Raging Thunder for Palm OS Reviewby: Kris Keilhack
October 31, 2006
Arcade-style 3d racing simulators are a staple of the console and arcade gaming worlds. Surprisingly enough, the humble Palm OS has actually had a handful of quality arcade-style racers over the years. Race Fever and V-Rally were my personal favorites back in the days of OS 4. Palm OS 5 and its many permutations have brought us high-quality racers such as Xavier Martin's MicroQuad kart racer and Astraware's classic GTS Racing (my personal favorite).
Now Filao has released Raging Thunder, the latest contender to GTS Racing's throne. Read on for the full review and see if this new title from developers Polarbit can take the checkered flag.
Plot & Game Options
Four different gameplay modes are available; Quick Race, Arcade, Time Attack, and Championship. I usually used Quick Race mode for testing purposes, since I didn’t want to have the hassle of establishing a driver profile. Arcade Mode is similar to quick race but multi-leveled. I only played Time Attack mode once. Championship mode is surprisingly deep.
I was pleasantly surprised to see native support for my Treo’s green and red hard buttons to advance through menus and to accelerate if auto-acceleration is not enabled. Unfortunately, some screens incorrectly indicated the need to press the red button when, in fact, a press of the home button was required.
Here’s a title whose gameplay is, refreshingly, NOT billed by the publisher as "realistic". Filao make no bones whatsoever about the arcade style gameplay in Raging Thunder. Car physics and handling characteristics are wildly unrealistic (yet easy to control) and that suits me just fine. The CPU opponents are very good and even in the first stage or two of the race and will give quite a challenge to even experienced thumb-twitchers.
I was glad to see the infusion of several minor elements of nifty (if unrealistic) gameplay enhancements—jump ramps on some of the tracks, speed boost icons, and skulls littering the roadway that slow your top speed for a few moments. It’s not Cruisin’ USA but it’s got a bit more variety than the other handheld racing titles.
Graphics & Sound
Raging Thunder manages to somehow successfully convey a true sense of speed on a 2.5” LCD. The scenery is better looking than it has any right to look; despite the combination of exhilarating speeds and the small, resolution-limited handheld LCD the game really raises the bar as far as animation and colorful scenery are concerned. If I rated individual game categories, the graphics of this title would be 90% or better! There are some clipping issues in the game which is likely a necessary evil given the wide range of devices and processors Filao has certified the game to run on. Probably the closest comparison I can make to the amount of clipping would be an older 32-bit console port such as Sega’s old Daytona USA on the Saturn. Due to a scheduling and travel constraints I have only been able to load and evaluate this title on my Treo 700p so I am unsure if 320x480 mode is supported—my guess is that this is a 160x160 and 320x320 native resolution title only.
My only complaint about the eye candy is that it's difficult at times to maintain one's focus on the game while watching the pertinent onscreen indicators (race position, lap number etc). I imagine a larger 320x320 screen would do wonders to alleviate this eyestrain (and I have near-perfect vision).
The in-game sound effects are not as superlative as the graphics but are fortunately above average in quality and quite serviceable. A murky but suitably energetic score plays during the game while a slower, funkier style track plays during the title screen. Thankfully, the game prompts you at startup if audio should be enabled or disabled. I’d imagine this can be a boon for those of us not graced with the Treo’s hardware mute switch.
I encountered one potentially fatal bug on my 700p. I left the room to talk to someone while in the Raging Thunder title screen. When I returned nearly an hour later, my Treo’s screen was turned off but the game’s soundtrack was still playing at full volume. This could wreak havoc for someone’s battery life, especially if they are accustomed to Palm OS’s usually reliable auto-off feature.
Control & Misc
Play control is well suited to the smaller screens and compromised hard button controls of modern mobile devices. As mentioned above, I have not yet had a chance to evaluate this title on any device but my 700p but I've so far been very pleased with the control aspects of the title. The Treo's deeper contoured, more responsive d-pad is obviously better for this sort of title than the T5/T|E/TX's flat pad design. I'd imagine the LifeDrive's buttons would be a good fit for this sort of title as well. Long-time fans of the old Palm OS RaceFever 3D title will be disappointed to learn there’s no option for stylus-based control.
There’s a fantastic option in the control menu to toggle auto-acceleration on or off. While I’d never do this on a console or arcade title, the cramped button arrangement on a Palm device makes for “always on” throttle much easier for casual gameplay. Kudos to Polarbit for thinking to include this small but helpful feature!
The game comes in a single zip file and contains no PDF or text file documentation whatsoever. It runs flawlessly off of an SD card and the full version of the title occupies a mere 339k of storage space. I tested it only on a Treo 700p but Filao advises that it can run on the Treo 600/650 as well as the Palm Z22, Zire 72, T|C, E2, T3, T5, TX and LifeDrive. Filao’s product page also bizarrely indicates a “Camino” as a supported Palm product. Does anyone know if this was a codename for a previous Palm device like how “Oslo” was the T|T’s working title?
As is, Raging Thunder is one of the best showcase titles on the Palm OS in terms of visual impressiveness and high-speed playability. While the actual gameplay is fine, the title could use a bit more professionalism in the areas of explaining gameplay modes, menu options, course availability, and the like. A version update to address the power-off bug would also be warmly received. Shipping a title without any documentation whatsoever in the package is nearly a deal-breaker and could dissuade casual users completely. Even veteran gamers will be put off by this tragic, unforgivable omission. The main menu’s help screens do little more than give a few words
Time will be the true test if Filao is willing to make a long-term commitment to this title. I sincerely hope they do not take the easy way out used by many publishers (as MDM did in the past with their Palm OS MMC retail titles) by trying to simply milk as many sales out of the 1.0 release version as possible. Raging Thunder is a title that just oozes potential and just needs a final round of polishing to bring out an A+ shine!
My overall rating: 3.5 / 5