Indie Spotlight – Buck Up and Drive!

Jeremy Peeples4 minute read

Arcade-style racers can be some of the most accessible racing games on the market in theory, but few ever are. The original arcade classics like OutRun and Daytona USA had more immersive cabinets and had to be retro-fitted for controllers, but still required some intricacy on proper timing of the d-pad and acceleration/braking to succeed. Later games like OutRun 2 added in drifting alongside stick support, and while sticks did make things easier, the usage of triggers for driving functions only added to the motor skills needed to do well. We have seen modern games such as Horizon Chase Turbo attempt to bridge the gap between keeping the arcade spirit alive while still being accessible with things like auto-acceleration but none have quite nailed things perfectly.

Buck Up and Drive! manages to do the best job yet of keeping the arcade racer spirit alive while also finding a way to be accessible in a variety of ways. For a PC game, having a variety of control options is a big key to being enjoyable by a wider variety of players. Some prefer keyboard controls, others prefer having an Xbox controller, while some want the ability to use a DualShock 4 for their games. Buck Up and Drive! works with a Dual Shock 4, Xbox controller, or any direct input controller alongside a keyboard, and the latter control scheme is incredible. Normally, I avoid keyboard and mouse controls because my left hand doesn’t quite like WASD controls, but Buck Up uses the right arrow keys to control its action and it’s a godsend.

With just that simple setup, players can enjoy the game fully because it’s set up to auto-accelerate and all the player has to do with the arrow keys is weave around the screen to avoid traffic, drift, use jump pads to hop on top of traffic and guardrails, or slide over boost pads to zoom through the area. Having a game that allows for drifting and is still remarkably accessible is impressive and the game’s design as a whole is very all-inclusive. Fabio Fontes went all-out to make sure that as many people as possible enjoy the experience and being able to have an OutRun-style checkpoint racer that is more forgiving with time limits alone is big. That’s one area that some clones have done better than the mainline games and it’s something that helps a lot here.

Players still have checkpoints, but the areas between the forked main stages don’t count against the timer. In OutRun 2, those areas led to some cool sights like the plane from After Burner flying overhead or a visit from one of the dragoons in Panzer Dragoon. Here, they’re closed-off areas that allow the player to unwind a little bit and reflect on the prior area’s success and clear their mind to ensure success follows them into the next area. Controlling the game with the keyboard alone works remarkably well since it’s largely just left and right movement combined with jumps and drifting for races, and it has a natural control scheme for controllers as well. There, either the left stick or d-pad work in place of the arrow keys and the left trigger works for drifting instead of space, but everything can be remapped.

Having this degree of freedom in any racing game is a rarity, let alone an indie game from a single developer. There are also some fighting game influences in the mechanics, with things like special move directional presses like quarter circles resulting in special drift types to help mix things up. There’s also a whole trick system in place for when the player is in the air, and it’s all accessible with just the right arrow keys. It’s remarkable that something with a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater-style trick system in a scaled-back form could be considered accessible in any way, but that’s the case here. It’s clear that more than a lot of work went into Buck Up and Drive!, but a lot of love went into it as well, and having the mainline game be so accessible from a fine-motor perspective is remarkable.

Visually, Buck Up and Drive! uses cel shading to give the game a very bold and distinct appearance. This helps to not only tell every part of the world apart from other pieces, but evokes a bit of Auto Modellista from the PS2 era while still doing its own thing with area themes that are both right in line with would we would see in an OutRun game, but also a bit different. The beach area would be right at home in a Sega classic, while the orange-sunset cityscape is something that isn’t seen very often. Vehicle customization is nice as is the inclusion of LGBTQ pride flags, which further drive home the goal of making a welcoming and inclusive game for as many players as possible. On the accessibility side of the ledger, there is room for improvement as there aren’t any color blind settings, but menu text is fairly large by default. There is also quite a bit of contrast between everything in the menus, with white text being used against a grey background with black trim on the text making it easy to see.

On the auditory side of things, there is no dialogue of any kind so there’s nothing to worry about regarding story beats being lost. There has been an effort made to get across the impact of collisions with things like sparks and smoke effects upon a successful landing, while speed line indicators outline the vehicle during rail grinds and boosts to help make up for the lack of sound effects.

Overall, Buck Up and Drive! is a remarkable OutRun-style game in terms of both delivering on that concept while also finding ways to stand out and being a largely-accessible experience. The ability to not only have a fleshed-out racing experience, but also a trick system in place while still making it a game that can be enjoyed with a single key on a keyboard and arrow keys is impressive and something that the industry as a whole can learn from.

This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.

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