Never judge a book by its cover, or in fact a driving game by its first twenty minutes. That is my warning shot to anyone who dives into the retro arcade-styled Super Woden GP.
During that initial period, I was literally screaming at the screen, crashing wildly and flummoxed at other times on the online leaderboard. My car felt like it was made of soap and I’d taken it to ten pin bowling into every barrier each track had to offer me.
Then everything clicked into place, and it did so beautifully.
It isn’t Super Woden GP’s fault, but it highlights an oddly specific comment on viewing retro flavoured games through rose-tinted memories. Yes, everyone over the age of 30 – we’re going back to the 16-bit isometric racing game era of the early to mid-’90s. A time when racing games could be precise and rubbery at the same time. It will be an acquired taste but let me set out the stool for why I think you should care and pure joy Super Woden GP brings to the racing genre as soon as you hit that ‘click’ point.
There are two types of events across the large campaign mode for Super Woden GP. Rally stages that take place as point-to-point races on your own and traditional circuit races across a variety of locales. You’ll want to tackle both of them as you collect stars by completing races, championships, endurance events and rally stages. Stars are given to the top three at the end of each event and unlock more events and challenges to tackle.
It’s a nice way to offer a few events in clusters for you to try out, although you’ll be repeating events a few times in order to grind for cash. Cash is your main asset in Super Woden GP as you’ll be buying cars like no tomorrow.
In the game, there are six manufacturers who resemble various famous real-world entities and each has a large selection of cars. There are over 70 to save up and buy for career and free race modes. Cars are attributed points for speed, grip and handling and this gives them a PP ranking and a grade. E grade cars are your slowest compact cars through to mighty beasts A rank. There are a few golden S rank behemoths to grab too but it’ll take a while to unlock them.
Each event has a PP cap so you can’t overpower your AI opponents or rally stage times by entering in a car that would trounce the opposition. What can work in your favour is that within a class there is still a field spread – some cars more powerful, some more grippy – and you can buy the cars that match the events and play styles you have. This is important because Super Woden GP’s handling will take some getting used to.
It can be described as extremely skiddy, on the nose upon initial turn-in but then very rubbery as you slide through a corner. It’s also sensitive to the slightest of corrections mid-corner. The car equivalent of a yappy dog on a lead wanting to chase two cats at once, jerking the lead and yanking you with it.
During light turns you can flick the car with a deft touch into a satisfying skid and carry the speed through. Medium turns will require a dab of the brakes beforehand and often a bit of counter-steer as you’ll quickly understeer off after that initial quick turn in. Tight corners feel like cartoons where road runners legs rip up the floor before you launch out of them. The slightest correction will send you flying off in the opposite direction, so the key here is gently does it and sometimes lots of little nudges on the controller for steering may be slower, but it’s a lot safer.
Part of the learning curve is graduating from a point and squirt survival mode of just getting through the tracks into the pure joy of a racing line arc drift around a chicane or hairpin. Just don’t expect to pick it up immediately.
Another part of the challenge comes from the tracks themselves. Circuits range from slightly deformed ovals and replicas of historic tracks through to tight and twisty street tracks. The rally stages are a jaunty mix of rugged terrains that start off free-flowing but get more chaotic and technical as the game progresses. All venues are narrow which emphasises the sensitive corrective steering that will cause you to clip barriers, slow down heavily on grass or smash into other cars and damage your own.
What I love about the tracks in Super Woden GP is how their challenges change as you get more powerful and less grippy cars throughout career mode. What an E or D car can take flat, a B ranked car certainly cannot. Braking distances get longer which entices you in for daring overtakes too, often leading to despair. As you are travelling faster, each hit by a car or a barrier causes more damage and that can mean an early bath and restarting the event again.
The difference between ranks is night and day and the faster cars feel like the bonkers Group B rally cars. They’re too powerful for the tracks they are racing on but on the right side of ‘I’ll wrestle that to the floor’ in terms of control.
Endurance races also showcase a few other things Super Woden GP has up its sleeves – weather and time. Weather can change from sunny to rain to thunderstorm and back again quickly and easily. Time can pass at five times the actual speed and so you’ll have a day-night cycle for your own versions of Le Mans. Whilst rain does seem to change the handling slightly, it’s more the visual challenge of seeing through the grainy rain or just through headlamps at night that stood out more to me. After all that, your cars will be dirty so you can clean them in the car wash with a few button mashes and swap out some paint schemes too.
Whilst playing all of this, every track has its own leaderboard and there is an online event with fixed conditions for players to battle against. If you have friends at home you can have up to four-player split-screen and it works a treat too. A nice oddity is each player being in addition to the 11 AI opponents, so with four players, there are 15 cars out on track. Chaos ensues.
It wouldn’t be a 90s inspired game without a 90s synth soundtrack and thankfully the game delivers. Franikku Music and Incognito Devito do a fine job of bringing the arcade vibe to your home. When paired with some of the graphics filters to change the colour hue, style and UI to match certain decades of media, you have a fine-looking and sounding game.
It also wouldn’t be a 90s inspired game if it didn’t bring over some of the issues this era of racing game had. The AI largely drive as if you don’t exist and that means being pummelled in the hairpins or driven off the road down a straight. They will follow their racing line whether you are there or not.
You’ll also get a few misinterpretations of where obstacles are on the track due to its isometric nature. This is most notable on tunnels as they step into the track boundaries and whilst you may think you are not going to hit the wall – bang. You’ll learn after a few hits where your car should be but it’s part of that learning curve of regressing back to a time when racing games didn’t hold your hand.
This brings me full circle as to why those first twenty minutes of pain aren’t really Super Woden GP’s fault. In fully committing itself to its vision, it brings back all the idiosyncrasies that an isometric racing game of arcade booth origins would have.
Once I stopped relying on all the easements we’ve been afforded in more modern designs, I found a game that was an absolute blast to play. I was chasing my own times, fighting others on the leaderboards, battling AI and enjoying the challenge of not wrecking instead of fearing it. Super Woden GP is a passion-filled love letter to what many consider is a golden era of gaming.
|1st September 2021
|Best played with
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.