Top-down racers. Isometric racers. Games like R.C. Pro-Am. Whatever you prefer to call the nebulous genre of camera-not-quite-behind-the-vehicle racers, it's easy to agree they're not particularly well represented in 2014. Other than MotorStorm RC and, to a lesser extent, Death Rally, there aren't many modern options of the non-mobile garbage variety. Milkstone Studios aims to fill this void with Little Racers STREET. After making the rounds on the criminally unloved Xbox Live Indie Games channel and a more recent PC release on Desura, Little Racers STREET is now available on Steam. The $7.99 price isn't asking much, but whether or not it's worth your time requires additional consideration.
Arcade-style racers are a compromise between depth and accessibility. Success seems to entail the ability to have fun playing the game in ten seconds or less and simultaneously offer additional levels of depth to draw that experience out for a half dozen hours. Little Racers STREET weighs its brand of racing through a series of different cars tiered into multiple classes and spread across a ton of different races. Variation arrives with both mechanical and cosmetic customization, and augmented with a few variable race conditions. It's a tiny package, for sure, but its parts certainly feel built for high mileage.
Composed to look not unlike their licensed counterparts, Little Racers STREET boasts considerable variety through its assortment of cars. It obliges typical engine/wheel load-outs and divides categorizes them into easily digestible styles. Front-engine, front-wheel-drive cars handle easier but have a tougher time drifting, while their rear-wheel-drive counterparts seemed more attuned to controlled drifting. A mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive car (which I blissfully drove for half a decade in real life) always seems like the best of both worlds, save the all-wheel-drive model that sacrifices an acceptable drift mechanics for traction. Cars can also be gauged by their particular attributes, with numbers measuring grip, power, turning, and a turbo-boost called nitro.
While it's made of nice parts, the actual racing and competitive aspects of Little Racers STREET feels weirdly habitual and kind of impersonal. Composed of individual street loops inside a much larger city, courses are contain the hairpin turns, extended loops, intense straight-aways, and jumps one might expect. It's mechanically sound but absent of any real variation. A few laps around a particular course is all it takes for your brain to auto-pilot the rest of the way home. Instead, distinction arrives in the form of differing weather conditions like rain and snow, but even then it's a minimal mental adjustment before you're right back on track. The only bit of strategy seems left to nitro management.
Challenge is intended to arrive from beating the AI, but Little Racers STREET often felt less about racing and more about the inevitable upgrade grind. Its career mode is a classic race and earn credits loop, spurring the player to either spend their earned cash on upgrades or outright purchase a whole new car. It seemed that upgrading my car just before it defaulted to a new class was the only way I could stay competitive in my existing class. Little Racers STREET even seems to understand this, freely offering an un-upgrade option on every performed upgrade. This isn't necessarily bad, in fact it seems more like a byproduct of design, but it seems to diminish the feeling that applied skill matters less than properly managing upgrades.
Little Racers STREET offers online multiplayer as well. Your mileage may vary, but I found this experience not too dissimilar from racing the AI. There were a handful of human players mixed in with bots, but I struggled to tell a difference between their particular race styles. The lone exception was a guy whose car was completely, save his shadow, invisible. I have no idea if that was a glitch or some sort of unlocked upgrade, but it served as little more than a distraction.
It's kind of a shame because, otherwise, Little Racers STREET seems full of great ideas. I love how it uses its difficulty options as a multiplier, offering more (or less) credits with depending on your assumed skill level. I appreciate how it didn't waste my time or in-game money, allowing me to sell an upgraded car for the price of all the money I pumped into it. I welcomed repair costs being factored into my race reward payout. I enjoyed the modest look of the neon-nighttime city, and how Milkstone Studios included a few nearly-unplayable and yet fun camera options; the behind-the-car view is actually really cool. Last but not least, I love how the entire experience is only eight bucks. For that sort of price it's unreasonable to expect a fully fleshed out racer, and this is probably as good as you can get for the money - but ultimately not something I'd seek out with my time. In the end I didn’t find the core loop satisfying beyond a few hours.