Picture the nightmarish scenes on a race track if the cars didn’t have brakes. Chaos would most certainly ensue. This is the basis of the Switch eShop title, Brakes Are For Losers. It’s a classic top-down arcade racer for up to eight people featuring cars that obviously don’t have any brakes. Each race is simply a matter of bracing yourself for the worst outcome while hoping for the best one.
BAFL is somewhat unconventional. It does away with one of the most integral components in a car (yup, brakes) and chooses to mix-up the concept of racing games even more by experimenting with a few other unique ideas. One is the level of interactivity within the game menu. It’s essentially a hub, where selecting a mode requires you to drive a micro race car around a map. Not often would you find the menu to be one of the most intriguing aspects of a game, but this happens to be one of those rare cases. You might even find yourself aimlessly drifting about in this area more than playing the actual racing modes.
When you do eventually rip yourself away from this area, what’s on offer is the usual line-up of modes. This includes a championship, custom-game, quick race and challenge mode. Each of these is as you might expect, and include multiplayer options as well. The challenge mode is probably the most distinctive, requiring you to work through a series of tracks in order to earn the best time and perfect run. The aim of perfect races is to travel a certain distance without making contact with the outside barriers of a track. It’s as infuriating as it is fun.
The racing itself again twists the traditional formula. You race around a variety of looping circuits against seven other competitors, but instead of a cap of three laps you instead must complete as many laps as you can within a certain time frame. The winner is the racer with the most laps when the clock hits zero. If you would prefer a lap limit, this option is also available, as is a "last car standing" mode. Of course, it’s not as simple as just driving around a track. On top of not having any brakes, there are also items and power-ups. These include hazards such as oil slicks and the ability to give your car a boost from time to time. You’ll even have to regularly repair your vehicle by taking strategic pit stops at some point in each race. If that wasn’t enough, in between races during the championship mode, you can upgrade key stats of your car. This includes acceleration, handling, top speed, adhesion and even armour.
The A.I. in races is a hassle to deal with at first, but if you’re playing a mode like the championship, the upgrades should put you ahead of the competition over time. One continual problem is losing sight of your car in the midst of a race. This can be especially troublesome if you’re playing against friends. Unless you keep a keen eye on your car at all times, expect to find yourself focused in on the wrong one or driving in the completely opposite direction. Some basic colour outlines on each player’s vehicle might have been a solution to this problem.
The physics in top-down racers is commonly an important feature. In BAFL, the drifting, turning and general speed of cars is sufficient; however it’s just not as captivating as it should be in a game like this. Quite often there’s no sense of thrill driving these tiny cars around the track – even with no brakes. The game runs smoothly both in docked and handheld modes (even during multiplayer sessions), but still feels underwhelming as your car does speed around the track.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of this game is the graphics. Despite drawing inspiration from classic ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture, that’s no excuse for it to look as generic and bland in its presentation in certain parts. Some areas of the title are comparable to a web browser flash game from the early ‘90s. The soundtrack makes a bit more effort, with a selection of tunes from smooth vibes to rock. Unfortunately, the sound effects fail to satisfy with engine noises so faint they are as good as absent, even if you turn off the music.
Brakes Are For Losers has some interesting ideas, but the entire package simply does not match the quality of certain other recent releases on the Switch eShop under this same genre. As marketable as the multiplayer is, it doesn’t override the fact that the game still lacks a certain sense of satisfaction you would normally expect when playing a top-down arcade racer. Before considering this, maybe look at any other options that are available.