For some reason, the majority of racing games seem to focus on high performance sports cars. Yes, the Vita has seen futuristic racers such as Wipeout and Switch Galaxy but the genre is still usually dominated by vehicles of the four-wheeled variety so Night Riders makes for a welcome change…
Taking it’s inspiration from Sega’s classic arcade racer Hang On, Night Riders is a 3D motorbike racing game set across 4 different courses spanning a total of 10 different stages. Before you start you are faced with what looks like a fairly daunting menu screen with more options than you’d expect to find on a PlayStation Mobile game. The first is the Player option and allows you to select the player profile that you want to use for the game. It’s fairly basic, just allowing you to enter your initials, but you can create several profiles for different players for those of you who share your PS Vita with several friends or family members and profiles can be changed easily from this menu.
Following this is the Difficulty option, allowing you to choose from four difficulty settings from Very Easy to Hard with the game defaulting to Normal. Following that is the Music selection allowing you to alter the in-game music. Initially only one piece is available but more are unlocked as you progress through the game. The next two options, Courses and Tracks are the main part of the game and I’ll mention those in a moment. The final one is a web link to the author’s site.
The two that feature the game itself are Courses and Tracks. In Courses you choose which of the four courses you want to race on and each of these is made up of a number of individual stages. You have a set amount of time to get to the end of each stage and if you manage it your time is extended and – as you can probably guess – you’re then up against the clock to get to the end of the next stage. Each stage has a different look to the one before it and while the visuals mainly consist of a plain road and gradient backgrounds, the stages look different enough to keep things varied and things move along at a breakneck pace to give you a fantastic feeling of speed.
It’s not just you and the open road though as there are other bikes on the road as well. As with classic racers like Out Run, you’re not in direct competition with other vehicles, just the clock, but you still have to avoid everything else on the track. Colliding with other bikes won’t cause you to crash but it will slow you down and when time is so precious, it’s the last thing that you need! The Tracks mode provides the same basic gameplay but just across a single stage which you have already completed in the Course mode and is a time trial where you will need to try to beat your previous record (as kept in your profile data).
I have to be honest and say that this game really took me by surprise. When I saw this on the PSN Store, the screenshots didn’t inspire me that greatly. It appeared as if nothing actually happened in the game other than a solitary rider on a track and it didn’t instill much confidence. It wasn’t until seeing a video of the game in action that I decided to take the plunge and it’s certainly one of those cases where the screenshots do more harm than good. In fact, the game plays incredibly well. It’s a fast paced racer which reminded me not only of Hang On but also Epyx’s Super Cycle on the Commodore 64. The tracks themselves aren’t overly tough but the timescales are tight enough to prove challenging and keeping on the tracks while avoiding all of the other bikes around stops the game from being too easy. The controls are a joy to use and the bike is incredibly responsive and that’s what really makes Night Riders work so well. Acceleration is handled with X, with circle to brake (not that you’ll ever use it!) and steering using the left stick. This works like a dream and rather than extremely rigid movements the analogue stick allows for very precise and controlled steering throughout the game so you feel in total control at all times.
Visually while it’s not a textured, detailed 3D game in the same way we have already seen with the other recent Sega arcade clone Bloodred Wyvern, the tracks are clear and move smoothly and the racers are nicely animated, well defined and look good – reminiscent of Tron I’d say – even if they’re not the greatest example of PS Vita / PSM visuals. Sound wise, the effects are nothing to write home about with sparse engine noises but the music is quite good and is of a suitably high tempo to fit the game perfectly.
Back to the gameplay though and I found Night Riders extremely addictive. Gameplay is fast and there’s plenty of variety with the game to keep you coming back even once you’ve completed the main Course Mode but it has that elusive appeal that drives you to want to complete each course in the same way that all of Sega’s arcade racers did. You always get a sense of how close you are to each checkpoint and know that you’re able to either get that little bit closer or even reach the next stage if you have that “extra go” so you’re drawn into continuing to play.
It has to be said that while PlayStation Mobile is starved of good racers at the moment, it doesn’t mean that gamers should settle for second best in buying whatever comes along but there’s no need to worry with this one. It’s a fantastic racing game and should be an essential purchase for anyone. Great fun and the author has promised more updates in the future. I for one can’t wait.
At A Glance
- Title: Night Riders, 3D Arcade Racing
- Publisher: baka-neko.fr
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Cross Play: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 12Mb