If you’re looking for retro racing, you don’t have to look far on Switch. They like Hotshot Race, Formula retro racing, Horizon Chase Turbo and the Sega Ages versions of Virtual Racing and leak have made sure that anyone who likes a classic car racing game is spoiled for choice.
slipstream is the newest game to be added to this ever-growing list, and given that other games in the past have tried to achieve the 80’s-style look (we’re looking at you, 80s overdrive), his art style doesn’t feel particularly unique these days. So it’s fortunate that underneath a fairly overused aesthetic there’s still a pretty fun racing game.
The game is clearly inspired by 80’s arcade racers like Out Run (as well as another Sega title we’ll come back to), with high-speed street racing and wild, comically long corners being the order of the day. However, in an attempt to add some variety to the proceedings, there are a handful of modes, each taking the action in a different direction.
Grand Prix is typical of you Mario Kart Situation where you have three cups consisting of numerous races with points awarded based on your placement. Grand Tour, on the other hand, is more like Out Run, where you have to battle your way through five interconnected stages within a time limit, with forks at the end of each stage determining where you end up next. Then there’s Cannonball, which is similar to Grand Tour but offers more customization, allowing you to create a long race with up to 30 stages that you can manually select from the 15 tracks available.
As mentioned, Out Run is the main influence once you’re on the road, but it’s an interesting hybrid in that while its looks are clearly based on the 1986 Sega original, the handling features a Powerslide mechanic that’s different feels much more similar to polygonal continuation spout 2.
While it’s possible to get through most corners by simply turning and braking where necessary, you must master powersliding to circumvent any track efficiently. This is done by briefly tapping the brake button and depressing the accelerator again, causing the rear of the car to swing out. Powersliding in Slipstream takes a few races to get used to, as timing is key: launch too early or too late and you’ll crash into the trackside landscape (Out Run style, of course). However, once you’ve made it, swinging around a particularly tight corner can be immensely satisfying as the rear of your car narrowly misses the numerous trackside obstacles.
However, the track design can cause some frustrating moments at first. Many of the tracks are designed so that some corners lead straight into opposite corners without warning. So unless you know they’re coming, you almost certainly won’t be able to powerslide a second time in time and will crash.
This is addressed to some degree with the addition of a rewind button, which lets you reset the action a few seconds and then anticipate the turn, but realistically this feels like taped over the cracks: you shouldn’t have to rely on that a rewind system, even on tracks that are new to you. Of course, as you learn each stage, you’ll eventually start to notice which turns quickly lead into opposite turns, meaning this becomes less of an issue over time, but it can still prove a nuisance in the first few hours of play.
Of course, special mention deserves the game’s graphics, which are handled in a cleverly effective way, essentially trying to recreate the pseudo-3D style of Sega’s “super scaler” racing games like Out Run and Great hang on. While the game is technically 3D and its tracks are polygonal, the cars and scenery all look like flat sprites. Zooming through tracks at high speed (especially with the titular slipstreams enabled) at a rock-solid 60fps the effect can be truly impressive. Personally, we might have weathered the whole ’80s thing, but when it’s handled well, it’s handled well.
However, one thing that struck us as particularly odd is the way Slipstream gives numerous references to the Sonic the Hedgehog Series for no apparent reason. Of the 15 tracks in the game, seven have the same name as Sonic or Sonic R (Chemical Plant, Ice Cap, Emerald Hills, Resort Island, etc.) As you win a trophy, you’ll get a special celebration screen where your trophy is surrounded by what can only be described as Chaos Emeralds. Grand Prix races are called “Acts” (and are introduced with a splash screen identical to those in 16-bit Sonic games), and the 3-2-1 countdown uses a design apparently nicked from him became sonic mania.
We’d understand if Sonic was connected to the game in some way, faint or otherwise, but the connection – beyond that speed — is just so random that the whole thing feels oddly out of place. The odd nod here or there would be one thing, but the references are so common that anyone familiar with Sonic won’t necessarily appreciate them: you’re likely to get distracted by them and wonder why they’re there. There’s a homage to something, and references to it are just thrown out en masse without any rhyme or reason.
The music is also mixed. It’s your typical dose of retro ’80s-style synthesizer soundtrack, but none of them really clicked on us enough that we had to crank up our headphone volume. It’s a ‘safe’ collection of tracks that fits the aesthetic without necessarily overdoing it to create truly memorable bangers. It’s one of those situations where, if there were no music, its absence would be conspicuous, but its presence is in no way notable.
Despite the negativity in this review, once you get used to the handling and corners that come out of nowhere, the most important thing to convince yourself is that this is solid racing action at its core. Even considering its reasonable price, it’s a perfectly acceptable hit if you’re looking for something else to keep you busy for a few hours.
There is also a split-screen local multiplayer mode for 2-4 players, which includes almost all single player modes (the only exception being Grand Tour because of its multiple routes). Everything still runs nice and smoothly in split screen, so it’s another good option for those looking for some local multiplayer racing.
We may feel that ’80s style has been overused and that Slipstream isn’t pushing it in any notable way, but aesthetics and music are obviously down to personal taste, so your mileage may vary (sort of). Ultimately, there’s enough going on here to justify the relatively low price that the game is selling for that you certainly won’t feel underpaid when you buy it.