Game Review

Art Style: light trax Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Racing takes a puzzling turn

After a year-long DSiWare detour, the Art Style series has returned to WiiWare with one of the series' most action-oriented entries so far. It may look like a simple racer, but as the Art Style series has proven time and time again that looks can be deceiving.

light trax is an updated version of the Japan-only bit Generations game dotstream. On the surface it seems like a minimalist racing game: as a white beam of light, you zip and boost around courses in order to reach the end of the track before your six other opponents do. Points are awarded depending on where you place in your tour's three courses, similar to Mario Kart, and placing first overall allows you to open up additional tours (of which there are five in total).

That's about where the racing conventions end. Despite the racing veneer, light trax is a puzzle game at heart. It's not so much about driving really fast (although there is plenty of that) as it is about technique and positioning, figuring out the best way to take advantage of both the course and your opponents. In that sense it's more of an action puzzler than it is a racer.

For one, there's no dedicated accelerator button. When left alone in a straight line your beam moves at a predetermined pace; turning, braking and course hazards will slow you down. Instead, you're dependent on your opponents and the course to gain speed: driving in the lane immediately next to another light beam ("drafting") will build your boost meter, and passing an opponent will give you a short little extra burst. Driving willy-nilly away from the pack won't get you very far as you'll have limited opportunities to go faster than your predetermined top speed. Several tracks do have boost arrows and speed power-ups though, and you're also able to cash in your limited beam health as boost when your meter is too low. This adds a nice risk-and-reward element; slamming into an obstacle with no health left ends the race, so you best be sure that depleting it for extra speed won't screw you over down the line.

And there are plenty of opportunities for screwage because two beams can't travel down the exact same path. If you try to turn into another beam's path you'll pass right through until you hit an untrodden lane, and if a wall is on the other end then you'll bounce right back to where you were. As a result you really have to pay attention and think about when and where you want to shift yourself, as not only does a potentially long turn slow you down somewhat, you might pop back out in a place that's right on track for a health-depleting wall or other hazard. It's a clever system that works very well once you wrap your head around it, and it can be an absolutely deadly skill in the right hands. On the flip side, if you start to lag behind in races it can be really tough to get your bearings back because of lane hogging. With six other beams racing around, large chunks of the track will be unavailable to drive on and, depending on the complexity of the course, it becomes a little too easy to veer off into race-destroying obstacles.

Conquering a tour doesn't automatically unlock the next one; to access it you'll need to hop into the new Freeway for a bit. This mode works in both of the ways its name implies: as a free play/practice option with an extendable time limit, and also as a highway to get from point A to B in the game's world. Once you win a tour you need to jump into the Freeway and drive to the newly opened off-ramp in order to unlock the next set of tracks for play. It's a welcome change of pace between tours as it's generally more relaxed and oddly hypnotic. You can cruise for score in this mode as well, or see just how far you can get without the time running down. The exclusion of online leaderboards is unfortunate as Freeway would be a great place to be humbled by the skill of friends and strangers, so you'll have to make do with good ol' photos of your television to prove your prowess.

Probably the most obvious change overall from dotstream is the viewing angle. On the GBA the action was always seen from a top-down/side-on angle, but Skip mixes things up by allowing the camera (and course) to shift perspective mid-race. The races largely function in the same way, but the shift makes the courses feel much more open than before and also allows them to incorporate new types of terrain, like bumps and boxes that can be traveled over.

The minimalist aesthetic carries over very well to larger screens, staying faithful to the original while still looking fresh with its vibrant neon colors and lovely techno beats. But just because it's minimalist doesn't mean details are brushed over, far from it in fact. From the satisfying little whoosh as you overtake a beam to the special animation that plays as you shut down the console from within the game, there are tons of nice little touches here. It's so minimalist there isn't even really much of an in-game tutorial to wrap your head around the different mechanics: the demo mode shows a video of someone playing along with a controller overlay to show what buttons have been pressed, but you have to figure out yourself what the beam is doing and why. Unless you've read this review, of course. Which you have.


Don't be fooled by the racing appearance, as light trax is just as much a puzzle game able to hold its strategic own against any other entry in the Art Style series. It's full of unconventional and clever ideas executed through an attractive neon minimalist style that can satisfy fans of both genres, especially those who have grown weary of the typical fare each tends to offer.

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User Comments (33)



Egg_miester said:

that not a bad review i haven't tried any of the art style games i need to try them sometime



irken004 said:

Well deserved score, though I still think of it more as a racer, not a puzzler



Chrono_Cross said:

It reminds me of a fusion of racing, puzzle, and music all in one game for some odd reason (if that makes sense).

When I get the points I'll be downloading this soon.



bro2dragons said:

guess it's about time i try an art style game for myself. this one looks good. it may just nab a bit of my next points card.



SepticLemon said:

Oh man, I loved the GBA game, Dot Stream, I'm pretty certain that I'll fall in love with this game too! Though to be perfectly honest, I'd rather have it on the DS, however I bet this will look stunning on my 40 inch TV



Z_Bone said:

I've been playing this game since yesterday, and it gets really hard. It kills me that this game doesn't have multiplayer. What racing game doesn't? I'm surprised the reviewer didn't bring it up. With it, it would be an easy 9, but as it stands, I agree with the 8. There doesn't seem to be much replay value with no multiplayer



fixjuxa said:

I imported Dotstream some time back and absolutely loved it, so it doesn't surprise me that this has scored well. With it's minimalist style, it always felt like a kind of F-Zero for the Atari 2600 to me. Sure, multiplayer would've been nice, but just like F-Zero, the main attraction is the brutally challenging, twitch-racing of the Grand Prix mode. If light trax is anything like dotstream, the harder tours require near memorization of the tracks if you want to make it to the end, again...just like F-Zero.

