Despite our clever Episode I reference in the tag-line, to understand VSR: Void Space Racing you need to forget everything you know about the physics in the Star Wars movies; the only sci-fi that can help you here is The Expanse. While we're not saying you need a Newtonian Physics degree to pilot these ships, having one wouldn’t hurt either.
Space. The Final Frontier. It's big - really big - and filled with both dangers and wonders, but mostly vast chunks of emptiness. One of the most notable absences - besides atmosphere - is friction. If you kick a football on Earth it will go as far as the strength of your kick minus the friction from the atmosphere and the pull of gravity allows it before coming to a full stop. Kick that same ball with the same strength in space and it will just keep going in the same direction, at the same constant speed until it either hits something or gets pulled by a gravity field from something bigger. With that in mind, how could space racing even be possible?
VSR is your answer. A quick glance at your starting craft design tells you this is no ordinary racing game. Unlike most spaceships depicted in video games and popular culture, those side engines aren’t there for show, they are what allows you to spin (using ZL and ZR) and turn your (fortunately invincible) ship towards any point you see, with the main engine giving it the thrust needed to propel it forward.
In space there is no up, down, left or right, so if you were expecting regular race tracks, the game throws you another surprise: you race in orbit of planets, stations, cargo ships and other such gorgeous space vistas from the future of a solar-faring Human race. It is almost a shame that you won’t really be paying much attention to them - not if you wish to finish in any place other than last, anyway.
Instead of a regular race track, there are only circular waypoints spread across the areas, with the HUD always showing the position of the next two checkpoints. This is extremely handy, as you can plan the best angle to take on the nearest checkpoint and come out the other side in an advantageous position to start boosting to the next one. Once the pointer turns red, nothing short of a bump into one of the other seven racers or a crash into the scenery will stop you from crossing that checkpoint. Coming in first place is thus achieved by the pilot who can judge the shortest/fastest trajectory between checkpoints, and even on the lowest of the three difficulty settings, the AI racers are all top graduates from spaceship flight school.
So do expect to feel rather inadequate at this sport the first few times you jump into the cockpit. Miss too many checkpoints and you will be disqualified, but fly ‘safe’ and you will finish last. It took us about 15-odd minutes until we actually won first place in the opening race. By then, everything began clicking in place and VSR became a truly blissful experience. You just need to conquer the ‘crash course’ in spaceship flying 101 before you can begin to enjoy this one.
Graphics are truly gorgeous, with stable 60 frames per second displaying space vistas on par with those found on Manticore: Galaxy on Fire. We didn’t find much in the way of performance differences between portable and docked mode either, which is always a plus. Unless your neighbours are raving lunatics, you won’t be making many friends while blasting the frantic electronic soundtrack across the living room, but it suits the action flawlessly. For the price the amount of content is just right - three different spaceships and eight total tracks, unlocked as you snap up first places. Online leaderboards will ensure that you will keep coming back for more long after you’re done unlocking everything.
Multiplayer is present with vertical split-screen effortlessly accommodating up to two players to go head to head. It is a shame the developer didn't have the resources to add local wireless or online, since these races would be even more eventful with eight human pilots boosting about. But the one true omission we truly believe would enhance the experience is a cockpit view. While the present third-person camera works perfectly, it might have been even more thrilling to see the action from a proper first-person perspective of the ship’s cockpit. There are also no weapons of any sort available, but we're unsure if having those would somehow deteriorate the purity of the racing experience.
VSR: Void Space Racing is a one-of-kind racing game that finds itself very welcome in the Switch library. There is simply nothing quite like it; you're wrestling with raw physics as much as your rival racers, and the overall experience is brutal yet incredibly rewarding. Be prepared to swallow your pride in the first few sessions - during which you will be nothing short of a space pinball - and then aim for the stars.