Sunday, November 18

Review: Trailblazers [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When I first remember seeing footage for Trailblazers it looked pretty exciting. With a visual style reminiscent of Borderlands, some great tunes, and a racing mechanic that seemed part F-Zero and part Splatoon (OK, so some Fast RMX in there as well) there seemed to be real promise to it. When I got some time to play it at PAX while I was encouraged by the potential for teamwork I was also a bit concerned with its pacing and whether it would be able to attract enough of an audience to fully realize its more strategic racing. Having time with the final product while it has style to burn something about the races themselves just lacks in intensity and excitement, and attempts to play online haven’t been encouraging in terms of the likelihood of the game having a sustained community.

The idea behind the racing is interesting and borrows some concepts from different games and meshes them into something new. You’ll be racing on tracks that have some personality, with plenty of routes, twists, and turns. In general you’ll be working on a colored team, with your goal not necessarily being to outright win yourself, but for your team to be successful. To that end you’ll be trying to lay down paint corresponding to your team’s color, whether to create a path for others to follow or simply to screw up the paint for someone else.

Staying on the paint for your team will give people a pretty significant boost in speed as well as score. Special gates on the track are of initial strategic importance as they’ll lay down paint corresponding to the color of the team of the person who first goes through them. If your paint gauge is full and you’re close to someone from the other team you can also temporarily spin them out with a minor attack, though in my experience that doesn’t always mean you can overtake them so it was always a bit weird. If you’ve got friends around locally or who have the game that you can play with online this can be quite a bit more fun, and perhaps you’ll be able to work together to lay down paths and make the most of them. Without an ability to coordinate directly and without someone playing this as a team game though it can just be aggravating.

That somewhat becomes the game’s Achilles heel at its core. Since it is built to work best with cooperation to meet its potential it needs a community that understands the game and is ready to play with those goals in mind. At least in the early going even with cross-platform play enabled online was a bit of a ghost town the few times I tried or whoever I may have been connected to didn’t seem to have any sort of strategy I could discern. In titles like Splatoon the cooperation works only because of the strength of the community it has managed to build, I’m positive that if it hadn’t caught on and only had a limited number of people playing it would have faltered as well. The issue is that once you somewhat hobble the core strategic / cooperative nature of the racing what remains really struggles to be interesting. The speed of racing is relatively slow, the tracks are pretty big, and the number of people racing is limited so this often results in entire races where you may only occasionally bump into anyone and with multiple ways people can go it can even be difficult to tell what place you’re in. Without any power-ups to liven things that also makes it pretty dull as you just try to drive around laying down your paint and trying to stick to track marked with your color.

With a community of people playing the game as intended I think Trailblazers could have had potential to be quite interesting. If you’re able to play with friends you can begin to see what the goals were and it is at least a different way to race. Unfortunately, as a single-player experience it is hard to feel the teamwork vibe working with bots and that makes for a pretty bland driving experience. Despite looking great and having a cool soundtrack there’s no escaping the somewhat ho-hum results in a typical race in Trailblazers.

Score: 6

  • A fantastic soundtrack and visual style
  • Conceptually it makes sense, a cooperative racing game

  • Lacking an active cooperative component the single-player campaign is a bit odd
  • Even with cross-play enabled there doesn’t seem to be much of a community for the game, making it far harder to realize the full intended experience
  • The somewhat slow pace of the races, the low number of people on the track, and the lack of power-ups often make it feel like you’re driving on an otherwise empty track