We all know that looks can be deceiving, so I'm hardly breaking new ground by wheeling out such an old adage. When it comes to Joy Ride Turbo, nevertheless, I think it's an important point to begin with. It'd be incredibly easy to make a number of assumptions about this follow up to 2010's Kinect launch title; the problem is, many of them would be off-base.
BigPark Studios' latest project goes something like this. A jolly and immensely colourful arcade racer starring your very own Xbox 360 Avatars, it follows standard procedure to the letter. You'll know the drill by now; battle races bursting at the seams with a crazy range of weaponry take centre stage, pick-up-and-play controls headline the performance and dozens of cunning shortcuts return for a very welcome encore. Accordingly, you might presume that Turbo offers little but a dull repeat of well-trodden ground. Not merely due to any obvious parallels to the competition, however.
One understandable notion when you are presented with this downloadable 'sequel' would be that it's questionably similar to the game which preceded it two years ago, only with those hit-and-miss motion controls ripped out and replaced with a more traditional system. This isn't an illogical point of view. Although there have been a few notable changes which give this old girl a fresh spring in her step, Turbo still recycles courses and a lot of the same features from its precursor, new paintwork notwithstanding. A more cynical man than me might therefore observe that this is Kinect Joy Ride, only with the rough edges knocked off.
If we were to humour this point of view, the streamlined Turbo works wonders. Tight controls - newly shipped to your trusty 360 joypad - are wonderfully responsive. This makes racing the game's jaunty tracks a pleasure, with none of the irritating vagueness of the last entry in the series. Staying on topic, it's an easy control-scheme to get your head around too. This is an overwhelming tick in the box regardless of whether you're a veteran gamer looking for some light-hearted fun or a younger player who just wishes to tear up the tarmac. Much like its plumber-based rival, it's deeply accessible and fun in a light-hearted way.
Yet it's never wise to judge a book by it's cover. Despite the obvious conclusion, Turbo's roots go far deeper. If you pull back the curtain, this game is actually the realisation of an older dream.
Back in the mists of 2009, BigPark announced a free-to-play racer involving your 360 Avatars that Xbox LIVE members could enjoy without paying a single-penny. With micro-transactions (namely in the form of new cars or maps) bulking out the title, it created positive momentum for the controversial dashboard mascots that had been introduced the year before. And then vanished, only to re-appear some time later when Kinect hit shelves.
This is where those disparaging theories that Turbo is nothing but Kinect Joy Ride re-skinned start to ring hollow. Besides this hasty change of tack, the oddest thing about the whole affair comes from glancing over promotional videos from those old demos. Doing so will reveal just how much it has in common with its recently released counterpart. The maps shown from those events are almost identical, many of the same cars make guest appearances and even the additional Stunt Park (easily Turbo's best feature) moonlights here, albeit in a less developed form. So when we come down to it, Turbo appears to be the same game that we saw three years ago. Only now it's very much not free-to-play.
This bitter pill aside, it's almost a shame that we never saw it earlier; despite it's tried-and-tested feel, there are definitely glimmers of brilliance hiding underneath that formulaic nature. Truly, the greatest tragedy has to be that the brand's name was tarnished by badly performing motion controls on its Kinect-enabled relative when it had such potential waiting in the wings. As suggested above, the Stunt Park is one such inspired addition. Tricks - which earn power for your boost meter but are now mapped to the left or right sticks - are an amusing distraction in the standard races, but this aptly named mode is an entirely different story. Letting you loose in an open world of half-pipes, insane ramps, twisting gullies, collectables aplenty and more, it provides a liberating sense of freedom the rest of the title doesn't come close to offering even with its jovial proficiency in almost every other department. The ability to go and simply 'play' without anything to fence you in is a wonderful one, making this by far the most striking part of the package.
Sadly, though, it's the only one. Beyond this example, there literally isn't anything here that you won't have seen before despite commendably well-constructed foundations. There are three speed classes (masquerading as difficulty settings) along with the standard three weights classes, whilst time trials and pro-races which focus on driving skill rather than weaponry round out the package. Yet we've been here far too many times to keep you coming back for long.
The only novel twist which adds spice would be the concept that new cars and skins aren't unlocked after each victory; instead you're tasked with finding a number of parts hidden across the game's courses to get your paws on any other rides. This emphasis on exploration is refreshing. But that's it. There's nothing else whatsoever that strikes you as out of the ordinary. Following this train of thought, multiplayer, both online and off, is also exactly what you'd expect with a thoroughly paint-by-numbers approach. When Xbox LIVE deems that it's going to play ball, in any case - the former option is bogged down with glitches and annoyingly persistent lag.
It's not like the selection of maps helps matters. Due to the sheer amount of cups and challenges to work your way through, Turbo's offering of ten tracks becomes quickly repetitive. This issue is only compounded by their design, seeing them skinned with but one of three themes (seaside, desert or Eastern). Because of this they blend together, sucking a lot of the fun out of perfectly competent gameplay. An all too steady difficulty curve doesn't offer any respite, either, and though there are a couple of tracks which will test your driving mettle most are rather too simplistic.
Things only start to get properly taxing on the third and final 300 HP tier, but this isn't purely down to speed; I often felt that the game started to unravel a mite on this setting, especially when ramps and the like threw you into walls and thus out of the running for half a lap or so even when they should be helping you get ahead of the pack. It's not a deal-breaker, yet it's certainly noticeable - even small collisions could give the physics a funny turn, and this rains on Turbo's parade.
In summary, this particular Joy Ride doesn't offer much that we haven't seen before and you can almost certainly find the concept realised better elsewhere. What this brings to the fore is an odd conclusion. If I was to completely level with you (and I say this with the greatest irony, considering its flaws in the older version), taking Kinect out of the equation appears to have removed the only true unique selling point Joy Ride had. What's left is a bog-standard racer which doesn't push any boundaries or give you anything that would justify shelling out 800 MP for it.
It's a well-made and perfectly entertaining experience the majority of the time. Yet there isn't much under the bonnet that would fit the bill as 'memorable'. As a direct consequence, I'd find Joy Ride Turbo difficult to recommend; it's a solid effort that gives plenty of amusement for your cash, but it doesn't offer us enough reasons to care.