Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone



Tube Slider is an impressive futuristic racer that is the initial comeback title for legendary company NEC. Developed by NdCube, the game will please fans of F-Zero with its fast, no-frills action. The game’s graphics are slick with cool ship designs and it offers several modes of play including multiplayer action. Tube Slider is somewhat derivative, but it is solidly implemented and challenging. Be warned: the difficulty curve is steep, and this is probably the biggest hurdle to enjoyment but persistence will be rewarded with an intense racing experience. So, is this targeted to hardcore players only or can it appeal to all gamers? We examine Tube Slider and find out.

After nearly eight years of lying dormant, former TurboGrafx-16 manufacturer NEC has made a welcome return the industry with the release of Tube Slider. This futuristic racer features several different types of hovercraft. The designs on these are impressive and each one has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Each vehicle is ranked in a number of performance areas including speed, acceleration, handling, and top speed. This is pretty standard but more interestingly, each vehicle also has it’s own “Sub Vernier” which is how much boost the vehicle can get from the power-ups. Finally, each ship has a different size of Fuel Tank that determines how much power-up energy the vehicle can hold. Once you have selected your vehicle, its time to determine which racing mode you want to play. Tube Slider offers several modes of play including free-run, time attack, training, versus and Grand Prix race modes. The Practice Mode includes the Practice, Free Run and Time Attack modes. The last two allow you to race against yourself on an empty field while the Practice mode places velocity pick ups on the track that you need to run over successfully to complete the practice mode. This helps you understand the physics better and get a handle on how to control your ship. In the Grand Prix mode, you race for points that are awarded based on your finishing position, and you must finish all the races the Grand Prix in at least fourth place to progress to the next rounds. Winning a tournament unlocks new tracks and ships which you can use in the other modes. Additionally, Tube Sliders also offers a multiplayer Versus mode where up to four players can compete simultaneously via a split screen. This is nicely implemented and most of the time, all the players can clearly see their position.

Tube Slider's racing is straightforward because there are no weapons, just speed power-ups on the tracks. This allows you to focus on the racing itself, which is intense and quite difficult. While some players will undoubtedly find this streamlined approach a bit barren, it makes it easier to concentrate without distractions. One of the cool features of the game is the fact that the racing takes place inside tubes that encircle the ships. These zero gravity chambers allow you to race them from any angle: top, bottom, left and, right. However, certain sides of the track enable the player to go faster. It’s not always obvious where these speed zones are but you can follow the arrows for a good idea of where the best routes are. The tracks themselves are straightforward and the main task is to get through them as fast as possible. One of the biggest challenges in Tube Sliders is to avoid spinning out during tight turns, which slows you down significantly and can make you lose races almost automatically in the later levels. To assist you on the tight corners, you can use your air brakes by pressing down on the controller’s left and right shift buttons, this allows you to take corners easier, but slows you down a bit. However, pressing both shift keys simultaneously gives you a small speed boost.

There are two basic types of speed power-ups: Turbo and Boost. You can only use one type for each race, but you can switch between races. The power-ups work by using a gauge at the lower left of the screen. As you play the game, it gradually rises and you earn a boost when it’s fully charged. The boost gives you a standard boost that lasts for a preset amount of time. The turbo mode works a bit differently. You can enable its energy when the gauge reaches a certain level, and you can continue to use the boost until the energy runs out.  Having two types of boost is a cool feature and each has its pluses and minuses. Which one you’ll end up using depends on your playing style. In addition to receiving power-ups from the icons and by waiting, you can lock on to an enemies’ ship and drain their power-gauge. This is done by moving directly behind an opponent’s vehicle and waiting for the lock-on indicator to go on. This is a bit tricky, especially on corners which makes it harder to line up your ship. Since a slight divergence out of the lock-on line means that you have failed and must start the process again. However, the opposing ships can lock onto your ship and drain your energy. To counter this, you can implement a reverse lock-on by hitting your boost bar. This has the added benefit of letting you sap the attacker’s energy. The game’s energy-based power-up system lends Tube Slider a unique gameplay mechanic that adds to the challenge and strategy of the race, making for some exciting race action.

