Spla­toon meets F-Zero in a new team-based racer


Six years ago, on the run-up to Wii U’s launch, Shigeru Miyamoto was asked why Nin­tendo hadn’t re­leased an F-Zero game since 2004. “Since the first episode on SNES, many games have been made but the se­ries has evolved very lit­tle. I thought peo­ple had grown weary of it,” he replied be­fore ask­ing in re­turn, ”Why F-Zero? What do you want that we haven’t done be­fore?” With no F-Zero on the hori­zon still, we fi­nally might have an an­swer in the form of Trail­blaz­ers.

Trail­blaz­ers is a team-based rac­ing game which rides on a strong gim­mick: a paint­ing me­chanic straight from De Blob and Spla­toon. You have a recharg­ing stock of paint with which you can paint a trail be­hind you as you race. If your team­mates then drive on the paint, they’ll au­to­mat­i­cally boost, and the longer they’re on it, the faster they’ll go. But if you’re paint­ing, you can’t boost, and your stock of pig­ment only lasts a few sec­onds and takes time to recharge. What’s more, it has a sec­ondary use: you can fire off your en­tire sup­ply at a racer ahead to send them spin­ning from the track.

Thus, as you speed around Trail­blaz­ers’ cour­ses you’ll al­ways have much more than just hold­ing the rac­ing line on your mind. Paint now and boost later? Dis­rupt the other team’s painted trail with your own to deny them their boost? Let a boost­ing com­peti­tor over­take and then shoot them in the back? What­ever the strat­egy, co­or­di­na­tion, writ­ten in vi­brant colours on the track, is the name of the game. It’s a lit­tle easy to get car­ried away with

Trail­blaz­ers’ sim­i­lar­i­ties to Spla­toon, since Spla­toon is a game about ter­ri­tory con­trol. By con­trast, ev­ery player has to go around the track in Trail­blaz­ers, so paint­ing in it isn’t so much about claim­ing the track as care­ful tim­ing and pre­ci­sion driv­ing. In fact, it’s bet­ter to think of it in the con­text of an­other cre­ative source, since its lead de­signer, Ben Ward, is a vet­eran of Bizarre Cre­ations. “I’ve al­ways had a few ideas for in­ter­est­ing rac­ing me­chan­ics, but it goes back to Mar­tyn Chud­ley, who ran Bizarre,” Ward says. “Mar­tyn in­vented Ku­dos, and that layer of pointscor­ing over the top of a more nor­mal rac­ing me­chanic, I found that amaz­ing.” Ku­dos, a sys­tem in­tro­duced in Dream­cast ex­clu­sive Me­trop­o­lis Street Racer and which later de­fined the Pro­ject Gotham se­ries, awarded points for stylish play, trans­fig­ur­ing street rac­ing into some­thing al­to­gether spicier. In many ways, Trail­blaz­ers is an at­tempt to re-in­ject Bizarre-era ideas into a genre that’s be­come pretty staid, dom­i­nated by the con­ven­tions of Gran Turismo, Forza and Need For Speed. “Line up some screen­shots and they look pretty much the same,” says Ward. “It’s a long way from the games I en­joyed while grow­ing up.” Rather than look to them, he in­stead watched where pop­u­lar in­no­va­tion has been hap­pen­ing in the FPS world, notic­ing the rise of team-based games such as Over­watch. “You look at the rac­ing genre and noth­ing like that has hap­pened, and that’s a shame.”

Trail­blaz­ers’ paint­ing me­chanic is there­fore best seen as part of a wider at­tempt to in­cor­po­rate three-ver­sus-three team-based mul­ti­player in a rac­ing game. It bends many rac­ing con­ven­tions to sup­port it, such as its scor­ing sys­tem. Giv­ing the tro­phy to the player who crossed the fin­ish­ing line first doesn’t re­ally work for team-based play, so in­stead, Trail­blaz­ers awards points to the player who came first in each lap to sup­port con­sis­tent per­for­mance, as well as for paint­ing ar­eas of the track, boost­ing ef­fec­tively, and shoot­ing the other team. With co­her­ent and thought­ful de­sign like this, it’s tempt­ing to be­lieve that be­yond its flashy looks and taglines, Trail­blaz­ers re­ally could form a new rac­ing clas­sic.

Co­or­di­na­tion, writ­ten in vi­brant colours on the track, is the name of the game

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