Announcing a game out of the blue, only to release it with no traction, is a dangerous marketing tactic. That’s not the same as striking the iron while it’s hot; it’s throwing it out while it’s not. Despite its poor publicity campaign, BlazeRush is an arcade racer with a bite. Wobbly cars, explosive weapons and bouncy tracks full of death are a tenacious combination.
Tracks in the racing game are divided into several themes, split into certain difficulties. Bizarre growths enwrap gaseous swamps. Frost veils the screen of icy locations. The grimiest of worlds leave their courses decayed, tearing entire chunks out of the roads. There’s not much time to look at the finer details, however, since bobbing vehicles screech their way through, leaving hazes that color their smoke with the fiery discharge from their tailpipes. There’s a lot more vivacity on the screen than at first glance, especially if rocket launchers and slowing goop guns are involved.
See, BlazeRush isn’t just about trying to overcome the wacky physics to stay on tracks; every contestant is also out to rail the opposition. Once the vehicle flies off the road, it gets reset at the back of the pack. Two elements contribute to this directly: A speed boost can shunt cars off, while weapon pickups provide a one-time assault that completely destabilizes someone. Any means to get to the finish line first will do.
A selection of sixteen racers can be gradually unlocked through an extensive campaign mode. Lighter hovercrafts will make sharp turns on air, but can get punted off course easily. Heavier options stand their ground, but they’re sluggish and can’t react as quickly as their opponents. Depending on the location, some choices are definitely better than others, though their distinct racing style does leave them with individual strengths.
Most races in BlazeRush are tight, as in tight-tight. Each time someone is sent to the back, they’ll be able to immediately return with a speed pickup. Alternatively, stragglers can take more potshots at their opponents, as weapons litter any stage. Furthermore, most races have a series of tricky turns and sections to handle. Unexpected elevations can be disastrous for someone who just activated an unstoppable boost, essentially shooting them into orbit. Loose suspensions are tricky enough to keep straighten, but a road bump will definitely provide yet more of a challenge to stay in control. Railings can disappear off turns, so the wobbly vehicles better anticipate teetering just right, lest they get sent into the abyss. Rocket blasts or sound waves can further send devastating pulses, blowing participants away like leaves. No moment is safe. To lock things together, all these elements are thrown in with a level of aggression, making for cutting turns and rocking explosions alike. As any decent arcade game, BlazeRush doesn’t hold back, not in its physics and not in its impetus. It’s not so much the pacing of a round that makes for exhilarating races, but the gusto it applies. “Wacky antics,” if you will, is an appropriate term.
A variant of a normal race, with weapons and all, is King of the Hill, where a round continues until any one person stays in pole position for a certain amount of time. This mode adds a touch more uncertainty to events, as laps aren’t determined anymore, so certain areas can’t be targeted as easily. Any spot is essentially a hot zone, instead of just that one corner on an incline or that one gap. Better yet, Death Race does away with the mechanism that plops people back on track and replaces it with a giant, spiked steamroller. Anyone left behind will get chewed up mercilessly by the machine. These modes raise the frantic aspect in gameplay even higher. Especially in the latter part, feeling the trembling presence of the steamroller nipping at the car’s back is extremely unnerving. There is no coming back from getting shredded to pieces. If only a speed boost would appear now!
Keeping things out in left field, controlling a vehicle in BlazeRush is an event in itself. Instead of inputs for acceleration and brakes, a car has to be pointed in a certain direction to move. An arrow appears alongside the racer, indicating the turning position. This mechanism, however, is not without some serious quirks. It’s going to take a while to get accustomed to both pointing forward and to the side at the same time. With frequent turning, it’s also not the easiest thing to keep centered on the track, if remaining in control is a possibility at all. Still, part of this struggle aligns with the loose physics in the game that veer contestants any which way. It clicks, at some point, but it isn’t without its learning curve.
A slightly more aggravating issue is that a race can have doomed positions in some cases. Since items are dropped in random spots, it’s not always a certainty that these will be where needed when the chips are down. Therefore, sometimes a car that is behind stays behind, which is especially troublesome in Death Race matches that rely on being able to bounce back. Luckily, this occurs in a minority of cases, but it does manage to spoil the good times temporarily.
BlazeRush has one more trick up its sleeve, fitting of the oddball that it is. Online races are plagued by the game’s silent release. Luckily, artificial opponents can fill the slots, while waiting for humans to trickle in. That’s not the good part. What’s great about its online element is that racers can drop in at any time. No waiting period is needed. The second someone connects, their car is added to the race, so the chances of observers getting bored and disconnecting are much lower. This is exactly what small games should do to keep their online services viable, especially since a race on a slower connection isn’t an option, as the split-second reaction time needed won’t allow it.
While it might take some patience to get a hold of the turning control scheme within the tottering world of BlazeRush, it is fully worth the effort. This is arcade racing as it should be; frenetic, uncontrollable and animated. The fight inside this racer is a vigorous one and that filled with exciting twists on taking normal laps. Not one lap will ever be normal and that’s all the better.