If you are a long-term iPhone user like yours truly, you may remember one of the first kart racing games on the App Store — Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D. The App Store was so young that developers had to stick ‘3D’ at the end of their game’s name just to gain attention. Some still do it today, but you’re not here to listen to me ramble on about app names and so on. You’re here for my take on Polarbit’s latest game — Cracking Sands (out now, $4.99). The publisher is known for their focus on vehicular games, finding success with Reckless Racing 2 and Raging Thunder 2, so it should be no surprise that Cracking Sands revolves around kart racing and power-ups.
The first thing you probably want to know is the controls. They are core to every racer, especially on a portable device that features an accelerometer that’s just waiting to be abused by developers. There is only one option for steering your vehicle — tilting. If you’re like me and prefer on-screen tapping far more than waving around your fragile device, then you’re going to have a hard time getting used to Cracking Sands. It feels imprecise and infuriating at times. It gets really annoying in later, more complicated races. This leads me neatly onto my next point: the perspective.
Polarbit chose a bird’s-eye view in-game. While fans of the publisher may be excited about this, others should not be. It’s extremely difficult to see what’s coming — something that’s extremely important in such a frantic racer. The tracks are varied, which is awesome, but you can’t see the next turning until the very last second. I had to replay the races one or two times to understand the track — something I should be able to do after the first lap.
On top of the typical ‘circuit’ race type, Polarbit has thrown in two new game modes — Elimination and Head of the Pack. In the former, the racer in last position is kicked out of the racer after a 16-second timer counts down to zero. In the latter, the player who stays in first place for 5 seconds gets a ‘point’. The first to 10 points wins the race. They are nice additions to the genre which make the game more interesting, but you only play these modes once or twice in a cup.
There are 9 cups with 5 or 6 races each. So yeah, there’s a lot of content. But my only complaint with all these cups is the organization of races. In some cups there may be 4 races based in a sandy desert and then all of a sudden a race in a darkened area. You can see a little map of where each race is before you enter a cup, but I expect all races to be grouped into one area before we move onto another location on the map.
As with any kart racer, the racetracks have to be fun. Really fun. And clever. Polarbit has nailed both of these aspects in Cracking Sands. There are power boxes spread out across the track, different paths and shortcuts to take, power pads, and more. However, as you read me ramble on before, these intuitive layouts are of no use when you can’t see much by controlling your racer from above.
Customization is rare in iOS racers, but Cracking Sands offers a very useful garage to do so. You can customize your kart from a selection of other choices, each with their own attributes. You can customize your character too, from their outfits right down to the nitty-gritty details like the mouth and eyes. Lastly, you can buy new weapons that have different cool effects. There’s a freeze gun, plasma gun, rocket launcher, vampire gun (don’t ask), and many more. All of these extra additions cost coins that you earn in games. As per usual, you can buy extra coins via in-app purchases.
The actual gameplay varies a lot. Sometimes you know what’s actually going on and other times you are being bombarded by every other enemy in the race, literally. If you’re first, the other racers may attack you all at once to throw you back into last place. It can get really competitive at times which is good for kart racers, but there needs to be some level of fairness.
iFanzine Verdict: Cracking Sands is a hopeful entry into the already-crowded racer market on the App Store. Although it does have its strengths – tons of content, cool racetracks, and lots of customization – its weaknesses far outweigh them. Online multiplayer is a nice addition to the game but if anything, it only makes the gameplay more frantic than it needs to be.