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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Supergonk
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2018


Switch Review - 'Trailblazers'

by Cody Medellin on March 19, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Trailblazers is a co-operative racing title with an innovative on-track game mechanic: paint the track, boost on your color, and work as a team to win!

Buy Trailblazers

The Nintendo Switch is home to quite a number of racing titles. Every subgenre — including arcade racers, go-kart racers and traditional sims — are well represented on the console, and some are considered to be the top of the class. Futuristic racers are no exception, with the console having some PC hits like Redout and its exclusive Fast RMX. On paper, Trailblazers looks like just another futuristic racing game trying to expand its audience on the Switch. In practice, the game sports a few interesting wrinkles but not much else.

The core gameplay uses some of the more familiar traits of the futuristic racing subgenre. Instead of driving cars, you're piloting hovercrafts at speeds that traditional cars could barely reach. The tracks take place in several different environments, including cityscapes, deserts and forests. The tracks feature plenty of turns and angled banks, sometimes even letting you ride the actual walls. There's also the ability to drive aggressively against other racers, but you only have one weapon for that purpose.

There are two main differences between Trailblazers and other futuristic racing games. Firstly, all races are team-based. While you can go on your own and try to race for first place, using your team produces an element of strategy. For example, you can act as a blocker for other racers, so your teammate can surge ahead. You can also stay behind to shoot down enemies, but the biggest advantage to team-based racing has mostly to do with the game's second hook: paint.

As in Splatoon, you have the ability to lay down digital paint of your color on the track, and the purpose is to give you a pathway where your speed is increased. The boost only works for your team color, and like Nintendo's squid kid shooter, there's a bit of a territory war going on since each team tries to paint over the other team's trails to gain an advantage and deny the other team of any benefits. You can't paint forever, though; your cache of paint is limited, but it can quickly recharge over time. You can also decide to forgo painting in favor of using your paint as a projectile weapon.

On the one hand, the painting mechanic is smart, as it forces you to think about how to strategically use it. If you're thinking solo, you can always paint for future use, so your next lap can be faster. If you're thinking with a team mindset, you'll want to paint, so that your squad can catch up or you can paint to reveal where the shortcuts can be. Painting also drains your boost, so you have to think about taking the boost now or forgoing it in order to help others.

On the other hand, there's a sense that more should've been done with this mechanic. There's no real penalty for riding on a different color, so if you're far ahead, you can coast on by without worrying about being artificially slowed down. There's also not much of a bonus for layering the track in your color. Hitting the opponent with your own color bomb results in a spin that barely slows him or her down, so that feels useless. It would've been nice if the mechanic were much deeper, but as it stands now, painting is nice at first but quickly becomes old.

It also doesn't help that there are other game elements that don't work too well. The track design is decent enough but not extraordinary. The controls for the hovercraft feel especially floaty to the point where running into walls is a common occurrence, since the turning isn't too tight. The lack of other weapons or power-ups makes the weak stopping power of your paint shot feel painful. There's also not too much of a difference between the racers, despite the stats telling you otherwise.

Trailblazers has four racing modes. The Cup mode is the major single-player mode, as you'll be racing for various championships through 10 different tracks. While that track number seems rather small compared to other racers, the developers have lengthened that by making mirrored and reverse variants of the tracks. It's a small thing, but it works well since some shortcuts and pathways become impossible to reach once a variation is in play, forcing you to rethink the path through familiar territory.

Story mode is the other major single-player mode, where you take on the role of a rookie racer trying to become a champion in the racing league. For the most part, you'll go through a bunch of team races and time trials, with the same track variety as Cup mode. A narrative is good but not exactly memorable due to some one-dimensional characters. Races now have objectives to complete, such as finishing within a certain time or finishing better than certain characters. Unfortunately, completing the objectives doesn't mean much, since everything is unlocked from the start, so they simply represent a leftover mechanic from prior releases.

For a racing game with a team-based focus, multiplayer needs to be done right, and it is — depending on which mode you're playing. If you're playing offline, the game is perfectly fine. Four-player support is in, and the split screen handles everything well without feeling sluggish. All of the tracks and track variations are in, and with full option control at your disposal, you can craft each race however you want. However, the online component is basically nonexistent. You're able to play games against other racers on other console or PC platforms, but the six-month gap between the release of the game on those platforms and the Switch release means that it is almost impossible to find anyone playing online now. Without them or a dedicated Switch community, consider Trailblazers to be an offline title instead.

In the presentation department, the audio absolutely shines. The voice work is fine, even though you don't hear too much of it, since everyone only has vocal snippets that do a good job of conveying pleasure or annoyance. The effects are also good, but the soundtrack makes the biggest impact. Full of modern funk and with a little bit of hip-hop thrown in, the tracks do a great job of getting you interested in racing, especially since the genres aren't exactly staples of futuristic racers. The best thing that can be said about the songs is that they're good enough that you may also want to listen to them outside of the game.

Graphically, it looks like the game sacrificed quite a bit to be able to run on the Switch. We can't tell what resolution the game is running on when the system is docked, but we know it's low enough that some of the text in the menus and HUD is readable but blurry. The environments are colorful, and the cel-shading present throughout the game does a good job of making the title look presentable. There is a lot of visible pop-up with environmental elements, especially during the track flythroughs. The frame rate is fine at 30fps, but it's concerning to see your hovercraft float along at a much lower frame rate at the starting line. Overall, it works, but it certainly won't dispel the notion that Unity-powered games still need to be optimized on the Switch.

Trailblazers isn't a bad racing title. Despite some floaty controls, the actual racing is fine, and the painting and team mechanics are interesting. The modes are also good, but the lack of a community means that local multiplayer is your only other option once you consume all of the single-player stuff. You'll wish the developers did something more interesting with the concept, as it feels untapped. For that, Trailblazers is only recommended for those who have already checked out other racing titles first.

Score: 6.0/10

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