I’m a simpleton when it comes to terms. When I read “Combat” in a game title, I expect more shooting and violence than what I found in Retro Racer Combat, a $1 game on Xbox Live Indie Games. The game does have Atari-era charm in its gameplay, and beating it can be rewarding. At the same time, I can’t see people trying to top their high scores after the game is beaten. Retro Racer Combat is a good distraction at best.
The graphics are reminiscent of the NES even though the game feels older than that. Nostalgic but unimpressive. However, I like that you can adjust the screen size with the right analog stick. The default screen size is classic arcade presentation, so making the screen thinner or wider can affect your judgment during gameplay — a great illustration of the relationship between presentation and enjoyment/difficulty.
There’s no pretense here. Speed boosts sound like speed boosts, crashes sound like crashes, and bullets sound like bullets, all in a video game sense, of course. The one music track (think 1970s hard rock, 8-bit style) never stops, creating a feeling of urgency and even intoxication.
You’ll never forget the rules of Retro Racer Combat, as they are always on the right side of the screen (provided you haven’t made the screen fat as hell): dodge cars, collect speed boosts, destroy boss. The catch is you must destroy the boss before the timer reaches zero, and unless you hit every speed boost and never die, you’re typically going to have 40 to 45 seconds to beat a stage. Speed boosts are a double-edged sword. You need speed to win, but speed can also kill you. The faster you are, the more likely you will make a mistake.
The simplicity of Retro Racer Combat can be charming and frustrating. You always know what you need to do, but you’re not always sure you can do it. The game is, understandably, not very forgiving. There isn’t much room for error, but if there were, the game wouldn’t be challenging, and the challenge is the primary reason the game is worth playing. You’re definitely not playing for the minimal combat. You can only shoot when you reach a boss, and these battles can often feel luck-based.
The controls aren’t smooth, but they are functional, which means they don’t naturally help or hurt you. Again, we’re in Atari territory here. You take what you can get, and if you don’t like it, fine. Play something else.
I was surprised by how much I kept playing Retro Racer Combat after dying. I hit a wall in the game after I thought I was getting pretty good. Many times I would die before matching my best progress. Logically, you would think this archaic feeling of impotence would make you quit, but this is where the nonstop 1970s hard rock starts to affect your brain. It’s not that cheesy hard rock, either; it’s that driving hard rock you might associate with Thin Lizzy. Driving hard rock. Driving.
Credit developer Flump Studios for providing a handful of achievements to keep you interested as you die again and again. Part of me believes the 10,000 point achievement is bullshit, though. When I beat the game, I had between 6,000 and 7,000 points, and that was after hitting the majority of speed boosts. No matter. Haven’t touched the game since beating it.
Retro Racer Combat is like being addicted to drugs intermittently within a span of three days. You’re going to enjoy the good and the rough times, but when you hit that high after beating the game, you know it might be time to stop smoking crack. Hello, my name is Jed Pressgrove, and I played Retro Racer Combat for a little while.