Super Laser Racer

Mario Kart + Geometry Wars =

I picked this one up for two bucks on a Steam midweek indie games sale. I generally prefer to avoid buying stuff on Steam, especially big box stuff, and especially stuff I have to pay full price for. It has something to do with the power going out at QuakeCon last year, everyone’s boxes re-starting and losing their Steam Offline-mode settings in the process. With the ports blocked to allow us to access Steam’s authentication servers, the whole con lost the ability to play Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 (not too mention all their single-player games, for those of us who prefer the solo experience, even in a crowd.) But I’d never heard of New Star Games’s Super Laser Racer, and it looked awesome.

It is. One of the upsides of  Steam is the “hours played” counter it keeps for two weeks. Last I checked I was at 20 hours of playtime on this game. Which would be, uh, more hours than it took me to beat  the masterful Uncharted 2, and probably more hours than I sunk into my 2009 game of the year, Time Gentlemen, Please.

Basically you race as a Geometry Wars-esque shape around a neon track, picking up Mario Kart-style power-ups to knock your opponents out of the race (or at least slow their progress), and hitting speed boosts as you go. It’s a simple concept that just works well, and the aesthetic of both the minimalist art and the music make it a joy to play, especially in short half hour or hour-long spurts, working your way through a list of achievements excellently designed to expose you to new and challenging ways to play the game. Try winning a race (even on Easy) without using any weapons: [Pacifist]. Try taking out an opponent in the explosion of your own ship as its destroyed: [Kamikaze]. Or simply try to place first in all the races in the Super Tournament on the hardest difficulty.

The particularly pleasing thing about this game is the spread of difficulties. When I began, I found Easy legitimately challenging, but as I got the hang of the courses, it became a breeze.  On normal, a faster pace and brutal competition requires strategic use of braking and leads to some truly tense races to the finish. Hard is insane, but utterly satisfying. The game’s stroke of difficulty-balancing genius is that the AI screws up in believably human ways, but still runs the track well enough to put up a fight.

Really the only negatives I can give about Super Laser Racer are that there aren’t more tracks, and that there is no multiplayer. The first complaint is alleviated by the presence of a track editor, and the second hasn’t stopped me from going native, seizing every spare couple of minutes I have in front of a computer to run a quick race.

And the best part is, if you pick it up from New Star Games and not Steam, Super Laser Racer is $5, DRM-free.

Rating: Acquired a Visa, staying a while.

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