If the rather excellent Absolute Drift: Zen Edition on Nintendo Switch made you excited for a handheld port of its successor, art of rally, I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed. After a long stint on PC, the game finally receives its console release, bringing flat-shaded rally racing from another dimension; one where the infamous Group B rally cars were never outlawed, instead evolving into a super ‘Group S’ formula.
It’s an exciting concept and it’s hard not to be charmed by the stubby crowds of 6-sided spectators hopping out of your way as you approach them, sliding past unlicensed advertising hoardings that simply advertise ‘petrol’, ‘oil’ and ‘metal pipes’. It’s cute, very likeable and extremely playable.
Having tested the game on Xbox Series X (which is supported with a true X/S optimised release and is available on Game Pass right now) and Nintendo Switch, the core gameplay is identical.
Channelling the Atari 2600’s Night Driver with its winding track lined with small posts, the smooth undulation of the ribbon of road is actually most reminiscent of the classic PS1 version of V-Rally 2 as you battle to keep an inertia-heavy car inside the track limits. The elevated camera view never lets you get down into the action, instead giving you a serene panorama of some impressively sprawling courses – necessary seeing as there are no pace notes to warn you of the corners.
As the track winds its way up and down mountainsides, on all versions you can see for miles across the green or brown terrain, and all versions have a stab at volumetric lighting, complete with the now obligatory crepuscular rays. But if the gameplay is the same across both versions, the experience most certainly is not.
On Xbox Series X, you drive through hundreds of trees, with tufts of 3D grass littering the ground. The engine does appear to be a little strained, with detail draw-in visible in the distance, and shadows appear in a perpetual line some 50m in front of your car.
But despite these obvious, constant imperfections, it’s nonetheless a smooth and attractive game, and a joy to play, especially if you just want to enjoy a great driving model without the contracts and resource management of more authentic rally sims.
On Switch, it’s a very different story, sadly. The draw distance only allows for some 30 trees to appear on the screen, which sounds a lot on paper, but in reality, that means you’re regularly looking at barren, open fields. The trees clumsily fade into view out of nowhere, before a second pop of detail gives them detailed foliage as you approach.
The shadows are drawn a mere 20 metres in front of your car, which means you are always distracted by some environmental oddity. It hasn’t been this bad since the days of Sega Saturn and even makes the Switch version of MotoGP 19 look detailed. These static screens look fine, but in motion the difference is massive.
Considering the deliberate lack of detail and the fact the similarly flat-shaded Hot Shot Racing manages to run on Nintendo Switch with only a hit in resolution and frame-rate (and even that is pretty smooth), it’s baffling. The 30fps-ish screen update looks even more sluggish in handheld mode. Combined with long load times, it’s a very messy game on Switch and nowhere near as assured as its predecessor.
Visuals aside, the versions are otherwise identical. The music is really nice, and if you turn the damage up to full then you’ll have an enjoyable, simplified repairs system to manage, as well as the potential for fires and even retirements.
The career mode spans 1967-1996, unlocking blocky lookalikes of famous rally cars as you go, and the increase in speed is noticeable as you progress. There’s also a free-roam area with collectables to find. The inertia isn’t quite as enjoyable as its drift-centric predecessor, but handbrake turns into hairpin bends as you downshift ready to powerslide away feel great.
Indeed, the camera view and clear track limits make picking your driving line through the courses a lot of fun in all versions.
If you played the Switch game in isolation, you’d probably think it was a fun but basic stylised rally game, but if you ever saw the ‘big’ version, you’d rightfully wonder why you don’t get to play it too, because it’s really rather lovely. Unfortunately, this is a very poor conversion to Switch.
Xbox Series X version
Nintendo Switch version
|Release date||12th August 2021 on Switch and Xbox (2020 PC)|
|Available platforms||PC (Steam, Epic, GOG), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series (PlayStation coming soon)|
|Version/s tested||Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review and editorial policy.