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Review: Slipstream (Nintendo Switch)

Playing Slipstream really got me thinking about the past games I’ve reviewed. There are many games I’ve given decent scores, scores I still hold by, yet I feel no desire to return to them. So I kept wondering while playing Slipstream, ‘would I actually ever play this game beyond my time reviewing it?’ Let’s take a look and try to find an answer.

It doesn’t take much more than a cursory glance to see that Slipstream has been inspired by Sega’s Out Run. It has the same kind of sprite scaling effects. It even has a mode set up exactly like Out Run, with branching paths leading to different locations. However, it does try to expand beyond its source material with several other modes that include racing against other drivers rather than the clock itself.

Driving has been expanded beyond the arcade classic. You can now drift through turns and, yes, slipstream. While you can choose between manually or automatically drifting, I found that automatic was definitely the better choice, despite my usual preference for manual options in racers. Manual drifting felt sluggish and had poor control, while automatic drifting was tight and responsive, and with around 9/10ths of turns requiring a drift to complete, you’ll be glad to have the automatic drift on. As for slipstreaming, it’s just plain great: your car will constantly gain speed with seemingly no cap as long as you’re in a slipstream, and I had a blast trying to see how fast I could get.

I really enjoyed these mechanics, but the game design itself presents some problems. Turns tend to start and end with very little advance warning, and I found myself constantly crashing because of it. Unless you have really good reflexes, you’ll want to memorize the tracks or take ample advantage of the rewind feature, which may be the first rewind in a game that I actually enjoyed using. I usually find rewind way too cheap, but this one only lets you go back five seconds and then takes a short, but not too short, time to recharge before using it again. It even does a VHS effect while using it that’s drawn really well.

I wish I could say the same for the graphics; they’re pretty bland, though. I found most locations to be just plain uninteresting. As a result, the Grand Tour mode (cough – Out Run Mode – cough) was ironically my least favorite due to that fact; I had no interest in where I was driving. I am glad the game runs at a constant 60 FPS. While the sprites themselves are rather meh, the scaling is excellent; seeing hundreds of sprites scaling past you at high speeds is as stunning an effect as ever. The same statement about graphics goes for music: not terrible, just rather bland (though one track’s a clear knockoff of the Fortnite default dance theme- that one’s terrible).

The CPU opponents were a negative. They’re just too easy if you’re on the ‘Light’ or ‘Medium’ difficulties. But on ‘Heavy,’ they are all over the place. Some races are still too easy, and I never see them past the beginning. In some, they rubber-band constantly if I’m in first, buzzing past seemingly no matter how fast I’m going until they slow down, I catch up and pass them, and the process repeats. Other times they just get ahead and never look back. I’ve had many times I was going my car’s max speed, and the cars in front of me were still gaining distance ahead. So what am I supposed to do there? I just end up hoping either that they crash or somehow one of the opponents gets right in front of me so I can slipstream past my top speed to catch up. The ‘Heavy’ CPU just doesn’t have a happy medium.

The game as a whole also just feels uninspired. It’s just a game based on Out Run and has a hard time getting anywhere beyond that. It does try to have some personality, but many of its attempts come from making cheap references that fall flat. For instance, there’s a track with gold rings and rather iconically shaped emeralds on it… a good one? At least 10 of the 20 tracks are named after Sonic levels, and another one is clearly based on Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2… ok? There’s a rival (I haven’t mentioned the rivals yet as they’re kind of pointless) who is clearly based on Bob Ross. If you pass him, he’ll even quip on how ‘there are no mistakes, only happy little accidents’… does anyone actually find these clever? 

Yet, while the game does feel uninspired, the AI is all over the place, and the graphics and music are pretty bland, I found myself looking forward to playing Slipstream every time I picked it up. The main racing mechanics are just plain fun, and while I definitely acknowledge all of the game’s problems and wish they weren’t there, what is there can still be quite a good time. Whether you personally will enjoy it, I can’t say; but as for me, I think I’ll still be playing it here and there even after this review is posted.

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