NASCAR Arcade Rush is unashamedly an arcade kart racer–When I first saw screenshots I was hoping for a Rumble Racing or Burnout clone, but what we have here is more akin to Mario Kart meets Disney/Pixar CARS–without the platform game mascots, weapons or cars with eyes and personalities. Several real venues have been heavily stylised, extended and turned into fantasy tracks, so despite what is presumably an expensive licence, there is next to no similarity to real NASCAR racing–but Goodyear tyres do make an appearance.
Like most "kart race" games, this one (let's refer to it as "NAR" from here on) has boost pads, which come in two different types; blue ones will accelerate you briefly, while yellow ones will give you more of a boost and refill your nitro gauge slightly. Long boost strips (both blue and pink–no idea what the pink ones do differently to the blue ones) give you a massive boost. You should obviously try to line up the car with these for as long as possible, and nitro boosting onto a boost strip is also a good idea. Passing through the pit lane will refill your nitro gauge completely, but some of the pit lane entrances are hard to spot, and the rest of the field often won't pit meaning because the speed in the pit lane is limited, they often all stream past you. So don't make the rookie mistake (like I did) of entering the pit lane on the final lap and going from 1st position to last!
The controls are as you'd expect; Right trigger to accelerate, 'A' to use your limited nitro boost, Left trigger to brake/reverse (hopefully you won't need reverse very often, but it can be necessary), and there's not too much use for brakes either, other than the occasional hairpin bend, which may require a quick dab of the brakes before getting back on the gas. The racing is all about going flat out, hitting the boost pads and strips and using your nitro boosts wisely, as well as keeping off the walls and avoiding collisions with other cars.
Every single game seems to have some sort of levelling system nowadays, and NAR is no different. Levelling up unlocks new tracks and race series. Bumping other competitors repeatedly will make them a "rival", and beating them in the current race and future races will award you with some bonus XP.
Before I get too many laps into this “race” I think the game has a basic problem, and that is that the only camera view is too low, meaning limited forward vision and cresting blind rises and jump ramps is a fraught business as you don't know which way the track goes…This can also mean a car directly behind you partially obscures your view, albeit momentarily (see pic below). This fixed camera position could be because raising it reduced the sensation of speed to an unacceptable level, but it's definitely too low for comfort in a game with so many of those horrible blind crests. This of course means learning the tracks is key, which isn't necessarily a bad thing–if you find the racing engaging enough to race the same track enough times to learn it.
There are only two difficulty settings: Elite and Rookie, and I was daft enough to attempt my first race on the Elite setting. Much like the real thing (and it may be the only thing it has in common other than venue names and the tyre supplier) there is a lot of contact between the cars, and the AI are highly aggressive–overly so in my opinion. After 5 races on "Elite" my best position was 4th and I'd had enough of leading and then getting rammed into a crash or spin (see video below). This wouldn't be so bad if you could bash them back ala Burnout and send them flying into the wall or a spin, but this is next to impossible as they seem glued to the track. To retain my sanity I reduced the difficulty to Rookie. This was much more playable and fun for a couple of cups (a total of 6 races), but by that time I was bored with races that seemed predictably fixed, and sometimes had as little as 2 seconds between first and last position-the field always seems to race as a pack and the game has an obvious "catch-up" on it if you're trailing.
Playing on Elite and getting mugged regularly had seriously put me off NAR and I actually longed to play another game, another genre–any game, any genre really. Returning later after a lengthy Starfield session I discovered that I'd learned tracks well enough to win Rookie races and had some fun, but although I won one race by 20 seconds even these punish even the mistakes harshly. If the type of racing game that sends you from first place to last because of a minor error annoys you, then you really need to avoid NAR. No matter how much I played on Elite (and I eventually managed to win several races and cups) it always felt like I was gonna be cheated out of a win, with the AI cars always snapping at your rear bumper like a pack of hungry wolves. If I had a fiver for every time I've raced toward the finish line only to be pipped by one or more cars travelling at impossible speeds... Are the devs trying to make players rage quit?
The game has online racing, either a quick race or online cup series, and I'd love to be able to tell you about it, but despite sitting there in an open lobby like Billy No-Mates on several occasions I couldn't join a game or get anyone to join my game–not even another reviewer. I even tried making an Xbox group, so far without any replies, so maybe that's a bad sign, or maybe I need a new deodorant.
I may be wrong, but while there are several cosmetic customization options including car, wheels, wing, sponsor (changes the livery), driver helmet & race suit, and even emotes for online racing, shouldn't there be upgrades too? The wild difficulty spikes may not have been so jarring if you could make your vehicle less vulnerable to collisions, or have more nitro boost–heck, how about missiles, oil slicks or banana skins? If it's aimed at kids, and I presume it is, what this game needed is more testing because it's too darned hard, but also more features–maybe like the Mario Kart-esque weapons I mentioned, to get proper, satisfying revenge with. With vehicular weapon-based games being so popular these days it would have been a natural fit.
I think it's time I waved the chequered flag on this one and bring it to an end. I feel that NAR has a strange design ethos. I mean, while there's nothing wrong with reimagining famous tracks, you wonder if the track designers were smoking something wacky. A lot of race fans will know that Detroit, Michigan is the US capital of automotive manufacture (which explains why you race through a car factory), how many people who play this will know that they give a clock to the winner of the Martinsville race? (Which kind-of explains why the track is a giant clock, complete with moving hands, cogs and pendulum.) You can't help but admire the work that's gone into some of the tracks (Daytona and Talladega are my personal favourites), but I'd rather have had more tracks and less pointless detail, flashy neon effects and oversized features–this isn't NASCAR: Micro Machines (uh-oh, did I just give them an idea for a NAR 2?)... Oh and weapons–this game really needed weapons, a choice of camera views–and how about a replay mode!? Although while it's by no means a bad game and certainly gave me some thrills as well as spills, and it's nowhere near "full price" by today's standards, at a price of £39.99 I think it's a bit overpriced. Definitely worth picking up if you see it on sale and fancy a challenging arcade race though.