Mini Motor Racing Delivers Racing Rush…When It’s Not Derailing Itself

Posted: December 17, 2011 in Racer

I’m an avid reader of literature and while it may seem strange that I bring this up in reviewing a racing game, “A Tale of Two Cities” rings true in the instance of Mini Motor Racing, a top-down racer by Binary Mill. Not that the game is set during the French Revolution or has “bloody” battles, MMR is at times a potentially great top-down racer presented with engaging gameplay and wonderful animation. Other times, frustration comes from an over-the-top AI and system optimization issues. Don’t get me wrong, MMR is a solid offering if you’re a fan of the genre, but play it with a touch of patience.

Visually speaking, MMR stands helmet and belt harness above other racers with animations that pop off the screen. Whether playing on an iPod Touch or better yet, an iPad, and you’ll see what I mean. The tracks look amazing from the skid marks on hairpin turns to the expelled dust from fast spinning tires. The race cars themselves all exhibit detailed markings that frankly look great both close up and during gameplay.

The specs on MMR…you won’t need to worry about variety when it comes to the vehicles you’ll be driving. There are 13 cars to choose from (some are unlocked as you progress through the races)—LeMans, Hatchback, LeDorean, Sleigh, Bus, Sedan, Hot Rod, Buggy, Sprint, Sports, Fruit Ninja, Big Rig, and Pickup—each with their own unique attributes in the areas of handling, nitro, acceleration, and top speed.

The game offers two modes: Career and Quick Race. Career is made up of 17 cups, each involving 4 races. Some of the cups have more than one circuit. For example, the Fruit Ninja Cup has 3 circuits meaning you’ll need to complete 12 tracks to complete that cup.

The objective of each race is to place in the top three resulting in a gold, silver or bronze trophy and prize money. The money can then of course be used to soup up your vehicles in handling, nitro, acceleration and top speed. A running total of earnings is displayed when you return to the menu. And, as you complete circuits by finishing in the top three, additional cups or leagues will unlock. Once unlocked, these tracks become available in Quick Race, a mode that allows you to practice driving maneuvers or just to get familiar with the tracks. On that note, MMR also has a Multiplayer which unfortunately is limited only to local wifi and Bluetooth play. Hopefully, online multiplayer will be available in future updates.

Off to the gameplay…the devs behind MMR really deliver an exhilarating racing experience which in the plethora of top down racers available on the platform is saying something. While it’s easy enough to say that the tracks themselves are varied enough with hairpin turns, sharp angles, and treacherous curves, MMR’s tracks provide visually stunning backgrounds. For example, Alpine provides long jumps, rocky terrain and a steep uphill climb, while Safari offers a dusty terrain surrounded by an oasis of vegetation and water streams. On the other hand, Tarmac is a race full of curves, while the Docks is all about weaving in and around warehouses in an industrial setting. One of may favorites is the Fruit Ninja track because it has sharp angles and splotches of smashed fruit which affect acceleration and speed as you drive through it. All of this of course is accompanied by catchy soundtracks that you’ll either enjoy or find irritating.

In any racing game, the controls are make or break, and for me, I found them spot on in MMR. MMR has a number of control options from left/right buttons to a steering slider, but the only scheme that worked effectively is the steering wheel. Used in conjunction with the accelerator button (you can also play with auto acceleration), MMR’s controls are spot on. Because you can buy upgrades for your vehicle, tweaking handling and top speed actually helps with making precise steering as you progress through the cups.

In the initial circuits and races, the game is relatively easy, and I managed to place first in my first 8 races without making any upgrades to my LeMans. Experimenting with other vehicles, I found that the different attributes do impact driving which is a good thing. For example, turning on a dime with the Big Rig led to spin outs, while the Buggy has a good straightaway acceleration. Because the controls make MMR relatively accessible to anyone—they’re easy to use—you can experiment with different driving maneuvers such as ramming or nudging other cars out of the way or cutting corners when possible. Part of the challenge is that the top down views change as you progress through Career mode. But the devs do a great job of providing just the right camera views as the vehicles move through the tracks.

During races, money and nitro boosts randomly appear on the track, which comes in handy. Nitro boosts provide quick shots of acceleration that you’ll need to strategically use during races especially in the later cups…more on that in a minute. There’s nothing like flying through the air with a nitro boost. Money picked up during the race is added to your purse upon finishing a race.

With the good comes the not so good…remember I told you it was a tale of two cities. In the initial races, the AI of competing racers generally feels balanced with a few exceptions. There are issues with competitors hitting their nitro at inopportune times and crashing right into a curve or crashing on the side of the road. Later on, however, this becomes a bigger issue when competitors start intentionally crashing in your vehicle. It almost felt like a demolition derby with a pinch of road rage to boot. None of this was more apparent than at the start of a race when almost all the competing vehicles smash and box into your car. Other times, multiple cars engage their nitro to ram full speed into your car, sometimes hard enough to flip you over. You almost feel like a big bull’s-eye has been painted on your car, and it certainly adds to the challenge of the game depending on your point of view. One tip I will provide is to use your nitro—even several times—right out of the gate to create some separation.

Another form of crashing involves the game itself. Running MMR on my iPad, the game sometimes closed out completely without recording results from my race. This became more of an issue in the more difficult races later on when I would manage to squeeze out a victory in a tough race only to have the game quit without recording my victory. I’m not sure what kind of testing was done prior to the game’s release, but it obviously wasn’t enough. The devs have submitted a new update that hopefully addresses the crashing and AI issues. Let’s just hope they tested the update to ensure that it doesn’t wipe out career progress.

Overall, MMR is a good top-down racer, and probably the best looking one in the genre, that could have been great. The controls make the game accessible to anyone, while the gameplay provides an engaging racing experience. The cars and the tracks should keep gamers coming back for more if they can put aside the crashing issues for the time being.

Albie Meter: 4 stars (great gameplay coupled with equally great visuals and track variety; controls are easy to learn; inconsistent AI in later races; would be 5 stars if not for the all too frequent game optimization issues)


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