With the Mario Kart series being stuck on Nintendo platforms for the foreseeable future, many developers have tried to make their own version of the hit racing series. Both the successes and failures have followed the blueprint quite closely, from the abundance of shortcuts to the multitude of power-ups. In most cases, the only thing holding them back is the lack of a recognizable cast of characters. Wincars Racer aims to be one of the few to do something different with the formula, and we got a chance to check in on it via Steam Early Access.
The core gameplay is pretty solid for something in Early Access. You have the basic gas and braking system, and a handbrake lets you handle tight turns. Tracks are designed with a great deal of shortcuts, but a few of the track pieces have different surfaces that are designed to slow you down. Finishing a race in any position affords you coins and XP, both of which are necessary to unlock more cars and their applicable skins.
The hook is in its power-up system, which is now fixed instead of something completely randomized. Everyone gets a speed boost and stomp to temporarily make nearby opponents dizzy. Both are activated gradually through the course of the race, but they can also fill their meters faster via special pick-ups on the track. The middle power-up, however, is unique to each racer and can only be filled in by picking up orbs on the track. Unless your opponent selects the same character as you, you won't see anyone else use the same power.
As such, Wincars Racer becomes a little more strategic since you're selecting characters and cars based on how they perform on a particular track instead of other criteria. If you think you'll get in a position where you'll be ahead most of the time, the oil slick sounds like a good option. If you know the track will have varied surfaces, then having wings ensures that you won't have a tough time on those spots. There are some fairly useless power-ups in the mix, but as a whole, losses and wins can't be completely blamed on randomly chosen weapons.
There are currently two gameplay modes. In Time Trials, you go solo on a track and try to make it from one checkpoint to the next while going up against a countdown clock. Unless you've memorized the track and have the much better vehicles, you'll fail to make one complete lap most of the time. Online Race is the other mode, and players individually pick out a track only to have it randomly chosen before the race begins. The good news is that even without anyone online playing, the game fills in the empty spots with bots, so a race will always take place. The bad news is that the bots play at a high level, so you'll always fall behind until the very end, when you'll somehow squeak by and place in the middle of the pack.
The overall presentation is quite nice. Like most kart racers, there's a bevy of bright colors for each environment and a host of things going on to make it appear lively. The frame rate is solid, and there are no hitches even when all racers are on-screen at top speed. The music is fine, if not particularly memorable, but the sound effects currently feel slightly off. The engine noises for the cars are fine, but some of the effects like getting hit with a stomp or other move produces something more cartoony, which feels out of place considering how everything else is slightly more realistic.
For those familiar with the game before it went to Steam Early Access, this was planned as a free-to-play title. The move to Early Access was supposed to be the transition point for it to be a regular paid title, but one thing that remains from that old plan is the need for grinding. Leveling up is the only way to earn bonus cars, and the vehicle skins must be purchased with in-game currency. The coins earned from each race are paltry, so you'll do quite a bit of racing before you can afford your first skin. The more annoying aspect of this is that new tracks must also be earned this way, and they're rather expensive. Two tracks are available from the outset, but factor in the low coin earning rate and the random chance that an opponent will select a new track in the pool, and you'll be chipping away at those two initial tracks for some time.
The frame work for a good kart racing game is in place with Wincars Racer. The driving is fine, and the basics are great for new users to easily pick up and come to grips with after a race or two. A good presentation and a fixed power-up system are coupled with some interesting combinations of cars and racers. It does need some work in the balancing department, especially with the grinding that's needed to unlock new stuff, but Wincars Racer is a kart racer that's worth checking out as the year progresses.
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