I'm a huge fan of Load Incorporated's XBLA racer, Mad Tracks. From the standard races to the goofy minigames and even the chaotic foosball with cars, I loved every second of it. Bought both expansion packs, spent hours upon hours playing with friends, and even have it on my memory card on the chance that I visit a friend's place and we need something to play on the 360. So, when I was given a chance to review their second XBLA racing title, Things on Wheels, I was all over it like a Twilight fan on Paramore tickets (shoot me later for saying that).
Things on Wheels is an arcade racer that has you driving RC cars around various rooms, yards, gardens and the like with the standard racing goal of getting to the finish line before your opponents (up to eight total racers). No arcade racer is complete without various items laying around to help you or hinder your opponents, and ToW is no different. There are four different items (boost, ice, lightning, and shield), and instead of them disappearing temporarily or being random like in nearly every other game they simply stay in the exact same spot. There are a few other race types, such as team racing or a time trial, but the idea remains the same: drive fast and get to that goal.
Mad Tracks fans will recognize and appreciate the detail that went into Things on Wheels. You'll race through bathrooms, gardens, yards, living rooms, and even over a slippery curling lane. The cars themselves are shiny and smooth, with nice little details down to the wagging RC antenna, and your cars and menus all seem to have a little bit of that "look of the future" you'd expect from a cartoon designed in the 40's or 50's. On the downside, there isn't much variety to the tracks, and unfortunately you'll see the occasional misspelled word or punctuation error (I'm a huge fan of proofreading, so it always saddens me). You'll also see a lot of the same things over the course of the game's 20 races, with more focus on the track design rather than the variety of backgrounds. The sounds of the game are standard racing game fare as you'll hear mostly your car, the sounds of power-ups, and occasional (or frequent) collision sounds based on what happens when cars hit different things. The music's got a nice touch to it as well, with a little bit of the same funk and flavor you heard in Mad Tracks.
The controls take a little bit to get used to. During the first few tracks, you'll probably find yourself hitting walls and skidding when you don't want to. For some odd reason, I found myself doing better with the faster yet "harder to control" cars than I did with the earlier vehicles, even when I went back after completing the game. Once you start getting the handling down, especially with the later cars, you'll be trying to shave seconds off your time with some success.
Unlike Mad Tracks before it, Things on Wheels is all about going fast hood-first toward the finish line. From your standard racing to the cooperative team races and time trials, your goal is to get from point A to point B as quick as you can. On one hand, this is great for people who enjoyed the racing in Mad Tracks, as it's essentially more of the same. On the other, people like me LOVED the wacky modes involving flinging your car onto a target or into vases, or the ones that had you playing soccer with cars. Those modes made Mad Tracks something fun for any occasion, serious or silly, and I can't help but feel it didn't help the game overall to focus on just the racing. Another change is the item system, as ToW has a mere four items, all of them fixed onto their one spot on the track. Sadly, this is another change that I wasn't a huge fan of, as one item (the ice one) felt completely useless, and the lightning one was a bit overpowered if you caught anyone in front of you (it hits ALL of them) without a shield or boost, slowing them down a couple seconds for you to zoom by. If you're in first, you feel pretty helpless as the seven racers behind you zap you for a solid 10 seconds. Take out the ice for a "red shell" and the lightning for, say, banana peels or oil slicks, and it'd make for more interesting battles among close competition. Finally, I had some trouble with the larger tracks having some seriously wide open areas with little guidance on where to go next. I got the idea after a couple laps, but anyone who hasn't played that track will find it quite lacking in the fun department when they're lost for the fifth time that race. Even with these complaints, the game is still a blast with friends, just as its predecessor was.
When the day is over, you probably zoomed through the whole single player experience in about four or five hours tops, maybe a bit longer if you bumped the AI up to a harder difficulty. Really, though, the game is all about having people over or playing on XBox Live. If you're looking for more of the chaotic multiplayer racing you found in Mad Tracks without the minigames, Things on Wheels isn't a bad place to start, especially for a mere ten bucks.