Formula Retro Racing is based on a particular era of arcade racers: namely, the very early polygonal era in which games like Virtua Racing (well, okay, it was really only Virtua Racing) were wowing arcade-goers.
As in Sega’s seminal arcade racer, Formula Retro Racing uses large, chunky polygons for its cars and tracks and has very little shading, giving everything an extremely clean and minimalist look. Back in the day this was necessary for performance, but in the modern era it’s strictly a conscious design choice and we’re all for it. Much like the Sega Ages re-release of Virtua Racing on the Switch, this polygonal art style looks exceptional in HD, and looks particularly striking on a Switch OLED where its bold colours pop.
Unfortunately, however, the Switch version of the game also brings with it some fairly severe performance issues, which can quite frequently prove to be distracting. Whereas other versions of the game — which released on Xbox and PC in 2020 and PlayStation the following year — are able to hit a steady 60 frames per second with relative ease, the Switch version also aims for 60 but regularly falls well short.
Essentially, any time you’re racing on more than just a plain, featureless part of the track, the game will start to chug a little and clearly struggles to keep up with things. Given that one track, Monte Carlo, is based on the F1 Monaco circuit and is therefore full of buildings and other scenery, this is one of the worst performing tracks and really hampers the enjoyment of what should be a highlight.
If you can put up with these performance issues, what you have here is your typical arcade-style racer with reasonably solid handling. It can be quite satisfying taking corners at high speed because, in true Virtua Racing style, your car makes wild screeching noises any time you take even a moderate turn, meaning you always feel like you’re pushing it to the limit even when you aren’t. It’s not very realistic, but it’s fun.
What’s less fun, however, is the way the AI racers behave. It’s almost as if they don’t even realise you’re on the track, and they regularly plough through you or get in your way, causing both of you to explode in a mess of polygons and forcing a respawn. This wouldn’t be too annoying were it not for the fact that playing on Advanced difficulty generally requires a perfect run to finish in the first place. On top of that, the game’s drafting mechanic (where you pick up speed by catching an opponent’s slipstream) doesn’t kick in until you’re practically right behind someone, meaning smacking into the back of them is a regular occurrence.
True to its arcade roots, the game doesn’t have any sort of major progression system. The main Arcade mode lets you simply take on any of its eight tracks in either Beginner, Advanced or Expert difficulty levels, and the aim is simply to finish in first place on each race and collect a trophy. Once you’ve collected all three trophies on every track, you’ve basically reached the limit of what you can do in Arcade mode.
There’s also another mode called Eliminator, which puts an interesting spin on things by essentially acting like a survival mode. The aim here is to complete as many laps as possible without dropping down below 10th place. That may seem easy enough, but the twist is that each of the AI cars gets a little bit faster every time you complete a lap, meaning they’ll eventually have a higher top speed than you.
Again, this mode has three difficulty levels and takes place over all eight tracks, meaning there’s at least another nice chunk of gameplay to be had once all the Arcade cups have been earned. But once that’s all done, there’s really not much else to do except try to better your lap times. There are no major unlockables, all the cars look identical and perform the same as far as we can tell, and there’s no online multiplayer. There’s a split-screen multiplayer mode for 2-4 players, but as you would expect this too suffers from performance issues and can be even more sluggish at times, which is a real shame.
Ultimately, it’s these performance issues that are the most disappointing aspect of the game. We’re not always sticklers for frame rate – some people take it a bit too far at times, if you ask us – but there are some situations where you do have to step back and wonder why a game performs the way it does. It’s clear from the way it looks that the Switch should, on paper, be able to handle something like Formula Retro Racing at 60 frames per second without too much of a struggle. Far more detailed games have pulled it off, after all, which leads us to believe there may be an optimisation issue here.
The real problem the game faces, of course, is that its direct inspiration is also available on the Switch. It’s all well and good being a Virtua Racing alternative on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, but when the actual Virtua Racing (in its Sega Ages guise) is already available, costs half the price and runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second, then Formula Retro Racing suddenly becomes a much harder sell.
Formula Retro Racing is far from a bad racing game. It’s perfectly fine, it handles well enough and it does a good job of replicating the art style of the early '90s arcade era. But its performance issues on Switch and the frustrating AI behaviour means that it should only really be considered if you’ve absolutely rinsed everything to do in Sega Ages Virtua Racing and are looking for something else to scratch a similar itch.
How in the world does this have poor performance? It looks like it's ripped from the N64 or something
another one for the wishlist, I suppose. thank you for the heads up.
There's already Hotshot Racing as well and NL gave that an 8/10. Some fun extra modes in that one but the AI can be brutal.
