Lifespeed (New 3DS eShop) Review
It’s been a long while since I’ve sunk my teeth into a racing game, so I was keen to give Lifespeed a go. Upon first glance, it seemed like a game with F-Zero vibes, rocking a futuristic aesthetic and high speed thrills. Granted, I’ve never played F-Zero itself, but thinking about the time I spent speeding through Mute City in Mario Kart 8 had me pumped.
That excitement quickly waned when I was greeted with a loading screen that lasted a little too long for comfort. The background music had stopped and I had been waiting for a good couple of minutes before I realised that something had to be wrong. I immediately tried returning to the home menu, but then it became apparent that the game froze. At first, I chalked this up to be the fault of my 3DS, and moved on. However, after testing out the other digital games in my library and seeing they were fine, then having the exact same loading problem again when I was deep into playing made it apparent that this bug was from the game itself. A worrying start.
Luckily, the bug wasn’t game breaking and I was soon able to get into the real meat of the software and see what it was all about. In short, there are three main modes: Story, Single Race and Championship. Story Mode and Single Race are self explanatory, and Championship is essentially the Grand Prix of the game, allowing you to participate in a number of races before tallying your score at the end.
This is a really pretty game. All the maps are vibrant and full of colour, and the sci-fi aesthetic feels great to fly through. Paired with the incredibly smooth frame rate, it makes for a total rush. I was enjoying the world that I was racing in, and was impressed with what I was seeing. At least, that was my initial impression. There was a point where repetition started to kick in, both visually and gameplay wise. The 8 tracks featured don’t showcase much variation, each including similar obstacles and very samey mechanical hallways. After putting the game down from a session of playing, I honestly couldn’t remember any specific track or any distinguishing features.
The gameplay itself is really confusing at first. It plays like what I’d imagine a Star Fox racing game to be, allowing the player to do barrel rolls while automatically moving you along. You don’t control the acceleration at all, which surprisingly works pretty well. Flying through tight corridors, you collect health, weapons, and speed boosts via giant rings scattered across each track. It’s unclear what each of these rings do at first and what benefits to the player each of them provide, leading to my first few races being a total mess. I was totally lost and overwhelmed by all the elements presented. The controls, items, or even what the HUD represents – none of it is clear at first glance. The only time the game decides to try to teach the player is within the loading screens of the Story Mode. There’s no ingame manual or anything else you can check otherwise, which is a little shocking.
Even when you get somewhat of a handle on the game, it’s still difficult to avoid projectiles thrown your way as there’s no clear indication that you’re in danger. ‘Clear’ is the key word here. The only indication you get is a big ‘warning’ text appearing on the bottom screen. When your eyes are fixated on the race on the top screen, it becomes a struggle to check all the text being thrown your way. Better audio-visual feedback would’ve benefitted immensely, rather than relying solely on hoping the player will notice text far away from the action. Making sharp turns is also a struggle. Your only two options in these situations are to brake or do a barrel roll. Both of these slow your momentum down to a halt, and it feels like barrel rolls were designed for dodging projectiles rather than this, so it winds up feeling awkward and unresponsive in this context. Seeing your ship spin out of control for unfair reasons isn’t any fun, and even coming first place feels rather unsatisfying considering it doesn’t feel like you had too much of a hand in the race itself.
I love story modes in games. It excites me when a game that doesn’t need a story mode has one, because usually it serves as my biggest motivator to play through it. With a heavy heart, it pains me to say that there’s a lot to be desired with the story mode featured in Lifespeed. A lot. The game tells its tale through a rather creative method, using comic panels to showcase scenarios and the situation the protagonists have found themselves stuck in. It has a cool premise too! The game is set in a dystopian future and a thousand years after a catastrophic war, the United Government has established a racing event called the Lifespeed in order to determine the worth of each planet. The winners are safe, but those who fall behind risk endangering themselves and the livelihood of their world. It’s very Hunger Games.
It’s interesting groundwork, but there’s no time taken to actually tell the player what’s happening. You’re dropped into this scenario with no introduction to the characters and no reason to care. Dialogue is sped along with barely any time to even read and process information, the characters are incredibly one note from what’s shown, and the game ends on a cliff hanger right when it reaches its climax with only a ‘To Be Continued’ waiting for you at the end of a journey. Let me be invested in this cool world you’ve created!
There’s honestly a good game to be found in Lifespeed. Unfortunately, the experience I had was plagued with too many problems and flaws to be one that I can say I loved. There’s a lot of potential in a lot of the ideas the game presents, but clumsy execution leads them to be squandered. It would be a delight to see the game with new improvements in the future, whether it’s an updated version or a brand new release.