Dream Track Nation Review: Race from Texas to the moon on Windows Phone
Dream Track Nation and Tiny Plane (two games from Canadian indie developer PowPow Games) arrived on Xbox Windows Phone simultaneously a few months back. Electronic Arts’ indie label Chillingo publishes both games, which are currently exclusive to Nokia users.
Seeing as how we reviewed Tiny Plane last week, I thought it only fitting that we take a critical lens to its brother Dream Track Nation as well. Is this physics-based racer really a dream or more of a nightmare? Read on to find out.
Race to the flag
Dream Track Nation falls into an uncommon genre: the 2-dimensional side-view racing game. The most similar Xbox Windows Phone game is Miniclip’s iStunt 2, but other than the viewpoint, these two titles could hardly be more different. The chief difference being that this one is way more “indie,” which we’ll explain as we go along.
In Dream Track Nation, players race from the starting flag to the finish flag in large, fanciful courses. The tracks are full of twists, turns, loops, and bottomless pits to contend with. Your vehicle can survive all manner of crashes and flips, but fall out of the course and you fail the race.
Two ways to play
The game offers four unique environments to race through: Texas, Alaska, New York, and the Moon. Each location has 20 tracks, for a total of 80 different tracks. The four areas all have their own background tunes as well.
These tracks can be played in two separate modes: Time Trial and Star Hunt. Switch between them with the buttons at the top of the area selection screen. Unlocking tracks in one mode does not unlock them in the other; each mode’s progress remains separate from the other.
In Time Trial, the objective is to reach the red finish flag as quickly as possible. Depending on your performance, you’ll receive a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Annoyingly, the game doesn’t tell you what medal you got at the end of the race. Instead, players have to back out to the level select menu in order to see their medals. Tiny Plane suffered from some UI issues too, but the medal issue here interrupts the flow of the game more.
Initially Dream Track Nation launched with just the Time Trial Mode. But Star Hunt was added shortly thereafter in an update. Star Hunt allows players to explore tracks without worrying about a timer. The goal is still to reach the red flag, but players also need to collect stars hidden throughout each track. The number of stars you collect determines which medal you receive.
The controls are a bit more complex than iStunt 2’s, but still really simple. Touching anywhere on the right side of the screen causes your car/truck/etc. to move to the right, while pressing left causes the vehicle to move in reverse and to the left. Tilting the phone controls the angle of the vehicle, so you can adjust its rotation in mid-air in order to land more smoothly.
Of course, these dream tracks are filled with bumps and situations that will prevent you from landing smoothly at times, causing the vehicle to flip over. In fact, sometimes the vehicle flips onto its back for no reason because the tilt controls are extremely wonky. Getting your ride back on its wheels ends up being kind of random, which stinks. I’d happily trade the tilt controls for a button to instantly set the vehicle right.
Physics for dummies
The semi-busted flipping foreshadows an even worse problem: the physics. Dream Track Nation is a physics-based game, so naturally its physics are kind of important. Unfortunately they fall well short of expectations. Hitting obstacles at odd angles can actually cause the vehicle’s and its wheels to wrap AROUND the obstacle. Once that happens, you pretty much have to restart the level.
The fourth set of tracks takes place on the moon, but all four areas essentially feel like they’re in space. Vehicles bounce and float around the tracks unpredictably and unrealistically, generally limiting players’ controls and slowing them down. The game’s far from unplayable, but it feels like an alpha version as opposed to a finished release.
Whereas the additional vehicles in Tiny Plane cost gold coins to unlock, you’ll gain vehicles automatically as you complete levels in Dream track Nation. Players start out in cars but eventually gain an assortment of trucks and motorcycles to drive too.
The vehicles seem to have different stats, but they’re hidden from the player. Generally, small rides like bikes go faster while larger trucks are more stable. Stability is way more important in this game, so I wouldn’t bother with the motorcycles.
One of Dream Track Nation’s coolest features is undoubtedly the ability to create tracks and share them online. The only other Xbox Windows Phone game I know of that allows players to share their created content is Amazing Alex.
The actual level editor interface, however, is about as intuitive as completing a tax form. Players will have to figure out what all the buttons do and how to move objects around on their own, because the game sure doesn’t offer any help. You do at least get an Achievement for creating your first track.
Confusing or no, some people have obviously figured the editor out because you can find a fair quantity of tracks to try. They download almost instantly, too. To play your own custom or downloaded tracks, look to the bottom of the area select screen.
Whereas Tiny Plane’s Achievements are time consuming and grindy, Dream Track Nation’s should only take about four hours or so to get. Several where broken at launch, but PowPow Games commendably fixed them very quickly with an update.
The vast majority of Achievements involve completing every track and winning gold medals on every track. You’ll need to decide whether to go for the golds in Time Trial or Star Hunt mode, because all of the golds need to be earned in the same mode for the final Achievement.
Assuming you stick to Time Trial, the completion times can be kind of strict. The busted physics and tilting often screwed up my runs. But tracks are only about a minute long, so retrying them multiple times won’t be too much of an ordeal. Sometimes you’ll even get lucky and grab a gold on your first try.
I hate to be hard on a game, but it’s tough to do anything else when a title’s core mechanics don’t work right. Dream Track Nation is a short and simple game hampered by terrible, terrible physics. Maybe they worked great on iOS and suffered in the conversion to Windows Phone. The game would certainly be a lot more fun if vehicles didn’t flip over so much and float around in the air when they should be falling.
This version’s saving grace is its relatively easy Achievements. Any game that can be completed in less than five hours is worth a look for Achievement hunters, regardless of quality. And maybe the physics won’t bug you as much as they did me, who knows?
Dream Track Nation – Nokia exclusive – Windows Phone 7 or 8 – 23 MB – $2.99 – Store Link
By Paul Acevedo