Sometimes a game really suits a system. Mantis Burn Racing may have arrived last year on other platforms, but on Switch it shines, feeling like it has found its true home. Featuring all the top-down racing action of the other versions (with the complete DLC already included) it allows cross-network play with Xbox One and PC (Steam) players. It may lack the 4K resolution offered by the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but the ability to take your Switch on the go and the selection of local multiplayer options make this an excellent choice for some quick and fun multiplayer racing.
Mantis Burn Racing is a simple game to play, with you mostly just using the control stick to steer and ZR to accelerate. There’s a button to brake and one to boost; the boost gauge filling up as you work your way around the track. Motion controls (tilt to steer) are also available if you are so inclined. Initially the game doesn’t seem to offer much, but it soon becomes tough to put down as you compete in various events, work out where best to use your boost, drift around corners or use someone’s slipstream to get past them. There’s a lot of satisfaction from finding paths through traffic or using one of your rivals as a makeshift bumper to take a corner better and gain a place to boot.
The main single player option is the career mode. Even if you are intending to mainly play multiplayer, it’s a good idea to dive into this first as it will familiarise you with the different events and allow you to pick up upgrades for your vehicles along the way. There are three difficulties (rookie, pro, veteran) with three seasons for each; clear one season to unlock the next. Three weight classes are on offer, with one vehicle available for each; bodywork and boost trails can be recoloured to your liking. Some events are for a specific class, while others are open to your personal preference.
Events are laid out on a path and you only have to finish in the top three of an event to clear it and make the next one available, with branches in the path sometimes unlocking multiple events. Some events are simple races (2-5 laps), but there are leagues (multiple races), time trials (beat set times), spotlight races (stay in the light or be eliminated) and knockout contests where the car at the back of the pack is eliminated at the end of each lap. As you race XP and G (the game’s currency) are earned allowing you to apply upgrades to your vehicles, with some additional enhancements acquired simply from working through the seasons or gaining XP.
Upgrades are available to improve speed, acceleration, grip, suspension and boost. You have to be careful with how you apply these; for instance, should you increase your top speed without increasing grip, you’ll make cornering much tougher for yourself. There’s a few upgrade slots, but should these be filled you can add more by splashing out some G. Even when you’ve reached the maximum number of slots, upgrades can receive further tuning to improve their performance. All this makes for quite a variety of options in vehicle customisation. There might be eight of the same car in a race, but thanks to the upgrade options they will all behave differently.
In addition to trying to place in the top three for the events, each one has a number of mini challenges for you to attempt, with gears awarded if successful. Some of these challenges are simply “win the event”, but others ask you to beat a certain time or to win without boosting. Sometimes you are tasked with finding a shortcut (certain barriers can be smashed through), while other times not taking a shortcut is required to gain the gears. Other challenges ask you to smash trackside objects, or drift/jump an accumulated set distance during the event. Trying to achieve these challenges whilst also clearing the events is fun and satisfying when you mange it, although some are easier than others and are obtained without even trying. Clearing all the challenges is not essential, but you will need to win a certain amount of gears as a set number is required to unlock the final event of each season.
The events take place across twelve tracks. Twelve might seem like a small amount, but reverse versions also feature and with the various event types there’s still quite a bit of variety in the racing you will be engaged in. The tracks are well designed with a good range of turns and straights, bumps, elevation changes and jumps. Some tracks take place in a snow-covered, icy environment where the lack of traction adds to the challenge.
In addition to the wintry tracks, there’s a dusty, rocky environment and a city to race through. A bit more variety would have been welcome but the circuits are not totally similar, with a couple of the city tracks taking place away from the buildings and in daylight (as opposed to the night time races of the others). The rocky tracks are less visually varied, but even here there's some semblance of variety; you drive through a factory and caves at different points. The dark of the caves can be tricky to navigate, but aim your vehicle vaguely in the direction of the light and you’ll be OK.
A top down racer is not likely something you’ll break out to show off the graphical capabilities of your system, but there’s some good detailing in the environments and decent use of lighting. Water glistens, trees and other objects effect the lighting conditions convincingly and there’s a good sense of altitude given whether you're drifting around a perilous drop or driving up a slope to reach a higher portion of a track. The racing moves along smoothly although when playing local splitscreen with three-four players the framerate is set at 30fps rather than 60fps. For two-player splitscreen racing developer VooFoo Studios state that a variable 30-60fps is used, which sounds like it could be off-putting, but in our time with the game we've not had any issue with it.