The gameplay starts at a moderately fast pace but things get much more intense once you reach the more advanced stages. The initial three-track competition is deceptively easy to win, and serves as a good training primer for players to master the basic techniques. For those who still need some help with the racing action, the game includes an in-game tutorial, complete with short movies that allow you to learn the basics without having to consult the manual. However, once you get beyond the first track, things become much more difficult. The second round requires you to race the same three tracks but, the opponent AI is noticeably more aggressive, making rivals much harder to defeat. The rival racers are a lot more aggressive, and frequently knock your ship to gain an advantage. This steep difficulty curve makes subsequent races much harder to win. It can be frustrating at first, but once you learn how to counter-attack the other ships and avoid their advances, you’ll eventually be able to eke out a few hard-earned wins. It quickly becomes obvious that Tube Slider’s difficulty level is set a bit higher than other games in the genre, but the challenge should give the game added appeal for the hardcore player. Casual gamers will probably become frustrated in a hurry, but persistence pays off once you unlock a second set of extra Maximum Class vehicles. The Maximum class craft provide improved control, allowing the player to go much faster. Once you reach this class, you’ll also unlock more tracks, which are a lot more interesting and challenging than the initial training tracks with longer jumps and tighter curves.

It takes a few laps to fully understand all the racing techniques but, controlling the vehicles should present little problem since the controls are easy to understand. Vehicle response time is fluid though you have to slow down a bit when taking corners unless you want to slide out into the wrong direction, which can be frustrating. The turbo boost functions are integrated into the controls as is the energy lock-on system. The in-game HUD is transparent, allowing you to see your position and turbo boost status without interfering with the gameplay.  The game’s soundtrack features the obligatory techno tracks that fit the feel of the game nicely, but don’t offer much to distinguish Tube Slider from the many other futuristic racers on the market. From a visual standpoint, the game looks sharp and crisp with excellent ship and course designs lending the game a unique personality. You can see the F-Zero influence in the game’s overall design but the unique cylindrical tracks give the game a unique feel that makes you feel like you’re gliding on air. It moves at a fast clip and the object renderings range from good to great with some truly inspired areas punctuated by many bland sections. Most of the tracks take you through closed-in areas but things get interesting when the action moves to open spaces. These sections allow you to see the ship suspended in midair with large, open environments surrounding it. Unfortunately, several behind the ship viewpoints are offered, but the lack of a first-person mode is disappointing. On the other hand, the perspective doesn’t change when you move to the side or the top of the track, which helps somewhat in reducing the dizziness that these games offer. The game’s engine moves at a smooth clip and shows off the Gamecube’s processing powers.

While Tube Slider’s presentation and controls seem derivative of F-Zero on the surface, this is mitigated by elements in the design that give it a unique feel. The tube courses are impressive in design and the ability to race anywhere makes for some fun play mechanics. The ability to lock on and drain power from your opponents is also an interesting twist. Controlling the vehicles is intuitive with seamless controls. Tube Slider’s visuals are also excellent and highly polished, though some tracks suffer from a strong sense of déjà vu. However, the ship designs are creative and imaginative, and many break the standard futuristic mold, giving Tube Slider a unique visual look. The biggest issue the game has is its difficulty – it starts easily, but things become much harder in a hurry. The difficulty is bound to turn off some players, and those looking for something they can master should look elsewhere. However, those who turn it off early on are missing out, as the later levels become much faster and more intense than the relatively tame early races. So, while the casual player will find that it becomes too frustrating too early, those gamers looking for a challenge will definitely get their money’s worth. Despite some minor problems, Tube Slider is a solidly entertaining racing game that tests your skills and persistence. While its not revolutionary, there are some excellent ideas in the game that make it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the genre. Tube Slider marks a promising rebirth for NEC and hopefully a taste of things to come from the company.

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