Virtua Racing still stands as one of the most important video games ever created. This a game which left a permanent mark on gaming history and is, quite literally, eternally playable. It gave birth to the modern 3D racing genre, and not long ago it received a full 60 fps HD remaster treatment on Nintendo Switch as part of the SEGA Ages label. For the cheap asking price and the sheer number of features, Virtua Racing on Switch is the most definitive edition of the classic and an excellent game in its own right. Quite simply, this is as good as racing gets in a video game. Now what about little old Xbox One gamers who may not have a Switch handy? Well, that’s where Formula Retro Racing by Repixel8 steps up to give Xbox One owners their own exclusive imitation of Yu Suzuki’s legendary arcade racer.
Imitation is right, because Formula Retro Racing isn’t shy or subtle about how much it wants to be like Virtua Racing. From the flat polygonal graphics to even the text fonts, this feels like something that would have gone to court had it been released during the competitive arcade era; fortunately indie gaming can get away with rather flattering imitations nowadays. Calling it a rip-off is probably a little mean, but when everything about it tries to mimic the classic in every possible way, it’s hard not to address the elephant driving the formula. Still, when taken as a homage this one treads on familiar territory in a way which feels safe and very much by the books.
When Formula Retro Racing launched the game didn’t really play all too well, as the core driving model just felt off. However, a recent update fixed a number of issues which really helped improve the gameplay by making the core driving model feel just right and actually enjoyable now. This review is based on these much appreciated improvements. So, if you couldn’t stand the game at launch, then chances are the post update version will please you.
The driving feels nice, with a decent sense of speed and a smooth friction of the tyres on the road. It captures the floaty arcade feel of Virtua Racing quite convincingly for the most part, although it is still not quite there yet. The recent update makes the driving feel a lot more enjoyable, close to classic SEGA arcade racers of the ‘90s, right down to the ‘ROLLING START’ in some tracks which clearly pay homage to Daytona USA.
What hampers the driving experience is the erratic driver AI. Either the AI doesn’t know how to drive or they’re basically out to get you. It just doesn’t feel consistent with a Formula One experience, even if it is an arcade-style interpretation. Now, the AI would have been easier to live with if the game had a multiplayer mode, but sadly Formula Retro Racing offers sweet nothing in multiplayer, be it offline or over Xbox Live. This is a huge omission by basic racing video game standards.
Unlike its inspiration, Formula Retro Racing offers eight race courses, five of which are available at the start with the remainder needing to be unlocked using licence points. The process of earning licence points is simple enough as you earn points even if you don’t finish in the top 4. The basic arcade mode offers the typical experience, but then there is an eliminator mode which works as a jacked-up time attack, where a certain position needs to be maintained in order to stay in the race, with the AI difficulty increasing with each passing lap. This eliminator mode is quite interesting and fun, especially in the more advanced courses. There’s a practice mode too, to help players get to grips with the eight courses at their own pace.
Visually, the retro polygonal look has a nice shine and appeal to it, and it’s hard not to enjoy the vibrant colours in HD, even when the models are so deliberately primitive. What is utterly disappointing about the presentation is the music, as it is absolutely awful and sounds like something taken from sound samples in a Creative Commons pool. For a game that tries to capture the vibe of the ‘90s, the soundtrack completely misses the mark in capturing the energy and excitement of arcade gaming music.
Formula Retro Racing on Xbox One is a straight up clone of Virtua Racing made for Xbox One owners. If you happen to have a Nintendo Switch, then you absolutely can’t go wrong with its excellent Virtua Racing remaster which actually costs less than this. Although it has a strong driving model, the driver AI takes away from the enjoyment, as does the terrible music. The lack of multiplayer is felt here even with an interesting eliminator mode, and so Formula Retro Racing is only one to check out if you aren’t able to play Virtua Racing and are starved of options.