It’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part. Though it’s technically of the racing genre, TNT Racers often encourages you to do all but grab the chequered flag first. Far more important is the ability to unleash timely havoc upon competitors to send them sputtering off-screen; consider it the driver’s guide to trolling.
You’d be hard-pressed to imitate this action on your local roads, thankfully, unless you have a range of explosive confectionery or inflatable chassis hanging around in your garage. TNT Racers’ selection of weaponry is distinctly fantastical, which fits in well with its Mario Kart-meets-Micro Machines ethos.
The cacophony of car-based carnage contrasts with the jolly, brassy soundtrack and peaceful beaches, mountains and woodlands that make up TNT Racers’ setting. Trucks, cars and UFO-like vehicles speed through these environments with little regard for health and safety in lighthearted battles for points, optimum times and their lives.
Soloists can tackle a series of missions to test their pedal powers to the speed limit. After casually tearing through the first set, it soon becomes worryingly apparent that the car door has barely been cracked opened for the initial offerings, the ignition only starting to spark when the ‘faster’ levels are unlocked. That feeling of trepidation returns when the ‘turbo’ challenges are revealed, the difficulty truly goes full throttle and you’re really taken to task on the track: TNT Racers is practically just doughnutting around a car park until then.
It’s a tough, occasionally punishing, game. Crucially, it’s got the fun to back it up, and tight controls are always a boon. Steering with the Nunchuk felt best to us, but Wii Remote-only NES and motion configurations are available too. Stages do not follow a single rigid structure, the objectives flicking about from drive-to-drive while gravitating around several core pillars. Power-ups and coins are frequently found scattered across the roads, and it’s vital to gather them up whenever possible as they hold the key to victory in many instances.
Some challenges demand that players earn the most points in a set number of seconds or laps, while the target in others is to meet a score threshold before the other speedsters. Collecting money significantly propels you towards each of those goals, but hitting a rival with a weapon also adds to the tally, as does performing a boost start from the regular mid-race restarts. Yet more stages have you competing only against the clock, such as completing laps or destroying a specified number of objects within a time limit.
A constant aim throughout TNT Racers is to leave others in the dust and trailing behind off-screen. When a vehicle falls behind to such an extent, whether due to their own mistakes or a cruel missile levelled in their direction, they are knocked out of the contest temporarily. When only one car remains, they are declared the winner of the round and the mania starts afresh after a brief countdown. Knock Out mode hangs entirely around this idea, rewarding those who outstay all other drivers until a certain number of points are attained to decide the victor.
This screen shunting adds tension: fall to last place and there’s a genuine chance that you’ll be out within milliseconds, so there’s a constant scrabble to remain in the primary positions. Weapons are continually used as every car desperately tries to retain their place or pull back in, or tactically dropped on the drifters to eliminate them.
One of TNT Racers’ best ideas revs up when a car is forced out, however: in some modes they return as ‘shadows’ until the round ends. Essentially these shadows continue to drive around, grabbing coins and their own special items that can be used on the still-surviving. Active opponents can be slowed with gravity beams, smashed with giant hammers or sent flying with hurricanes, tugged towards the bottom of the screen to share in the defeat. It’s the perfect vehicle for revenge.
You can also set those local-only leaderboards alight on any of the 12 tracks — some are reversed versions of others — that have been unlocked in a separate time attack mode. A custom race option does what it says on the tin, letting you create levels with special conditions: course, speed, game type and time/score targets can all be mucked about with, the latter to obscenely OTT limits. An hour-long cruise for the most points, anybody?
Local multiplayer is hilariously rage-inducing once all are familiar with the concepts and flinging fire at one another. Up to four players can get involved in Knock Out, Time or Score matches, and it proves to be all the harder with relentless non-AI competitors. There’s far more stopping and starting for one thing, which could put some players right off, but otherwise the gameplay is close to that found in single player. Online multiplayer is included as well, but despite numerous attempts we were unable to find any games to test it out. Downloadable content awaits your wallet, though, providing extra tracks and vehicles for 300 Wii Points a pop.
TNT Racers sets itself apart by refusing to focus on the traditional ‘win the race’ conditions of other driving titles, meshing in cross-car combat well. Its difficult later levels will ensure that you stay in the driving seat, more than possibly cursing while repeatedly hammering the retry button, for a while to come.