There isn’t a day goes by when we don’t pray that Bandai Namco finally snaps out of it and realises the Switch needs a new Ridge Racer game. The series’ arcade-style, drift-heavy racing action would be perfect on Nintendo’s system, but alas, we’ve heard nothing despite rumours early last year. So when we were told that Rise: Race the Future was “an arcade racer at the crossroads of Ridge Racer, Sega Rally and F-Zero”, we were obviously intrigued. While it doesn’t quite hit those highs, it’s still a half-decent little racing game.
Set in the near future, Rise offers fairly standard racing action with one notable gimmick: its cars can retract their wheels and act like speedboats whenever you enter a patch of water. It’s an effect similar to the anti-grav stuff in Mario Kart 8, although it has a far greater impact on handling here than it does in Nintendo’s game. Any time you hit water, your handling becomes a lot looser and you’re more likely to spin out if you aren’t careful.
This is a bigger deal than it is in other racing games. Rise is unashamedly unforgiving when it comes to punishing errors, and if you suffer an awkward crash or spin out your chances of making your way back to the front of the pack are slim. It could have been particularly frustrating when you’re playing through the game’s Championship mode: while at its core it’s your typical Mario Kart style cup, it consists of an oddly high number of rounds, meaning you’ll have to go through something like 9 different races before reaching the podiums. Thankfully though, if you mess up, say, the 7th race you’re given the option to restart that one, rather than starting the whole tournament from scratch.
The handling, in general, takes a little getting used to. Given that the aforementioned Ridge Racer and Sega Rally were cited as influences, it should come as no surprise that the cars feel extremely light and floaty, with the general idea being that drifts and handbrake turns are the order of the day. This takes a while to adapt to and continues to be a challenge for various reasons as you unlock each of the game’s 10 cars. The first couple you’re given at the start are fairly underpowered, making it tricky to pick up enough momentum to swing them round for drifts at times. Meanwhile, later cars are hefty enough that if you aren’t careful enough they can handle like shopping trolleys. There’s also a slight delay between moving the stick and seeing it reflected on screen, which takes a little time to adapt to, but isn’t too bad.
As well as the eight lengthy Championships available to you there’s also a Challenges mode, which presents you with 64 one-off races divided into eight ‘seasons’ and gives you missions to complete in each. These can be straightforward – finish at least second, finish in a certain time – or can ask something a little out of the ordinary to make you rethink how you play. You may need to win without using your boost, or win without dropping below 45mph at any point. Winning these races and completing their respective challenges earns you fans and tokens, which are then used to unlock the next season.
There’s a lot to do, then, at least in terms of the number of races available. The whole thing does start to feel a little repetitive, though, mainly because there are technically only four environments in the game. While there are 32 tracks available, it’s actually just four large tracks split into smaller circuits, with barriers placed in different sections. Each of the eight tracks in an area feel different to race on, then, but visually they all look disappointingly similar. For a game that’s set in the future, its jungle, snow, desert and rainforest settings start feeling like old news fairly quickly, even though there are sunny, rain, fog and sunset weather variations for each, too.
That’s not to say it looks bad, mind you: far from it. Developer VD-DEV has a decades-long history of pushing handheld hardware to the limits – check out the GBA version of V-Rally 3 or the remarkably detailed, 60fps open-world game Cop: The Recruit on DS – and Rise is no different. There’s no frame rate magic this time around with the game running at a solid 30fps, but the level of visual detail while docked is remarkable. This is one area in which the comparisons with Ridge Racer are appropriate; Bandai Namco’s games were always known for being among the best-looking racers on their respective systems and Rise is certainly a game that shows off the Switch’s power… as long as it’s docked.
Switch to handheld and it’s a little blurrier, to the extent that it’s sometimes difficult to see turns coming up properly. The water sections in the Alyska Lakes tracks consist of numerous alternative routes with large rocks in the middle, and the general idea is to plan out the best path through them to reach the dirt track again at the other end, but when playing in handheld you’re far more likely to hit a rock while struggling to see, which could instantly scupper your chances of winning. It’s not Doom levels of blurriness, but it’s noticeable. It would potentially look even worse in split-screen, but we’ll probably never find out: this is a strictly solo game, with no local or online multiplayer to speak of. That's a real shame.
Despite its arcade racer influences, Rise takes a little while to get into. Its floaty handling isn’t immediately accessible and you’ll be slipping all over the place for a while until it all eventually ‘clicks’. When it does, though, the result is a compelling and visually impressive racing game that may not come close to threatening the likes of Ridge Racer for pole position, but certainly offers some entertaining action.
As long as you’re playing it docked and willing to put the time in to master its helium-light handling, Rise eventually reveals itself to be a rewarding and visually fantastic arcade style racer with an interesting Challenges mode. Its slightly blurry handheld visuals and the complete lack of multiplayer are disappointing, but persevere with its slippery steering and the payoff is a fun – if unforgiving – solo racing game.