TNT Racers is a game that doesn't have many peers on the Xbox Live Arcade. A kart racer out of Keen games and dtp entertainment, it hits the unique niche of being one of the few casual racing games on a console dominated by hardcore games. Originality doesn't ensure greatness however, and TNT Racers falls prey to unwieldy and oversimplified gameplay that overshadow the fun available with this title.
The biggest problem with TNT Racers is that it tries too hard to simplify the genre and ends up feeling childish as a result. This starts with the rather strange decision of having a top down camera centered on the leader. On one hand this is beneficial because it allows everyone to easily get a grasp on their position in the race, but on the other hand it severely limits TNT Racers as a pure racer because the developers have to account for players falling too far behind.
This racer accommodates the problem decently by shifting the focus from speed to score-based mechanics anging from knocking out a given number of players first to just scoring the most points in a certain number of laps. In almost every case, when you fall off the screen you'll be brought back as a ghost racer capable of slowing your opponents, thus ensuring that you’re rarely bored while playing. Although these are valiant attempts at solving the problem, they fall short simply because they lack the same repeatable fun of just racing.
Sure, the first couple of times you play through the game collecting coins is a fresh experience, but after the seventh time playing on what seem like re-skinned tracks it just becomes boring. If such things do tickle your fancy though then you're in luck, as there is a ton of single player content in the main tournament mode. Add on some time trials and a plethora of custom race options and you’ve got plenty of replay value. There's also the potential for longevity thanks to online multiplayer with some decent customization, but the servers were dead the couple of times we tried to take it for a spin.
Even if racking up points does tickle your fancy, there are still some issues that you'll need to grapple with; in fact, the far bigger problem is that the controls feel more like a drunk driving simulator than a arcadey kart racer. This obviously makes cornering an adventure as every turn has the potential to send you careening off to the back of the pack, but there are also more subtle effects like making precise aiming of your power-ups damn near impossible and forcing many a-demise on a narrow bridge. Strangely enough, if you're able to deal with the wonky controls and the inevitable frustration there's a strange sense of excitement that comes with driving in TNT Racers. The combination of swingy turns, speeds that quickly get racheted up to ludicrous, and power-ups that only complicate things ensure that every second requires constant attention.
The one part of Keen's game that is unequivocally awesome is the atmosphere, which is knocked clean out of the park. The graphics kick this off with car models and levels which look straight out of a sunday morning cartoon. The lightheartedness continues with the 50s style jazz music and whimsical power-ups until it reaches near overwhelming levels. Say what you will about the actual gameplay, but there's absolutely no denying that TNT Racers is one of the best examples of focused atmosphere execution available on the XBLA right now.
However, great atmosphere doesn't make a great game, and that's ultimately what keeps TNT Racers back from being a quality racer. True, the unique graphics do give it a little bit of a leg up, but they cannot overshadow incredibly loose controls and racing modes that become bland after a few playthroughs. There's some fun to be had with TNT Racers, just not enough to give it a whole hearted recommendation.
[TNT Racers]-800 MSP