You don’t get many top down racers these days, but VooFoo’s Mantis Burn Racing is a cracking take on the sub-genre, with fun, slippery physics and three contrasting weight classes of vehicle that each have different strengths. Now it’s come to Nintendo Switch, a console for which it feels like a great fit, just like so many indie titles.
Since release, VooFoo have done a great job of playing to the strengths of each upcoming platform. With the PlayStation 4 Pro, they proudly stated that they were the first native 4K game on the system, an accomplishment that was far less noteworthy for Xbox One X. There’s also been a push to support cross-network multiplayer as comprehensively as possible, and the game has been bolstered by both free and paid DLC.
The Nintendo Switch version comes along and bundles all of this together. There’s twelve tracks across three contrasting environments – Sand Town and New Shangri-La were in the original game, and complemented by the free Snowbound DLC pack. You then have the three original speed classes added to with the hover vehicles of Elite class and the shooty-bang-bang of the Battle class, with their forward facing machine guns and rear-mounted mine launchers.
That might not seem like the hugest number of tracks, and it definitely feels quite limited thematically, but the game makes the most of what it’s got. There’s twelve game modes to play – admittedly three are just different lengths of race – covering the spread of racing, time trials, survival, overtaking, and a couple of Battle car specific modes.
Perhaps the main complaint is that the career drags it out early on. On the one hand that’s fair enough to gradually build players up to the higher speed classes, but the first season of 11 events uses just three tracks and the second season reuses those three with the addition of just one more. You’ll be sick of Summit, Caves and Harbour before long, and it’s simply a case that there weren’t enough tracks to support the gradual progression and vehicle upgrade unlocks that the career tries to use. It’s not until Veteran Season 2, the eighth of eleven, that you encounter the DLC Snowbound tracks or any content from the paid DLC.
The game looks good and generally runs well on Switch, largely thanks to the top down camera angle helping to keep the game’s graphical complexity in check and the 60fps target on all other platforms giving VooFoo the headroom to play with. In fact, the game on Switch manages to support four player split screen, just as on other platforms, albeit sacrificing the 60fps target in favour of a variable frame rate.
Depth of field has been sacrificed, losing some of the tilt shift effect, and the bloom effect has been dialled back, but the more noticeable compromise has been with the game resolution, which drops from 1080p. That helps to keep the game at 60fps the vast majority of the time, but it can dip just a little bit and seemingly whenever the game has to deal with changes in elevation to show more of the background scenery. It’s barely a concern when docked, but those frame rate stutters are noticeable and accentuated when playing handheld, even with the game seeming to drop down below the Switch’s native 720p. Of course, it’s still more than playable and on the whole offers a good high frame rate.
The game also supports local multiplayer for two to four players in split screen, whether on TV or handheld, albeit doing so by dropping first to a variable frame rate for two players, and then simple 30fps for four players. It works well, but it highlights that Switch games need to have customisable controls for when playing with a single Joy-Con. Unless players have planned ahead and packed the wrist straps – this really should never be expected – you’ll be left with trying to use the tiny buttons in the rail to accelerate and brake when there’s proper buttons begging to be used.
Trying to take the game online, and prepare yourself to see some tumbleweed blowing across the screen. Soon after its original launch, the online player count had already plummeted, and there’s a similar dearth of online lobbies in Mantis Burn Racing on Switch. While the game supports cross-network play with Xbox One and Steam and you’re made aware that this is being activated when you venture online, I’ve only seen one or two poorly populated lobbies since the game’s release last week. People had already stopped playing on Xbox and PC, meaning that while cross-network play can be a boon to keeping player counts high for smaller games, it’s already too late.
Mantis Burn Racing is a solid top-down racer that really just wants more tracks and less repetition to be considered great. As it comes to Nintendo Switch, VooFoo have done a great job with the port, making a handful of sacrifices to hit the 60fps target the vast majority of the time, and preserved local split-screen for which the Switch is so well suited. It’s just a shame that there’s barely a pulse when looking to play online.