'Tiny Trax' is Basically Hot Wheels in VR, and It's Super Fun

Brighton indie studio FuturLab’s new project is a whole other kind of toy-to-life gaming.

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May 30 2017, 2:59pm

Screenshots courtesy of FuturLab.

You ever play around with Scalextric as a kid? I sure did. Shooting those little plastic cars off the track, losing them under the sofa. Those bendy, clip-on railings for the bends that'd keep on pinging off (and were useless when they stayed on, anyway). Pushing all the shit on your bedroom floor up against the walls to make space for even the smallest figure-of-eight circuit. Those metal brushes, underneath the cars, getting all feathered and flimsy and finally just falling apart. A sort of burning smell, actually, when you played it for any longer than ten minutes.

If you never did, but have a PlayStation VR setup handy, you can get a taste of what those days were like with Tiny Trax—which is, essentially, Scalextric "Plus" in virtual reality form, comprising a selection of tightly twisting tracks set in fantasy environments, quite a way from that dank carpet you used to push your action figures around on.

Don't freak out and vomit before you've ducked your head inside the game, motion-sickness sorts—there's no behind-the-wheel perspective here. The small Brighton studio of FuturLab has designed Tiny Trax to be played from the position of, well, The Kid Who Used To Play Scalextric, accelerator-gun-thing in hand, track spread out before them.

You have to allow for manual steering here, though, which is handled in a Micro Machines-style manner—left is always left from the perspective of the vehicle. Each car, of which there's a small selection of models, also has a boost meter. This essential speed-up is recharged by taking corners at just the right angle, with a green sweet spot appearing around the player's car to indicate just how far to lean the left analog stick.

Initially it's tricky, but after a few last-place finishes you click with the rhythm of sliding and boosting, hopping across the two inlaid slots of the track to pass opponents. There's a puzzle-like quality to unpicking each level, and committing its demands to muscle memory. I say "you"—this was my experience, at least, in the weird position of being the first-ever person from the games media to take Tiny Trax for a spin. No pressure, then, on the devs watching me go hell-for-leather around their new baby.

Thankfully for James Marsden, the game's director and company MD, and Dave Gabriel, who's the junior designer (in his first-ever design role—kudos, dude), who're both on hand to hear me deliver a first-impression verdict, I really like this little racer. Which is, admittedly, a caveat in itself: this game is little, with just 12 tracks, but more potentially coming via DLC later down the line (between 30 and 40 tracks were created during testing). And as a VR title there's no local multiplayer, which is a crying shame given Tiny Trax's potential for couch co-op fun, à la Mario Kart, if only it wasn't exclusively tied to a headset.

These aren't problems as such, but they're limitations on the potential audience for a game like this—a game that has an immediately appealing cuteness to it, but that sets its difficulty bar rather higher than, for example, the first dozen or so tracks of Micro Machines for the Mega Drive. That's a tick in the pluses, by the way, and it's worth saying that even when finishing last, as I do a fair few times, tearing around these courses, with their dips into the deep blue and sheer-vertical ascents, corkscrew corners and space-set rollercoasters, remains a blast. (Indeed, the devs have to politely tell me that enough's enough—I could easily have played longer than I did.)

There's a Rare-like jovial bounce to the game's music, too—perhaps surprisingly, it comes from Joris de Man, most recently seen in the credits of Horizon Zero Dawn. Tiny Trax is aesthetically impressive throughout, then, from sound to vision, and certifiably avoids turning its player's stomach (for comparison, Driveclub VR left me on the floor). But with some VR adopters wavering on the platform, its success when it's released later this summer could depend on just how hard Sony pushes its senses-enveloping peripheral this E3.

Tiny Trax will be at the Los Angeles expo, rubbing excitedly nervy shoulders with far bigger productions. I wish it the best, albeit while simultaneously not holding any breath for it reaching as many people as a game that's genuinely a whole lot of fun really should. How many times have we said that about VR games before, I wonder.

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