Reviewed on an Xbox Series X
Hard to understand why this top-down view racer didn’t gather more attention leading up to the launch. Published by Square Enix Collective, the Japanese publisher’s indie branch, and employing the likes of Formula 1 driver Lando Norris and ex-F1 and current IndyCar talent Romain Grosjean for marketing based on BBC’s iconic Top Gear show. Circuit Superstars is the name, and it wants to be a surprisingly profound arcade racer that tackles everything from trucks to Formula 1 and in-between. Ladies and gentlemen, start your Xboxes!
2 Fast 2 Technical
Vancouver-based indie studio Original Fire Games aims to offer a racing game that hits all the genre’s notes. On the one hand, it wants to be pure arcade bliss, with a top-down camera reminiscent of classics like the good old Micro Machines games or Death Rally. At the same time, it’s a product of passion by a team that lives and breathes motorsports, be it touring cars, rallycross, or Formula 1, offering a surprising depth and skill ceiling with an unusually profound driving model and even the wear of tire and fuel to manage over potentially pretty long events.
Bright, colorful, cartoony, and clean 3D graphics pack this interesting driving model where cars can fairly easily drift through turns at high speeds, gaining plenty of ground on those taking more traditional lines. This aggressive driving style does come with a cost, though, as tire wear will be extremely high, with fuel usage also taking a hit by rarely ever releasing the accelerator. Drifts are also far from the semi-automatic nature of classics like OutRun, with virtual drivers needing to find the entry point well to avoid ending into a wall, the grass, or the gravel.
(Car) Jack of all trades
Both the car series that the game covers and the tracks they use are inspired by but not directly taken from their real-life equivalents. For example, sports cars and single-seaters take place in classic technical asphalt rings, inspired by famous tracks like Suzuka or Monza, but with their shapes and design quirks. Opting for rallycross or street races can take us to dangerous mountain roads or tracks with dirt paths in between the patches of asphalt, drastically altering the driving experience in the process.
Naturally, even the cars’ handling and statistics depend entirely on the class of choice, as there’s no such thing as setups or upgrades to ensure the parity and the fairness of the competition. While on paper every car has the similar drifting strategy explained above, the weight and reactivity of a truck are a lot different compared to a single-seater that risks spinning every corner. I’ve found all-rounder categories such as GT and sports cars to offer the most satisfying experience, as they combined the sheer speed of the fastest vehicles with a good level of control, allowing for tight and precise side-by-side action both against the AI and online opponents – but more on that later.
A career in speed
The game’s campaign mode presents a very simple structure, perhaps too much so. All events consist of 4 fairly short races, albeit in some categories these can even include a high enough tyre and fuel wear to make at least one pitstop a practically mandatory act. Players will need to outscore everyone across the four events, and… that’s it. Each event can be played on all 5 available difficulties, with cars and drivers that can be customized in their colour palette and skins, but has said there’s no competitive advantages or gameplay differences whatsoever, so there’s not a lot to aim for in this mode.
Each racing category, of course, can also be played in any variety of custom game modes, both offline against the AI or online against pre-made groups or matchmaking random opponents. Unfortunately, the online options are extremely limited. Whereas in local play we get to tweak every single rule, class, or track selection, the online consists of pre-made options that drivers can then vote for. This is a major setback for a game that aims so precisely at a racing enthusiast crowd, and not allowing them to create their custom online tournaments, marathons, and so on is a massive dealbreaker.
Competing against the best
Solitary types and those who prefer racing against the clock will also have enough to chew on with Circuit Superstars. Each combination of track and car has its online leaderboard to compete on, with even weekly time trials with a specific ruleset that pits the entire community on the same conditions for 7 days. There’s even a time trial mode based on BBC’s iconic Top Gear series, the mouthful of a mode that is Reasonably Fast Car Invitational 2021. In this, on top of the online leaderboards, we get to compete against motorsport legends who set their own time in a pre-launch event, with these drivers including F1 alumni Lando Norris and Romain Grosjean, the freshly crowned two-times W Series champion Jamie Chadwick or the rally star Catie Munnings. Such a shame that this level of superstar involvement is only limited to a single mode and track.
While Circuit Superstars is a product of sheer passion for all facets of motorsport, the variety and depth on display don’t quite allow it to stay fresh and relevant for a long time. The limited visual customization options are pretty much the only thing players can change about their gameplay experience, and even the actual races don’t quite offer the variety of settings we’d expect to see. No special game modes to speak of, qualifying always consists of a single hot-lap, and of course the aforementioned online woes. Perhaps future patches and DLCs could improve the situation.
As it stands, Circuit Superstars is a really fun top-down racer that lands in a golden spot, halfway between pure arcade hilarity and a sim-like approach with fuel and tyre management to boot. The incredible amount of different cars and race styles is, however, is hampered by the limited amount of customization and gameplay changes players can introduce into their events, with the multiplayer in particular feeling surprisingly limited in scope. Square Enix Collective’s new racing game is fun and exciting, but the novelty wears off fairly quickly, as there is currently not enough depth to justify spending dozens of hours on it. I still warmly recommend it in case you have friends to play with regularly.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4|5, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC|
|Release Date||October 5th, 2021|
|Developer||Original Fire Games|