On paper, Wreckfest is one of those games that should never really be possible on the Switch, at least not in a sufficiently playable state. When it came to PS4 and Xbox One in 2019, even though it was widely praised, many noted that it suffered from some technical issues and extremely long loading times. Surely if you’re bringing a game to the Switch when it was already pushing more powerful hardware to its limits, you’re setting yourself up for a broken disaster?
Not this time. Somehow, the wizards at developer Bugbear have not only managed to get Wreckfest running on the Switch, but it’s easily one of the better-looking racing games on the system and an absolute treat to play.
If you aren’t familiar with the game, the title is a fairly accurate representation of what you can expect to find. Wreckfest consists of a series of race and demolition derby events where smashing into your opponents is very much the order of the day. Making it to the end in one piece is obviously the main aim, but those willing to put the boot in and get involved in the car-crunching action will be the most heavily rewarded (and most heavily injured, probably).
Don’t expect to encounter any Ferraris or Lamborghinis here – the cars in Wreckfest are a bunch of bangers designed to crumple into pieces at the merest hint of a shunt. That said, there are some fun, quirkier vehicles included to make things even more chaotic than they already are. Racing in a stock car or truck is one thing, but racing in an old clapped-out school bus, a caravan, or even a lawnmower helps to dial up the anarchy factor a notch.
There’s a generous helping of tracks to choose from too, 45 of the gits to be exact. These range from rally-style dirt roads to Destruction Derby-style bowls, to more unique-looking tracks such as Hellride, which consists of two large half-pipe turns with a jump through a flaming ring in the middle.
Once you’re done with the single-player Career mode, which gives a healthy selection of races to play through, there’s also regular online tournaments where you get to take on a series of daily and weekly challenges in an attempt to work your way up global leaderboards to earn bonus vehicles and decals. Of course, there’s also online multiplayer too, which mercifully fills the rest of the starting grid with AI bots instead of having you wait forever for a dozen players to join a game that, given the evidence of most Switch racing games that don’t have karts in them, may not have much of an online community.
Of course, anyone who’s already played Wreckfest will already know all of this (the modes, not the online tumbleweed). What’s less obvious is how well all this is carried over to what is, let’s face it, weaker hardware than the game has been ported to in the past. For the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the result, to the extent that we’d say it’s one of the best Switch ‘downscales’ we’ve ever seen (for want of a better phrase).
The game aims for 30 frames per second and manages it a reasonable amount of the time without sacrificing too much in the way of detail. If you bring the camera up close to your car you can see that texture quality has been reduced to make things run a bit smoother, but when the game’s running these compromises, while noticeable, don’t really affect your enjoyment.
Also impressive is the way the game retains some of the debris-based effects that make it so satisfying to play on other systems. Crash into a pile of tyres and they’ll fly all over the place in a realistic way, while slamming someone into a fence causes planks of wood to scatter in a believable manner. Such moments can be surprisingly costly for graphics processing because of the physics calculations involved in throwing around large numbers of objects, but Wreckfest on Switch handles it without batting an eyelid and it’s just as fun to see debris flying around here as it is on other systems.
Even more surprising are the loading times, which were infamously awful on Xbox One and PS4 when the game was originally released, but actually aren’t so bad here. Let’s not pretend it’s a case of snapping your fingers and it’s loaded instantly, of course, but fire up a fully loaded 16-car race and you’re looking at around 20-25 seconds of loading time, which really isn’t that unreasonable.
Let’s also not pretend that the general presentation is flawless. We’ve already touched on the blurry textures, and in some situations in certain races the frame rate can suddenly tank for a few seconds, chugging for a bit before it gets back to normal again. Neither of these are particularly game-breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but nor are they so subtle that you won’t notice them. If you’re the sort of person who floods forums with claims that anything less than a perfect frame rate is “literally unplayable” then, if you’ll forgive the pun, you’ll want to steer clear of this one (though it would be your loss).
That said, when you switch to handheld mode, the visual sacrifices become more pronounced. Things look significantly blurrier and the cutbacks are generally more distracting. This is mainly because Bugbear has clearly decided its focus is mainly on performance, and in that sense it’s made the right call because even with the further downgrade on handheld everything still runs smoothly enough with all damage effects still intact.
Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that this is a three-year-old game and other formats have already received two seasons’ worth of DLC including a bunch of other cars. On Switch the game costs $40 at launch and the two DLC packs cost $28 combined. That’s a total of $68 if you want everything, while other formats already have Wreckfest: Complete Edition which includes the DLC for $50. As much as Wreckfest defies convention by delivering an extremely impressive Switch port, then, it also very much goes along with another annoying norm – charging more money for a less impressive version of a game because it’s ‘newer’.
Wreckfest is one of the more impressive Switch ports we've seen, taking a game that already had performance issues on more powerful hardware and delivering a relatively stable version with reasonable loading speeds and all its debris-flinging carnage fully intact. Handheld play is a little less visually acceptable, and the Switch tax rears its ugly head again, but just like the rough-and-ready roadsters in the game, we ultimately had a great time behind the wheel.