Let’s be upfront and honest – the NASCAR Heat franchise wasn’t the most highly regarded amongst the racing game community. With the likes of Codemasters working with Formula 1, Milestone working with MotoGP and many other racing entities that supported NASCAR already, plus all of the years of NASCAR Thunder and NASCAR Racing to live up to, NASCAR Heat sometimes had a bit of an uphill struggle.
The launch of NASCAR 21: Ignition made me appreciate what the Heat franchise had going for it in terms of features and capabilities. Without gushing over the console versions of Heat 5 too much, they had private lobbies, four different divisions of racing, custom setups and a long (and I mean LONG) career mode.
While Motorsport Games attempts to figure that all out again from scratch in the Ignition series, they do have another title releasing this week for NASCAR fans.
It is the first game since NASCAR The Game: Inside Line to release on a Nintendo platform, and the first NASCAR game ever to come to the Nintendo Switch. Introducing NASCAR Heat Ultimate Edition+, essentially everything that NASCAR Heat 5 was with added DLC, plus the addition of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series roster and now on a portable gaming system.
HOW IT PLAYS
NASCAR Heat tends itself to be a loose interpretation of a sim-cade, where it’s meant to be more of a simulation feel with proper setups, driving lines and race day feeling, but can lean more arcade-ish with the physics and AI integration. This game still utilizes the Unity engine, so it doesn’t drive in a simulation fashion. However, that may play into its strengths as a Switch game.
The Switch’s joy-cons have analog sticks for driving direction, but all of the other inputs are digital buttons, which are either all on or all off. This can be adjusted to better suit your driving style with assists, but throttle control and brake control are going to be pretty difficult if you turn those assists or input sensitivities down.
I don’t expect many people will be trying to go too hard with the Switch NASCAR game though, so with basic assistance, the driving is pretty enjoyable. Don’t put it up too high, however, as custom setups or any setup tuning in general won’t be accessible on higher assist levels.
Also, watch out for mild input lag when playing on a TV rather than on the handheld. You may have to adjust some settings to get it right, or you’ll be making moves split seconds later than you should be.
WHAT’S EXCLUSIVE TO SWITCH
As a port of a pre-existing game, most of what we’ve got on here is similar to what NASCAR Heat 5 provided. With that said, the overall pull for this game is that it’s been updated to the 2021 roster for the NASCAR Cup Series.
That’s just the Cup Series, unfortunately, so no new Xfinity or Camping World Truck roster or schemes. Regardless, you’ll be able to race with Bubba Wallace in the 23, Kyle Larson in the 5, Alex Bowman in the 48, and so on and so forth. Plus, they’ve got Tony Stewart and some of his famous No. 14 schemes to choose from as well.
You won’t have to pay for the DLC packs either as all of that has been added to the core game under the 2020 season. When you first load up the game, you’ll get to choose between the 2021 or 2020 season. It’s not a permanent choice though as you’ll have the opportunity to switch back and forth between the two. Challenges can only be found in the 2020 season, by the way.
Online lobbies are smaller than they used to be on PC or home console, but the functionality is still the same in setting up lobbies. 16 drivers can partake in an online race, which honestly isn’t bad for Switch gamers. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, in comparison, can only withhold 12 player lobbies.
The paint booth is damn-near identical to the previous version, but they’ve added some extra bits in there for more customization options. Other than that, this game will be well known to those who took up NASCAR Heat 5 and feature-rich for those new to the series.
IT FEELS LIKE HEAT 5, IN A GOOD WAY
All of the 2020 paint schemes, tracks and game modes are back, including career, race now, challenges, and online. The paint booth and custom driver creator are also back, as well as test session and championship modes. Basically, anything you can do on Heat 5, you can do on the Switch counterpart, which is actually impressive for a port.
The career takes the same exact path as before, and even includes the fictional Xtreme Dirt Tour roster, with the choice of starting from the bottom or at the top, with an existing team or on your own. Unfortunately, you can’t start a career in 2020 liveries and then move on to the 2021 Cup Series roster, the two sets of paints are in separate parts of the game.
Online was also a great experience during the pre-release of the game. There was smooth racing between myself and another colleague where we could rub fenders and race hard as intended. It was really good for Nintendo Switch standards, but again, no crossover between 2020 and 2021 rosters, the game will make you change to whatever the lobby is hosting.
It bears repeating. This is NASCAR Heat 5 but on a handheld device/console hybrid system, so if you’ve played before, it will feel remarkably familiar. Even the soundtrack and the victory anthems are exactly the same. But, hey, you can now take it anywhere, it runs smoothly and the vehicle handling if anything is better suited to the portable device.
There are only two controller modes, and neither of them utilize the gyro in the joy-cons. The second mode, at the time of writing this, flip-flopped some buttons (A became B, X became Y) so that wasn’t game-breaking, but was annoying at times.
I switched (no pun intended) the controls specifically to add the shifts to the left and right bumpers, but that option should have also enabled a mirror toggle yet didn’t. Thankfully I had the right analog stick to look backwards so this is only a minor quibble.
NASCAR Heat Ultimate Edition+ looks good for a Switch game. It plays well for a Switch racing game too. There are a ton of features for a Switch game. It should keep the attention of players for a while as they slog through a career too.
It’s everything NASCAR Heat 5 was, which honestly, despite my gripes, was at least a completed game with lots to do, and feels more at home on a device where analogue controls, wheel peripherals and online leagues aren’t appropriate.
Who knew that the NASCAR Heat franchise was truly born to be a handheld racing experience? Me neither, but I do now…
NASCAR Heat Ultimate Edition+ launches on Nintendo Switch on 19th November 2021 for $39.99 USD. Full disclosure – Traxion.GG is part of Motorsport Games and the Motorsport Games family of brands. All Traxion.GG content is editorially removed from Motorsport Games video game development and created by a dedicated team.