Splatoon started not only a top-notch third-person shooting franchise, but made a fast-paced shooter family-friendly. Gaining territory in online battles made things frantic, while you could also excel by preventing enemies from surviving and taking them off the field for a bit. The idea of capturing more territory worked well there, but hasn’t been tried in a racing game until now. Trailblazers takes the idea of covering an area with your team’s colors and does more with it thanks to having a lot of nuance to the design. Executing it well is also a necessity and something that is done perfectly here with a frantic pace that can take some time to get used to — but once you “get” the game, you’re hooked on it.
The core of Trailblazers is racing with an all-star cast of bizarre characters. You have an almost F-Zero-like blend of humans and aliens that gives this futuristic racer a familiar feel, while the highly-curved tracks offer their own ever-present challenge from the get-go. While nearly other racing game since the earliest days of Night Driver was about reaching a destination, however, Trailblazers mixes things up. You still want to excel on the track — but you can’t go into a race with a selfish mentality. Much like a team-based FPS, you’re part of a team here and individual success does not necessarily guarantee success for the team.
Finding your groove within the team-based atmosphere and within the game’s structure is important too. The racing action is fast — but never overwhelmingly so like F-Zero GX. It’s very much like Fast RMX where you have a quick pace, but it requires reflexes that human beings actually have. Striking this balance allows the game to be exciting as a racer, but also thrilling when it comes to territory control. The idea is to use a face button (X on PS4, A on an Xbox One pad) to paint the track with your team’s colors and boost alongside that color. Racing along the opposing team’s colors brings you down to regular speed while going over your color is your primary goal thanks to its boosting properties.
Beyond this moving you along the track faster, you also want to chain this boosting together as much as you can to build up your multiplier. This aspect is reminiscent of a shoot-em-up where sure, you can “win” using a base weapon, but powering it up makes you not only feel better — but does a better job of setting yourself up for success. There are gates littered throughout the track that give you a stripe of paint and boost that you’ll want to use to gain some momentum — but also add a strategic element to things. Ideally, you want to either lay some paint right after it or in sequences within close proximity so you’ll have an extended stretch of track to boost on. If you can’t do it, then having an ally help out is great too. Then, both members of the team will be able to benefit from the boost at various points. Your paint does run out fairly quickly and having someone else be able to paint while you can’t is a huge help to the team.
Covering up the opposing team’s color doesn’t just allow you to extend your boost — but also prevents foes from being able to boost. This gives your team an advantage while also putting your rivals at a distinct disadvantage, and if they happen to come across your painted path while not having any paint, there’s nothing they can do about it. They may see this long stretch of paint and want to paint over it to build up their team’s totals and boosting abilities, but not being able to do anything with it means that they’ll have to wait until one more lap at the earliest to do anything about it. There’s a risk/reward element to focusing on painting versus gaining track positions that makes things interesting too.
Much like a healer in an FPS or someone with a roller in Splatoon, being someone who focuses on painting as much territory as possible may not be as impressive as a high kill count, but it’s a vital role. By having someone on your team devoted to covering the ground, the team as a whole benefits from having a lot of surface area to boost on. Focusing on painting means that you will likely sacrifice your own track position as your speed does go to its lowest levels while you’re painting — but you can set your team up for great success by being willing to sacrifice a personal podium finish for the greater good.
Fortunately, a balance can be struck here that takes some time to get used to — but is worth putting into practice whenever possible. Races have a four lap minimum usually, meaning you can use the first half of the race to focus on painting and then devote the second half to track positioning. You could reverse this, but it comes at the cost of then risking hitting a lot of opposing team paint and then minimizing your boosts and thus putting the odds against your team at being able to regain track position. Every race you’re in is thrilling thanks to this balance and it keeps you on your toes at all times.
Trailblazers is visually impressive and features a bright color palette that brings the world alive. Every stage has a distinct color scheme, and whether it be full of pink, red, green or blue, each area stands out. This is like the F-Zero franchise where areas are given distinct names and have far different environmental pieces that give them different vibes. The character art is bright and vivid too, making the teams all stand out from one another. World and vehicle details are thorough too, and while this isn’t something that is going to wow people in the same way Redout or the Wipeout Omega Collection does, it’s still an impressive-looking game in every way.
The sound design is good, but probably its least-impressive aspect. The music is fast and features a cheerful, but futuristic tone. Sound effects for collisions and track interaction are solid but unspectacular. Character interaction is limited to chat boxes with a few verbal cues thrown in. It’s a solid method of doing things, but does hurt the presentation a small amount. In the long run though, it doesn’t affect the core game — which is wonderfully executed.
Trailblazers is a fantastic game that blends racing and a team-based dynamic to craft a memorable experience. It plays like a dream and offers up a surprisingly high amount of strategy to excel. By offering up enough twists on a traditional racing game, it finds ways to create excitement that haven’t been done before in the genre and is a must for anyone looking for an arcade-style futuristic racing experience. If you like F-Zero and/or Splatoon, you will find a lot to like here.