Many a debate can be had on the impact of smartphone gaming in recent years. Nintendo's rough start with the 3DS and Sony's Vita woes can quite easily be attributed to higher pricing and brand confusion, but the convenience of an all-in-one device for the pocket is undoubtedly tantalising and arguably a more worthwhile investment. The App stores of major competitors in the smartphone space have been packed to the brim with support from companies the world over, yet this ironically creates a harsh developer environment that makes it very difficult to stand out, making Angry Bird success stories something of a rarity. A number of developers have begun to see this, and are making use of Nintendo and Sony's recent developer tools and App Store porting techniques to put their games on the respective console and handheld shops as well. Zordix is one such developer, and have brought an upgraded version of a snow racing game to the 3DS eShop. Is Snow Moto Racing 3D a delicious slush drink, or a killer avalanche waiting to happen?
The latest in the line of Moto Racing titles, Snow Moto Racing 3D gets the player on a snowmobile to directly duke it out with five other racers on a variety of tracks. Very few racing games need a storyline or plot to get the action going; a racer must reach finish line target - job done. As such, instant touch screen menu buttons and quick loading times get the gamer into the race before long.
Snow Moto's standard race rules are quite straightforward; three laps over a multitude of courses, all the while hitting checkpoints to keep the rider on the right track, picking up either money or boost gauge parts strewn across the track along the way, and making sure to keep ahead of the other racers. The trick system - made use of with a combination of L or R while in the air - also contributes to the boost gauge, allowing for a burst of speed with a press of a button when filled. The game has a Tutorial section in the main menu that goes into more detail on the racing mechanics, plus a good explanation on the game's controls that are simple to get the hang of, although it is a shame that it is all pages of text instead of a full in-game race tutorial like most racing games.
There are many aspects of Snow Moto Racing 3D that betray its origins, and yet also undoubtedly improves upon Dohi Entertainment's original build, too. Although the main menu feels oddly restrictive in only allowing for touch screen navigation, the actual main gameplay in races benefits tremendously from Circle Pad and physical button control over the inaccurate tilt motion and digital button presses it would have been before Zordix got its hands on the code. The visual level of the game is most definitely not one to showcase the ability of the 3DS, yet the 3D switch does bring in a new layer of depth that really makes it seem like the snow is blowing out of the screen - a worthy trade-off for the very slight frame-rate dip it makes over a normal consistent one.
A snowy backdrop might not lend itself well to variety for racing courses, but Zordix has done an admirable job with differentiating the many tracks - some with villages and off-the-path racing, caves and night-time illuminated paths, and twisty turns that make good use of a player's reflexes. The game has a rock-based music score, yet unfortunately doesn't vary the tracks out enough; there will be many a moment where players will wonder if the track from the previous race is still playing in the one just getting started on.
The game's single player options that consist of a Quick Race mode and a good number of Championship three-course races are relatively thin on the ground. However, they are bolstered by the Achievements that can be collected when racing, and the snowmobiles that can be purchased to use in action, either by collecting money scattered on the courses, or winning the prize loot in the Championship groups. There are also two external factors that make good use of the 3DS' abilities, as well - StreetPass and Download Multiplayer, the former exchanging best course times and rider names and the latter allowing for up to five other handheld owners to join in, culminating in what amounts to a surprisingly versatile package for an eShop title, even if online play would be highly welcomed for a game of this limited length.
Blasting around the tracks and off ramps to perform stunts feels precise and instant with the controls, providing a decent amount of challenge on higher difficulties and a good variety in snowmobiles to try out. A tried-and-tested approach to racing instead of bringing too much new to the table.
In a word, poor. The frosty setting of the game doesn't demand a higher polygon count and the physics of the racing gel well with the actual ground, but the 3DS has proven to be far more capable. 3D helps to add more substance, yet the minor frame-rate hit might deter players from using it.
A solid rock soundtrack together with occasional racer voices for authenticity, yet each track blends into the next far too well at times, making it seem like there is less than there actually is.
At the time of writing the game is at a promotional discount, and is well worth picking up for a racing enthusiast with nearby 3DS-owning friends, allowing for a quick race or two to pass the time. Justifying full price, however, albeit a few pounds more, would likely depend on a personal penchant for grabbing all Achievements in a game.
Snow Moto Racing 3D pads out the 3DS eShop by filling a void that even EA and Nintendo seem hesitant to do at the moment. It is a decent downloadable snow-based racer that offers enough bang for a fiver to excuse visual and audio difficulties. A good choice for a quick pick up and play game.