It has been a long time since I have been to an arcade.  The concept has been dying out for years now, and it certainly hasn’t been doing any better due the virus.  Granted, before Covid started making it’s rounds, the amount of times I have been to arcades have been few and far between.  Whenever I do get a chance to go to one I check out one of the major staples: racing games.  Unlike the home console games such as Forza or Gran Turismo, arcade racers have a certain charm to them.  No matter if it’s Nascar, Cruisin’ USA, or the Fast and the Furious; arcade racers embrace this spirit of more personalized competition that just doesn’t exist with home console racers.  There are no deep customization systems, there is no fine tuning, it’s just you and a hopefully no sticky steering wheel.  One company hopes to recapture that magic in modern times. Repixel8 is that company with their soon to be released title Formula Retro Racing.

Formula Retro Racing (FRR) is as simple as racing games can get.  You start the game with three modes to choose from: Arcade, Eliminator, and Practice mode.  From there you choose from one of 4 starting tracks.  There are 4 additional tracks that are able to be unlocked by collecting points, which are obtained through participating in various racing modes.  You then choose your difficulty level, and color of your vehicle.  You are then quickly thrown into a race against 19 other drivers.  Even though FRR is an old school arcade style game, it is still challenging enough to test the skills of even the most experienced racing aficionados.

Due to the game’s lack of ability to swap parts out and change various aspects of your vehicle, you are at the mercy of your own skills.  At the beginner level, you are challenged with getting used to the game itself and understanding the concepts that the game relies on.  You learn the basic controls to the game, the physics of the game, and even how other cars react to your mere presence on the track.  As you ramp up the difficulty, you begin to realize how there is little room for error.  You have to carefully plan when you overtake your opponents, when to draft, and even when to become a bit aggressive.  In the spirit of the arcade racer, there is a clock that counts down as you travel between checkpoints.  One bad move means that you might not make it from one checkpoint to the next, causing you to lose the race immediately.

Rules slightly change in FFR’s Eliminator mode, where the goal is to stay above 10th place as long as you can.  The longer you are above 10th place, the more points you get.  There are multipliers depending on what level of difficulty you choose.  While Arcade is your most basic racing experience, Eliminator is more akin to a marathon.  On beginner difficulty I was able to stay above 10th, getting to about 5th place before I was knocked out right around my 19th lap.  On the higher difficulties, staying above 10th place was a true challenge where I only made it one or two laps.

Even though FRR’s foundation is basic, it can be tough at times, but not every race is a losing race.  Briefly mentioned before; the game recognizes basic concepts like drafting to overtake your opponents.  There is a level of physicality that allows you to occasionally tap into other vehicles possibly causing massive chaos on the track.  But as you approach the first place position, the game starts to present it’s more challenging side.  Some cars recover quickly, rubberbanding back into a position ahead of you, while other cars are so far ahead it feels almost impossible to catch up.  On one occasion, an overly aggressive car hit me in such a way that would careen me into a wall.  Upon impact, my vehicle exploded into a burst of parts like an egg hitting the ground.

Exploding on the track is perhaps the most punishing experience in any racing game I have ever witnessed.  It is known that F1 racers are very delicate in the real world, and FRR seems to capture that aspect very well, but is sometimes inconsistent.  Once I was hit from behind and my car was obliterated, other times I hit a wall head on and I was perfectly fine.  Despite the variables of the situation, the outcome mostly consists of restarting a race almost immediately on the highest difficulty.  Once again, there is very little room for error.

The experience of FRR isn’t just in the racing and handling of the game, it’s the visualization that Repixel8 nailed.  FRR features high end polygon style cars and environments, speeding at a smooth 60 frames per second with eye-catching 4K resolution, throwing vivid colors and high speed action directly into your face.  The landscape of each level is vastly different, and really respects the theme that Repixel8 so hoped to recapture.  Each passing tree and building help establish settings that just feel right.  Nothing seems too over the top, nothing seems downplayed, it just fits perfectly.

Perhaps the biggest graphical detail lies in the cars themselves.  FRR offers some basic colors and designs for vehicles, single or two tone paint schemes.  It gives the F1 racers that retro feel, and when the game starts moving, there are some details you start to appreciate.  I found myself enjoying even the smallest details, such as the spinning of the tires when you hit the gas or reverse.  I even smiled a bit when I turned and saw my chassis shift a little when I made a turn or attempted to block an opponent from trying to overtake me.  The way that colorization works in this presents a bright tone that doesn’t disrespect your nostalgia for old school racers.  Even though some minor aspects may seem like they may break the retro style that the game prides itself on, I feel they are excused because FRR is rather fun.  Yes, some of these details weren’t around in the 90’s, but FRR adds this flavor to spice up the dish, and the outcome is wonderful.   

When you have great visuals, the only way to compliment them more is to involve a great soundtrack.  Much like a zesty sauce, the classic style soundtrack is an absolute cavalcade of chips and beeps.  Every song helps immerse me into this incredible experience, and like the visuals, they don’t overstay their welcome.  There are a limited number of tracks, so if you are not a fan of the repetitiveness or the style of music, then you will not like it.  Otherwise, I am a fan of such bands like “Math The Band” and “Anamanaguchi,” so this music perfectly lines up to my expectations.

Formula Retro Racing is a fantastic game that compliments and respects the history of old school style racers.  The game is rather short, but it is one that you get what you put into it.  It doesn’t ask for all of your time and attention, just little snippets of it.  FRR is a game that you can enjoy between playing other games, or even in a party environment (once the virus is gone).  Frankly, I can’t think of many other things that could improve my experience when it comes to this game, besides adding an online multiplayer mode so I can enjoy this with friends. There are leaderboards integrated into the game, so you can at least see how your competition holds up.  FRR is a small, perfect package that sends you back to a time when you were young, getting lost in arcades, and not having a single care in the world.  Quite frankly, if we need anything these days, it’s classic enjoyment.

Formula Retro Racing releases on May 15th, 2020 on PC and Xbox One for $12.99 USD. I was provided a review code for Formula Retro Racing on the PC platform. You can learn more about Formula Retro Racing and Replixel8 at http://repixel8.com/formula-retro-racing/

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