Ion Racer [$0.99] from Nawia Games (makers of Flick Champions) is an endless tunnel runner with a visual style that looks suspiciously like Wipeout (a franchise we’d love to see on iOS). Unfortunately, any similarities with the futuristic racer are skin-deep, as Ion Racer stays close to its roots, offering a score-based reflex-oriented endless gameplay experience. Unfortunately, gameplay stagnation, a somewhat heavy reliance on IAP, and some minor control issues hold this title back.
Like most ‘endless’ games, gameplay in Ion Racer is score-based. Players guide their ship along a never-ending corridor filled with blue and red barriers along with small orbs called ions. Running into red barriers takes away a bar of shield strength, and if you lose your entire shield, the run ends. Blue barriers, meanwhile, offer additional points or shield bars and should be hit as much as possible. Ions serve as a perpetual source of points and energy to refill your energy meter.
The energy meter adds a small amount of strategy as it allows you to enter into either focus or strike mode. Focus temporarily slows down your ship, allowing you to dodge red barriers with ease (focus also increases the score multiplier of ions). Strike provides a burst of speed which also lets you smash through red barriers without a shield penalty. Both focus and strike modes offer some variety to what is otherwise an exercise in collecting ions and avoiding red barriers.
Ion Racer features a currency/upgrade system that is simultaneously interesting and frustrating. On one hand, there are a few different ways to collect kions, the in-game currency. Players earn kions by either collecting ions or passing missions which reward a small amount of kions for completing all objectives. You never feel like you’re not working towards a greater goal, which is essential for replayability.
On the other hand, kion collection just doesn’t occur fast enough. Individual runs typically provide a small amount of kions, with missions offering a bit more (although objectives quickly become difficult). Meanwhile, ship purchases and upgrades cost a lot more than you’d typically earn. Ion Racer also has perks ranging from auto repair to a score multiplier, which are one-use extras that cost a decent amount of kions to purchase. Suffice to say, folks looking to partake in even a modicum of upgrades and purchases are in for a lot of playing.
Of course, IAP comes to the rescue to address the perpetual grind. Based on the entry price, as well as the current state of its IAP, I don’t have too big of a problem with Ion Racer’s implementation as it seems like you could alleviate a great deal of the grind for a decent price. Still, kion rewards should be tweaked somewhat to provide non-IAP driven gamers an easier time.
Controls are another frustrating aspect of Ion Racer. The game defaults to a tilt-based scheme that has the potential to offer precision but feels unreliable. The second, touch-based scheme places left and right buttons on each side of the screen. While the touch controls feel more stable, they are a bit more imprecise in practice. Neither scheme necessarily leads to a poor gaming experience, but they could have been implemented better.
The biggest issue I have with Ion Racer is that the game never really evolves beyond what you see at the onset. You can buy different skins and upgrade attributes, but the gameplay never really feels different. Even the environments hardly change, with the same futuristic tunnels with each run. It’s a shame, because the visuals are excellent and, when combined with the framerate and sense of speed, look very much like Wipeout.
I feel as if the Wipeout vibes may have created unrealistic expectations in Ion Racer. As it stands, it’s still a decent endless racer that’s a bit heavy on the IAP with issues that can be addressed in future updates. As long as you understand that this isn’t a true racing title (and thus, not a Wipeout clone), you should enjoy the experience.