It can be argued that Brazillian indie developer Ansdor specifically designed its new racing game Slipstream to hit 80s/90s gamers like me right in the nostalgia button. Naturally, I would agree with that statement.
One look at a screenshot or gameplay footage will instantly bring back memories of iconic arcade racer Outrun. When I watched the first trailer for Slipstream, it was almost as if I could feel the plastic steering wheel in my hands once again.
Slipstream‘s publisher Blitworks recently sent over a review code, and I was more than happy to dive in and give the game a once over. I should note that the following review is based on the Xbox version of Slipstream, played on my Xbox Series X.
Slipstream combines retro pixels with modern processing
I had to start this review by talking about Slipstream‘s graphical presentation. Pixelated art is almost obligatory for indie games these days. What I’m trying to say is that we may be reaching a saturation point.
However, Ansdor has a fresh approach by adding a “3D” element to the pixel art assets featured in Slipstream. It’s almost as if they asked themselves, “how would SEGA of the early 90s make Outrun if they had access to 2022 technology?”
The result is a smooth 60 frames-per-second (fps) gameplay experience in which the objects on the side of the road appear to come right at you in 3D space. The juxtaposition of the 2D pixels and 3D-based environments is visually pleasing.
However, it isn’t perfect. In the 80s and 90s, game developers were limited by memory constraints, so early games tendtended to reuse art assets and sprites.
Today, there is orders of magnitude more bandwidth to work with. Yet, environmental assets such as buildings, trees, and other objects are constantly repeated. To some level, I can understand doing this to stay true to that early game design. Although, I think the developers may have taken it a bit too far in this instance.
I became a little bored with the visuals of a few levels due to so many repeated environmental elements being too close together.
Beyond the repeated elements, the art was vibrant and detailed.
How nostalgic is it?
To say that Andsor strived for 90s authenticity would be an understatement. The Brazillian developer went the extra mile to include as many touchstones to early 90s gaming as possible.
It’s hard to describe, but Slipstream’s menu design will feel particularly authentic if you were around in those decades. The color schemes and menu fonts look straight out of Sonic CD, even down to the pixelated fonts.
To drive the point home, there are even cultural references within Slipstream’s characters. I won’t go into too much detail, but players will find common 80s archetypes like a power broker and even a sentient chrome robot.
Obviously, a significant portion of the throwback vibes come from the car selection. With Slipstream being a small indie production, there are no “officially licensed” vehicles; however, keen eyes will see homages to the mid-90s Nissan 300ZX, Acura NSX, Toyota AE86, among others. Seeing models from that golden era of 80s and mid-90s sports cars in pixel form is pretty special.
If that weren’t enough nostalgia for you, the game actually has a VHS tape overlay complete with VCR rewind sound effects when you use the rewind function! If that isn’t attention to detail, I don’t know what is.
Topping off the throwback vibes is an excellent synth-wave soundtrack featuring nine exclusive tracks by Stefan Moser. Obviously, there are no covers, but the tunes are more than enough to take you back.
How does it play?
Slipstream has the looks and the vibes, but what about the gameplay? How does it stack up against the game it’s paying homage to? The answer is “decently.” Anyone who has played OutRun knows that the key to the game is drifting; the same is true for Slipstream.
Half of Slipstream‘s core gameplay mechanic is mastering drifting corners as they quickly approach. The other half of the gameplay involves drafting or “slipstreaming” other cars to get a boost. Mastering both techniques is the best way to succeed in this game.
However, one of my main problems with Slipstream is that the physics don’t lend itself well to the core mechanics. There are other NPC cars on the road during a race meant to act as traffic. Those cars can be an aid or an obstacle.
Traffic cars can help since they can be used to Slipstream and keep your speed up. Traffic cars can be a problem because they are slow and are often placed on the optimal driving line.
Usually, that problem wouldn’t be much of an issue and would be naturally part of the game’s difficulty. Where it falls apart is the fact that once a drift is started, it is incredibly difficult to change the driving line in the middle of it.
That means if a traffic car is on your line while drifting, it is neigh unavoidable. If I stopped drifting to avoid traffic, I would crash because I would be understeering the corner.
The other issue is that it is common to come across very fast succession “S” turns; however, cars transition very slowly, so it is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to maintain drift through two quick opposite corners.
Turning on auto-drifting almost elminates the problem, but having to take away manual drifting just to compensate takes away from the experience. For addtional help the game speed can be turned down for accessibility. Unfortunately, on a fundamental level, the physics don’t match the demands of the courses.
The game is engaging enough to keep me trying, but the physics make it pretty frustrating. I think if that were tweaked, it would make the experience a bit more enjoyable.
Slipstream is certainly worthy of a buy. Especially given that currently, the game can be had for just $9.99 on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. Sure, it isn’t perfect, and the physics could be better, but the nostalgia and presentation make the experience well worth the low price.
Pick up Slipstream, call three buddies over, and order a pizza. It will be a great time!
Pros and cons
|Great “pseudo 3D” pixel art||Physics need work|
|Nostalgic presentation||Some environmental art is too basic and repetitive|
|Awesome car lineup|
What do you think of Slipstream? Are you old enough to have played the original SEGA OutRun games back in the 80s and 90s? Share your retro gaming stories in the comments below or tweet to us at @MotorworldHype.