Tiny Trax is FuturLab’s first step into VR gaming, and it’s an impressive one despite being relatively low on content.
Let’s face it, slot car racing isn’t the most exciting activity for most kids now that we have videogames. Once you master how to get around the track as fast as possible without spinning off the track, it usually quickly loses its appeal. But that phase where you’re learning to master it – that’s the sweet spot. FuturLab has crafted an entire game around it, and has applied virtual reality to it as well.
In Tiny Trax, tracks aren’t laid out on the floor or even a flat surface – they’re all around you. Although this is a feature that can also be replicated with a dynamic camera system in non-3D, feeling like you’re sitting in the middle of a course that surrounds you, with miniature cars racing all over the place. One moment you’re looking down as cars battle for position there, and a moment later they’re speeding right at you at eye level before taking a sharp turn as you follow them distancing themselves from you once more.
It sounds fairly straightforward on paper, but it’s actually really exciting to play with slot cars this way – the depth, the gravity-defying sections of the track and the sense of wonder you experience are all things you definitely won’t remember from your real life slot car experiences. Part of the appeal lies with the track layout and general look and feel, which seems designed around the concept of being fun to both play and watch. There are only twelve tracks to play and races don’t take too long though, so if online multiplayer doesn’t appeal to you then you’ll quickly feel yourself wanting more.
Without the draw of online multiplayer, single player is all about mastery of a simple concept. Between applying “gas”, controlling your speed in corners, changing lanes and firing off your boost cylinders, there isn’t much to it – at first. Trying to match the best times out there, you quickly start learning what works and what doesn’t – but it takes much longer to truly master these dynamics. Cornering is one of the trickiest things to do…. you can play it safe and take a wide corner, or go inside and risk losing a lot of speed. There’s also the payoff of boost power that’s awarded when you’re drifting, and this is another element to consider when approaching a corner. Getting a podium finish takes practice, and winning races is definitely challenging.
Multiplayer is there to add lasting appeal to the game, but online multiplayer in a game like this just isn’t the same as playing Micro Machines with a couple of friends on the couch. Still, it’s a good way to test your skill level against other players once you’re done enough to grab gold medals in all the offline races and championships – and online play also isn’t as affected by the rubberbanding/catchup logic you’ll see in single player, although I’ll readily admit that it helped me out quite a few times as well.
Although Tiny Trax has very little to do with FuturLab’s other titles, it does share Velocity 2X’s knack for fluid and momentum-based movement. Get to the point where you feel like you’re literally in the groove, and Tiny Trax becomes a very special VR experience indeed. Perhaps its lack of content might hurt it in the long run, but it’s appropriately priced. It’s too bad that slot car racing isn’t this exciting in real life – it would have made for some of the best local coop experiences ever.