Tube Slider is NEC’s first offering for not only the Gamecube, but for any console in quite some time. Is it a good game though? For the most part, yes, it is.
This game, while basically a racer, is a racer of a different breed. There are no walls of the usual sort on this racetrack. Instead, you’re confined to this tube of sorts, allowing you to ride not only on the ‘floor’, but the ‘side’ and the ‘ceiling’ as well. Which way is up? Ultimately there is no up or down in this hovercraft racing title.
Instead, you are looking for the fastest route through the course. Which way is the fastest though? That changes rapidly depending on the speed you’re traveling. If you’re going slowly (how slow depends on your craft), then the inside ‘wall’ is the fastest. If you’re going too fast though, you’ll fly right off that surface, slowing down dramatically in the process. Then the outside ‘wall’ is the way to go.
Ultimately, this game is a highly different game compared to most ‘usual’ racers; the ones where you’re confined to the ground, and the laws of gravity. Is this a good thing though? You’ll have to continue reading.
Graphically, you’re in for a real treat when you play Tube Slider. The game is locked in at 60fps for starters, no matter what is thrown at you, or the multiplayer mode. The draw distance is very long, allowing you to easily get set up for the next turn, and it allows you to enjoy the scenery on the rare quiet instances on the track. On top of that, short of one spot that I know of, there is no pop-in at all to be seen. Finally, there is an amazing sense of speed as you fly through the courses. Tired of not actually moving when you’re going at 200mph? You’ll be stunned at the speed of this game.
What does this cost you though in the end? The track detail itself is rather sparse and plain at times. Although you’ll be traveling way too quickly to notice it half the time, so this won’t bother most. Besides, you should be concentrating on the track anyway. Other negatives include a lack of Progressive Scan support, but odds are that enabling that would of cost the constant 60fps.
On the positive side of things though, there are lots of small details to see when you’re looking closely. Sparks fly whenever you take a corner too sharply, and you’ll see your boosters flame up and quiet down whenever you touch the boost button. One nice thing to notice is that the developers took the time to make the vehicles animate. At this speed, and since you’re not on the ground anymore, you need things like movable wings and air brakes in order to change direction. This little feature is noticeable, with wings tilting from side to side when expected, little maneuvering thrusters firing when they should, and portions of the craft itself bulging out when you try to slow down.
Multiplayer is stunning as well. While two-player mode cheats just a bit to maintain the frame rate and draw distance by adding in black bars to about 5% of the playing area on the sides, four-player is absolutely amazing. Four racers on screen, all at different parts of the track, all with no pop-in or mystical fog, all going at 60fps. I am very impressed by Nd Cube and NEC on this one.
Overall, I’m very impressed by the look of this game. It has a serious sense of speed, which is needed in a racer, and everything looks very crisp, clear, and realistic.
In a strange decision in a racing game, this title sports a strange Japanese type soundtrack. While I won’t run out and buy the music CD because of this game, it seems very fitting for some reason or another. At least I didn’t mute it and listen to something else like people tend to do in most racers. Another bonus on this unusual soundtrack is that you can choose which one you want to listen to before the race. Don’t like the song selected? Change it, or turn it off entirely.
The sound effects are quite nice as well. While most would notice the usual assortment of hums and roars that the engine makes, you have to pay attention to notice the finer details. You’ll hear your engine whine turn into the sound of the wind blowing by your craft as you hit absurdly high speeds. And while this game doesn’t support any type of surround sound, you will notice that every craft has their own different engine noise, allowing you to clearly know when opponents are coming up on your rear, and which one it is. Sure, you can look at the display bordering the screen to find out this info, but in the heat of a race, you don’t have the time to pull your eyes away for even a second.
The controls are simple enough – A to accelerate, B or Y to boost, X to change camera view (the default is perfectly fine), and L + R to slide around corners. For the most part, everything comes naturally after playing for an hour or so. The trick is to get used to the impressive speed you’ll be traveling at, and you’ll be fine afterwards.
You can’t remap the controls in any way, but I had absolutely no problems with the defaults. Any other configuration would be confusing in my book.
One nice bonus – not only is there a Free Run mode, where it’s just you verses the track, but there is a very well done tutorial mode, where the game explains every control and configuration to you. If you watch that, instead of read the manual, you’ll find everything you need to know right there. More titles need to do this.
