Enjoyable drag racing with intense multiplayer matches
Apple's App Store is no stranger to drag racing games, perhaps owing to the very simplicity of their design, and thus you could be forgiven for approaching Racing Rivals with a heavy dose of skepticism. And yet, for the most part, it's unwarranted. Cie Games and Nitto Tire have given us a game that's as fun as it is visually appealing, and the inclusion of an enjoyable multiplayer component allows it to surge ahead of many of its rivals.
The general concept is easy to grasp, although you'll find that it presents genuine challenge as early as the second match in the campaign. You start off by taking one of the three starter cars you find in the showroom and then heading to the drag strip for either the campaign or the multiplayer mode. Racing Rivals then gives you a mere three buttons to work with – a "launch" button, an accelerator, and a shift – and the best part is that you don't even have to worry about steering the car.
That setup might sound overly simple, but venturing further into Racing Rivals reveals that Cie Games manages to capture the right degree of complexity needed to make a satisfying iPhone game. This is a game of reflexes above all else; success lies in handling the delicate accelerator so you're revved up sufficiently when the light kicks off the race, and then you need to time your shifts at the exact moment when a line of blue dots leads up to the green.
It's a little harder than it sounds. The margin for error here is paper-thin, and if you haven't revved up the car properly the second that racing light turns green, you've just allowed your opponent the extra oomph that could win him or her the race. You can even start too early if you hit the launch button early by accident, thereby automatically ceding your victory to your opponent.
Still, all hope isn't lost if your timing wasn't quite as perfect. Your opponent could miss the crucial shifts mentioned above, for instance, and you could make up for the lost time if your car's decked out well enough through upgrades from the showroom. The beauty of Racing Rivals over competitors like CSR Racing is that you're performing all of these actions yourself, and the resulting need for constant participation in the roughly 15-second matches imbues Racing Rivals with an unflagging sense of urgency.
This being a free-to-play game, there's naturally a heavy emphasis on transactions with premium currency, although fortunately the bulk of these are focused on the licensed cars you can buy with gems through the shop. Many of the upgrades, on the other hand, you can purchase through your winnings. The game itself doesn't force such microtransactions on you, and indeed, you can get through the entirety of the campaign without having to spend a dime. Keep in mind, though, that Racing Rivals does lock you into the car you chose at the beginning of the game, so you'll have to complete the entire tournament for the car you choose before you acquire one of the other three cars without premium currency.
But Racing Rivals comes into its own with the real-time multiplayer mode, and this is where its greatest chance for longevity lies. With human players, you have little idea of how the match will turn out, and this unpredictability makes each one of the matches a surprise. Even better, the short matches mean you're not stuck with a particularly nasty opponent for too long. On the downside, even superb takes on digital drag racing such as this lose their appeal with too much repetition, but if you play it in short bursts, you'll find that few other rival games offer thrills quite like those in Racing Rivals.
- Real-time multiplayer racing. Challenging campaign. Accessible controls. Most content available for free.
- Repetitive matches, but of course, it's drag racing. Some pricey premium items.