I’ve been playing top-down racers for as long as I care to remember. From the early days of Super Sprint through to Super Cars and onto Micro Machines, my fondest gaming memories are full of them. Yet in a world which is full of detail and accuracy, with racers which have taken visual intensity to the next level, it’s brilliant to see that there’s still room for a fun little top-down racer. That’s exactly what we have with Circuit Superstars.
Created by Original Fire Games and then picked up by Square Enix Collective, Circuit Superstars is a modern take on the racers of old, throwing players behind the wheel of a car – albeit from a top-down viewpoint – as they partake in some extremely precise racing action. And much of that draw comes about via the short laps, the relatively quick races and the fact that you’ll continue to go back time and time again as you attempt to find better lines and shave milliseconds off your personal bests.
Presented with a rather cool, super fun visual style, Circuit Superstars is a joy to look at. Drivers and cars are both toon-ish, and whilst you’ll rarely see the former – pretty much only when they stand on the end of race podium in fact – the cars are the star. Squished down, non-licensed versions of real-world motors, with livery customisations possible should you so wish, Circuit Superstars covers everything from little Piccino Cup racing, through the Caterham-styled Superlights, up to the might of the Eurotrucks and into the Muscle Cars. Things get faster – yet no more serious – when you delve into the world of the Super Truck, the Rally machines (and yep, there are some tracks which bring bits of off-road racing), the 50s GT and standard GT models, Prototypes and finally the triple-header of GP racing – 1960s, 1980s and that of the modern day.
Each and every one of these cars handle differently too; some holding their line beautifully as you nail an apex, others spinning up the rear wheels without a care, and more still requiring a drifting license for any form of control to come to head. Obviously the trucks drive with even more variety, but every single class has its own unique little style that ensures you’ll rarely tire of what they allow.
Races are – for the most part – single-class affairs too, and whilst this is great, keeping the action frantic and tight, I can’t help but feel that multi-class racing could have played a bit more of a prominence. It’s doable in the Free Play game mode when Circuit Superstars goes all split-screen on us (with an annoying drop in framerate to accompany that), but otherwise the main Grand Prix mode is strictly single-class limited.
It’s this Grand Prix which will initially be your port of call with Circuit Superstars, as you are given the chance to work your way through all the classes available, across Amateur, Pro-Am, Pro, Master and Superstar licenses. Obviously these see the difficulty ramp up as you take on small tournament-styled events, with accumulated points deciding the overall winners. Earn the trophies you are looking for in any one event and you can easily move onto the next that takes your fancy. Kudos goes to those behind Circuit Superstars for ensuring that everything is out in the open, easily accessible from the get-go. If you want to jump straight into the fastest cars in the game, with the very best of AI competitors, you can do so. Just don’t come crying to us when you get left in the dust of all those around you.
It’s not just about going round in circles though and some of these events require racers to consider a few things whilst they are pounding their way round the track, shaving those milliseconds off with every lap. There is the need to consider pit stops to replenish fuel, fix any damage and fit some new tyres, for instance. It’s a nice little touch – and speeding into your pit box, clattering other crews as you do so never gets old – but it would have been great if there was a little bit more to consider here. Perhaps it’s the motorsport fan in me, but would it have been too tricky to add in specific tyre choices, with softer compound tyres delivering faster laps at a cost to longevity?
On the whole though, there is little to complain about in terms of the actual racing. It’s all pretty tight, but you’ll constantly be on edge, knowing that one small mistake, one hit of a barrier, one easy spin, or one moment of relaxation as you try to take a bit too much curb, could well result in the difference between a podium step or utter failure. And thankfully, if you do fail, you’ll only be able to put it down to your own lack of skills, as the mechanics provided in Circuit Superstars – as a racer – are nigh on perfect.
With the throttle and brake assigned to the usual triggers, it is just left to you to feather these as you come to corners, powering out of them and nailing the apex required as best you can. Practice really does make perfect in this fun little racer, and that in turn will see your lap times tumble. That in itself is where the real joy is found.
Alongside the main Grand Prix mode is the inclusion of the now iconic Top Gear Test Track, letting you show your skills in a reasonably priced video game. It’s well designed and just like the rest of the circuits here, feels cute to speed around. Perhaps it would have been nice to have a few more route options accompanying it though, as it does occasionally feel like Original Fire Games have skimped a little on track variety. It’s not long before you find yourself frequenting the same bits of road time and time again – especially it seems when you take your racing online.
Yep that’s right, Circuit Superstars is fully online-upped and it absolutely thrives here. Crossplay support is in place and even though this is a little indie title – the type of game which usually struggles to find a vibrant online community – that crossplay has seen full lobbies at all times. Aside from a few dodgy driver connections which in turn drop some serious car stutter and lag, the online side of the racing is just as brilliant as that found offline, with both qualifying laps and the races proper playing out superbly well. The option to create your own lobby, or to run matchmaking to find race types works really well too.
Throw in some weekly time trials that will have players heading back to Circuit Superstars even when they are done, the opportunity to unlock new liveries and driver gear, along with trying to set your fastest time on that Top Gear Test Track and it all comes together to ensure that Circuit Superstars is an utter joy to play. It really is a game which has successfully taken the top-down racer kicking and screaming into the modern gaming world.
Yes it would be nice to see Circuit Superstars filled out with more circuits and possibly even additional vehicle classes, but if you’re looking for a fun little top-down racer that is able to provide some serious racing both online and off, you’re going to be hard pushed to find anything much better.
Purchase Circuit Superstars on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store