I had a feeling that this one wasn't going to be up to snuff. I'll just stick to Virtua Racing.
I can't quite put my finger on why, but your car always looks like it's floating in the screenshots on this page.
Not really any excuse for performance issues in a game like this. The Switch is more than powerful enough to run mid-90s style graphics in 1080/60.
Just stick to Hotshot Racing or the real deal from Sega and M2. Unless you completely had no choice then at least get it on Steam for $6 instead of wasting the $15 for this awful port.
Looks a lot like the Jaguar hitgame Checkered Flag.
Is online in Hotshot Racing alive? This review has reminded me that I had that game collecting dust after finishing grand prix once or twice.
If only these guys would get their act together.
It’s almost been 10 years!!!!!
I don't particularly like Virtua Racing and was hoping this would be a little more sim-like in handling. The wait for a decent F1 experience continues...
The Playground scene on Horizon Chase Turbo is lively enough and there's a good community on discord.
I was going to download this on the PS4 but then decided to wait for the Switch version to come out. There are better and similar alternatives already downloaded on my Switch it would appear, so I will therefore pass. Thanks for the review.
I watched a trailer for this and whereas I can see what they are going for it felt to me like there were some inconsistant design choices. The smoke from your car being sprite based for example. The trees look to have more polygons proportional to other objects. That sort of thing.
Thanks for the review. Wait for a sale it is.
Hotshot Racing is much better with more cars, tracks and performs better.
I wanted this so bad but I’m glad I waited for a review. I know I can buy it on another platform and be fine but I think I’m just going to pass for now.
@SoulChimera daaaannnggggg totally forgot about this one. Holy crap that’s sounding like what we all want. meow mix, meow mix, please deliver, Nicalis!
First thing I noticed watching Switch gameplay was the absence of shadows, the screen shots on the eShop have them, the game doesn't, from what I can tell. The failure to hit 60fps and resulting inconsistent framerate would make this a no for me.
I might get the PS4 version as looks better and only £4.99, so a few pounds cheaper too, shame though as arcade racers are well suited to the Switch Lite. Been playing Slipstream a lot on my Lite since it came out, it's great.
@gcunit Yeah I really don't get why devs wanted to make a game like this, you aren't racing against other drivers but instead race against the counter. I know Sega does this a lot back in the old arcade days but the reason it had a counter to begin with was cause they are arcade driving games meant to take your quarters so the counter was made to prevent player from winning and persuade them to put in more quarters. In these non-arcade era these kind of driving games doesn't work anymore. Gamers had move on from time racers and wanted simulation racing, street racing, mayhem racing, or just pure arcade style racing. This game would had been more fun if it didn't attempt to be another Virtua Racing wannabe.
A lot of new retro games have what appears to be a low poly and flat shading no textures art style but it’s basically just a facade so they’re still using a modern polygon counts and rendering techniques and will usually overdo some shader and alpha effects that hammer performance. I remember playing Bro Team and Strafe on PS4 those are simple looking retro aesthetic games but they’re some of the worst performing games on the entire system.
@StarPoint Poor optimisation.
Clearly a lazy and cheap port. I'll wait for 90% off before considering a purchase. Remember, along with Virtua Racing, there's the excellent Hot Shots Racing on Switch for fun racing games. Not to forget Horizon Chase Turbo!
Waste of money, wasted opportunity. Vibrations are in handheld extremely loud, cannot be turned off from game, game is in handheld unplayble because of this. Leadeboards broken, not show your best times. No Time Attack to beat your best times.
I really enjoy this, and have no complaints as it only cost a tenner.
Smooth graphics, tough races in not on easy. There's been an update and I had zero issues with Monaco tonight.
As a fun, retro arcade racer it's absolutely fine for the price. Not as good as Hotshot Racing (9/10 from me) but a solid 7.5/10.
I am an arcade racer fan, and also old, so this appeals to my demographic.
@CharlieGirl Avoid it, it's really really annoying. I deleted it from my system.
This game is so flawed, I find it infuriating to play, and it's an insult at this price. The brakes are all or nothing, the handling is that of a heavy boat, and the A.I are so cheap they make you want to smash your TV up. That aside it's great.
So it uses a minimalist art style and still can't hit a steady 60 FPS?! That's just sad. They didn't even think to just drop the resolution, since it's not like these graphics would look any different at a significantly lower resolution, anyway.
@czdjax hi, on the switch main screen, open settings > system settings > controllers and sensors > controller vibration : off.
@Fluidz no, it will turn off vibrations in all games, its problem only in one game, in formula retro racing, in other games are vibrations ok. I dont want change switch settings because of this one game. I would like to see vibrate off in game settings.
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