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Drift Mania Championship 2 Review (iOS)

Game Review: Drift Mania Championship 2
Release: September 28, 2012
Genre: Racing
Developer: Ratrod Studio
Available Platforms: iOS and Android
Players: 1–2
MSRP: $1.99
Website: http://driftmania2.com/

I don’t know what it is about racing games, but a lot of them seem to love live action intro sequences featuring dudes, girls, engines, and, at the very least, crashing. The first Need For Speed: Most Wanted was live action on top of digital backdrops when it came to cut scenes and Gran Turismo 5 pretty much opened with footage of a car being built as if directed by Zack Snyder. All you really need to do is add some either classically ethereal tunes or block rockin’ beats behind it and you’ve got some racing game marketing ready to go.

Ratrod Studio’s Drift Mania Championship 2 definitely has that. It’s opening sequences has dudes, girls, crashing, and cars all moving over a thickly woven tapestry of relatively obscure modern rock (all Shazam could tell me was that at some point I was listening to UK rock band Templeton Pek’s Barriers). If not all entirely recognizable as something more substantial, it certainly gives the impression of a higher profile racing title despite being just a mobile release.

You play as a drift racer and you go through the usual racing shtick. You’ll pick a car from an increasing stable of progressively better rides, race it on unlockable tracks for money and medals, and tune and upgrade your car. You can also customize some of the visuals like different colors and rims and body kits (which have nothing to do with performance). There’s also multiplayer—both local and online—with online leaderboards so you can see how you stack up against the rest of the world at any given point (hint: poorly). Though everything is spartan and necessarily stripped down as a mobile title, DMC2 definitely has some high aspirations.

And in places, it hits it. The game looks admirable, though the graphics still have that mobile quality to them (i.e. they’re flat and rarely more than a pancake stack of various bright colors), but they are at least quite sharp. There were little to no frame rate issues, which is a welcoming thought given I played on an iPad 2 and not a new iPad. The menus are have a strange, early 90s web feel to them, but they work quite well and have a nice logical flow to them once you manage to decipher some of the labelless and occasionally amorphous icons.

Along with the catchy if unrecognizable tunes, the sound effects are rather well done. The revving and pops coming from the engine as you try to crank out an especially demanding drift is totally on point, and the screeching is akin to a hungry banshee hanging out with a screaming baby (read: spot-on). It all really manages to mirror how well defined the tuning for the cars is. It’s just some basic options such as steering, weight distribution, and suspension, but changing each one really and truly affects how you drive. It’s quite refreshing.

The problems come when you actually start playing the game. Namely, it’s not a lot of fun and actually kind of dumbfounding. The controls are fine and simple enough to not offend or gratify (tilt to steer, throttle meter on right, handbrake on left), but the actual act of drifting doesn’t feel right at all. When you drift in real life—and in most other racing games at least attempt to reflect reality—it involves more than just hitting the handbrake. You are supposed to swing wide and pull it back in and countersteer, i.e. move the wheel in the opposite direction of the drift. It conceptually doesn’t sound right, but if you ever try it for yourself, it definitely feels right.

DMC2 requires you to just turn into a bend and adjust by turning more or less into it. I found myself instinctively countersteering so much that eventually I had to force my hands against a wall to remind myself to stop doing it. And talk about a squirrelly handling model. If you think you can make it through an entire course without drifting, think again. You somehow spin out easier when just driving normally. I eventually settled on just always having my thumb on the handbrake and just tapping on the throttle meter in the red like a god damn woodpecker. Just so you know, that’s not how you’re supposed to drive a car. And guess what: upgrades don’t really help. They just help you hit walls faster.

And looking into the microtransactions, they felt a bit…dirty. No prices are shown until the final iOS alert modal comes up and asks if you want to buy some credits (which you spend on upgrades and visual customizations). At least they don’t break the game, I guess.

I didn’t get a chance to play multiplayer since I couldn’t find any online matches, but I played enough of the career to know that while showing some promise, DMC2 has some serious problems. There were times when I hit a drift and it felt just about magical. I had turned my steering up and shifted the weight to the back and gained some nuance to my tilting and I was finally able to hit those big open turns. But any non-sweeping, drift-friendly parts of tracks were just terrifying. There was no way to get through any of it without going insanely slow or cranking my car (and my iPad) around like Soulja Boy. Drift Mania Championship 2 has definitely got both good and bad in there. It’s just unfortunate that the bad bits are the ones at the top.

+ Sharp (if a little bland) visuals combined with great sounds and oddly catchy songs
+ Tuning the car actually makes a difference (but doesn’t make it any more fun)
- Controls make sense if actually driving the car does not
- The difference between drifting and driving in the game is nuanced in the worst ways
- Microtransactions feel dirty, though at least nothing is gated from non-paying players

Final Score: 3 out of 10

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