A Frustrating Experience On One Console; An Amazing Experience Elsewhere
If the saying ”never judge a book by the cover” applies to video games, it should be called “never judge a game by the horrible port,” because that is the moral of this story. For over a year, my opinion for Xenon Racer was at an all-time negative because of my carelessness, something that I recently thought of when talking about Super Street: Racer. While most Switch racers hold their weight on the portable hybrid console that could, some are abysmal, with Xenon Racer being damn near unplayable it’s not worth covering.
Back in March, during the height of my racing game binge, Xenon Racer was a part of a Steam sale and, deciding to give the PC version a chance, became a pleasant surprise. Compared to my original experiences with the Microsoft Powerpoint presentation that is the Switch port, Xenon Racer, on a capable machine, is a beautiful experience. That’s not to say the Switch isn’t “capable,” but Xenon Racer was poorly optimized for the intent the game was going for.
Xenon Racer Brings Back Classic 90s Arcade Drifting
Developed by 3DClouds, Xenon Racer is advertised as the developer’s “second game,” yet it’s arguably its strongest game from their catalog. Their first game, All-Star Fruit Racing, was a kart racer, which would be their first of many including an upcoming Fast & Furious Spy Racers in development. Compared to their other titles, which provide emphasis on bright, cartoon graphics, Xenon Racer is a realistic arcade racing title that takes inspiration from various games, including F-Zero and Ridge Racer.
The Closest Thing To Capturing That Namco Magic
Fans of Ridge Racer will grow to appreciate Xenon Racer as the gameplay is similar to the newest titles of the former. The game encourages players to drift through corners at high speeds, earning nitrous boost in the process and attaining higher possible speeds. The sense of speed in Xenon Racer, especially with the higher tier vehicles, is there and rewarding as players drive cleanly.
Earning nitrous is easier than Ridge Racer as historically, nitrous cannot be earned if a boost is already active while drifting. In Xenon Racer, nitrous can still be earned even while boosting and drifting, allowing the possibility of infinitely chaining nitrous boosts with enough skill. The game, however, does have a learning curve as the way the car handles is unlike Ridge Racer or any racing game for that matter in which I’ve played.
Xenon Racer Has An Intense Learning Curve
The car's handling requires planning on the player’s part, requiring players to brake for some time before entering a corner. After a certain threshold, the car will start to turn into a drift, but brake too early, and the car will not slow down in time, often leading to oversteering into the wall. For many beginners, the quirky handling is enough to pass it off as a detriment to the game itself, but moving past the learning curve, the cars handle fluidly.
There is also a surprising amount of customization for each car, allowing players to build cars tailor-made to the needs of each race. Certain parts may increase top speed and boost power in exchange for acceleration. Other parts may provide a looser threshold to initiate a drift, sacrificing the general handling of the vehicles outside of drifting. Eventually, players will find what works best for them as there isn’t a “perfect” all-around build, although personally my loadout focused on top speed, boost power, and drifting potential.
Xenon Racer’s Experience Is Short In Length
The length of the game varies depending on how quickly players can grasp Xenon Racer’s handling, as the biggest challenge is learning the game itself. Once players fully learn the game, as in completing races without making errors, the game can be finished in a few hours. The main mode has several branching paths, which upon completion will usually unlock courses, cars, and parts.
The one gripe I have is the final challenge itself, which, to the defense of 3DClouds, was an attempt to be unique. The final challenge had the player drive against a flying hovercraft, with the premise being that “old technology,” such as cars, can go up to par with new technology. All it was to me was a glorified time trial, in which the hovercraft travels along a predetermined path that was rather easy to defeat. The finale reminded me of one of the many showcase events in Forza Horizon, which required the player to race against various vehicles ranging from a speedboat to a locomotive, but it was out of nowhere and anticlimactic for me.
Despite Lack Of Online Presence, Xenon Racer Is A Fun Experience
Unfortunately, the game isn’t popular enough to find online matches to play against others but I would imagine racing with others would be entertaining as the gameplay itself is quite enjoyable, however, this is the issue with most indie games with online capabilities. At some point, the lack of a community will force players to move away once everything that could be done in the game is completed. However, I surprisingly find myself coming back to the game to mess around with how fast I can play through the game in a single session.
If players can look past the rough learning curve and expect a more single-player experience, Xenon Racer is a surprisingly fun indie racer that is a steal during a sale. Unfortunately, the developers at 3DClouds have been pigeonholed into making cartoon-style kart racers, as a sequel to Xenon Racer would be amazing with its kinks ironed out.
Xenon Racer is available on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.