Release Date: September 2003
GrooveRider brings back memories of the large, dimly lit basements with winding slot car tracks set up and competition to see who could simply make it to the finish line amidst all the hairpin turns and steep drops. Slot car racing can be a fun, although expensive hobby, one that has very rarely seen a digital incarnation on any game system. GrooveRider sets itself up to be an arcade style slot car race and actually succeeds on most counts.
Slot cars are small, Hot Wheels sized vehicles that have a small motor inside to spin their wheels. These motors get their power from the track itself, specifically a narrow groove in the track. A small needle on the car gets the power, sends it to the motor, and then the power dissipates through two small metal brushes near the front of the car. While going fast the car can heavily rely on the needle in the groove to keep it on the track, go too fast and the car will spin right off the track. Not much of the specifics transfers to the game past a cool sparking bit on the needle, but the gaining and losing of control definitely comes into play.
GrooveRider’s tracks range from a dark rave-like bedroom, a rooftop garden, a windows kitchen overlooking a city, and a two story wood-floored dining room. The tracks start off simply enough, with easy ovals and moving on to tracks with easy turns and jumps. Get farther though and the tracks become insane, with lanes ending, fast and slow grooves, jumps, obstacles a-plenty, and hard turns that will send a speeding slot car off the track. The obstacles in the track mainly come in the form of signpost-like objects, which will send your car flying off of the track if you hit one. Household objects such as bottles, toast, and milk cartons can also litter the track and create some serious road hazards for your 2 ½ inch racecar. Every track has four grooves at its widest points to allow for maneuvering around opponents and obstacles. Occasionally lanes will merge, split, or simply end to make the race a bit more hectic. Some gamers will not like how you are set to four fixed paths (Though you can freely lane-change between them during a race), and slot car purists will not like the fact you can switch between the lanes at all. Strike some middle ground though, and it feels like a refreshing and unique change to standard racing fare.
Of course, racing skills alone sometimes won’t cut it when you just hit a piece of bread at 112 inches per second. To get an upper hand amongst your opponents random powerup blocks are scattered at different points in each track, drive through one and a random powerup or weapon is given to you. The powerups range from the offensive (Pulse charges and mines to attack forward and backward, respectively), regular (Jumps, shields, and boosts), and the sneaky (Lane Locks, which make other racers unable to change lanes).
The graphics in GrooveRider are hit and miss but for the most part look at home to the theme and feel of the game. The tracks are one of the games shining points; each one is very nicely detailed and varied. For instance, in the kitchen level you can see a full size helicopter buzzing the building, in the dining room level you can see movie posters hanging on the walls and rich decorations, and in the garden level you are surrounded by fairly detailed plants and vine fences. The special effects in GrooveRider also stand out, with nice particle effects for the spark behind the car and the impact of pulse charges. On the negative side of things, the cars themselves aren’t too varied, with different paint jobs passing off as different cars. Slot cars don’t have to be too diverse, but when you’ve seen a tackle box full of different slot cars in real life you long to see a bit more than 10 or so different cars, each with a few different paint jobs. Hopefully more will be added by the time of release.
The sound in GrooveRider is fairly solid overall, with no real negative aspects to speak of. The sound of the tiny engine revving like crazy, miniature tires screeching around the track, and the crackling electrical sound of an arcing pulse charge all sound nice and fit the action on the screen perfectly. The music in the game features a handful of techno tunes of varying quality, some of them are decent but others just get really annoying, really fast. If custom soundtrack support is implemented by the time goes gold, consider this slight blemish a moot point.
Overall GrooveRider feels like a solid game with a unique premise and relatively fun gameplay, which is surprising considering that it is only a preview build, let alone created by a smaller development team than some of the big dogs around. GrooveRider does seem to lack a whole lot of depth, you won’t find yourself swapping out your slot cars motor or tires or doing anything besides racing, but what it doesn’t lack is it’s unique gameplay and appeal.