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‘Cracking Sands’ Review – Polarbit Takes on the Kart Racer

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If you’ve been following Polarbit throughout the years, you know the developer has a penchant for racing titles. Whether its with top-down arcade titles such as Reckless Racing 2, water races such as Wave Blazer or Rush-esque titles such as Raging Thunder 2, vehicular gameplay seems to be in their blood. Enter Cracking Sands ($1.99), the latest racing title from Polarbit. While the racer features an impressive customization system, and a wealth of maps and cups, Cracking Sands falters a bit with its frustrating control scheme and increasingly hectic weapons-based gameplay.

As far as kart racers go, Cracking Sands doesn’t do much to mix up the core gameplay. An extensive campaign is initially available, which has players participating in cups, racing through maps that award points and cash (and earning final rankings based on total points against other computer opponents) which can be used towards upgrading vehicles and weapons. Completing the campaign opens up other game modes, including single races, time trials, and more. In between standard races, Cracking Sands also throws two other game modes at you: Elimination (where the game systematically removes the racer in last place until one is left standing) and Head of the Pack (which awards points to the racer in first place for a certain amount of time). Multiplayer rounds out a decent amount of variety in Cracking Sands.

The actual racing, meanwhile, is pretty standard fare, with players balancing trying to earn first place while dodging (and launching) a variety of weapons at other racers. Weapons are powered by an energy system that is replenished during races by collecting energy cubes, running over energy pads, or by taking advantage of situations with temporary unlimited energy. Initially, racing in Cracking Sands is a bit slow and bland as your kart has little in terms of weapons and upgrades, but as you earn more coins (which flow freely if you get a few first places), the game picks up a little.

The area that Cracking Sands excels the most is in the sheer amount of variety and customization for players. The campaign is pretty huge, with tons of unlockable cups, each featuring a decent amount of map environments. Meanwhile, players have a wealth of options in customizing your racer’s clothes, facial features, and vehicle. Each vehicle also has its own upgrade paths, further providing players an opportunity to tailor and improve their vehicles. This wealth of customization extends to the weapon options, with tons of different choices, each with the ability to be upgraded several times.

Where I have an issue with Cracking Sands, however, is its use of tilt-based controls. The game forces players to use the accelerometer to steer, which can feel imprecise and frustrating at times. This becomes especially apparent in later races which feature complicated maps with quick (and sometimes hard to distinguish) turns. There are options to adjust the tilt sensitivity, but I really would have preferred some virtual buttons instead.

As if the controls weren’t bad enough, the Weapons-based gameplay can lead to a lot of highly frenetic action on screen. In fact, at times there were so many weapons effects going off on screen that I even encountered some slow-down on my iPhone 5. There’s also the fact that you’ll encounter situations where you get railed by so many weapons by other CPU racers that you can instantly go from first to last place. It’s frustrating and feels cheap, but then again this isn’t the first time kart racers have done this (remember the plethora of blue shells in Mario Kart whenever you got in first place?).

In the end, Cracking Sands ends up being a title recommended to racing fans that are looking for a title with a wealth of content. That’s pretty much all it has going for it as the visuals aren’t particularly inspiring, the controls aren’t as precise as I’d like, the weapons-based gameplay, while fun, can easily become too hectic. It sounds like a lot of cons, but games that have the ability to afford players a lot to do and see are worth noting. If you’re a genre fan looking for that, check out Cracking Sands. For everyone else, there are better races out there.

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