Ride or die.
Now here’s a game I knew virtually nothing about except that it was a futuristic racing game exclusively on the New 3DS. I was thinking it would be similar to F-Zero or Fast Racing NEO, but it’s really more like “what if Star Fox had racing sequences?” Lifespeed is a fun game, but Wee Man Studios made some questionable design decisions that htamper the experience.
The game’s Story mode (which also functions as the tutorial) offers up a plot that’s equal parts Death Race and The Hunger Games, with a genre-standard “Chosen One” thrown in for good measure. In between races, story beats are doled out via comic panels with an interesting painterlyhand-painted aesthetic. Unless you’ve already seen them, cutscenes are not skippable. When you’re actually off to the races, Lifespeed is perfectly competent. Races take place in long enclosed tubes that are dotted with various hazards to avoid. You can move your ship all over the place and fly through rings to get boosts, health, and weapons. This is where it feels like Star Fox.
Interestingly, you do not have direct control over your speed. All you can do influence your ship’s velocity is to brake or fly through boost rings. Otherwise, your driver pretty much has his pedal to the metal the whole time. This took some getting used to, but with all the other visual information you’re juggling, it was kind of nice to not have to worry about feathering the throttle. Weapons include things like lasers, missiles, a shield, and mines. There’s a lock-on mechanic that requires a little too much precision to be useful. Missiles aren’t just Red Shells that automatically seek out an opponent—you have to be close to your opponent and target them for a few seconds before the missile is locked (mines have a similar lock-on for opponents to your rear, but the lock-on is even less intuitive).
The game looks great and flies along smoothly, even in 3D. The same can’t be said for the music, which was an afterthought. There are, however, issues. For one thing, there are only eight courses. This would be more forgivable if the courses were more interesting, but there’s only so much you can do with enclosed tubes. A couple tracks have shortcuts to find, which is nice. Story Mode doesn’t save your progress between races, so if you have to quite for some reason, you have to restart from the beginning. Bizarrely, though, you can skip cutscenes you already saw the first time. Cutscene-viewing is saved, but not your race progress! Many courses are littered with environmental hazards which are generally easy to avoid. Some sections, however, include turrets and energy bursts that can disable your ship. These particular hazards are hard to see and almost impossible to avoid—you won’t see them until they’ve shot down your ship. One of the items you can find is a temporary shield, but it rarely comes up. One other thing I’ll mention: when your ship hits a wall or door head-on, it simply stops moving, and since there is no reverse, you just have to push through the blockade or squirm around it. It’s clumsy and brings the game to a grinding halt.
Aside from the Story mode (which offers four difficulty levels), there’s Single Race (Time/Score Attack) and Championship (Arcade). These non-Story modes let you pick between ten different racers (and one unlockable one) with different ship stats, which mixes up the experience. You can also check online leaderboards, both global and your friends list. The leaderboards don’t show times, though, but scores—you are scored at the end of each race based on your overall performance. I like this in theory, but scores are harder to compare than times, especially because you don’t know how those scores break down. Note that there is no local or online multiplayer.
Lifespeed is a good game that I enjoy, but I recognize its shortcomings. I would like to see what Wee Man could do with a sequel, because there’s a solid core here.