If you’ve ever found joy in rolling down a grassy hill or sliding down snowy slopes on a homemade toboggan, then Tray Racers could well be for you. It’s a game in which a bunch of kids race down sand dunes on – what else? – a tray, all aiming for the fastest time.
Tray Racers comes from Bit Loom, the developers of Phogs (the puzzle game about a floppy two-headed dog creature), and has a similar sense of colourful whimsy. Here there’s even a lizard-dog called Scrump you can pet between races.
It’s a lot of fun to play, too, though I’m not sure how long that will last beyond a few rounds. Still, as a free-to-play game coming soon to PC and Switch (with crossplay), it’s an easy recommendation for a quick go at the least.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Tray Racers is how intuitive it is. Controls are simple: use the stick to steer, tilt forward to speed down slopes and tilt backwards to speed up over hills. Tricks can be pulled off in mid-air for a boost when landing (up to three times), plus racing close to obstacles gives a near-miss boost too. And that’s essentially it.
From there players race against up to 16 others down procedurally generated tracks consisting of a variety of biomes, though they all form a consistent, sandy, tropical world. There are forests of giant cacti, rocky canyons, wooden village huts, and hot springs with geysers that shoot you into the air. It’s clear and vibrant and features some quirky Psychonauts-esque character designs.
Races consist of two phases. Phase one is practice, where racers are given five minutes to learn the lay of the land and set a quick time. Emerging from a sand worm (obviously), racers can test out different routes down the randomised slope, switching left and right to see which of the multiple paths proves the quickest. And this is essential, not only in preparation for the final race, but because the best time during practice counts for half the final score.
Then there’s the race. After five minutes, racers are taken back up to the peak by their worms for one final go; a true test of your twitch skills in dodging obstacles (and other racers) as well as your prior planning. It’s chaotic fun: can you nail your perfectly planned path or will you risk a change in strategy at the last moment? And when the final score between both phases is totalled, there’s gripping unpredictability.
It reminded me a little of the N64 classic Snowboard Kids – just without the power ups. Tray Racers is about speeding to the bottom of the slope rather than laps, weaving over sandy hills while giggling like a child.
Between phases, players can hang out at the campfire lobby. Here you can check the leaderboard and customise your character, plus dance and play a musical instrument, before heading to the next race. It’s barebones but fits the simplistic tone of the game.
Grab your tray and get ready to race!
We are so excited to announce that Tray Racers! will be part of #SteamNextFest starting 6th Feb
Gather your friends to race together through sizzling sand dunes, bouncy cactus forests and more!🌵
Wishlist now 👉 https://t.co/hsPYM5hzxx pic.twitter.com/v1LDzTgN4V
— Tray Racers! ☀️🌵💨 (@TrayRacers) January 25, 2023
Online racing is the primary game mode and there’s sadly not much else, with no local multiplayer either. All customisation options are unlocked from the start, meaning everyone can dress up their character however they like from the off (and none of the options are gender locked), but also leaving nothing to unlock for long term players. There is a single player mode with a weekly global leaderboard, but beyond that not much to strive for.
Crucially, Tray Racers has that one-more-go factor thanks to its immediacy. If you’re looking to indulge your inner-child, this is well worth a look.
And while there’s no ray-tracing mode, some deep lore is that the tutorial is hosted by Ray Tracer, the fastest racer around. In fact, the visual technique did provide inspiration for the game, as a spokesperson from Bit Loom told me: “You did hit the nail on the head though, the game idea did originally come about when one of us said ‘forget ray-tracing, we’re all about Tray Racing!'”