The first batch of new game releases in 2012 last week was relatively quiet, but Lunar Racer [99¢] from NoodleCake Studios (the makers of Super Stickman Golf [99¢/HD] ) have got things off to a positive start by releasing a new lo-gravity racing game with plenty of jumps, heaps of flips and a couple of weapons.
Lunar Racer starts with a basic driving test, to secure your lunar license. During your rookie training, you learn that tapping the left half of the screen activates "gravity assist" to pull your vehicle towards the ground, while tapping the right side activates nitro boosters for a burst of speed. There's no steering controls, as this game is all about timing your speed-boosts and jumps to beat your opponents.
Once you're airborne, tilting the device left or right does a backwards or forwards flip. These flips are essential as each flip replenishes your nitro tanks, allowing you to pass opponents, jump higher, flip more and hopefully win. But if you don't land safely on your wheels, you'll crash, incurring a slight delay. The further you turn the device, the faster your racer spins and the more nitro you earn. There are also coins (MoonBux) to collect, both on the ground and floating, which is another incentive to go aerial.
You can use the MoonBux you collect to unlock 16 different vehicle chassis and a similar number of wheels, canopy colors or nitro styles (eg: perhaps you want pretty stars or a green flame shooting out when you turbo?). I believe that adds up to 16 x 16 x 16 x 16 possible combinations, which equals… a lot! The customizations don't actually improve the attributes or performance of your vehicle, but it allows you to personalize its appearance.
The racing, jumping, flipping and customizations are all fun, but there are also weapons. You can use mines or missiles to attack your three opponents and deploy bubble-shields to protect yourself from their attacks. Once you pass over a generic power-up icon, a specific upgrade is randomly chosen and appears as a button to activate. Some users found this button uncomfortable to reach on the larger iPad screen, but it works fine on the iPod touch or iPhone.
The first race occurs on a space-station near Earth, but by winning races you gain the stars needed to unlock additional moons around Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The developers plan to release more moons in future, to cover off the rest of our Solar System. The last two moons currently require local multiplayer wins to unlock, which isn't ideal for those playing alone, but the developers plan to remedy this in an update, perhaps by allowing those levels to be unlocked by stars just like the other levels.
Lunar Racer currently has single player mode (racing against 3 AI-controlled opponents) and local multiplier mode (Bluetooth or WiFi for up to four players). The developers are already investigating the feasibility of an online multiplayer mode, however there's issues with all the flipping and lag to deal with and NoodleCake told us they won't release it unless it runs flawlessly, so it's still an investigation in progress. They also revealed that they'd like to add an 'endless' arcade racing mode, where the terrain on the moon is generated procedurally.
Once you win a race with three stars, it unlocks a PRO tour mode for that moon with harder competitors.
This gives you an opportunity to earn three more stars for unlocking new moons. There's also three specific goals listed for each moon, like: "Do 10 or more back flips" or "Get 15 perfect landings". If you complete all three goals for a level, you get to play a special bonus round which focuses on collecting as many MoonBux as you can, without any opponents. Game Center and OpenFeint are both integrated for high scores and achievements.
Lunar Racer is already a fun title which I'll be playing for a while, but it feels like it could be much more. Here's hoping for more levels coming, an extra game mode planned & the possibility of online multiplayer mode. If they've got any spare time, perhaps they can put iCloud synching on their to-do list too.
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