The mobile games industry has now been around for almost a decade, yet in this reviewer's opinion it has failed to produce more than a elf's handful of decent driving games.
Cars has its fans, Project Gotham Racing too, but most look to have been written by people who never play racing games and perhaps were unaware of their existence until five minutes before sitting down to write one. The 3D efforts are often the worst, the programmers seemingly being satisfied with a two frames-per-second refresh rate and a draw distance (how far you can see down the track) so slight you need a braille system to navigate.
But Opposite Lock is different. Developed by the people behind the criminally over-looked Jet Set Racing (Oops, would link to it but I think we overlooked it – Ed) it's a game that works within the limits of the form factor and the processing power of a mobile handset.
Opposite Lock is a basic circuit racer with ten souped-up street cars to choose from, each rated for speed, handling and acceleration, as well as ten tracks to get through.
A practice mode introduces you to the action, while the main tournament mode puts you through a mini-GP season to unlock extra locations. It's also possible to open-up bonuses by collecting rabbits while you race... Not one for the PETA brigade, then.
The ten circuits are based in different countries and offer various scenic types. In snowy Montreal your car slides over the surface like a hippo on rusty skates, while Phoenix offers up an endlessly winding dust track. German track Nurberg is all fresh, clean curves.
The background visuals – chunky lumps of scenery and rolling mountains – will remind '80s arcade veterans of such 2D classics as OutRun and Final Lap. There are nice little graphical touches, too, that give poignant hints at that innocent era, such as the blocky dust behind your wheels and the flying stars that accompany every vehicle contact.
With eight cars competing on narrow tracks, the races are about smashing your way to the front and staying on the track rather than hanging onto the racing line via cool cornering and intelligent brake management. The squashed up vehicles look like bumper cars and they race like them too, while the hugely competitive AI drivers are always happy to smash and crash their way to the front.
It can get frustrating, especially as the brakes and accelerator are hardly the most responsive we've ever experienced: it's often impossible to avoid a pile-up, where, given better controls, you should be able to decelerate and nip around the carnage.
Instead you really do get the feeling that you're fighting against the tarmac and your own momentum, taking corners carefully so as not to overshoot and disappear into the wilderness surrounding the road. There's little of the floaty, on-rails feel of many mobile driving engines.
But don't get too excited, hardcore gamers; this is no Mario Kart. It's still Stone Age stuff in comparison.
What is impressive about Opposite Lock is the Bluetooth multiplayer mode, which is billed as supporting up to eight players. We tried it with three and the set-up was incredibly simple – one player elects to be the server (the phone upon which all the other players need to connect to) and chooses the track and skill level. Everyone else just chooses their cars and waits for the action to begin.
It's a lot slower than the single-player option, of course, but there were no frame drop-outs, no judders or lost connections. It worked. Just. Not, perhaps, something you'd want to play every night, but worth a bash if you can get enough people to buy the game.
So, Opposite Lock is a modest game, with an interesting trick up its exhaust pipe. The graphics have an authentically brash, blocky feel and work well on the small screen, the handling experience is hardly complex, but you do at least feel as though skill comes into it at key moments. If you want a mobile phone racing game, then, that doesn't take itself too seriously but still offers a big boot of laughs, this is the ride of choice.