The loving tribute to OutRun and Lotus Turbo Challenge comes to Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, but is it only for retro fans?
If youd told anyone back in the 90s, or early 2000s, that racing games would become a niche genre they wouldve thought you crazy (just imagine if youd suggested that one day Sonic and Mario would appear in the same game – you wouldve been laughed out of the playground). Some racing games do still exist, of course, and are very popular but theyre almost exclusively driving simulators. Brazilian developer Aquiris remembers a different style of arcade racer though, and theyre doing their level best to make sure they dont go extinct.
Naming the specific games which inspired Horizon Chase Turbo is a sort of Rorschach test for retro gamers. You see in it whatever you remember most fondly from your youth, although the most obvious ones to us are OutRun and Lotus Turbo Challenge. Aquiris themselves name SNES game Top Gear (no relation to the show) as the primary influence. Well be honest and say we dont even remember that one, but apparently its a close relation to the Lotus games and made by the same developers.
San Francisco Rush and its successors are the other piece of the puzzle, but really Horizon Chase Turbo is an amalgam of all the great arcade racers of the day. The visuals are kept purposefully retro but with a modern twist and four-player split-screen co-op as standard. Its a masterful recreation of a bygone era of racing games and a breath of fresh air for anyone thats sick of simulations. But, as ever, nostalgia does come at a price…
Horizon Chase Turbo may not be a simulation but it does have its own particular rules when it comes to driving, and its here where it feels much more like the Lotus games (or Top Gear, presumably) than OutRun. Although like all racing games of the era the car is locked to the bottom of the screen, as it twists and turns against the curves of the track with more than a hint of auto-steer.
Its the collision detection where the bumper car nature of Lotus Challenge shines through, but given the car is a proper 3D model its all an obvious affectation – and one that can begin to irritate when youre navigating the purposefully narrow tracks and trying to master the increasingly impossible-seeming later courses. Its especially annoying when you rear-end another car and your speed is halved but they shoot off into the distance as if youve just given them a turbo boost.
The mechanics and handling may be peculiar, but they are consistent and thats what prevents the game from being too frustrating. That and the surprisingly long and engrossing World Tour mode where you earn points based on your position, remaining fuel, and how many tokens you collected along the way. This not only unlocks new locations but a wide range of new cars, which in these days of having to pay for every little extra through microtransactions almost seems the most retro part of the game.
With almost 50 cities in total and over 100 tracks it is a significant challenge, and one that gets extremely hard towards the end. So much so that its quite a struggle to unlock the extra Tournament and Endurance modes.
The most amount of fun to be had from Horizon Chase Turbo is the four-player split-screen mode. Theres online multiplayer and leaderboards if you want them, but playing with other people on the same couch, around the same TV, is infinitely more entertaining. The game might not have the nuance or complex track design of Mario Kart but it can still waste hours of your time in happy argument and recrimination.
The split-screen is particularly well suited to the Switch, but the Xbox One version is also new this week and as you can imagine none of the consoles have any trouble with the purposefully retro graphics. Although there mustve been a temptation at one point to use 2D sprites everything is made up of flat-shaded, low polygon models. It ends up looking like a slightly more advanced Virtua Racing and certainly nothing like anything else today. The music is equally authentic in its brash simplicity, and employs the services of Scottish musician Barry Leitch – who worked on both Top Gear and Lotus Turbo Challenge.
As youd imagine, the low-tech graphics shift like nobodys business and while – like many a neo-retro game – we wish the developer hadnt been quite as tethered to the past, particularly in terms of the handling and collision detection, they have clearly achieved exactly what they set out to do.
With so many different inspirations this couldve just been a mechanical exercise in trying to trigger childhood memories, like the racing game equivalent of Ready Player One. But the game is a more general pastiche of both the genre and an entire era of gaming, from the gameplay to the neon sharp 90s colour scheme. Its not a flawless game but it is a near flawless evocation of a moment in gamings history that is in increasing danger of being forgotten.
Horizon Chase Turbo
In Short: The spirit of 90s arcade racing is reborn in a homage to everything from OutRun to Lotus Turbo Challenge, and despite a few bumps in the road its all just as much fun as you remember.
Pros: The visuals and audio are note perfect, and the game mashes together all its various influences with impressive skill. Excellent four-player co-op mode.
Cons: The 90s style handling model can be highly frustrating, especially collisions with other cars and objects. Extremely difficult by the halfway point and the track design lacks complexity.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Release Date: 28th November 2018
Age Rating: 3