Drawing inspiration from classics of a genre dating back to the early nineties, Strangely Named Studio’s debut title Bears Can’t Drift?! is a quirky Kart-Racing game set in an adorably stylised world where players take control of bears, drifting and racing across a variety of beautifully designed tracks and different game modes. Playable locally with up to four players in split-screen, the brainchild of Arran Langmead bears resemblance to past titles Super Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, but can this offbeat indie racer find its place inside an ever popular genre? and how does it stand up against the classics we’ve all come to know and love?
Bears Can’t Drift?!: PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Strangely Named Studio
Publisher: Strangely Named Studio
Release Date: 9 August 2016
Price: £7.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
As adorable and attractive looking as Bears Can’t Drift?! undoubtedly is, it fails at the most basic of elements a game can possess – a tutorial. I’m all for limited handholding, but to be greeted with zero text in a game that forces the player to drive around in order to activate certain in-game features such as difficulty doesn’t seem quite right, and at a first can be downright confusing. Bears Can’t Drift?! throws players into a small world hub world where the games difficulty can be switched, something I will admit took me a while to figure out. Scattered around the lush plains of the hub world are images of various bear emoticons that represent the game’s various levels of difficulty, ranging from easy through to hard. Pushing through one of these images before entering an event will elevate the games difficulty or lower it. While I appreciate the game might be targeting a somewhat younger audience I’m not sure of many young adults or small children for that matter who could work out the in-game features without some form of text to guide them on their way.
Once you’ve deciphered the riddles previously preventing you from switching the difficulty, players can choose to enter one of three adjacent worlds where the bulk of the games action lies. Players can enter each world of their own free will and take part in the games many events with scenery ranging from yet more lush green woodland to an elegantly themed Japanese land and snow covered land. Each world is broken down into four-five tracks, each offering three different modes to partake in either for plain old fun or to gain the most stars possible from each event.
Bears Can’t Drift?! shares many tropes from past Kart-Racing classics such as Super Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Nitro Kart with its wacky designed tracks, differing events to participate in and varied assortment of weapons with which to take out fellow racers, but for the most part it is an enjoyable experience, although it may be one that is intended for friends with the games couch multiplayer as opposed to a solo experience.
Prior to selecting a track, players must choose what mode they wish to take part in. First up there’s a Mario Kart style race event which pit players against a bunch of racers in a battle to see who comes out on top. In all, it’s not overly difficult to pick off fellow competitors on the lower difficulties with the weapon pickups laid out around each track boasting the kind of arsenal reminiscent of most games in the genre ala firing off missiles, collecting shields to protect yourself from an incoming attack or gaining a speed boost. The cutesy looking animal themed pickups can be upgraded by picking up the same item again, which in-turn makes that weapon or form of defense more powerful than before. So, a single missile didn’t hit the spot? well, pick up that same weapon again while holding the original missile and you’ll be firing off a barrage of missiles similar to that of a fireworks display on Guy Fawkes night, while also leaving a trail of destruction in your wake and further easing your path to victory.
With Time Trial being exactly what you would expect from this genre and no new elements introduced to the mix, the best mode by far in Bears Can’t Drift?! is Picnic Mode, an absurdly chaotic mode which finds players driving around parts of different tracks collecting large or small food items in order to grow their character to the point of exploding, which incidentally wins you the event. With items such as giant hot dogs, doughnuts and watermelon bouncing about or laying upon each track, players are forced to race frantically back and forth to fight over and collect each delicious treat, filling up a meter in the process. You would expect Race Mode to offer the most enjoyment in a game of this nature but in truth, Picnic Mode has so much more to offer and the fast-frenzy nature of the event will have friends fighting amongst themselves to be the top dog.
With no online mode to speak of Bears Can’t Drift?! is ultimately best played in four player local multiplayer, which could lead to some exciting nights in with friends or family and a few drinks but as a single player experience it sorely lacks the elements needed and essential to making it fun and worthwhile. While the tracks are at times brilliantly designed they sometimes drag on far too long with a fitting and catchy soundtrack that appears as if it is on a loop. Bears Can’t Drift?! won’t reach the heavy heights of Super Mario Kart, why would it? Nintendo’s brand of Kart-Racing came around in 1992, developers don’t want to supersede games like Mario Kart but simply find their place within a genre chocked full of exciting racing games. In that sense Strangely Named Studio’s have succeeded, Bear’s Can’t Drift?! despite its many mishaps, lack of tournament mode and tutorial text is an adorable, cute looking little Kart-Racer title that can be plenty of fun to play with friends.