Review: Drive!Drive!Drive!

Anyone can race on a single track.  It’s easy, you just point your car in the right direction and go fast. Nothing to it!  Racing on more than that, though, is maybe a little less straightforward, what with the whole “only having one brain” thing most of us struggle with on a daily basis.  Drive!Drive!Drive! sets you up on three identical tracks at once, racing a single lap around a twisting, looping course suspended in space, switching from one to another to guide your cars to victory. It’s wonderfully mad idea, pure arcade ridiculousness in its finest form and I really wish I could have enjoyed it more.

The base game is divided up among a series of ten planets, each five courses long, with the races being a selection from four possible events. Purist is a straight-up race to the finish, Time Trial clears out the opponents to allow for the cleanest possible line, Arcade is an event for accumulating points, and Collection is all about picking up the most crystals along the way. Each mode is designed to optimize the track-switching mechanic, which is necessary due to the AI being none too bright. Races start off like normal, with you waiting for the countdown before bursting into action, except there’s three of you and you only control one at a time. The AI takes care of the other two but it’s “Artificial Idiocy”, and won’t be winning any races without your help. It’s not so dumb that it can’t manage a straightaway, and can even get through squiggling turns decently enough, but throw in a few opponents and it’s just not going to cut it. So on track number one you burst to the front of the pack, and then a quick tap of the A button pauses the action while you decide what to do next.

On the bottom left of the screen is a map of the three tracks, complete with little dots showing where you and the rest of the pack are and a quick-reference number showing position in each of the races. As a general rule you’re going to want to choose the race where you’re farthest behind, although if there’s a tricky curve ahead on another course it might be better to switch to the lesser problem before it turns into a bigger one. Earn a respectable place in whichever course you choose and then switch to the last, making up the distance while hoping the other two can keep themselves sorted out. Which, to be fair, they probably can, because while the AI won’t win too many races it’s just this side of adequate at not blowing its lead too badly.

Other than that, though, Drive!Drive!Drive! is a fairly straightforward arcade racer.  Hit the turbo to boost, smash other cars, jump, and power-slide to earn more turbo, and keep an eye on the current level’s objective to earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold medals.  Progression unlocks new cars, each with different stats for speed, handling, smashing the other racers off the track, etc.  Clear the first set of fifty levels and there’s a meaner, harder set of fifty behind it, and when those get old you can make your own or download the community’s creations right from the main menu.  There’s no shortage of arcade racing action, and the varied car stats let you experiment with the best plan of attack for earning a Gold on each course.

Somehow, though, the entire game feels bloodless.  There’s no question the art has a great style to it, filled with clean lines and plenty of glow to perk up the low-poly style, but it also feels somewhat sterile.  The initial training tutorial opens with the line “Everybody is stupid apart from you”, but this isn’t a text-heavy game and its slightly snarky personality gets lost in an endless succession of tracks that all blend into each other.  There are hints here and there of the game Drive!Drive!Drive! could be, such as when the different versions of the tracks get close enough to see the other racers flying along, or when finishing up the last of the three tracks and dodging the immobile cars that fell down from the courses above when they shattered on completion.  The idea behind the game is clever and a lot of fun, but I generally found two to three races were plenty before my attention started wandering off.

Closing Comments:

Drive!Drive!Drive! has the heart of a great arcade racer, but isn’t quite there yet.  Its central gameplay hook is fantastically inventive, and the volume of content to play with it in starts off huge and is only getting bigger as the community uploads new tracks.  The four different gameplay modes keep you on your toes as the objectives change with each race, and earning the Gold requires a bit of strategy in choosing the right car for the job.  Drive!Drive!Drive! ticks off all the right boxes on the Awesome Arcade Racer checklist, but somehow never rises up to become the game that it could have been.

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