Two D Truckin’
We don’t usually review mobile games purely because we don’t play many of them. They tend to fall into one of three categories for us. The first are simply too ambitious. With ever increasing performance on mobile platforms triple A developers constantly want to push what they can do. Unfortunately they tend to do this with console sensibilities leading to games that have confusing control schemes that struggle along on a phone. The second type are mind numbingly simple Candy Crush or Farmville style games that might be distracting enough for a while but rarely have enough depth to write anything about. The third are remakes of good board games like Catan or Ticket to Ride that are usually great but it’s hard to recommend them over their physical cousins. MMX Racing manages to edge between the first two types, actually creating an interesting game that’s simple enough to work well on mobile.
For the record, we played the game on an iPad 2 but it’s clear that MMX would work well, possibly even better, on a phone. The premise is that you’re racing monster trucks, but don’t let that fool you; this clearly isn’t really a racing games. It’s really a rhythm game, but with monster trucks, jumps, painting and fire. And microtransactions.
The meat of the gameplay involves you letting go of the accelerator when you crest a jump, and then slamming back down on it when your metal behemoth crashes back to earth. Time it right and the game calls you awesome and you go a little faster, time it wrong and you wobble all over the place. If you win races you get money which can then be spend on cosmetic upgrades (that get you a cash bonus at the end of races), new trucks or engine and chassis upgrades that increase your stats. The engine upgrades are surprisingly noticeable, changing the way you race. Do you focus on spectacular jumps or sheer speed? Do you want to spend money making the game easier for yourself or just power through? The cosmetic upgrades too give you a surprising amount of flexibility.
At any one time you can take on around five races, with four showcase events and one league progression. The league progression is usually ranked impossible until you level up your truck enough or buy one that’s good enough to compete. This leads to a reasonable amount of grinding but that pure gameplay is compelling enough to keep you going in short bursts. There’s a precision and immediate sense of feedback that encourages you to keep going to try and perfect your driving, then as the trucks get more powerful it gets faster and more difficult like any rhythm game should. The only thing that’s missing is a licensed soundtrack.
Unfortunately there is a significant downside to the game and that is the prevalence of microtransactions. Clearly games need to make money some way, but we’ve commented many times previously that there are good ways to do this (cosmetic options like in DOTA or content packs like LOTRO) and there are bad ways, like allowing you to skip waits for cash. Basically in the game you can skip the grind by buying trucks for real life money (a couple of quid per vehicle) which is ok, but then you get a certain amount of race tickets that you must spend to race. Once these are depleted you have to wait to get more, or of course you can buy some to keep going. With a game this addictive it’s almost cruel to monetise in this way, imagine if Guitar Hero wanted to charge you after five retries of Through the Fire and Flames? It feels just like that. You get into a nice routine with it and then it stops you from playing unless you cough up. There’s no content unlocked by the purchase, you don’t earn anything, you just avoid an entirely artificial wait. In some games (like LOTRO) you could spend £30 and basically own the whole game. In this you could drop £30 and only avoid waits for a couple of weeks worth of playing if you played it a lot. Then you’d have nothing to show for your money.
For an iOS game (or any game really) the visuals are really nice and clean and do a good job of conveying the speed, weight and beauty of these beasts. Even on our iPad 2 there was only a little slow down when loading into a race but it worked flawlessly after that.
With the short track times (often under 30 seconds) and engaging gameplay, MMX Racing could have been an absolute joy for a commute or lunch break, but in all likelihood you’re going to play for five minutes and then be asked to pay. Over and over again. This severely diminishes the fun the game can provide. If you’re the patient type and don’t mind just playing for a few minutes every day or so, the game is free and it’s a lot of fun, so by all means go and download it. But if you’re irritated by microtransactions this is one of many offenders of the worst kind. No one should get in the way of us and monster trucks.