I never had Scalextric as a kid, I only had cheap knock off versions of it, where the plastic nubbin under the cars gradually wore away under the friction until they were useless. Maybe that happened with Scalextric too? I couldn’t tell you. The gang at FuturLab did have the real thing though, but both the real thing and the cheaper knock-offs could be seen as the inspiration for Tiny Trax, their first game on PSVR.
This isn’t a Scalextric simulation, though; it’s not made out of bolted together track, the laws of gravity have been thrown in the trash, and so too has the main driving force of fun to the game’s racing. It’s not about controlling your speed, it’s about controlling your turning, as you look down on the track that wraps around your viewpoint into this game.
Racing has you going flat out, holding down the trigger at all times with no fear of flying off the track. Instead, it controlling the drift around each corner that you worry about, moving the left analogue stick in the correct direction, while making sure you don’t overdo it and spin out.
At all times you can see a split ring around your car. The top half shows how far you’re turning, and you have to try to match this with a green bar without going too far. In practice that means taking the analogue stick around 80-90% of the way to either side without touching the edge. It’s tricky to master, as I soon found out, but doing so rewards you with boost that fills the lower half of the ring.
There’s always been a pleasing rhythm to FuturLab’s games, and that’s just as true of Tiny Trax. The turns can come in a tick-tock fashion at times, with quarter turns, half turns both big and small, and more. They can last a fraction of a second, and you want to flick in and out to keep your speed up and your boost recharging. If you boost through a perfected corner, nothing is depleted, but you also don’t gain any boost to use down the straights. Knowing when to boost and when to recharge is key to success.
Though there’s two lanes, lending it that Scalextric aesthetic, you’re not actually racing on rails and can change whenever you like, with switching to an inside lane shortening the time going round corners. You don’t need to worry about crashing into other racers, as you automatically shift to get past them. Instead you can try to focus on mastering the track.
There’s an artistry to the track layouts that verges on visual design as much as it does actual racing. They pull your attention around the track in different ways. They wrap around your view point, making you look up and down as well as just to your sides, but it goes beyond that, with a need to keep parts of the track closest to you relatively simple, so as to make sure that areas further away aren’t blocked from view. Even something as simple as having the track at 45• to you can make a track feel invigorating and fresh, alongside each track’s distinctive setting, some of which will be instantly recognisable as being set in the Velocity and Coconut Dodge worlds, right down to the Joris de Mann composed soundtrack.
Simply put, I kind of suck at the game to start with. I’ve been thrown in the deep end, trying to get to grips on some of the game’s most complex tracks as FuturLab Owner and Director James Marsden and Game Designer Dave Gabriel look on behind me – catch our interview tomorrow. “But I’m normally good at racers!” I think to myself as I note each corner I’ve forgotten and puzzle as to why I suddenly can’t get a single drift to work, when I was nailing them on the previous track. It takes a little while, but then it clicks. I stop looking for a Mario Kart-esque boost start and realise that I’ve got a full boost meter that I can use off the line. I go from trundling home in last place to one or two mistakes keeping me in second or third, and finally winning three of the four races in a cup.
With a summer release date in mind, my only concern is the amount of content on offer. There’s twelve tracks across three themed cups, and it will be priced appropriately, but that’s psychologically quite a low number, and I can see people wrapping up each gold trophy in the game after a few hours. The longevity will come from the need to master the gameplay in order to compete on the leaderboards and in lobby-based multiplayer. That doesn’t stop me from hoping to see just one or two more cups added down the line as DLC, reverse tracks, and a kind of “200cc” mode that adds further difficulty to the racing.
FuturLab are learning to walk before they try to run on PSVR, but with Tiny Trax, I feel they can add a little swagger to their stride. Their experiments and journey of discovery have led to a fantastic little racer with plenty of depth and nuance to the gameplay that I can see keeping myself coming back to on plenty of occasions. The Scalextric track you’ve got up in your loft can stay there a while longer…