I’m sure not everyone is familiar with the slot car phenomenon, at least not by that name. I myself grew up owning and loving them, even if the fun was often short-lived. The name “slot car” didn’t mean a thing to me though, I just wanted an electronic race track as a little boy.
For those who never played one, and those to whom the above still doesn’t ring a bell, some explaining is necessary. For others, it’ll serve as a refresher course. In slot car racing, you build your race track from separate parts. A lot of kits only had one or two ways in which to complete the track, bigger kits gave you tons of options. What they all had in common was that each part of the track had a small ridge (or slot) running along the length of it, and once all the parts were connected this would form a loop around the track for cars to follow. Most race tracks had two such slots, some had even more – but all used the same principle. Once hooked up, you could place a car in one of the slots, and “control” it using the accelerator/controller that came with the package.
The way this works is simple. You press down on a trigger and pressing it fully means that your car goes full speed. Let go and your car stops, press the trigger halfway and you go at medium speed – any speed between full speed and a complete stop is possible this way. Some sets had a dial instead of a trigger, but the excitement always comes from knowing JUST how fast you can make your car go before it spins off the track, making it a toy that’s easy to learn yet hard to master. More excitement comes in the shape of ramps and loops, but the best part about slot car racing was always competing with others and getting around the track the fastest. Wiping out was almost surely a loss, although you could take the other car with you as you spun off the track, resulting in a bit of a no contest situation.
It’s a concept that was really popular in the 80s and 90s, and now HTR+ Slot Car Simulation brings it to the Playstation Vita. The game was originally released for mobile devices and came out in North America as an upgraded version back in 2015, and has now made it to European handhelds. The reason I spoke at length about the toys that inspired the game is easy… developer QUByte has done a great job at recreating the real life experience that comes with slot car racing.
When playing HTR+ on the Vita, you have the ability to build your own track, and you get way more building blocks than you ever did as a kid in order to do so. This is fun and will even get you a few achievements, but building tracks isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and luckily the game comes with its own tracks built in as well. You can race these during a career mode, chase pre-recorded ghosts in order to beat their times, or try your hand at the online leaderboards. Across all this, you have the ability to unlock additional content – which will take a while and it’s also needed to climb higher up those leaderboards, where people use much faster cars than you initially do.
HTR+ also mimics the flaws that real life slot car racing has. Controls are limited to just going faster and slower, so you’re not steering and the experience gets a little repetitive after a while. Therefore, it’s a game best enjoyed in short bursts – which unfortunately makes the unlocking process take even longer. Despite the easy to understand controls, this is not an easy game – especially when using the thumbsticks to control your car. Pushing up makes your car go faster, but the range of motion with these tiny thumbsticks is so small that precise controls are near-impossible. Although it obscures the screen, you’re probably better off using the touch screen slider instead.
Presentation-wise, HTR+ looks excellent. There are multiple camera angles, tons of tracks and track parts, colorful cars and background as well as decent sound effects and music. Performance is smooth, and with the upgrade from the original HTR game you also get crisper visuals – our favorite were the races where our slot cars rocked some headlights as they were skidding around the track in the semi-dark.
All in all, HTR+ Slot Car Simulation is a great reproduction of actual slot car racing, but with a few shortcomings. The controls feel different and aren’t perfect (an often heard complaint with real slot cars as well!), but the biggest issue is that multiplayer isn’t included. Since both thumbsticks can be used to accelerate, why not include the ability to share a Vita with each playing using one side of the handheld to control a car? It would have definitely added some more lasting appeal to HTR+, which now is merely an okay trip down memory lane that’s fun in short bursts.