First-person racing simulators have been so ubiquitous recently that it’s easy to forget about top-down arcade racers like Mantis Burn Racing. There’s always that initial reaction of unfamiliarity, the longing to switch to a view that’s more familiar. The struggle of wanting to see things as they come to you instead of having a bird’s eye view. And then, as if prompted, the game clicks: you’re winning while staring at the roof of your vehicle.
Developed and published by VooFoo Studios, Mantis Burn Racing originally released for Steam on July 2016. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version followed shortly after in October 2016 before finally finding its home to the Switch in November 2017. The game even got some post-launch content, all of which were packaged together with the base game for the Switch release.
One of the most striking things right from the get-go is of each track’s detail. Summit and Cave stages, for example, feature the environment’s rough and sandy texture well. Some curves highlight the area’s personality, giving you a moment to look away from your car. It’s surreal to see the ragged edges of a quarry that digs deep into the abyss, all while drifting your way past an opponent.
There are twelve tracks in total where players can fling their vehicles at high speeds, but their themes fall into three central locations: Sand Town, New Shangri-la, and Snowbound. While not exactly the same (except for reverse stages), tracks under the same category blend in with each other after a while. Yes, the sand is beautifully textured and New Shangri-la has a gorgeous evening backdrop, but the lack of variety is repetitive. As a result, the already small selection of tracks ends up feeling even smaller. And when you consider the length of career mode, you suddenly find yourself ignoring what should be eye candy.
Racing is possible with three different vehicle classes. Single player career mode starts with a regular car where speed and handling go hand in hand. The buggy vehicle, on the other hand, boasts a top-notch speed but with less predictable handling. Rounding off the trio is the truck, armed with a slow start but consistent acceleration. Other vehicle classes are available later, such as the hover cars, but you’ll be honing your skills with these three.
Leveling up and winning races unlock vehicle upgrades. These seemingly scarce upgrades range from tire (spelled “tyre”) improvements to better gearboxes. Carefully deciding which vehicle to upgrade lends an RPG-esque feeling where you must balance the vehicle’s characteristics. All of a sudden, that wild buggy from earlier becomes a threat with more reliable handling. Personalize that vehicle even further by changing its paint and exhaust color to your liking.
Later career mode races also seem to require these upgrades to win them. Computer racers get more dastardly with their racing techniques, and without upgrades, you barely have a chance to win. They harness their top speed with such frightening accuracy that it’s hopeless if you don’t know how to drift often. These computer players also know the turn before it even comes, leaving human players scrambling to get a feel for the track.
Restarting races is another pinch point for this game. Every time you wish to restart, the game has to load again. Perhaps it’s to integrate your lap time to the leaderboard properly or to make sure that pole positions are fair, but having to load the race again to correct one mistake feels unnecessarily punishing. When simply grazing against the wall is enough to nearly stop you on your tracks and get left behind in the dust, the game suddenly feels as if it’s demanding perfection.
Thankfully, Mantis Burn Racing implemented a variety of race modes in single player to keep you on your toes. Of course, there’s the regular race mode, where your goal is to be the fastest. The knockout mode is a fun one where the racer in the last place after each lap gets eliminated. There are also mini-seasons where you must win a series of races, along with endurance modes. And with the help of branching paths in each career level, there’s always something to do.
Should you get bored of career mode, you can race with other players either offline (local split-screen) or online. While local multiplayer is perfect for friends and family, online is really where you can let your vehicle and skills shine. Make sure to arm yourself with track shortcuts and vehicle upgrades because online multiplayer is cross-play across all versions. You’ll be competing with players who had more than a year’s worth of headstart.
Mantis Burn Racing may not be flawless, but its strengths are worthy of attention on the Switch. Sleek, modern vehicles paired with highly detailed tracks work well together with the speed of each race. Its top-down view brings a childlike wonder of watching your remote-controlled cars run on a tabletop track. And thanks to the acceptable length of each race, the game does not make it hard for you to take a break and come back. If you can forgive its shortcomings, Mantis Burn Racing is worth checking out.
Note: VooFoo Studios provided a copy for review purposes.