Sideways Racing from Bjango looks great, plays not so
Sideways Racing from Bjango is another example of a reinvented old-school top-down racing game for the iPad. You might know Bjango as the developer of one of the most well-known Mac system monitor programs iStat Menus. Sideways Racing is the company's first foray into iOS gaming.
Look and feel
From the first glance, it's obvious that the iPad-only app is extremely polished. The loading and splash screens look great and fade to reveal a slick menu system.
The same, highly stylized, almost retro presentation continues with the actual racing. The cars all have an identical near-future style and rely on varied color schemes to separate them. The track also maintains a uniform industrial look, with yellow and black striped warning strips decorating the sides.
The sounds are suitably retro as well, with a great sound track that blasts out the moment you boot up the game. You've even got an in-game announcer that reminds me a lot of the Quake 3 Arena announcer, blaring out when you pick up a power-up.
On the look and feel front, with a fluid frame-rate, it's safe to say that Sideways Racing is a well refined and polished product.
Gameplay and controls
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the gameplay and controls. Two control styles are available: the standard virtual buttons and a more "advanced" virtual analog control, which gives greater control over cornering.
Both are straightforward, but the steering control buttons are placed too far into the screen for me. Adding a case that increases the iPad's width exacerbates the problem. I don't have small hands either, but of course, your mileage may vary here. It would be nice to be able to customize each control's location. Perhaps that's something to add with an update.
When it comes to actually using the controls, the virtual buttons work a bit too well, meaning that you end up having to repeatedly tap them to mitigate too sharp a turn instead of tapping and holding as feels natural. The virtual analog stick provides superior control over cornering, but I found it difficult to know where my thumb was in relation to the center of the stick, so I still hit the wall.
The game physics are Sideways Racing's biggest problem. For example, as soon as you touch the side of the track you lose all momentum. It's extremely hard to carry speed between turns and each track is a maze of angular corners, making gameplay a stop/start affair.
The cars themselves turn by swinging their rears out to the side, which sounds like a fun power-sliding way of turning, but in practice, the back of the car often scrapes against the edge of the track, killing your speed and impeding the turn. Coming up side-by-side with other cars has the same effect, making battles with competitors a chore.
You get power-ups (shields, ghosts and bombs) as well as boost strips, which add a little bit of speed to the experience. There aren't any missiles or guns, which leaves catching up with opponents purely to your racing skill.
While some may like the stop/start nature of Sideways Racing, I was disappointed that a game that looked and sounded so good couldn't match up with engaging gameplay. It lacks real speed, and feels more like tank driving than auto racing.
Your experience may differ, but Sideways Racing didn't give me what I want from a top-down racer, and that's a shame. I really wanted to love Sideways Racing, and while it's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, the frustrating game physics and lack of speed let me down.
Sideways Racing is available for the iPad only for US$2.99.
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