I’ve been on a bit of an arcade racer kick recently, I do have a soft spot for a good arcade racer. As much as I do enjoy a simulation, there’s just something about a good arcade racer that revs my engine. From developer and publisher Repixel8 (as far as I can tell, this is a one-man micro studio too) comes Formula Retro Racing, a title that looks and sounds like it just fell out of 1992.
From that trailer, you are most probably getting some big Sega Virtua Racing vibes, I know I did. It was that trailer that made me put a review request in, to be honest. Formula Retro Racing isn’t exactly a new game, it was released in May of 2020. And yet, it only came to my attention last week. I’ve looked at a few reviews from its original release and all of them called out several issues with the game. However, it has had a few updates since its release, so let’s see how it fares now.
Graphically, and as you can tell from the trailer and screenshots, this is low detail, low polygon and very nineties. It’s an art style that I really like… for a game that is a homage to nineties racers that is. What you have with Formula Retro Racing is simplicity. Just like being in the arcade, this is pick a car, pick a track and away you go… only you don’t have to keep popping coins in to play. The races are simple, checkpoint things that arcade racers back then were. You have so much time to finish the race, pass checkpoints for extra time. This is as basic a racer as you can get with fast-paced, frantic action.
What you get here is a handful of different modes. Of course, there is your standard arcade racing and if you have ever played any nineties arcade racer back in the day, then you know exactly what you are getting. Arcade mode does exactly what it says on the tin. Then there is elimination mode and here, you start at the back of the grid and have to make your way to the front. Each successive lap of the race and the AI cars get faster. You get eliminated if you drop below 10th place.
You also get a Grand Prix mode and here, you race on any of the unlocked tracks for points and select the number of laps too. Whoever has the most points at the end of the Grand Prix wins. There’s a multiplayer option with this mode, including a four-player split-screen. Finally, there is a free practice mode, where it is just you on the track, no AI opponents, no clock. A good way to get used to the car handling and circuits.
That’s it for the game modes, as for the tracks? Well, there are eight in total. You have to score a set amount of points in previous races to unlock the next one and you’ll get points by finishing in better positions in the races. With races not lasting longer than a few laps, you can unlock every track relatively quickly. A couple of hours or so of playing and you’ll have all eight tracks to play on. Plus there are three difficulty levels for each of the races to test your skills. The tracks vary from basic ovals to circuits with a bit more of a challenge to them, one being a pretty accurate recreation of the famed Monaco circuit. There is a car selection too. But this really is nothing more than a colour choice, of which there are plenty, but it is just one car with a different colour scheme.
There’s also a damage meter that fills with each bump and scrape you endure. When it gets full, the meter begins to flash, which means one more hit and you go boom. Your car will fall apart in a shower of chunky polygons. A few seconds later and you’ll respawn and are thrown back into the race though. Formula Retro Racing does have an issue where you can’t drive faster than the AI opponents. You can only really catch them on the corners, as in straight-line speed, they always go faster than you, especially further up the grid. This is particularly problematic on the oval races as they have really long straights and very few corners. Though I do have to point out that there is a slipstreaming system. So if you can get close enough to the back of an opponent, you’ll get a nice speed boot… IF you can get close enough.
The AI here also has that kamikaze programming where they will purposely drive into you. I don’t mind being blocked when trying to pass, that’s fine. But when you are wheel to wheel racing or even ahead of another car and the AI just drives into the side of you, slowing you down but the not AI, that’s just bollocks. There are even times when the AI will drive into you and your car bounces off into a barrier while they don’t move an inch. Still, this kind of ruthless AI was in arcade racers of the day too, these games were designed to eat your coins after all. So as annoying as the AI is, it is also pretty damn accurate.
So now, is this worth the coin it costs? Look, Formula Retro Racing is basic, a point I really do need to make clear. There’s no real depth of gameplay and no variety of cars. This is a very simple, arcade racer as they were back then. In terms of value for money, if this was a £15 title, I’d be telling you to stay well clear… but it’s not £15. Formula Retro Racing is being sold for (as of writing) £5 on PC and Xbox and that is cheap. I poured a lot more than £5 into Virtua Racing in the arcades. So while Formula Retro Racing is basic, it’s also incredibly cheap and if you do enjoy arcade racers, then you’ll more than get your money’s worth here. Plus, from reading earlier reviews when this was first released in 2020, it was originally being sold for £10 and had fewer features. So really, this is a pretty damn good bargain. Half the price it was and with several updates and improvements.
Still, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more variety, especially with the cars. Having a choice of car that makes no difference to anything other than the colour seems rather pointless to me. I’d rather have three or four cars that had different stats over the twenty different colour schemes of the same car you do get. Different cars with different stats would’ve made some of the races far more interesting too and added a little bit of strategy.
But yeah, Formula Retro Racing is great for a quick blast of racing action. This is not a game you’re going to pour hours upon hours of long gaming sessions into. But it is a game that you load up now and again to have a quick race or two on and for only £5, I say give it a go.