As stated above, Tube Slider is an unique racing title. Instead of driving on a road of sorts, you have the complete freedom to travel anywhere on the tube of a racetrack that you’re on. Sure, one ‘side’ is faster than the other most of the time, and there is a definite quickest path through the course, but that can vary quickly depending on the speed that you’re traveling, and if there is somebody else nearby.
In your choice to become the world’s fastest racer, you have a selection of 8 vehicles (to start), and two different boost modes. Each vehicle is rated with different abilities like turning, acceleration, and top speed, and each one ends up driving quite different from any other vehicle on the course because of this.
In another interesting move, as said above, each vehicle has your choice of boost methods. Other than the fact that either allows you to go much faster than you would otherwise, it makes for yet another decision. The standard boost mode is like F-Zero; every few seconds (how long depends on the vehicle), you’ll get a free one-time turbo boost, shooting you forward by 200mph for a bit. The other is a turbo meter of sorts, allowing you to actively choose exactly how much boost you want. However, in this mode, you get far more effectiveness if you drain the entire meter, instead of just using it in quick bursts.
Every track is well designed for the most part, allowing one to quickly learn the course in a single lap or two. This is good as you’ll unlock the rest of the courses by winning races on them, and since you can’t practice the courses until you unlock them… On the flip side though, you won’t find anything too imaginative here – no multiple paths through a level, no real jumps (short of going way too fast over a hill and getting airborne), no places that make you go wow.
However, you will simply smile as you speed through the level at 1000+ mph, flying from side to side as you take each corner perfectly, allowing you to keep that speed up as long as you can. When you get good at this game, or when you see a good player in action, you will love it.
Surprisingly enough, the AI makes a rather good attempt at playing fair for once. In Championship mode, once you get past the easy levels, the AI puts up a very good challenge without looking like it’s cheating. A nicely timed bump at the right moment can spin out the AI as easily as they can to you. At the later levels, expect quite a few races to be no more than a few seconds apart from first to second, an most of the time, it’s less than a single one. Heck, once race I had I won with only .03 seconds to spare. We were racing neck and neck the last quarter of that lap. Now that’s a thrill.
Multiplayer mode is highly competitive, with each racer being able to directly affect the other by crashing into them, and each player able to assign a handicap before racing to balance things out a bit. Although there is little one can do to catch up when you really screw up, as I haven’t noticed any kind of speed boost when you’re in last place, the game tends to be quite a blast with three friends over. Only one downside though – each vehicle can only be picked once, so every player can’t be the same craft to balance things out in that category.
A couple of little tidbits – for those who think that the game is slow for some strange reason or another, there is a Maximum Class mode, where every vehicle suddenly gets a 150% boost in speed, give or take. While it’s amazing to be speeding at 1400mph, and stunning to watch, the game becomes very difficult to actually play at that speed. You’ll be making split second decisions constantly, and a single screw up can put you out of the race easily.
Also, the manual has a few errors in it. While this could have been easily fixed if somebody noticed it, these were left unchanged. Not only is the game called Turbo Sliders at one point, but there is a wonderful ‘see page 15 for this tip even though you’re on page 15 already’ error. Since I’m used to perfect manuals nowadays, these errors were rather glaring, but don’t affect the final score much.
In the end though, I was very impressed with some of the original design choices shown by this game. This will be a game I’ll be coming back to quite a few times in part to the gameplay choices they made.
Is this game worth your $40 though? That is a difficult choice oddly enough. For your money, you only basically get 8 tracks (10 total, but 2 of them are the same as before except with reverse gravity), and 16 vehicles (8 of which are nothing but palette swaps), and a very fast racer. If you want to speed along at absurd speeds, looking for the ‘in the groove’ feel once this game clicks, you’ll have a blast.
Multiplayer mode is also a ton of fun, especially if everybody is at or near the same skill level. You’ll have many a close race and a ton of fun if the above is true.
However, if you are a lone gamer, looking at only the AI to battle with, you’ll have to keep in mind that this game is hard, and very unforgiving. A single screw up, especially at the Maximum setting, will cost you the race. While the game does give you 3 ‘retries’ of sorts, you will be challenged heavily just to unlock most of the game. And if you aren’t good enough at this game, you simply won’t see all there is to see in this title.