These little toys from Futurlab want to leave a big impression.
While other VR developers are building virtual worlds, Futurlab follows a different track. They’ve been building some virtual toys instead; specifically, a collection of playfully simulated Scalextric sets. That might seem an odd choice for a VR title, but I’d expect no less individual verve from the creators of Velocity 2X – as uniquely perfect a game as I can remember.
Based on its impressive lineage, I had no small amount of faith going into Tiny Trax. Things I expected: visuals that drip with colour; a soundtrack that evokes Jean-Michel Jarre; gameplay that both tests and rewards with laser-targeted precision. Hands-on experience delivers the Futurlab flavour, although my impossibly high expectations may end up doing Tiny Trax a disservice.
Before we get to that, let’s talk first impressions. Looking down like Gulliver on the opening track, its miniaturised scale is strikingly immersive. The usual VR trick of expanding the scope of perspective in the game world is turned on its head, making the player themselves feel larger. Being surrounded by and getting up close to the detail of each track offers no substantial benefit in gameplay terms, but it does foster an important sense of tactility.
After all, Scalextric itself is all about that physical rough and tumble; high velocity objects on the edge of control, careering and smashing together as part of the fun. Beyond appearances, there are clear efforts here to emulate those fundamentals of electric toy racing. This means accessibly simple controls and a social focus, positioning Tiny Trax as a casual multiplayer experience at its core.
Those controls aren’t quite the traditional single trigger, but they’re as simple as they need to be. A standard pad’s right trigger handles acceleration, added to which are two buttons: one to dispense a finite nitro supply, another to switch between each track’s two lanes. Uniquely, Tiny Trax also incorporates a unique analogue steering mechanism to determine cornering speed. It’s a typically brilliant Futurlab invention, albeit imperfectly realised.
Steering demands finesse, and it’s where Tiny Trax determines victors versus victims. A radial bar around your car displays each corner’s optimal steering intensity, which must be matched through the length of the turn with sensitive pressure on the analogue stick. Success regenerates nitro capacity, meaning that skilful cornering leads to zippier straights. It’s a great idea, but one oddly devoid of haptic feedback. The omission of rumble to gauge turns is an odd one considering the game’s tactile inspiration.
That’s not to say it doesn’t work – far from it. This is a driving experience that feels markedly different from what you’ve played before, and one which it is well worth persevering with. Beginners will find themselves languishing at the back of the pack, especially in the challenging single player mode where podium finishes are hard won. But when it clicks, getting those perfect corners feels just as satisfying as the real thing.
Where Tiny Trax really flourishes is undeniably in multiplayer; 4-player races with real people have a much greater sense of competition, unpredictability and fun than the solitary experience. Playing before its commercial release obviously means limited games have been available prior to review, but I’d expect Tiny Trax to find its audience in the niche but growing PlayStation VR market.
Whichever way you engage with it, Tiny Trax bears repeated play within what might be considered a conservative sum of content. The game is comprised of 12 tracks spread across 3 main cups, with a fourth cup that picks tracks randomly from those sets. An hour of play will have revealed everything, which is a hard fact to escape however charming its individual tracks are. Within that scope, a choice of seaside tracks, fire and ice levels and a suite of space races (with a Velocity 2X theme) is varied enough.
Tiny Trax is accomplished at what it does. The feeling that it should do more is partly symptomatic of a familiarity with Futurlab’s past work. More tracks would be nice. A more visceral sense of physical feedback would be even better. I can’t begrudge Tiny Trax for feeling like it’s on rails, sometimes – it literally is – but what that means for tactility is a trade-off that could be mitigated better. In the end though, nothing else brings players closer to the feeling of a real Scalextric; on that basis Tiny Trax is a winner.
Tiny Trax was provided to us by Mimram Media via a download code for PlayStation VR (played on a PlayStation 4 Pro).