Funny cars are the big draw in TNT Racers, an arcade racing game as much about walloping rivals with giant cartoon hammers as it is about crossing the finish line in first place. Developer Keen Games has stocked this $10 effort for the PlayStation Network with plenty of hot rides, power-ups from the Hanna-Barbera school of racing, and 18 zippy courses that boast attractive scenery covered with deadly hazards. All that is missing is a good multiplayer scene, because virtually nobody is playing this fun party racer online at the moment.
If you have logged any time behind the wheel of a traditional arcade kart racer, you will come into TNT Racers knowing exactly what to expect. This is a zany game where crashes are common, track physics are stolid, and you take your finger off the gas only to laugh at the pileup you just caused. Nothing is taken the slightest bit seriously. Vehicles are like something out of a cartoon Cannonball Run, with your options ranging from ancient jalopies to Japanese burners to one entry that looks like a cross between a flying saucer and a hovercraft. None of the cars have anything like authentic handling or even seriously varying abilities; all of them grip the track and accelerate almost identically. Forget about any real-life racing concerns, such as drafting or trying not to smash into opponents all that often. You just floor it and try to get from start to finish as quickly as possible, which makes the game a great pick-up-and-play option, especially when you have friends over and a couple of spare controllers available.
Solo modes of play are split into Challenge, Time Trial, and Custom race options. You can also take on these options in multiplayer, both online and off, although as mentioned above, online players seem to be nonexistent at present. Challenge mode is where you find most of the game's content. It consists of three different series of 12 races in normal, fast, and turbo difficulties. New cars, tracks, and levels are unlocked with almost every victory. Individual races have differing goals that keep things interesting. There are four primary racing modes: Knock Out, Score, Time, and Lap. They have varying victory conditions, such as being the first to make it to the finish line, scoring the most points in a set number of laps or before a timer expires, or simply smashing your rivals up enough times to earn a win. Other variants are also tossed in and have you racing solo against the clock, zipping around trying to avoid explosive mines, and smashing into a specific number of obstacles before a clock ticks down to zero. You can also collect coins in some races, which earn you valuable points that go toward meeting the victory condition.
Power-ups are as big a part of the action in TNT Racers as the actual racing. You can collect more than a dozen different special abilities that let you smash up rivals with an earthquake-causing cartoon mallet, kick in a nitro-style speed burst, shoot candy out of rooftop cannons, lay down carpets of confetti mines, and even slow opponents in the lead by hitting them with a plunger that comes complete with an attached anvil. All are well balanced. None are game killers. And they each have tactical applications that help you when you're playing catch-up (fire an anvil or the candy cannon) or when you're trying to pad a lead (drop those confetti mines). AI drivers also know how to use the power-ups, so you always have to keep an eye on your opponents when they have some devastating piece of hardware mounted on their rides. They seem to focus on human drivers ahead of their other AI opposition, so you always have a lot to contend with in solo races.
Races are fast, in terms of both how quickly cars move and how quickly the races can end. The experience is shallow, but it's quick enough and has enough varied objectives that you rarely get bored. Courses feature a wide variety of terrain, including desert, arctic, and jungle routes. All come with weather effects like blowing sand and treacherous snow, which make it likely that your race will come to a premature end as you fly off the road into frigid waters or careen over the edge of a rickety jungle bridge. Any car caught off the bottom of the screen instantly explodes, which can see you knocked out of some races in the opening seconds if you're unlucky enough to get tangled up with an opponent right off the starting line. Many race types feature a shadow car mode, however, which instantly resurrects you after death. You can't win races as a shadow, but you can make life hell for your opponents and collect those valuable coins.
For the reasonable price of $10, TNT Racers throws in a lot of frills. Cars and tracks have a great deal of Saturday-morning cartoon charm. Maps are dotted with extra touches, such as fluttering palm trees, blowing desert sand, and colorful parrots. Some of these additions are a bit much, though, and can be a touch distracting. The game itself moves at a good clip, so you can't take your eyes off your opponents for a second, lest you curse those parrots instead of praising them. The camera isn't perfectly positioned, either, being a little too close to the action for comfort. It also moves in and out at inopportune times, occasionally twitching just enough to kill you when you're near the bottom of the screen. Lastly, the light and bouncy musical score is a highlight. The game has been dressed up with extravagant cartoon chase music straight out of an old movie. Granted, these tunes might be better placed in a Jazz Age speakeasy than in an arcade racing game. But you can't help but appreciate the songs for their great entertainment value.
TNT Racers may come with little in the way of originality, but the charming visuals and music and the varied courses and objectives make for an enjoyable racing game with a personality of its own. The lack of an online multiplayer audience is the primary disappointment, because this is a game that really shines when playing against other human opponents.