So far on DSiWare, puzzlers are bountiful, platformers becoming more so, and don't get us started on sudoku games, but the amount of decent racers can be counted on one chain-chomped hand. So when something as pretty as Tantalus Media's Drift Street International rolls up, our knuckles turn white with interest. It may not blow past the competition in features or modes, but it's still a fun game for the little arcade racer in you.
Number time! Drift Street serves up nine courses across the US, UK and Japan in three different modes (Race, Checkpoint and Speed Trials) for a total of 27 events to zoom its six cars around. Not a bad little haul, but compared to Gameloft’s same-priced DSiWare racer Asphalt 4, which offered more modes and a load of cars, it feels a little light.
Considering that it’s plopped right there in the name, drifting has a nice and weighty feel. Tapping on the brake while turning will start your glide; it's more akin to Ridge Racer than Mario Kart. Sliding all over the place earns you boost power, but Drift Street seems somewhat stingy in doling it out. With the amount of drifting you’ll be doing you’d expect to have a constant abundance of boost, but for some reason or another we never filled up the tank more than once in a three-lap race despite not crashing or spinning out. Driving otherwise feels responsive and solid with a good sense of speed, especially when boosting, and the AI is tough but never unfair as long as you're up to snuff.
The menus may be a bit Spartan but the 3D car models and tracks look quite nice, all with a nice and smooth framerate. Tantalus has done an impressive job of creating a looker of a DSi game, but unfortunately everything starts to blend together after a while. Since all races take place at night, there’s obviously a lot of dark going on and the only thing that distinguishes the three cities from each other is the city lights; there’s little in the way of track diversity apart from streets and tunnels in the dark. Not that we’d expect shenanigans like loops, corkscrews or driving up the sides of buildings in a night-time street racer, but something more visually varied would have been welcome.
Also too-similar are the two alternate modes: the main difference between them and the regular races are a lack of opponents. One is based on speed and the other on time, but since you’re not exactly dilly-dallying around the track to begin with they don’t require much more than business as usual. It’s a tough pill to swallow considering Asphalt 4 does so much more. The four-player local multiplayer is a nice extra if you can round up some friends with their own copy of the game, but it’s a shame solo gamers don’t have more to do.
Most of the game is under lock-and-key when you first boot it up, and in order to open up cars, events and paint jobs you simply need to win events. While some of the unlock progression is obvious (beat a race to unlock another race, etc.) it’s not always clear what exactly you need to accomplish to unlock what you want. Finishing an event will give you…something, so if you want a particular car or paint job then you’ll just have to keep playing until you eventually get it.
Drift Street Racing is a solid little racer that gear heads and speed demons may get a kick out of, but it’s tough to recommend over the more robust competition. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel but aims to deliver a pretty round one instead that's worth a spin if you don't mind a little simplicity.