By now, we're all pretty smart to the realities of porting a game from other consoles to Nintendo Switch – especially when that game has arrived within the last year or so. Unless you're working with a particular art style or setup that's purposefully easy to render, most Triple-A games are going to take a knock to both performance and presentation. We've seen how to do it right (Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus being one such example) and we've seen plenty of ways to screw it up (such as a near unplayable version of Ark: Survival Evolved).
By 2019, we're now in a position where we can honestly ask ourselves, 'Is a game worth porting to Switch when the disparity in quality is too great?' and it's that question that dogs 3DClouds’ latest high-speed racing experience. Because while Xenon Racer isn't a particularly remarkable racer on PC and other console platforms, it's a solid one that owes much of its identity to the heyday of Ridge Racer. But on Nintendo Switch it's a vastly different game simply because of the concessions that have been made to get it running on lower-spec hardware.
All the content on Switch is exactly the same as the stuff you'll find on PS4 and every other platform – right down to the vast championship mode and the support for online play – but it's the presentation that really takes the hit. The framerate has been dropped from 60fps to 30fps, which on its own makes a serious difference to a game all about driving around tracks at ridiculous speeds. On top of this, Xenon Racer often struggles to hit that 30fps cap, and instead sits around the 24-25fps mark for the majority of races. Everything from the opening intro of the game to the menus that take your chosen car through a garage on multiple levels in real time noticeably chugs to the point of exhaustion.
There's also some considerable input lag, which is a cardinal sin or a game that bases itself around the drifting model from the Ridge Racer games. Considering you're often moving at such high speed, you always need to know when to tap the brake to bring the rear-end of the car out to pull off a perfect drift. Not only does this refill your Xenon-based boost, but it's also a fundamental part of cornering. Too often on the review build did we find the brake inputs lagging so much we'd instantly smash into the side of a barrier and lose four or five positions in a matter of seconds.
Which is so frustrating, because Xenon Racer has plenty to offer for race fans hoping for an alternative racing experience with a little extra bite. This isn’t an easy racing experience, invoking the challenging early days of WipEout with its mixture of high-speed cornering and split-second decision making. You can customise your futuristic car with new parts as you progress through the ranks and there’s a good 8-10 hours of gameplay to be found in the main championship mode alone. There are good components present here, but none of them get the chance to shine on Switch in the way they do on other platforms.
Beyond its technical issues, Xenon Racer has deep-seated gameplay problems that hold it back from reaching that top step on the podium. The handling model is a little too cumbersome for a racer all about taking hyper-advanced sports cars around some challenging globally-set tracks, while drifting can be incredibly temperamental; this issue is likely down to the aforementioned problems with input lag, but even compared to the likes of GRIP, Xenon Racer simply doesn’t stack up in terms of controls. There’s clearly a decent game in here somewhere, but without an adjustment to its handling model and a significant patch to its performance and presentation, it feels too much like an unfinished product.
Considering Xenon Racer’s official Nintendo Switch pages contain screenshots and trailer footage clearly taken from versions that do not, in any way, reflect the game presented on Switch (something the developer has now taken steps to remedy), it’s clear this is a port that has simply endured one sacrifice too many to get to the finish line. Gone are the dynamic lighting and particle effects, replaced by a dull lighting model that only really shows any sense of presence on the occasional nighttime track. Its visuals are dogged with pop-in issues, and the flat, 2D crowds and low-res textures call to mind a much earlier generation of 3D visuals; take all of this into account and you’re left with a game that is clearly inferior to the versions available elsewhere – and if we're being brutally honest, those versions aren't all that hot, either.
It’s not often we recommend you play a Nintendo Switch game on a different platform, but there’s simply no way we could advise you to pick this up right now in its current state. There’s every chance the developer could provide substantial support to patch Xenon Racer into a more playable state, but as of writing it’s a game that doesn't warrant that full price tag. With a layer of extra blurring when playing in handheld mode, and that sense of breakneck speed reduced substantially by the sheer drop in frames when racing, you’re forced to endure a racer that simply can't justify its own existence on Switch. Add in poor controls and input lag and it's clear that Xenon Racer needed a little more time in the garage.