Space Ribbon for the Nintendo Switch
In an age where Mario Kart reigns supreme on Nintendo consoles, a racing game that wishes to come anywhere close to replicating the same success must bring something new, inventive and refreshing to the table. Queue the latest challenger developed by Onteca – Space Ribbon. Does it threaten for pole position or sit at the back of the grid?
On paper, Space Ribbon does deliver on something new and inventive. Set in the year 2132, this procedurally generated racer showcases the fastest growing sport in the galaxy. Giant space beasts have been discovered which spew race tracks from their mouths, allowing cars to race against one another for the ultimate prize – top spot on the podium. Over a series of races and competitions, your chosen vehicle receives upgrades and optional extras to enable it to compete on the fastest stages. The goal of the game: reach the mouth of the space animal first and drive through to claim victory.
Upon starting the game for the first time, a functional but lacklustre menu is displayed offering a campaign mode and free play. Campaign mode offers 16 different cups which range from traditional racing to races that include weaponry and jet cars. Each cup is unlocked by completing the previous one, and they get progressively harder as you enter the later levels. To support with the difficulty spike, cars are upgraded in the Garage by using unlockables earned in game. The two upgrades that have an impact on car performance are the engine and the wheels. The paint job and antenna on display are for cosmetic purposes, and reminiscent of Rocket League (although not as well executed.)
Free play is a mode which allows access to the same cups however with a large array of customisable options. You can change the amount of gravity, manipulate the guard rails, choose whether to include pickups and jet cars etc. This is a great way to keep the game fresh once you have completed the cup in the campaign.
Control of your space vehicle is conducted using the analogue stick for direction, the right trigger for acceleration and the left for braking. The use of L allows you to utilise whatever pickup you have managed to, well, ‘pick up’ along the way. In the bottom left hand corner of the screen you can find your current racing position and a boost meter. This meter is filled using a system not too dissimilar to DRS (Drag Reduction System) which Formula 1 racing drives have access to. If you remain close to the car in front and follow their slipstream, you can fill the boost meter and accelerate past them. This is excellent if you are further down the pack, however if you are in first place, it can become quite laborious. The car slows down to a snails pace when the meter is empty and you are quickly overtaken by those who have filled theirs behind you.
Graphically, Space Ribbon has some excellent ideas which could be better executed. The theme of space is prevalent throughout and the backdrop serves as a constant reminder. It looks good but would benefit from additional moving elements to enhance it. The track is the most impressive part of the racing, with excellent colour and lighting to make it engaging. I only wish the same could be said for the cars. Set in the year 2132, you would expect the vehicles to be representative of the era. The first car provided, the ‘Morris’, would not look out of place in the 1950s. Even with a customized paint job, it still did little to motivate me to drive it. Fortunately, the inclusion of jet cars later in the game provides some much needed class. The jet cars are well designed and more in keeping with the rather wacky storyline.
Props must go to the developers for having the confidence to try something different. It is all too easy to stick to traditional gaming ideals and Onteca deserve credit for choosing to break the mould. Procedurally generating tracks in racing games isn’t something new, however Space Ribbon is one of the few that procedurally generates whilst you are racing. The concept is a good idea and one that with a little more polish and finesse, could have culminated in a very engaging game.
Although I speak highly of procedural elements of this game, I found that it then lacked some of the replayability of other racers. As an avid racing fan, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to master tracks, be it working out the optimum racing line in F1 or finding a shortcut in Mario Kart. Due to the nature of this game, you are unable to become familiar with tracks to improve performance and this left me wanting more.
Although the jetcars offered some saving grace, I found the game lacked personality through its poorly designed cars and limited customisation options. Alongside the outdated menu designs, all of these elements set the tone for what is ultimately a mediocre racer.
With an abundance of potential, Space Ribbon is a game I was hoping to enjoy. The futuristic story and set design, coupled with a procedural generated race track, showed early promise for a creative and innovative racer to give the likes of Mario Kart a run for its money. Unfortunately, the developers have been unable to realize that potential. The game feels rushed, with a lack of polish, and one I therefore couldn’t dedicate as much time to as I would have liked to.
Reviewed by Shaun Hughes on the Nintendo Switch. Game Provided by Onteca.