Circuit Superstars looks so cute, it may as well be a minigame from the Link’s Awakening remake, which makes it an obvious fit for Nintendo Switch.
It’s taken its time making the jump, as we enjoyed the original release back in 2021 on PC, and that was after an extensive stint in Early Access. Still, it’s made a lot of fans since then, so how does it fare on Nintendo’s hybrid machine? Does it feel like coming home?
In some ways, absolutely. The conversion itself is pretty stellar. The game exhibits lovely, solid, detailed visuals and some surprisingly impressive background graphics especially those glimpsed down some ravines in the rallycross forest sections. There does appear to be some dynamic resolution scaling, losing detail as you race past filled grandstands momentarily, but it never – ever – looks bad, and things only get really choppy when all the AI cars are all pitting for new tyres and you drive past the bustling pitlane, which is to be expected.
Otherwise, it’s smooth, bright and cheerful. This atmosphere is also bolstered by some N64-esque keyboard stings before races, which are reminiscent of the likes of Wave Race 64. It’s all sunshiney gaming goodness.
Particularly worthy of note on the Switch version is the split screen mode, which supports up to four players. It runs smoothly, though everything is significantly smaller, so if you’re planning to play in propped-up tabletop mode, be prepared to do some serious squinting.
Online is present and correct too and you can even play split-screen online, which is always welcome. Again, it stands up impressively well on the six-year-old tablet hardware.
With five difficulty levels, thankfully winning on a harder tier ticks off the easier ones too, so you don’t have to play everything five times. But (and it’s a big but), this really isn’t an easy game. The Pro tier, which represents medium difficulty, will be plenty hard enough for most, and you’ll need to really get a handle on how the game’s cars work to succeed at anything higher than that.
This is down to the way the cars handle. Their motion is certainly simple, feeling more like a retro video game than a sim, but one with its own idiosyncrasies, which is cool but adds a dab of unwelcome uncertainty. Without manual gears, the cars basically go, stop and turn left and right. But the turning doesn’t quite feel right on the Joy-Cons.
The vast majority of corners allow you to hold the direction until you reach the exit, and any attempts to add a small correction sees you losing your rotation inertia, absolutely destroying your line. There is a ‘screen space’ control option where you lean the sick in the direction you want to go, but neither feels as assured or convincing as the likes of Rush Rally Origins running on the same hardware.
Then there’s the odd behaviour on the exit of turns. Almost every other game you could mention sees a car slide before heading off straight in the way it’s pointed. Not so in Circuit Superstars. Instead, you usually have to compensate for the car turning back a few degrees, straightening its own slide.
At first, it feels like the slight autocorrection in Virtua Racing where the car will straighten itself if you’re pointing more or less directly down the straight (whether you want it to or not). But actually, these cars automatically turn back away from the direction of the corner, enough to see you leaving the tarmac of the straight. It’s annoying, especially as going straight is the best way to make up time on lower difficulties.
It means you have to literally over-steer every bend, making chicane sequences a very haphazard experience, especially with the degree of separation already exhibited by the elevated camera angle that tracks you without turning. It takes more getting used to than most of this ilk.
Handling aside, there’s loads to like about playing Circuit Superstars, especially on Switch. There’s enjoyable detail everywhere, from the little tyre tracks you leave in the grass to the grandstands full of Nintendo Mii-esque people. Rubber builds up (artificially, sadly) as the race progresses, allowing you to see the racing line, aiding you when you’re not familiar with the track layout yet.
It’s just like the PC and bigger console versions in so many ways. The tyre, fuel and damage level systems are still in place, allowing for wonderful tactical play as you plan tyre stops and part-fill your car with fuel hoping to leapfrog the opposition. And since AI drivers are named, you will soon develop proper rivalries. Ian Bekaert and Sabrina Specter are our personal nemeses, and the game is way better for it.
Without visible crash damage besides some smoking engines, and the way the cars can flip over yet hardly ever do, it can be a rather staid experience at times and there’s definitely room for a world-beating sequel at some point. For now, though, as long as you can get the hang of the handling and the difficulty level, there’s a lot to like about this stellar Switch conversion of an already strong racer.
|Developer||Original Fire Games|
|Release date||21st June 2023 (Switch)|
|Available platforms||PC, Xbox Series, PS4, Switch|
|Version/s tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Handheld Mode|
Full disclosure: A game code provided by the developers for review purposes. Here is our review policy.