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