There is a certain level of expectation with particular game studios, not necessarily a qualitative one, but an expectation that certain studios will create a certain kind of game with certain quirks and idiosyncrasies. You play a Codemasters racing game, for example, and you get a game which generally gives a mix of arcadey racing controls with simulation physics that make you feel like a legitimate racer right up until the moment you crash spectacularly into a wall. You play a Eutechnyx game and you expect total rubbish.
Targem Games have had a fairly mixed legacy over the last decade. Starting out making rather workable games like Insane 2 and GearGrinder, they went on to make the excellent Planets Under Attack and have recently shifted focus to simple, well crafted party games. This brings us nicely to BlazeRush, a dystopian party racing game fueled heavily by explodium, which leads us to ask: Is this the generic racer side of Targem showing, or the polished party game company shining through?
BlazeRush is a single screen racing game, incredibly reminiscent of Codemasters’ Micro Machines at first glace and, I expect, very close to how that series would look if it were rebooted today. The game is astonishingly fun and absolutely bonkers, playing as a combination between Micro Machines and Super Smash Bros; knocking your opponents off the stage is the name of the game. The controls could not be simpler, with driving being entirely controlled by pointing the analogue stick and two buttons controlling the different kinds of pick ups in the pursuit of carnage, victory and an abundance of explosions one might consider excessive if they had no concept of fun.
In terms of power ups, there’s a good range of fairly unique items, going from the humble autogun (which can be used to push enemies over the edge of a track) to circular saws, green slime, homing missiles and others that are mostly used to slow down or blow up enemies and there’s just enough variety in the weapon pickups to keep the games interestingly frantic. On the flip side there are the boost power ups which progress on a trade-off between increasing power but decreasing control, from the simple speed booster to the somewhat dangerous jet booster and the incredibly strategic pulse booster.
There’s enough variety to stop the game becoming dull and sufficient checks and balances to stop it from being an entirely random free-for-all in the same way Mario Kart and the later Micro Machines games could become, something that is mostly aided by the way in which items dropped. Boost items drop in front of the leader which, along with the teleport system designed to stop people falling behind means that the game is about pickups, clever offensive/defensive driving and some very opportune strikes near corners since every weapon has the power to send your opponents careening hilariously off the edge and no opponent can actually end up far enough behind to no longer be a threat. The sixteen racers you can choose from seem to be designed with the same principles, each of them being a different combination of traction, weight, and acceleration from the slow but incredibly stable tank to the floaty unwieldy UFO and all manner of wheeled, tracked and floating cars in between. Practically it doesn’t add a huge amount to the strategy but the difference between cars is noticeable, particularly with how they affected by certain items.
There are three primary game modes (and a fourth one seen only in the single player campaign): Race, Survival and King of the Hill. Race is fairly self explanatory, although due to the mechanics of the game pretty much every race is decided at the very last corner and a flurry of explosions.
King of the Hill is an interesting choice, being typically a game mode seen in first person shooters. Basically whoever remains in first place for fifty seconds wins, which can lead to some tense moments when more than one person has less than ten seconds left and it leads once again to a flurry for explosions (you may be seeing a trend here…).
Survival is the most interesting of the modes, playing very similar to Micro Machines’ multiplayer mode. Basically it is a race against the screen and either knocking an enemy off the stage or ensuring they fall behind eliminates them and scores a point for every survivor. This generally goes to fifteen points with whoever has the most points after the final round being the winner. This can lead to some very tense moments where the final round has been called but opponents are technically still in the running to win the series. Few things in the game are as satisfying as overtaking the leader with the last point. Oh, I forgot to mention the most important point: during this entire mode every player is chased by a giant mincing machine which will turn your car into a flurry of explosions if it catches you.
Speaking of explosions, there is a level of polish to the graphics that honestly surprises at the game’s price point. There are not terribly many graphics options to set, but the game is well optimised, runs like an absolute treat and is filled with rather impressive smoke and explosion effects as well a nice aesthetic design all around. The interface is nice as well, with some delightfully amateurish touches such as the campaign mode graphics.
Speaking of which, there is indeed a single player campaign to cap off all the party mode shenanigans, which even has its own story. To explain the story of the game would be a complete waste of words, although suffice to say evil corporations, death races and all sorts of hilarious justifications for game mechanics abound. It uses the standard 3-Star/Trophy format used in a lot of casual games with a series of 53 challenges progressing through each of the five areas and levels based within. The campaign works as a de-facto tutorial as well, guiding you through the mechanics of the game one by one and introducing weapons gradually. There is even a final boss at the end, a somewhat underwhelming experience which is especially disappointing given that the rest of mechanics are so fleshed out.
The nature of the game and it’s perennial craziness does mean that it actually works as a single player game and is a lot of fun, although of course you lack the crazed screaming and trash talk if you’re not playing it with other people. Local single screen four player and online 8 player modes are available for multiplayer with drop in and drop out lobbies and the campaign can be played with four local players as well although it adds little to the experience.
BlazeRush is an absolute sleeper hit of a game, one of those gems that you really didn’t expect to have so much fun with. I absolutely adored my time with it and loved that it managed to have both excellent single and multiplayer modes. The mechanics are simple enough to pick up and play, random enough to pick up and win and still offer options for strategy and skill to decide games, particularly in the excellent survival mode. There is potential for more content, and perhaps a few extra tracks may not have gone amiss, but what is there is nitroglycerin-packed fun and cannot be recommended enough.