People get the wrong idea about old-school arcade racers. They think they were about racing, but these games were more like roller-coasters. You’d careen along a track, almost on-rails, with a stupid grin across your face, and be dazzled by beautiful, colourful pixelated scenery as it blazed past.
All the while there was a feeling of being barely in control, weaving through roving packs of vehicles, breathlessly avoiding disaster by a single pixel. It was inevitable sooner or later everything would get messed up in the name of realism. Fortunately, though, glorious arcade racers still occasionally surface, the latest being Horizon Chase.
Chasing the dream
People might tell you Horizon Chase is like OutRun, but don’t believe a word of it. Instead, this iOS game finds its influences in the classic Amiga Lotus series and Top Gear on the SNES. Dozens of lap-based tracks are organised into cups, each of which requires a certain number of points to unlock. Points are acquired through strong placement, collecting bonus tokens sporadically strewn across the track, and finishing with spare fuel, like a massive show-off.
Placing high is made trickier because you always starting from the back, watching in despair as the race leader speeds into the distance with acceleration your car could never hope to achieve. But once you bump and bustle your way past the also-rans, you’ll mostly spend your time hurtling along at breakneck pace, avoiding numerous car-stopping obstacles inconveniently located at the size of the track, and cunningly overtaking your rivals.
The need for speed
Assuming you’re not dead inside, you’ll revel in the richness of Horizon Chase and wonder why this kind of racer isn’t more popular. This is a gorgeous game with an interesting aesthetic that’s thoroughly modern yet also retro-tinged. Trackside objects have a low poly count, the colours are vivid, and detailed cityscapes always remain on the horizon, tantalisingly out of reach.
There’s no lag. Races are smooth as silk, and accompanied by the audio stylings of veteran videogame musician Barry Leitch. You might think it’s all a bit cheesy at times if you weren’t having so much fun.
As you advance, two things become apparent. First, some courses are deviously designed. Initial cities are easy to blaze through, but fuel at some point shifts from bonus to necessity. Similarly, car choice becomes critical, which you’ll grok on unwisely attempting to tackle a circuit that looks like Mr Tickle with a car that has a crazy top speed but rubbish handling.
Secondly, the handling model is a bit too basic. Accelerate and your car follows slight bends in the road, leaving left and right often only for avoiding traffic. Still, this is authentic to classic fare, and perhaps makes the game easier for newbies not used to the initial getaway scrum, or old-hands whose thumbs have seen better days.
Still, any shortcomings are forgiven when you’re racing towards a sunrise in fast-forward, watching Northern Lights glimmer as you speed through Reykjavik, or surviving terrifying moments in South Africa as road markings vanish during night races when you’re barreling along at 160mph. Slow down? Pfft. This is arcade racing!