This is Space Ribbon. It's a brand new futuristic racing game where a bunch of old cars drive along a track being vomited out by a large panda head. You heard me right. I've spent some time with this Steam Early Access release and am ready to answer your questions. Let's crib this.
Wait ... what's this about panda vomit?
It's true, Space Ribbon sees you racing along a long track being generated by a giant animal head. It's not obvious at first, but the head is flying around space creating more track as it goes, so you never know how long a race will last. This is an admittedly goofy idea, but Space Ribbon isn't a wild and wacky racing game. In fact, aside from the whole panda vomiting thing, I would say this Early Access release is a little too serious. When I jump into a game with a giant panda head, I expect it to be a little wackier.
What we really have is a racing game that feels like a mix between wipEout and a demolition derby. You race along a narrow track avoiding the other cars and trying your hardest to get first. If you can manage that, you'll earn a new car upgrade and unlock the next tournament. There are no weapons and you can't push your opponents off the track, so it's up to you to get the most out of drafting the racers in front of you and making sure nobody passes you. Simple.
You say it's like demolition derby?
Don't get too excited, this is not the long overdue Destruction Derby sequel we've all been waiting for, but Space Ribbon does share some similarities. For one thing, you're driving a bunch of old clunkers. It's also a game where crashing into other cars is inevitable, even when you're trying your hardest to avoid any collisions. Actually, that ended up being my biggest complaint about this Early Access build. It's just so easy to get stuck on another car's geometry, and I hated that there was no way to restart the race. On second thought, the lack of a reset button is definitely my biggest complaint.
Do the developers have much experience with racing games?
Not really. Based out of Liverpool, Onteca is best known for their series of quiz games on iOS devices. They made games like Christmas Quiz, The Big Pup Quiz, Big Vampire Trivia, Big Hockey Trivia, A Chinese Big Quiz and Lindsay Lohan Star Quiz. Not the types of games that would prepare a developer to make a cutting-edge racing game. That said, there's no reason why they can't make the jump from trivia to futuristic racing. They have most of the basics in place; they just need to arrange it in a compelling way.
The developers say the finished game will be ready to go in "about six months," which seems like more than enough time to fix a lot of the problems and add a restart button. This game is in desperate need of some new levels and vehicles, since you'll see a lot of the same content from one race to the next. One of the cool ideas the game proposes is to have people racing on the course while somebody else builds the track in real time using a VR helmet. This sounds like a cool idea, but it will all come down to the execution.
When you create a game starring vomiting pandas, I expect the entire experience to be a little goofy. I was letdown for that reason, and hope they do something to bring in some wackiness. The current Early Access build offers a few cars and tournaments for $14.99, which is a bit steep given what comes in the package. The full version will be more expensive and offer full VR support, but I'm dubious people will willingly pick this over the hundreds of other racing games on the market. I'm going to keep an eye on this one and return with a full review when it's done.