up to such a frustratingly difficult level after the first couple stages. The meager power-ups you’ll pick up during the course of a race include typical speed enhancers and an energy siphoning weapon that is used to pilfer an opponent’s turbo gauge, thus transferring more power to your turbo gauge. The absence of any notable power-ups is disappointing since more of a selection could have made the game substantially more fun to play. You’ll be able to use nitro at any time as long as your turbo gauge isn’t completely empty, and at the beginning of a race you can choose between a quick boost or gradual speed-up method.
NEC’s been out of the proverbial loop for quite a while now, so perhaps they should be forgiven for choosing Tube Slider as their premier title to get their name back into circulation, but I’ll be damned if I sit idly by and watch as the same developer (NdCube) responsible for the blazingly-fast F-Zero on the Game Boy Advance attempts to pawn off this pile of molasses as a “futuristic racer.” It’s just wrong. I mean, having actually developed an F-Zero game you’d think they’d know how to build a fun and speedy racer. Oh well, I guess that’s why they say quality is an elective trait.
But the biggest fault that most people will find with Tube Slider is not the absence of power-ups but the complete deficiency of speed which, in a game of this sub-genre is absolutely crucial to attaining any semblance of success. The on-screen action is simply too slow and stilted to remain much fun for long stretches of time. The multiplayer aspect somewhat alleviates this problem but even then it’s still a matter of the tortoise versus the tortoise. The latter courses in the game tend to include more boost enhancing power-ups, which speeds up the pace of the game to a certain extent, but in the end you’ll be hankering for the upcoming F-Zero game on GC.
Visually, Tube Slider is photogenic enough to tempt potential buyers into thinking they’ve stumbled across a culmination of Wipe Out and F-Zero, but in reality fails to prove its worthiness thanks to the simplistic aesthetic nature of the game’s courses. The craft designs are better than average, though, and animate well enough. Occasional graphical effects can be seen in the form transparencies, unique backgrounds for each course and subtle lighting techniques. The courses all take place in different environments, though their elemental uniqueness has no bearing on gameplay. But you can expect to race through beach, jungle, futuristic, and desert environments. All said, Tube Slider doesn’t make much of an effort to impress the player in terms of visual appeal, instead opting for a more minimalist approach when it comes to presentation.
The sound takes a cue from the game’s ultimately average graphics and serves up a heaping dose of forgettable techno tracks that seem to just blend in with the rest of the game’s lukewarm styling. I don’t know who is churning out all these generic techno tracks for every mediocre racer to date, but if I could ask him one question, it would be to stop. Occasionally a howling guitar riff will interrupt the incessant electronic beeps and buzzes, but that just serves to further your disdain of the developer’s taste in music.
I don’t ask for much in a futuristic racer; only that it be absurdly fast and include creative track design. Tube Slider fails to meet both requirements and that is why I, and presumably you, will inevitably relegate the game to dust-collecting status should fate ever cruelly decide to find you in possession of it. The four-player split-screen races serve to postpone the unavoidable instinct to smash the game into oblivion, but once you’ve had a taste of just how cheap the opponent AI can be, frustration levels will go through the roof. Rent it if you must, but save your gaming buck for a more worthy cause. Like interpretive dance lessons, for example.