On the audio side of things there’s a variety of thumps, crunches and engine noises as the cars work their way around the track (or skid off the track and smash into something). There’s also some up-tempo music – the prominence of which varies track to track, with some favouring environmental noises over the music. Special mention should also be made of the HD rumble which is very effective allowing you to feel hits to the side of your car or the thump from a hard landing.
As well as the main nine seasons of the career mode, there is also a season for “Elite” racers that feature speedy hovercars and one for battle, too. Both of these can be played from the start if you wish (no need to clear the other seasons first). Elite feels a lot like a topdown WipEout, which is fun in it’s own way, but it’s the battle events that have the most replayability.
Vehicles in the battle events are equipped with a machine gun and after the first lap can drop mines (three per lap). The usual range of events feature but with the added ability to blow up the opposition, while being careful not to get blown up yourself. Generally, vehicles respawn following destruction (in survival when you’re out, you’re out), but as this results in a loss of time, it’s to be avoided as much as possible. Repair points can be found on track and it’s a relief to make it to one should you be close to exploding. The events are hugely entertaining as you work your way around the track weaving out of the way of gunfire or dropping a mine into the path of someone behind you.
Clearing the seasons will keep you occupied, with the challenge increasing as you work through them; upgrades naturally helping to make things a little easier. If you’d just like a quick go on something, any of the events can be tackled outside of the career mode. If you don’t have the required vehicle (your first is a freebie, but others need to be purchased) you can still play using a “loan vehicle”, although these will not allow you to earn XP or G. All-in-all there’s a lot to keep you busy in single player mode, but the biggest draw of the game is from competing against other people.
Online play is straightforward. Upon selecting the mode you join an available lobby. If one isn’t available you are sent to your own to wait for players. While here you can set up your game and whether you want to go for a random event/track or something more specific. If you are struggling to get the full eight players (we could only manage four), the numbers can be made up with CPU opponents. If you have no one in your lobby you can race against these while you wait; a notification pops up when someone joins the lobby.
If you’re concerned players of other systems will know the game better than you, having had it available for much longer, cross platform play can be disabled. Should you go with cross platform play however, and have a Xbox One/PC player in your lobby who lacks the necessary DLC to play, an “additional content required” message displays by their name. They will be unable to compete, but you can always change the event to something they can play if you’re looking to make up the numbers.
In addition to the regular modes there’s a weekly challenge with an online leaderboard for you to try and move up. Recent challenges have asked players to overtake as much traffic as possible in ten minutes, complete five laps as quick as they can and to see how quickly they can lap an opponent twice.
Away from online play, Mantis Burn Racing supports wireless play for up to eight players and local splitscreen play on a lone Switch for two to four people. Again, bots can make up the numbers if you’d like a full grid of eight. The splitscreen modes work well although three-player mode limits the field of view awkwardly with the screen divided into three vertical strips. These modes are available docked should you have people around your place and undocked should you have barged into their homes and started excitedly yelling “race with me”! Undocked two-player works particularly well as you lay the Switch flat, then sit opposite the other player as you look down at your square portion of the screen and play like it’s an old-school cocktail arcade cabinet.
It could benefit from some more tracks (as well as more environments), but Mantis Burn Racing offers simple-to-play racing entertainment across a range of events. With plenty of ways to upgrade your vehicles, they can be customised to your liking as you take on the various challenges the game throws at you. Regular racing is fun, but so are the other events, particularly the battle ones as you race around trying to outrun the hail of bullets or perhaps purposely drop behind to take out your tormentor. As enjoyable as these modes are in single player, they work even better against other people and on Switch there are a number of ways to get your multiplayer fix. Online competition is a welcome inclusion, but the local modes add immensely to the appeal. It's not quite "Game Boy and Tetris", but "Switch and Mantis Burn Racing" fit together well thanks to quick racing thrills and the options provided by an undocked console. If you're looking for some more multiplayer racing action then Mantis Burn Racing is an excellent choice, and yet another must-have title for Nintendo's hybrid console.