Your car speeds around the track, slamming against the wall as a yellow behemoth speeds up from behind. If you can just make it a few more feet, there is a power-up ahead. Inching closer, you can feel his bumper against yours, and that is when it happens. Paying attention to the car behind, you completely failed to the sharp curve ahead. SMASH. And that it is the end of the road for you.
No, this is not a description of a war zone, or even the latest police techniques, it is the latest game from our friends at PDAMill, Wild Gears.
Overview and Gameplay: Wild Gears is, obviously, a car racing game. You control one of four cars in each race as they zoom around the endless loops of progressively more difficult tracks. This one will take all of your offensive and defensive driving skills as you race to be the first one against the finish line.
The screen consists of a partial view of the racetrack, which will pan to follow your car as you proceed. On top of the track, there are several indicators showing your position (1-4) and lap (races consist of up to five laps). There is also a timer which will show your total time for the race, but not your split or lap time, and a speed indicator (which is shown in up to bars rather than mph or kph).
On the bottom of the screen is the steering wheel (which we will discuss in a moment) as well as a zoom button which allows you to see a wider view of the track, and a radar view which shows the entire track with each car’s position. While I really liked this radar view, I found that when I was driving my car, my hand was often covering it, giving it very little value during the race. I would have preferred that the radar view be moved to the top of the screen where it could be seen.
Also on the screen, beneath your lap indicator, is a green car. This is your health meter. As you crash into walls, obstacles, and other cars, you will lose health, causing the indicator to turn yellow, orange, and eventually red, before you explode in a ball of fire. Don’t worry though, if you do explode, you will be respawned in a new car…but that will require you to lose some ground, and you will restart further back than your actual crash site.
Don’t worry, though, because there is some help on its way. Randomly appearing throughout the races are special power-ups which can give you shields to protect you from damage, boost you all the way up to your top speed, increase your traction, or even completely restore your health. These power ups are a fantastic boon, particularly in the higher levels.
Selecting Cars: Before we begin, you will want to decide which car you want to drive. There are four cars (they are the same in every race), each with its own unique quirks and specialties:
- Staghorn (blue) is the basic beginner car. It has average acceleration, top speed, and body damage; but slightly lower than average traction.
- Sandbox (green) is a slightly more intermediate car, which features above average acceleration and traction, but below average traction and top speed.
- Sparrow (red) is an advanced car with the highest top speed, but the lowest acceleration, traction, and body damage.
- Scarab (yellow) is the tank of the bunch. It features the highest acceleration, traction, and body damage, but it is extremely slow with the lowest top speed of all four cars.
To select your car, simply tap the picture of the car on the main screen. This will allow you to scroll through the four different available cars. I thought the four cars offered here were great, and well balanced for the game; however, I was disappointed to find only the same four cars throughout the entire game. It would have been nice if the game had rotated additional cars, so that there were a total of eight to ten cars, with only four competing in each race. This would have given the game considerably more variety.
I also found it odd that the car selection screen showed an image of each car, without showing the appropriate statistics. It is common in games like this to display each car’s statistics so you can compare them while you are selecting which one to use. In Wild Gears, that information is buried in the on-screen instructions (by pushing the information button). These stats should have been more available.
Additionally, you can only select a new car from this main screen. There is no opportunity to change cars between races without exiting all the way back to the main screen. It would have been nice if, before advancing to the next race, you were given the opportunity to switch cars. Many of the tracks feature different conditions, and it is very conceivable that a car which was good on one race would not work as well in the next.
Races and Cups: Don’t think you are going to simply win one race and be done with this game. Oh no. The challenge has only just begun. There are four worlds (called Cups): Beginner, Fantasy, Expedition, and Elemental.
In the beginning, you will have access only to the Beginner Cup. At the beginning of each cup, you will also have access only to the first race in that Cup series. Each Cup or world consists of four races, except the Beginner Cup which only has three (for a total of 15 races).
In order to unlock the next race in the cup, all you have to do is complete the previous race in any of the top three positions. In order to advance to the next Cup, however, you must win all of the races in the previous Cup. Not such an easy task at all. Once a race has been unlocked, however, you may go back and play it at any time.
I always like a game which does not reveal everything at the beginning, and I loved the challenge of unlocking the higher levels. I also thought PDAMill did a great job of moving the action along by adding dozens of new elements as the tracks progressed in difficulty (like the sky high glass track in Pepe’s Skyway). Many of the tracks also referenced various other PDAMill games (like racing through the docks in the Corsair level). I thought this pseudo-inside reference with the PDAMill fanbase really served as a small bonus for those long time fans of PDAMill, without spoiling the game in any way for anyone who has not played a PDAMill game before in their lives.
Controls: Typically, the racing games I have played on Windows Mobile devices have employed one of two methods of controlling your car. Either you used the D-Pad or you dragged the car directly with the stylus. PDAMill did not use either method. Instead, it placed a large wheel on the bottom of the screen. Steer the car by dragging your stylus around the wheel. This method of steering took some time, but I did finally get used to it. What I did not like, however, was that it required me to constantly drag my stylus in a circle over the same portion of the screen, eventually creating some wear on my screen protector (I would not recommend playing this game without a screen protector).
Graphics and Sounds: In true PDAMill fashion, the graphics in this game are absolutely perfect. They cars are drawn with just a touch of the PDAMill cartoon flavor, which gives a light and enjoyable tone to the game. The tracks are all intricately drawn, as they weave to and fro. Each track is marked by its attention to detail, whether it is a dirt track or cobblestone, you can almost feel the surface underneath the cars.
Likewise, I thought the sounds really added to the gameplay experience. The sounds and music were exceptionally done and very appropriate, giving you the feeling of live racing actions.
Memory: I have to make a comment here about the memory this game requires. In order to run Wild Gears, you will need 16 MBs of free memory. Sixteen is an awful lot of memory. Especially when you figure my Mogul barely has 20 after a full hard reset, and drops close to 17 with my programs fully loaded. I frequently found myself unable to load the game and soft resetting due to not having enough memory available. As a result, I could not even load my screen capture program while the game was running to take screen shots of it in action.
Save: There really is no need to save any games, which is just fantastic. Each time you exit the game, any your progress is recorded. The next time you start a new game, you can access any of the races which you have unlocked previously.
Conclusion: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I loved the fast paced action which the races provide. Unfortunately, the game required so much memory, that it often felt like an exercise in frustration just to get it started. If you have the memory for it, though, this is a fantastic addition to the PDAMill stable.
What I Liked: Great graphics and gameplay. I loved exploring the new worlds and races. A good mix of cars with various strengths and weaknesses.
What Needs Improvement: This game just requires way too much memory. Additionally, I would love to see more cars to add additional variety to the races. It would also be nice if I could switch cars between races without exiting back to the main screen. I also found the controls were difficult to manage. They should get rid of the wheel control on the bottom an replace it with the D-pad controls.
Where To Buy: PDAMill
[I apologize for the fact that all of the pictures used in this review were downloaded from PDAMill. My device simply did not have the memory to take screen captures while playing the game]