Paint the Ground Red (or yellow, green, blue…)
Developer: Supergonk Ltd
Publisher: Rising Star Games Ltd
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
A wise old man once told me that Trailblazers is pretty much WipEout x Splatoon and, quite frankly, that’s the perfect description, so I’m stealing it.
The best way to describe Trailblazers is WipEout x Splatoon (told you). From the main menu, the game greets you with cartoon-like characters placed upon a pseudo cel-shaded gameplay video. It all feels very Crazy Taxi, which to me is great. This laid-back cartoon aesthetic carries on through the game’s menus and into the game itself, not least with the dialogue found in the story mode. The accompanying soundtrack for the game is also perfect; a mix of indie and electronic music (I’m not good with music genres…) suits the game’s look and high-velocity racing to a T. It’s an experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead relies on barebones, but fun, gameplay.
Trailblazers is primarily a co-op racing game, something that we don’t often see from the genre. What this means is you work together to win races against two other teams of two. That’s six racers in total (#quickmaths). That doesn’t mean you have to play the game with two people, though, quite the contrary. If you do fancy playing the game with a friend the options to do so are there. The co-op elements of the game can be experienced both online or via custom races and the game even offers a split-screen option for local multiplayer, which is a nice inclusion. Custom races allow you to play on any track with any vehicle right from the get-go. That means you don’t even have to touch the story before jumping in and playing. But you should, because it’s quite good.
The story mode of Trailblazers is a mix of events tethered together by a fairly basic narrative. Each chapter has you playing as one of the eight different characters and it’s here where you learn about their past and the set up for the game’s overarching story. The characters don’t talk as such but make random noises at the start of their piece of dialogue (think Banjo Kazooie or Yooka Laylee) so you’ll have to read the story (sorry, guys). Whilst the story isn’t going to win any awards the writing does fit nicely into the game’s style. It’s quite funny, genuinely ridiculous in places and serves as a nice background to the events you partake in.
Progressing through the story works on a token basis. Each event has up to 3 tokens on offer and you collect these in a number of ways. You only need to collect one token to progress onto the next chapter too so you’re less likely to be stuck at a point of no progression. Some tokens will unlock by coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd, whereas others are reliant on a score, placing ahead of a specific character or beating a race time. It’s a nice way to shake things up from the usual “go fast to win” ruleset often found in racing games and it means you’ll have to approach each event with different tactics. And Trailblazers is an incredibly tactic-centric game due to its painting mechanic.
Unlike traditional racing games, Trailblazers allows you to paint on the tracks on which you race. Painting the track serves two purposes: 1) It makes everything look pretty and 2) it helps both yourself and your teammate earn boost. When you pilot your vehicle over sections of track painted in your team’s colour you’ll start to boost. The boost also increases in intensity the longer you stay within your colour. This stacks up to 3x at which point you’ll be whizzing around the track like a… fast thing. The paint isn’t only there to bolster your boost, though, you can also use it as a projectile. If you time it right you can press the attack button to launch a channel of paint ahead of you and if an opponent is in its path it’ll cause them to spin out. This attack is also handy at gaining some speed on straight sections of the track as you can still boost on this paint, it acts in the exact same way.
The initial throws of a race are all about setting your racing lines. You build up your paint meter by simply racing and once you’ve filled it up you can spray it behind you ready for your next lap. Of course, you aren’t the only one painting the track so a nice line you create in the first lap may be covered by an opponents colour when you revisit it. It’s this shift in dynamic that helps keep races in Trailblazers fresh but it’s also one that takes a while to get your head around, especially if you’re a racing game fan and like to take traditional lines around the track.
There are a handful of game modes which all make use of the painting mechanic in one way or another. The standard team race is the 2v2v2 I mentioned before, but you’ll also play time trials and gate races. Gate Races, again, mix things up nicely as your paint powers are disabled. Instead, you need to go through gates which launch a channel of paint ahead of them. Gates can only be activated once so the aim here is to get through as many as you can to ensure a decent run in the later laps. Time trials, as you can guess, are all about setting a fast lap time. You can play time trials with or without AI although there’s nothing worse than smashing into an AI racer during the final straight of a perfect lap.
Which brings me onto some of the less appealing parts of the game. As fun as Trailblazers is, it’s not without faults. As mentioned above the AI drivers have a tendency to crash into walls and continue accelerating as if it’s achieving something. This means you’re more than likely to smash into them as you blitz around a corner at the speed of light. Once you’ve made contact with a vehicle it’s tricky to detach again, so you’re left with either resetting your vehicle or reversing out of the situation. Vehicle resets aren’t automatic either, or at least they don’t seem to be, so it was by chance after smashing the controller that I managed to do this manually (it’s R1 or RB, FYI). The same is also true when you get too close to the edge of the track. Once you’ve made contact with a wall of a track it’s almost like a vacuum holds you in place, again, making it difficult to detach. Throw into the mix the clusterfudge of cars smashing into one another as soon as a race starts and you can be left getting really agitated.
One could argue that these situations, bar the destruction derby off the starting line, could be avoided by being good at the game. It’s a fair argument but in a game that’s so fast-paced it’s something you will definitely come up against and it’s incredibly frustrating. In a way it’s unfortunate that many players will draw inevitable parallels to F-Zero and WipEout as they’re both well crafted games and, in a way, highlight how unpolished Trailblazers is in places.
Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad in Trailblazers and it has to be commended for doing something different with the racing genre. It’s a neat, stylised gaming package with plenty to keep you entertained. Racing fans, particularly those who enjoy games such as WipEout and F-Zero, will certainly find joy in Trailblazers. And whilst it never quite lives up to the quality of those games, it stands its own ground with fair competence. Trailblazers does, however, lack a couple of features that you’d expect from a racing game, in particular, a mini-map of the track whilst you’re racing. It would also be nice to see some customisation unlocks, even colours for vehicles, and maybe even a photo mode. But the lack of these features doesn’t detract from an otherwise genuinely fun game.