There are so many driving games on the market today, we've been oversaturated with choice; whether you want a hardcore racing sim, a lighthearted arcade game, a futuristic hovercraft racer, or all your favourite corporate characters go-karting together, there's something out there for you. But you know what the driving game scene sorely misses? Parking games. Not enough titles adequately detail the joys of double-parking a bright red Hummer outside the Louvre, or parallel parking your Mini on a busy Dubai street when you're facing the wrong direction. That's where Chinese studio EasyTech's Parking Star 3D comes in.
You know the 3DS has a stacked library when Parking Star 3D is not the only parking game available on the console. DSiWare brought us the retro wonders of Valet Parking 1989 a few years ago, adding superfluous factors like "characters" and "story" to the car-parking experience. But you lust for a more hardcore parking experience, don't you? You want a modern game for the here-and-now, a parking game about parking. The official Nintendo website description for Parking Star 3D lets you know it's the parkingest parking extravaganza that ever parked:
This is a leisure game that simulates real parking. It's a parking game. Your goal is to become the "Park Star".
What you see is what you get in Parking Star 3D. The game consists of 40 levels across five iconic world cities: Beijing, Dubai, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. You've already seen the Empire State Building, but you haven't truly experienced the New York State of Mind until you've found a parking spot outside it. There's no tutorial or instructions to ease you into Parking Star, but the concept is simple enough you can figure out without much help: in each level, all you have to do is... park your car. But you can't park in just any available spot; you must park in the precise spot the game tells you to, and park in the direction the game wants you to. Afraid of backing into parking spots? Too bad, because you'll have to park backwards willy-nilly in Parking Star 3D.
Parking Star is set up in a bird's eye view perspective of each parking lot (or "car park" in the UK) reminiscent of the classic board game Rush Hour, but fret not: this is a considerably less cerebral affair. Your mission is to drive your car to the designated parking spot, and fit into it perfectly – nothing less than an exact parking job will send you to the next level. If you crash your car, you must restart the level, and as you trek deeper into the dark depths of this one you'll be presented with every imaginable parking challenge, from diagonal spots to parallel parking to all sorts of obstacles. Oncoming traffic and pedestrians pose a heightened threat because they sport virtually no AI programming whatsoever; they remain on their trajectory no matter what, with none of this "getting out of the way" or "slowing down" business when you're clearly right in front of them. Sometimes pedestrians will be standing right in front of where you want to go, but they never move. They're like honey badgers. They don't care.
After each level, you earn stars based on how quickly you parked and how many times you crashed. You can use these stars to upgrade the handling and HP of your vehicle, or you can purchase a new car. Aside from the VW you start the game with, you can buy a Mini, a "Hummar," and a "Ferrar." And as the Nintendo.com description advertises, Parking Star 3D features "7 types of colourful paint job for your choice." Each car handles differently, but since you can upgrade everything on all four cars, you could theoretically max out your stats and render all the cars equal.
Parking Star 3D's graphics and sound emphasize its roots as a smartphone game, with bland 2D environments and only a couple of listless songs to accompany your parking adventure. The exhaust fumes from your car are nicely animated, but everything else is static; despite marketing its illustrious globetrotting locales, there's hardly any indication of what famous city you're in aside from randomly-placed flags on buildings. Occasionally you'll see a 1990s-quality 2D render of the Eiffel Tower to let you know you're in Paris or a billboard with an anime girl on it so you know you're in Tokyo, but they don't factor into the gameplay at all; they're simply more obstacles to park around. As its title implies, Parking Star 3D makes use of 3D... but only for your car. Every other car is flat and two-dimensional, but your vehicle pops out of the screen and constantly flashes so you don't forget which one is yours.
The highlight of Parking Star 3D is its control scheme. There's a wide array of control options on both the buttons and the touch screen, but the most logical set-up is to use the X button to accelerate, B button to reverse, L button to brake, and Circle Pad to steer. It's not simple left/right steering, though: since this is a realistic driving simulation, the turning mechanic simulates a steering wheel. You rotate the Circle Pad clockwise to turn right, and counter-clockwise to turn left; it takes a while to get used to, but it's one of the most clever uses of the Circle Pad to be found on 3DS, as it creates something that couldn't be replicated at all with a D-pad.
These steering wheel controls aren't all biscuits and gravy, though, as it can be hard to tell how far you're turning. In real life driving, once you make a turn, the steering wheel naturally moves back to its default position aiming straight ahead. But in Parking Star 3D, when you've spun the wheel four times for a sharp turn, you must then spin it four times in the other direction to straighten out after you make the turn. The controls work great when you're inching back and forth between cars trying to fit into a parking space, but they're hell on wheels for actually driving down the road through traffic.
Once you've navigated through the irritating obstacles and reached the spot you're meant to park in, Parking Star 3D hits its stride. As an educational tool, Parking Star could actually be used to teach people how to park cars. Managing distances and angles when figuring out how to parallel park closely resembles its real-life counterpart, as the turning and accelerating are incredibly precise, allowing players to spend forever slowly inching back and forth with ever-so-slight changes in direction to fit into a spot, just like the first time you parallel parked as a teenager. Racing games like Mario Kart and F-Zero teach us that when we smash into things, it doesn't really matter and we can keep driving, but Parking Star 3D emphasizes the real-life threat of bumping into anything and inciting a lawsuit for vehicular damages. It's frustrating and no fun at all, but it's incredibly educational.
Parking Star 3D is a budget title made by a tiny development team, and for $2.99 it's a decent way to learn how to park your car. For those of us who get enough car-parking action in real life, it rehashes daily nightmares, but for your kids in the back seat, they can now park cars while sitting in a car being parked. Beyond its educational value, though, Parking Star 3D is like real-life parking: stressful, tedious, and makes you regret not using public transport instead.