Having recently posted a review of Art Style: Orbient in an attempt to get a little more recognition for a great, underplayed WiiWare gem, I now want to turn my attention to another Art Style game that I played and enjoyed upon its release which also deserves some consideration. Art Style: light trax debuted in 2010, and was subsequently all but ignored. This, however, is a shame, because it is definitely a title worth taking a look at. So if you’re sitting around wondering what to do with some of those leftover WiiWare points that won’t transfer over to your brand new Wii U, this review may very well give you the answer.
When I was first looking into Art Style: light trax back in 2010, but before I got my hands on it, my initial impression was that it was a racing game. And this is not entirely untrue, it is a racing game; or at least in part. But Art Style: light trax also eschews some of the core mechanics of the racing genre and replaces them with puzzle game mechanics, creating a unique hybrid that feels distinct from anything that I have played before.
Yes, this is a game about moving lines around. And it is awesome.
Art Style: light trax pits you as a line of white light in a race against lines of various other colors of light. If you think that it is racist that your line is white, you’re a bit out of luck, but that is your only option. When you start your first race, you will see the track from the top down and the light lines will be moving left to right, which is already a bit of a diversion from your typical racing game. But soon enough the perspective shifts and the game has you racing directly into the screen. This is not the last time the view will change on you; Art Style: light trax utilizes perspective to the fullest effect, and at times you will even be racing upside down or out towards the player. This may sound like it would make for some complicated turning mechanics, but as I said above, Art Style: light trax throws out a lot of what you expect to see in a racing game, and turning is one of the first things to go. The game handles the turning for you.
I imagine that some of you have just lost interest. What kind of racing game does the turning for you? Why did Nintendo dumb down another game for the casuals? Stupid Wii! Etc. Bear with me here. You can’t try to judge this game as a traditional racing game because it’s not, and believe me when I say that Art Style: light trax is far from a casual game; it’s pretty hardcore, actually. But I digress. Instead of having you focus on turning like in most racing games, Art Style: light trax has you focusing on lane placement. You see, each line of light takes up a lane, and no two lines can exist in the same lane at the same time (although you can cross over a line to get to the other side.) However, placing yourself in a lane directly next to that of a line that is in front of you lets you build up boost power from their light. This is precisely where the puzzle element starts to come into play, because rarely can you brute force your way into a top position. Instead you have to have a sense of where you are headed, what might get in your way, which lane you should be in to have the maximum chance of success, and how to get into that lane before the competition does. This isn’t to say that Art Style: light trax is a slow, calculating game either. There are still several obstacles on each track to avoid (including many that move, often in groups), and boost pads and power-ups to hit, etc. that require you to think and act on the fly, so you had better hope that both your mind and your reflexes are in top shape. And if you run out of the limited amount of hearts that you have, you lose the race instantly. You can also partake in a little risk / reward and trade a heart for a speed boost, but extra hearts are not exactly overly abundant, so this trade-off has to be strictly regulated.
Art Style: light trax is a better Tron game than any Tron game ever made.
The above gameplay is accompanied by a very clean control scheme which uses the Wii remote in the “classic” position. You can switch lanes with the digital pad, the 1 button controls the brakes, the 2 button your boost power, and the A button uses any power-up that you may have acquired. And that’s it. It’s an Art Style game, and Art Style means simplicity.
The main mode of Art Style: light trax is the “light tours” mode, where you compete in one of the five sectors of three tracks each, as well as ride on a “freeway” in between sectors that connects them together. Additionally, you can race any tracks that you have unlocked individually to try to beat your best time in “light races”, partake in “freeway” mode where you try to get as many points as you can on the freeway in a limited amount of time, or participate in one of the various unlockable modes. The tracks can get very difficult in the later sectors, and you are bound to fail many times before you finally achieve success, so if you intend to play through everything in the game, it may take a bit longer than you would expect.
On the presentation side, Art Style: light trax utilizes the graphical aesthetic that permeates all of the Art Style games, which is to say that it has very simple, minimalistic graphics. What you see in the images that I have posted with this review is, essentially, everything there is to see in the game; simple wireframe tracks, colored lines to represent the racers, a few objects like speed boosters and other simple track elements, and rarely anything at all in the background. Personally, I enjoy the purity of the Art Style games, but you’re certainly not going to be pulling out Art Style: light trax to impress your friends with its graphics. Of course, you’re probably not trying to show off the graphics of your Wii in 2013, period.
Sometimes all that you need in life is a chance of perspective.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, blew me away. A part of me still can’t believe that one of the sickest soundtracks that I have heard in video games, period, is hidden within an obscure Art Style game that few people have played. Art Style: light trax’s soundtrack is an odd mix, combining emotional 8-bit sounds, fat drum and bass beats, soft, subtle beauty and utter experimental weirdness into one coherent whole, resulting in an eclectic blend that touched me on several levels. Those who know me around here know that I take video game music very seriously, and even write my own at times, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the soundtrack of Art Style: light trax is now one of my biggest video game musical influences. I had a lot of trouble narrowing down my examples above. The entire soundtrack is brilliant, and it sets the perfect tone for the game.
It’s difficult for me to find many negatives in a game with such a limited scope by definition, other than the simple fact that you either get into the core concept, or there isn’t much here for you. Still, there is a lot of variety between the fifteen tracks and the freeways, so I’m not sure that the simplicity complaint typical of some of the Art Style games really applies to Art Style: light trax anyway. There are a few issues with the camera angles at times though, which can make it difficult to determine exactly what is going on and anticipate your next move, but even these are rare and usually only for a short section of the track in question.
Although Art Style: Orbient is my favorite of the Art Style games that I have played, Art Style: light trax is right there behind it. Art Style: light trax is a good example of exactly what makes the Art Style series shine when it is at its best; a simple, unique concept expanded upon enough to give it depth. The visuals are pretty basic, but they are combined with a seriously amazing soundtrack that pushes the overall presentation to a higher level than I originally expected. I’m not sure whether to recommend the game to racing fans, puzzle fans, fans of video game music or just “everyone”, but if you have 600 points laying around on your Wii, this is a game well worth experiencing at that price. Even if you don’t, you still may want to check it out. If nothing else, it should make your ears pretty happy.
And at the end of it all, you’re on your own. (Except for that yellow guy...)
I would love to play more Art Style WiiWare games, including this one! It's a tough balancing act when there are so many games to play.
Good review Zero! I like how this game is more than just a racing game. Because of your review, I think this is the first time I have a better grasp of why people find this game engaging. It's definitely on my Wanted List!
I can't listen to the music at the moment, but I appreciate the links you posted, and any time a game manages to combine awesome music with gameplay, I'm definitely a hundred times more interested than ever.