Sega’s seminal 1992 arcade game Virtua Racing has aged like a fine wine. As one of the first ever polygonal racing games, until recently it was considered a bit visually basic by today’s standards. All that changed when Sega re-released the game on Switch with a 1080p and 60fps polish, and suddenly it looked like a cool, stylised, minimalist racer.
That Virtua Racing port may have been a Switch exclusive, but fret not: Formula Retro Racing is here and – a few niggles aside – it captures the same tone while providing even more to do. Developed by ‘micro studio’ Repixel8 (which as far as we can tell is just one guy), it’s a love letter to those early polygonal arcade racers, with Sega’s game being the most obvious influence.
There are eight tracks to race on, including the likes of a city, a desert, a forest and even an accurate recreation of the F1 Monaco street circuit. Each has its own distinct feel despite the obvious limitations of the extremely low-poly art style, meaning there’s a nice variety here. Each can be raced on three different difficulties: these determine not only your opponents’ speed but also the amount of time you get every time you pass a checkpoint (after all, if it’s based on arcade racers, it’s got to have a timer).
The main arcade mode will keep you occupied for long enough – you get a trophy for winning each track on each difficulty, so that’s 24 in total to win – but once you’re done with that there’s also an Eliminator mode. This has you continually racing laps, with the twist being that every time you complete a lap the other cars get a little bit faster. Once you drop below 10th and cross the finish line you’re done. It’s a fun little alternative, though the arcade mode’s really where it’s at.
When it all works like it’s supposed to, Formula Retro Racing is lovely. Its basic art style lends itself perfectly to smooth performance: on an Xbox One X it’s a flawless full 4K at 60fps, and on an Xbox One S it appears to be 1080p at 60fps too (we may have noticed a few drops here or there but they were very subtle). That’s when it all works, though. The main problem with this game is that it has more bugs than A Bug’s Life.
When you crash at a high enough speed your car can sometimes do a spectacular Daytona-style flip. On occasion, though, when this happens the game will think “crashing? Great idea, can I join in?” and completely lock up, forcing you to head back to the Xbox home screen and exit the game manually.
Other issues we’ve experienced more than once include the pause button deciding not to work during a race – meaning the only way you can quit is to either let the timer run out or go to the Xbox home screen again and relaunch the whole thing – and two different music tracks playing at the same time during a race, which is hugely distracting as you try to concentrate on your race accompanied by the sound of a brawl in a recording studio.
Its other main issue is that the Expert difficult is far too harsh. Not so much in terms of the other racers, but the timer. We’ve had numerous situations where we’ve been in 1st place with a lap to go and lost because we ran out of time, which doesn’t make sense. This isn’t a ‘git gud’ situation: it’s more that it’s actually impossible to finish some races even if you race flawlessly: the only way you can is by drafting a lot, which is always dangerous because clipping your opponent can drastically slow you down or make you crash, at which point you might as well restart because you’ve got no chance finishing the race.
Incidentally, if you’re all about the achievements, don’t worry about this: there are no achievements for winning a race in Expert difficulty. It’s actually a fairly straightforward list and as long as you can stay on the track in both Arcade and Eliminator modes you should be able to get the full 1000 without too many problems.
Another omission is the lack of any multiplayer modes; what we're looking at here is a totally solo affair. Some kind of online mode would have been nice, and would have expanded the longevity of the game dramatically.
We’re hopeful that Formula Retro Racing’s myriad issues can be fixed further down the line, because otherwise this is a fantastic modernised version of vintage arcade racers. For only £9.99 / $11.99, anyone who remembers the good old days of Virtua Racing will be in for a treat, and even those who don’t may still appreciate its minimalist art style and high-speed action.