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Preview: Arcade Racing Legends

Announced back in June 2019 and successfully Kickstarted a month later in July, Arcade Racing Legends is a brand new Dreamcast title originally due for release at the end of 2019, but was subsequently delayed until later this year. My Dreamcast Junkyard colleague Mike Phelan wrote a great article documenting the initial project and what it’s all about, so rather than regurgitate that information I’ll direct you here if you want to know the background story for JoshProd and PixelHeart's Arcade Racing Legends.

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of the racing genre, and nostalgic arcade racers have always been high on my list, so naturally I was quick to back the project in the hope it would turn into a reality. As a backer, one of the most recent perks offered was a downloadable demo, so I grabbed it and thought it would be a great opportunity to let you all know how the game is shaping up.
Graphically, Arcade Racing Legends ticks all the boxes. No, it isn’t a “realistic” setting like you might find in something like Tokyo Highway Challenge but the game screams 90’s arcade racer at you, which is literally the whole point of this release. A bold colourful palette, plenty of variety from one course to the next (there are three available in the demo: Arctic, Desert and Forest), and a lovely garage menu system meant I was very pleased with what my eyeballs were treated to. It certainly looks like a game that could’ve been released back in the day, and a beautiful one at that.

Handling-wise, I was pleasantly surprised. It was my most feared element of Arcade Racing Legends even when I originally backed the project. After watching a few videos of early footage, the car handling looked a bit suspect, but after getting some hands-on time with the demo I was thankful that your car doesn’t constantly feel like you’re driving on ice. It’s still a bit floaty, sure, but the developers seem to have found a good balance here and kept it feeling arcadey without it being too ridiculous. It's actually really enjoyable to play and - for me at least - feels better to play than some original arcade racers.
Available to try in the demo are Career and Time Trial modes. I headed straight to start my Career mode and was presented with a day by day set of challenges as you advance towards turning yourself into a “professional arcade racer”. The challenges do a great job of easing you into the game step by step. On day one, for example, you just have to drive to the goal without any time pressures, just to get a feeling for the car. Day two sees you tackle a different circuit, this time against the clock, in a race to the finish. Day three puts you in the daunting position of not being allowed to use your brake pedal and yet still complete the course within a set time, and so on. It's a nice way of building things up and adding a bit of variety.
Three different cars are available in the demo, all of which have basic tuning options affecting their overall performance on the track. Followers of the Kickstarter will know there are going to be a whole load of different cars in the full release, many of which are based on vehicles from classic Sega arcade driving games like Sega Rally and Crazy Taxi, which is one of my most anticipated things about playing the full version.
The one thing I think really hurts Arcade Racing Legends, from both a gameplay and visual perspective, is that the circuits are all blocked off on both sides by continuous rows of sponsor boards. It very much lessens the experience quite a bit as you’re never in a position where you can run wide, and a mistake is rarely punished as you can just ride along the walls with very little slowdown. It all feels, and looks, just a bit bland and very lazy.
Original screenshots from the Kickstarter showed a few tracks where these sponsor boards did not appear right next to the asphalt or racing surface itself, so I really hope the full release has some wider play areas - I’d go so far as to say it’s the most important thing that PixelHeart need to address between now and the final release. The game won’t have much replayability if it remains as-is, simply because the challenge of learning the layouts of the circuits just isn’t there with the current setup.

Despite this, I’m still really looking forward to the release of Arcade Racing Legends and getting stuck into the Career mode proper when the game does finally get released. The demo did a great job of easing my concerns about the handling, and I just hope they take feedback onboard around those pesky track barriers. If they do, this could be a genuinely enjoyable game to play frequently on Dreamcast in 2020.

For those who missed the original Kickstarter campaign, pre-orders are now available here.

How about you, are you going to pick this up? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.

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4 comments:

Anthony817 said...

All in all, for a game built upon the KOS SDK to look so nice I would say it is impressive. Also, if there are any BTTF Delorean fans out there, you can thank me for asking for the car to be in game. ;)

I have seen it and while they had to make it kind of generic looking so as to not be sued by Universal, it still has the feel of the iconic car.

I eagerly await the game.

JRod said...

James how different do the cars feel when racing?

James Harvey said...

@JRod -- I've not found any races in the demo that are against other cars I'm afraid, so it's all against the clock in this build.

DCGX said...

I didn't back this game, but I'm keeping my eye on it. Hopefully they'll add more content. Is the best they're saying about a release date the end of this year?