A pastiche of arcade racers from the 90’s, Formula Retro Racing doesn’t quite do enough to deserve a victory lap. The Finger Guns Review.
Most retro inspired games are a blend of influences. You can usually pinpoint a decade and a genre but you can’t usually call out a singular title that inspired it. With Formula Retro Racing, you can absolutely pin point the game it’s looking to emulate. It’s the 1990’s Arcade and eventual Mega Drive hit Virtua Racing. This game wears that inspiration on its sleeve and makes no effort to hide it. Everything from the HUD display right through to the chunky polygon visuals is an imitation of the classic SEGA racer. Does that make for a competent modern day racer or does this old school racer need more time in the pit lane? Let’s get into it…
The sheer amount of Virtua Racing that has been replicated here is astonishing. The chip tune and synth sound track is certainly reminiscent of the beats that spurred us on in 1993. The cars have that same low-poly charm. Similarly, the tracks are designed with the same design philosophy as Virtua Racing. There’s hard barriers keeping you on the race course and away from the low-poly world outside, and there’s a layer of rough ground around almost every track which will slow you down should you drive on them. There’s even the same sparks that shoot out from the back of the car when you’re heading over bumps. The UI elements – the position, the count down timer, the speedo, the track map – are all positioned in the same place on screen. So much of Virtua Racing has been cloned in Formula Retro Racing that I would bet that many people would struggle to tell the difference between it and the Sega Ages version of Virtual Racing on Switch.
The handling of Formula Retro Racing is one aspect of this game that is slightly different to its inspiration. Despite the cars actually travelling 45 mph slower than in Virtua Racing, the cars here feel a bit snappier and faster. The slipstream drafting works in this title too, something which wasn’t true of the home console version of Virtua Racing (no, really, it was a bug).
There’s a wider variety of tracks available in Formula Retro Racing too. While Virtua Racing had 3 tracks, this game was 8. Only 5 of these tracks are available from the outset though. To unlock the other 3 tracks, you’ve got to earn them through a pretty novel progression system. In the Arcade and Grand Prix game modes, you can race on the 5 open tracks across 3 difficulty settings. Your finishing position will reward you with a number of points. Those points are accumulated and when you hit certain milestones, you’ll unlock new licences and tracks.
The 8 tracks in Formula Retro Racing have a variety of challenge to them. One of the tracks resembles a NASCAR track in the shape of an 0 while another is a take on the Monaco GP complete with its iconic sectors. The 3 unlockable tracks are the ones that will seem most familiar to long time Virtua Racing fans. There’s a forest and mountain track here that have more than a few similarities with their retro counterparts.
The field is expanded here too. While there were 15 racers in Virtua Racing, there’s 20 racers on the track in Formula Retro Racing. No matter the game play mode you’re playing in, you’ll start from the back of the grid and have to drive through the pack.
This is where my first real bugbear with this game rears its head. The AI in Formula Retro Racing can be erratic and overtly aggressive at times. It’s not uncommon that you’ll slipstream up behind a car, move to overtake it and the car will simply drive into you as you pass it. Because there’s a damage system in place, much like Virtua Racing, this could result in your car (and theirs) exploding into pieces and trigger a standing start respawn. The AI in this game doesn’t seem intelligent enough to know the player is there and to react to them. Instead, each CPU racer seems to run their race and if you get in their way, they’ll simply crash into you.
In the Arcade and Grand Prix modes (the latter of which can be played in local split screen multiplayer), that’s not so much of a problem. You can simply restart a race. The third mode in the game though, easily the most challenging, can be ruined by it though. In this mode, each lap of a track increases the speed and intelligence of the competing cars. With each lap, a car is ‘eliminated’ from the game too (although they do still continue to race on the track however). The aim of this mode is to stay ahead of the elimination zone as the field of cars becomes ever more challenging. On paper, it’s a slight twist in the eliminator mode you’ll have seen elsewhere. In practice, the AI can make this incredibly challenging. Crash out and have to respawn and it’s pretty much game over.
While I admire the aim of Repixel8, the developer of Formula Retro Racing, I do wish it had pushed to modernise this game more than it has done. Replicating the thrill of Virtua Racing in a way we all remember it through though rose tinted glasses is all well and good. They’ve expanding upon the track number and the number of cars you’re racing against in the process. But Virtua Racing is already available on modern day consoles and the original version can easily be emulated. When you compare Formula Retro Racing to the likes of Hotshot Racing and Horizon Chase Turbo, games that take a retro inspiration then iterate and improve upon them, it’s hard to see the FRR as anything other than a missed opportunity to do more. It’s lacking features you’d want from a modern day racer too. There’s no leaderboards, either off or online. There’s no online multiplayer. Within a few hours, you’ll have seen everything that Formula Retro Racing has to offer and unless you’re a massive fan of Virtua Racing (and don’t have a Nintendo Switch), you’ll struggle to find reasons to come back for more, other than a giggle in local co-op.
A missed opportunity to build and improve upon the legacy of Virtua Racing, Formula Retro Racing instead opts to replicate large portions of Sega’s 90’s racer. Sure, there’s more tracks and a larger number of cars to race against but a lack of modes and modern features means that this retro inspired title doesn’t do enough to take a victory lap. Fans of Virtua Racing without a Nintendo Switch will get a kick out of the nostalgia Formula Retro Racing induces. For everyone else, there are better examples of modern takes on retro inspired racers.
Formula Retro Racing is available now on PS4 (review platform), Xbox One and PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.