I'm not sure I would call dotstream "just as much a puzzle game as a racing game" so it'll be interesting to see if I come away from light trax with that impression. I'm doubting it.



accc said:

Does dotstream have the same "race next to people to increase your boost" mechanic as light trax though? I checked out a youtube video and it looked like the only goal was to avoid obstacles.



accc said:

No, I'm asking if Dotstream (the original one for GBA) has that mechanic in response to fixjuxa saying that he wouldn't call Dotstream a puzzle game.



JonWahlgren said:

Ah, my bad. Reading comprehension FTW.

Anyway, not quite. In dotstream your top speed would gradually increase the longer you draft next to another beam instead of banking boost power as you do here. The slowdown from turning seems more severe in light trax as well, which makes you think a little more about when turning is a good idea.

I didn't go into too much detailed comparison in the review because dotstream is a Japan-only game and figured it'd be lost on most people.



Ravage said:

I might have to pick this one up... Maybe once pearl Harbour comes out hint hint.



fixjuxa said:

Dotstream had a different mechanic where you began each race with a certain number of boosts(three I believe) which you could use after the first lap was complete...I think. The boosts doubled as your lives (i.e. the number of times you could hit an obstacle) and you could gain more by directing your light beam into a pit stop area at the very end of each lap. Each second in the pit stop area gave you an additional boost/life. I almost always skipped it.

And like someone else said, you gained speed by positioning your line next to a another line.



Machu said:

This game was made for me. It will sit beside the rest of the Art Style games and I shall stroke it fondly.



accc said:

@fixjuxa - Light Trax also has the "boost by sacrificing a life" mechanic, which actually provides a bigger boost than the draft boost (I think). There's no pit stop but there are extra lives and powerups scattered around the track which you can pick up. Also you can use it on any lap as long as you have extra lives.



Z_Bone said:

I'm on the final tour, the Brillia Tour, and it is insanely hard. There are so many obstacles that are basically unavoidable. And when your trailing behind in a race, all the good lanes are taken up and you are sometimes "pushed" into obstacles. Like fixjuxa said, it is like F-Zero in that you have to memorize the tracks. And the AI seems a bit cheap.

One thing I noticed, it's like the opposite of Mario Kart. In this game you aren't helped when your in the back of the pack like you are in Mario Kart with all the best items. And it becomes easier once you take the lead because you can choose any lane, whereas in Mario Kart you're always getting hit with crap. Just a thought.



Capt_N said:

Wanna d/l, but not sure just yet...

Still, based on this review, the 8 seems appropriate.



iAmThetot said:

This game would be one of my top three favourite Wiiware games ever if they had AT LEAST online scoreboards. This game could have been so much better. Online multiplayer, LOCAL multiplayer at least... But still, it's fun. (Would have MILLIONS more replay value if they added the features I mentioned)



fixjuxa said:

I agree about the online leaderboard comments from an earlier post. It really oughta be there. But I feel bad complaining about a $6 Art Style game. They're the best damn bargain on WiiWare and the game's are good at worst and brilliant at best. I'm glad a number of these bit Generation games have reached a new audience via WiiWare. They're phenomenal and deserve to be played by a wider audience. I need to download this one soon as I'm sure I'll love it. Gotta finish .BitTrip Runner first.



WarioFan63 said:

Does anyone know why the copyright just says 2010? All the other bit Generations remakes have 2006-200X on them.



MeloMan said:

I guess the "puzzle" comes in because you can't just plain "race forward" and actually have to strategize the "way" to win rather than pure speed. A bit controversial, but nonetheless, I like that fact that it's predominantly action driven still rather than most Art Style puzzle oriented games. I got the review I was looking for, so I will be picking this up this afternoon when I get home.



PSThWii60 said:

So, I have never played dotstream, but I definitely played light stream (indie game for XBLA) which has a similar aesthetic appeal. This game is amazingly addictive and puzzling at the same time beautiful and fun, I really enjoy it, and I am still working on unlocking the last two racing areas.



Traxx said:

I think the review is a bit misleading calling this game a non-racer.
The "puzzle" component is shared by many simple racers, let's say Excitebike. You have to do the right thing at the right time at the right position. Thats just memorizing gameplay and even part of the gameplay of some true racers. And there are still true racing influences in lightrax, e.g. personal boost, get into a better position than the opponent, dont let him stay between two lines, etc.
I enjoyed it so far, although graphics could be more clean regarding the simple design. No multiplayer and no leader board is a downer. But regarding multiplayer, since this is a "memorizing-gameplay" racer, its hard to tell if it would make any sense in the long shot.



PSThWii60 said:

True, and I must simply retract anything that made it sound like I would not enjoy the game, as I truly have. I love the gameplay style, and it is just challenging enough, that I have yet to unlock the last race setting, but have had a great deal of fun unlocking the three that I have unlocked so far! I think that the strongest suit, is the soundtrack, it helps when I have to repeat a race or tour so many times, that the soundtrack is DaftPunk/Justice type awesome stuff!

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