*UPDATE* (08/18/09): Car Mania just got hit with a massive update, which beyond a few bug fixes and gameplay tweaks, adds an all new map, Volcano Rescue, which, IMHO, is the best map yet (see my post below for more details on the update)!
iPhone Game Review: Car Mania
Who needs traffic lights when the city has you to direct traffic from your remote underground bunker?
From Origin8, the folks that brought you the famous tower defense game, Sentinel: Mars Defense and its recently released sequel Sentinel 2: Earth Defense, comes something new, Car Mania.
Car Mania is Origin8?s own take at the ever growing new genre of ?draw a path to your destination without bumping into other vehicles? like Flight Control does with planes and Harbor Master does with ships. With a name like Car Mania, just guess what kind of vehicles you?ll be controlling in this one? Unlike those two formerly mentioned titles, your freedom of movement is a lot more constrained since you can only move down the one lane streets (kind of like a Pac-Man maze). Thankfully something this game allows that you could not do in the other two fore mentioned titles is stop any of the vehicles in their place if you so desire. Another nice addition is, much like real life traffic, a car moving at a high rate of speed that comes up to a much slower moving car will slow down accordingly. The collisions you?ll really need to avoid then are mainly head-ons down the single lanes of traffic or t-bones in intersections. Another aspect that sets this apart from the other traffic controlling games is that it doesn?t simply end at your first collision. This game instead uses a collective Road Rage Gauge to determine when it?s time for you to be fired from your post. How this works is as simple as this, ?Slowdowns and collisions are annoying.? Knowing it?s all about unlockable content, this game does not disappoint. Besides simply tracking your high scores, the game keeps tabs on how many people in your career as a Traffic Controller you?ve managed to bring happily to their destinations. Your service to the community is rewarded by slowly unlocking additional game modes (besides the initial Survival Mode there is a Timed Mode and a Road Rage Mode) and maps (New York, Freeway, and Central). While the Timed Mode is almost self explanatory (see how many cars you can safely guide to their destinations in four minutes or until you annoy too many people like in Survival Mode), the Road Rage Mode goes against everything you were taught in Traffic Control School! In Road Rage Mode, while people still hate being slowed down in traffic jams, they absolutely love to hit each other at high speeds. So your job in this case is to see how many cars you can crash in three minutes (or cause too many slowdowns and get fired prematurely).
So now that we?ve got the basics out of the way, is it any fun? I certainly think so. While things usually start off pretty slow no matter which map or game mode you?re playing, within minutes things will get insane, don?t worry (or maybe you should). The controls are very straight forward, draw a path from any vehicle to where you want it to go and or tap on the vehicle again to have it stop. When you tap on the vehicle again it will continue down whatever path you?d previously set it on. The goal, at least in most modes, is to get the vehicle to its color coded end point without hitting any other vehicles. It is also very easy at any point to simply redraw the vehicle?s path to overwrite wherever you?d last ordered it to go. Something potentially a bit annoying, especially in the heat of madness when the whole map is in a near gridlocked state, is that you need to draw the vehicle?s entire path to whatever end point you desire. If in your haste to draw the path you cut a corner or skip a required turn to get to your desired end point, your path won?t take. Another downer, especially for those playing on an iPhone as opposed to an iPod touch is that this game does not save your current session. Sure it will keep all of your highscores and your running tally of happy travelers but if you get a phone call in the midst of racking up some all time high score in a given mode, as soon as you take the call the game is lost! Since this developer?s previous Sentinel series of games are good at saving your game when quickly interrupted, it seems odd they left that aspect out on this one and it is pretty safe to assume this is a high priority fix in the update.
The graphics are a clean cartoon style and nicely animated. While they?re pretty sharp, the vehicle?s images in the game are pretty small so you don?t really see a lot of detail from your overhead perspective. The game has lots of great ambient sounds with each actively selected vehicle making its appropriate sounds from motorcycles to semis. The game also gives you great audio feedback when there is some major gridlock going on with a cacophony of impatient horn honking.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
(trying out some new rating categories here)
Graphics: -4- Nicely animated and slightly cartoony 2D. Sound: -4.5- Lots of clever ambient sound effects appropriate to setting. Controls: -3.5- Good and responsive but in some cases unforgiving (if you don?t draw the entire path to your destination it doesn?t register). Gameplay: -4- Addictive traffic control gameplay with plenty of unlockables, online scoring, and achievements. I am, however, docking it a point for not saving interrupted gameplay (something that should be standard in iPhone games these days).
Playing Hints and Tips: -The New York map is the game in the most basic form with you needing to route vehicles coming from all sides to one of two destinations. -The Freeway map is almost an entirely different game from the other two maps. There is no risk of collision and it?s really just a matter of making sure the cars make it to the correct colored off ramp of the three. While not having to worry about collisions makes things easier, proper routing is that much more important since you can?t take a u-turn on the Freeway and every wrongly routed car will put a huge ding in the Road Rage Gauge.. -The Central map turns up the heat in a few different ways. Not only are you now having to route cars to four different colored destinations, there is a train track going through the middle of town that stops for nothing, and your mission appears to be taking place at night so it?s a little tougher to distinguish the color coding of the vehicles. -Know thy Road Rage Gauge! While collisions are an annoyance in most modes (excepting, of course, the Road Rage Mode), being held up in traffic is a much bigger deal. Either by directly stopping vehicles for too long or by forcing some speedy motorcycle to trail after a slow moving semi will cause a big increase in the meter. If you can get the traffic flowing smoothly again and successfully route some vehicles to their destination you might decrease the meter a bit but realize, for the most part, the gauge only moves up.
Game Facts: Developer: Origin8 Release Date: July 16th 2009 Genre: Casual Puzzle/Traffic Control Price: $0.99 Buy Game: iTunes App Store