Brakes Are For Losers

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Oudidon
Release Date: April 19, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Brakes Are For Losers'

by Andreas Salmen on April 27, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Brakes Are For Losers is a top-down, single-screen racing game created as a tribute to good old games such as Super Sprint, Indy Heat or Super Off Road.

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We often romanticize the past, especially gamers who revel in the beauty and challenge of old and pixelated video games. Retro gaming is as popular as ever, with an increasing number of emulators, ports and reiterations trying to reanimate past passions. Brakes Are For Losers is one of these games, and it has an interesting approach to arcade racing. Can a game that's so focused on the past offer enough to succeed in the present?

Brakes Are For Losers is an isometric arcade racer with an interesting statement in its title. Whatever arcade racing title you may have played in the past, from a cult classic to the most recent Mario Kart, chances are that you aren't even aware that brakes exist in those titles. It's a fast-paced, action-oriented concept that ensures speed and chaos and doesn't want you to slow down. Brakes Are For Losers embraces this by taking away our ability to brake or accelerate.

We reviewed the Switch version of BAFL, but the game is also available for the PC, where it sports all of the same content. Ten tracks and eight cars offer a variety of different game modes and challenges, and players can compete alone or with friends in couch co-op.

In BAFL, we take part in chaotic top-down races where we have no control over our speed, except when we crashed into a wall — which we did a lot. The control scheme is therefore limited to left and right movements with either the analog stick or d-pad, and we can boost with the press of the A button and honk with the B button. Boost is limited to a total of three times, and our car can take damage if it runs into or scratches along walls. Once a certain amount of damage is taken, the car breaks down for a brief period. To recharge and return to full health, we need a pit stop in between laps, which results in a slight time delay.

Races are already chaotic, but there's a small variety of items and power-ups, including freezing opponents in place, mechanical breakdowns and slippery patches. They're not necessarily original, but they mix things up. The same goes for the tracks, which vary in design and sometimes even have their own hazards, like pirate ships shooting cannonballs.

In terms of a retro-inspired experience, BAFL doesn't go out of its way to reinvent the wheel, since it's a budget-priced production, but it checks the right boxes when it comes to emulating a simpler chaotic racer experience from an isometric view. The game menu is its own racetrack, with options we need to physically drive into to select them. It also allows gamers to get a feel for the handling before jumping into a race.

Races are organized into challenges and competitive game modes. For every track, we can complete a challenge and a time trial. You can achieve one to three flags depending on how well you do in each race, so you can earn a total of six flags in every stage. Competitive game modes allow us to race against AI foes or against friends locally. Championship mode will probably be what most people will jump into first; it offers all 10 tracks in order, and you receive points based on your race performance. Unlike other titles, BAFL races have a timer, not a set number of laps. The car that drives the farthest in a given time frame receives the most points, thus adding to the grand total.

In between races, we get to spend money, either earned from races or found on the track, to improve core statistics, such as handling, health and speed. The game also taunts us with a Brake Update, which is too expensive to be obtained. As the title states, brakes are for losers anyway.

Beyond the regular championship, we can create a custom game spanning 5-10 races with slightly modified rules. Apart from the time-based objective, we can also set a certain number of laps as win conditions or compete in a last car standing mode, where destroyed cars get disqualified instead of repaired.

Enough about the content. How does BAFL actually play? Racing against seven opponents can be incredibly confusing — and not in a fun way. Even though every vehicle is distinct and features a different color palette, when there are eight cars crashing into each other on-screen, you inevitably lose sight of where you're heading. The result is often crashing into walls or taking wrong turns, and on some tracks, that can mess up the entire race. Add to that the inability to control your speed or brake, which is a fun simplification — until you crash into a wall and have to wiggle out by steering left and right because you can't back out. Apart from these hiccups, cars handle quite well once you get used to the on-screen chaos.

Visually, BAFL takes the same route as the gameplay: It's fun and quirky but unremarkable. I'd even compare it to a browser Flash game from the past. It doesn't look great, and when it zooms in on the action at the start of a race, it looks downright blurry. Nevertheless, it runs smoothly and gets the jobs done. It would've been nice to have visual cues to determine which car is which in the heat of racing. Then again, for a low price of $5, there is only so much you can ask for.

In the end, fun factor matters, and BAFL is fun in a lot of places, though that may depend how fond you are of the genre and if you have a couple of friends and Joy Cons to spare. The ability to use the Switch's upper limit of controllers to race with seven friends is commendable, although I doubt many people have such an extensive controller collection.

All in all, Brakes Are For Losers is a fun retro-inspired arcade racer. It doesn't excel anywhere, but it doesn't have to. It's a decent enough experience at a very low price point in case you're craving an isometric racing frenzy.

Score: 6.9/10

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