Ever since the early days of Android, developers have been trying to craft their own perfect WipeOut clone. Starting with Speed Forge 3D, all the way through the recent – and especially blatant – FlashOut, they’ve been chasing the impossible speed and twisting, futuristic tracks of Psygnosis’ classic hovercraft racer, and frankly, none of them have come that close. Repulze seems, on the surface, to be one of the most overt copycats yet, but ultimately surprises with some actual originality.
Repulze still borrows liberally from the WipeOut playbook, of course. The winding tracks and insane speed would do the classic racer proud, and even the handling of the various hovercrafts feels similar. There are wild jumps, high-speed takedowns, and a throbbing techno soundtrack that all help to evoke that classic WipeOut feeling. Compared to some of the similar games on Android, Repulze really manages to do justice to its inspiration, with top-notch graphics, real challenge, and an intense sense of speed.
Despite the obvious influence, Repulze’s mechanics are actually very different. Rather than driving over various weapons and power-ups, there are red and green “energy gates” littered throughout the stages. At a given moment, your ship is set to one of these two polarities, and running through three gates that match your ships polarity will fill a fuel gage that can be used to perform boost, and then switch you to the opposite polarity. This need for different polarities at different times forces you to improvise in a way racers normally don’t. This is especially interesting given the level design, which is often packed with alternate routes and shortcuts.
The game is divided into three separate “phases,” that can each be attacked in any order. These phases each represent different modes with different challenges. The first phase is made up of solo races, and emphasizes perfection, with rewards for time attack challenges, hitting gates, and avoiding the walls. Phase two complicates matters by introducing the “power ripper,” a weapon that allows you to smash through other vehicles during a boost, and litters “toolkits” around the stages that can be used to buy upgrades. The final phase pits you against actual enemies, and gives you access to your full arsenal of weapons, provided you have enough toolkits to purchase them.
And therein lies Repulze’s biggest flaw. In order to outfit one of the game’s crafts for combat, you have to save up toolkits found in the game’s stages. A perfect run won’t usually nab you more than 5 kits, and weapons for the better vehicles cost 50 or more toolkits, which can be a bit tedious to save up. But here’s the kicker: You have a limit on how many toolkits you can save up, and that limit is less than the cost of most of these upgrades. If you level up enough, that limit will go up, but doing that without access to any weapons basically means playing Phase 1 courses over and over ad nauseum.
A $1.99 in-app purchase will open up a capacity upgrade, which makes the game a lot more playable. It won’t help you save up your toolkits any faster, but it will eliminate the need to level grind for 5 hours before being able to enjoy the game. Essentially, it’s best to think of this as a $5.00 game rather than a $3.00 and keep that in mind before deciding to buy.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Android port is still a little rough around the edges. One of the game’s tracks simply refuses to load, controller support seems only partially implemented and unusable, and the tilt controls are backwards if you hold the phone the wrong way. These are minor kinks, but they’re really the sort of simple, obvious problems that should have been ironed out before release.
Despite this, Repulze is one of the better racers to come along this year. It’s packed with content – a massive 24 tracks, plus variants – and it manages to put a fresh spin on an old formula. It steps out of WipeOut’s shadow, thanks to the unique polarity gimmick and enjoyable combat mechanics, and develops a personality – if not a style – all its own. A little less emphasis on in-app purchases and the inclusion of multiplayer would have gone a long way toward putting Repulze over the top, but there’s always room for a sequel.