If you look at today’s racing game landscape, it’s clear that simulations rule the roost, with franchises like Forza, Gran Turismo, and Project CARS at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Sure, Mario Kart or an old-school tribute to more twitchy arcade racers like Fast RMX still dot the landscape and do well when they emerge, but games like those have become the exception and not the rule. However, developer Supergonk believes that arcade racers are just laying dormant, and is ready to usher in a new age of fast, frantic fun with their unique twist on the genre that gave us games like F-Zero back in the day.
Trailblazers is set in a futuristic world dominated by hover cars piloted by up-and-coming racers looking to soar to the front of the pack. Winning won’t come from just memorizing the best racing lines across the game’s 10 tracks (each with four possible layouts), though, as Trailblazers is unique in that players can change the course by painting on it.
Yes, painting—as if Supergonk crossed Wipeout with Splatoon. Each racer has a meter that fills up over time, and by dropping your team color’s paint on the track, you can create your own boost zones—and from this comes myriad emergent strategies. Do you sacrifice some speed early in the race to paint as much as possible and boost to the finish on the final lap? Should you paint a less-traveled route to minimize the risk of an opponent painting over and nullifying your paint on a more apropos racing line? How about utilizing your paint meter’s offensive capabilities, and fire forward to spin out a nearby opponent but paint less of the course in the process? When playing co-op with friends, will you try to perform some Talladega Nights Shake ‘n’ Bake and have one person paint the path the rest of the team will follow, in order to slingshot into first?
All of these possibilities and more are viable across the variety of game modes in Trailblazers. You can learn a lot of basic strategies in the single-player campaign mode, where you start off as a fresh racer named Jetstream. From there, you’ll meet the eight racers in the game, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and over-the-top personalities while getting the chance to try them out to see who best suits your needs. Campaign also offers challenges in each race that could be as simple as getting in first place, or might be more involved like beating a time trial or painting a certain percentage of the track. There’s also a local split-screen Custom Race option outside the campaign if you want to play Trailblazers with a friend, where you can tweak a cornucopia of options to make the race of your dreams.
The single-player campaign is also a great way to learn the other major difference between Trailblazers and all the other racing games out there: its scoring system. Players earn points for how much they paint or boost on a track, for taking out opponents with offensive maneuvers, for how well they drift around some of the ridiculous hairpin corners the game offers (which work doubly to keep you on your toes while racing!), as well as where they place when the race finishes.
The scoring system particularly becomes important in team play modes, and can usually see lower-ranked racers flip-flop as time goes on. You get so many points for winning the race that it’ll be pretty hard for second place to overtake first on points alone, but in several of the races that I played during my hands-on time, I saw fourth place and fifth place swap, for example, based on painting versus finishing bonuses.
Once you’ve learned the ins-and-outs of the game offline, the real meat of Trailblazers appears in its online modes. There’s the 3-on-3 Team Racing mode that I alluded to earlier, where you’re not only trying to work as a team to earn the best spots on that racing podium, but the team score at the end will determine which trio comes out on top. There’s also Partner Battle where it’s three teams of two competing, and an All-versus-All mode where six racers are all in it for themselves. There’s also a unique mode to Trailblazers called Gate Chase, where players can only paint the course by hitting special gates on each track, and for the less competitive players out there, there’s an online Time Trial mode where you and up to two friends can work together to try to set the fastest times.
As fun as my time playing with Trailblazers was, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game is also absolutely gorgeous. You’d expect a game revolving around futuristic racing and painting to blow you away with its visuals—and it absolutely does. With art direction from BAFTA winning animator Will Milton, Trailblazers is a beautiful mix of neon skylines and primary color paint-covered tracks that absolutely jump off the TV. Each track also has a unique song, licensed from indie artists on Spotify that only cement the fun, future vibe Trailblazers is going for.
Although my time with Trailblazers was short, it channeled a lot of the strengths of old-school arcade racers, blending them perfectly with the game’s own unique twists on the genre. It punished mistakes on the track, but never stopped being fun even when I ended up bringing up the rear of the pack. Because of this, I’m looking forward to seeing what Trailblazers can deliver on the whole when it drops sometime in May for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Update: We added the latest gameplay trailer to this preview. You can see it right here: