Three years ago, Futurlab released the excellent Velocity 2X on the PlayStation 4 and Vita, wowing us with its unique rhythmic take on action platforming and shooting. Since then, the studio’s gone relatively quiet and hasn’t released any games, due to a myriad of reasons. Imagine, then, the excitement when Futurlab revealed Tiny Trax just ahead of E3 this year, a quirky new PlayStation VR project. We got to spend some hands-on time with the game and came away feeling quite hopeful for what’s to come.
The gameplay of Tiny Trax is – much akin to Velocity 2X – quite easy to pick up, but quite difficult to master. The controls are pretty simple – hold down the trigger to go, and use the stick to drift turns – but the main hook of the gameplay comes from these drifts. When coming around a corner, moving the stick will extend or compress a little green half circle gauge, and your job is to keep the tip of it inside a small sweet spot. As you do so, a boost gauge will fill which you can use at any time with the press of a button to get the edge over your opponents.
What’s striking about this set up is how intuitive it feels. Rotating the stick as you come into turns feels natural, and the feeling of perfectly nailing a drift and rocketing out of the turn with a speed boost is simply euphoric. But it’s certainly not easy. Rotate too short or far, and your car will stall on the turn and lose a considerable bit of speed, and it took us a few rounds to get the feel for the turn.
In a bizarre way, the game feels a lot like Velocity 2X, but less so in terms of literal gameplay, and more in the spirit of its design. The name of the game here is about maintaining momentum, mastering the controls and finding that narrow path of perfection that’s beset on all sides by the threat of abrupt interruption. When you finally “get it”, consistently hitting the corners feels exceedingly rewarding, in a way that few other games manage to achieve. It feels earned, and the knowledge that your streak can come to a stop with the slightest error on your part adds a layer of tense excitement that really grabs your attention.
And, of course, then there’s the track design. We were told by a developer that the team was trying to nail that imaginative world that springs up in the mind of a boy playing with Hot Wheels in his room, and it's certainly managed to hit that nail on the head. Each track we played was distinct and memorable, and they all had a playful and whimsical atmosphere to them. Colours abound and details are abundant, and the VR puts you right in the middle of all of it.
Before starting each race, we found ourselves taking a few minutes to slowly turn in place and get a good look at all the angles of each stage, and were wowed at the artistic talent that has gone into their production. It’s the little touches – such as the music muffling when you put your head underwater – that make it feel real. And there’s quite a diversity of options on offer; from a futuristic space station to a pirate cove, it’s evident that the art team tapped the imagination of its inner 7-year-old in order to find the proper inspiration, and it’s paid off in a major way.
This particular writer doesn’t own a PlayStation VR headset, but Tiny Trax certainly has made him consider picking one up. It’s not the kind of game that you would expect to play on a VR platform and that’s exactly why it’s so compelling. From its tight gameplay to its awe-inspiring visuals, Tiny Trax is shaping up to be a must-have game for PSVR and certainly seems to be a worthy follow up to the sublime Velocity 2X. If you’re looking for a game that’s focused on providing fun and engaging gameplay first and foremost, keep your eye on this one – it seems that Futurlab has captured lightning in a bottle once more.
Have you already given Tiny Trax the greenlight? Is this the type of game you'd like to see more of on PlayStation VR? Drift into the comments section below and let us know.