Well, this is quite the departure for VooFoo Studios, the developer responsible for the likes of Pure Pool, Hustle Kings, and Pure Hold'em. Mantis Burn Racing is, as the title suggests, a racing game, but it's a rare example of a top-down arcade racer. This sub-genre has obviously seen better days, and with the prestigious Micro Machines nowhere to be found, many studios have attempted to bring this type of racer back, to varying degrees of success. Does this rough and tumble racer make the podium, or does it fall behind?
The answer is, unfortunately, not that straightforward. You are introduced to Mantis Burn Racing's surprisingly lengthy Career Mode by a nameless mechanic. He acts as your tutorial, and brings you up to speed regarding the game's structure. There's no story to worry about here – this is a pure top-down racer with almost no frills.
There are no weapons or pick-ups to worry about, either. This is all about the racing, the lap times, and the leaderboards. The career is split into seven seasons – three Rookie, three Pro, and one Veteran – and each consists of several events. These can be anything from straight-up races to overtake challenges, and coming first earns you gears. Gears are required to unlock the final event in each season so that you can progress, and there are secondary objectives for each race that'll earn you extra gears if you can pull them off. For example, winning the race without using boost, or drifting a certain number of metres over the duration. Striving for these extra gears is fun and tests your skills, and you'll need to go for them later on to move your career forward.
You also earn XP as you race and level up, which unlocks better cars for you to purchase and stat-boosting upgrades for you to assign. There are three vehicle classes, and three vehicles in each class: one Rookie, one Pro, and one Veteran, for use in the respective seasons. The classes are the typical light and nippy, medium and balanced, and heavy and lumbering, with each controlling differently and suited to different events. The upgrades can be applied to any car in any order, allowing you to modify them to your tastes. Filling a car's upgrade slots allows you to level it up, providing you with yet more slots. It's an interesting system that gives you the freedom to soup up your favourites as you see fit.
All these RPG-like systems wouldn't mean much unless the racing itself wasn't up to scratch, and thankfully, on the track is where Mantis Burn Racing finds its feet. The controls are very simple, and the racing feels perfectly fast and fluid. It doesn't take long before you're able to fling your car around hairpins without even thinking about it, and there's a certain physicality and heft to the vehicles that makes races feel very tactile. The first season or two feel very easy, but the challenge eventually catches up with you, and the later stages of the career make for some nail-bitingly close races.
It is a shame, however, that the locations you're racing through aren't that interesting. There are two environments with a fair number of tracks each – a dusty, off-road area and an on-road cityscape. They're different enough from each other, and actually look pretty good with plenty of environmental detail. Unfortunately, by the time you're half way through the career, you'll be getting bored of seeing the same locations over and over again.
The soundtrack, too, is a weak point. The music is repetitive, dull, and ultimately forgettable. The presentation in general feels a little lacklustre, with a UI that's functional but rudimentary and graphics that, while relatively decent, are quite dull. Performance meanwhile is perfect in single player and online, but split screen brings up some noticeable slow-down.
We know it sounds like we're being down on Mantis Burn Racing, but it should be made clear that the fundamentals here are spot on. The racing itself is fun and fast-paced, and the upgrading system works well to keep you coming back for a good few hours. It's just unfortunate that pretty much everything else doesn't quite measure up. The music, the environments, and the presentation all fall behind, which is a shame, as VooFoo Studios has the foundations of a strong top-down racer. With updates, the game could blossom into something more interesting, but as of right now, its decent gameplay just about overtakes its shortcomings.