Title: Circuit Superstars
Developer: Original Fire Games
Release Date: October 12, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Circuit Superstars from developer Original Fire Games launches under the banner of Square Enix Collective, first on Xbox and PC (via Steam) with other platforms soon to follow. The game has been in Early Access for quite some time, enough to build a rapport and dedicated fanbase, with the official release providing a fun and engaging racing experience, one which hearkens back to the retro days of the genre while still exhibiting plenty of polish and depth of modern racing conventions.
With the top-down isometric viewpoint of Circuit Superstars, the first game that comes to mind is Micro Machines, and indeed it carries a similar vibe, but there is much more to it. If anything, the experience takes after the heyday of racing video games, back when Atari was publishing games like Monte Carlo and Sprint 2 or even later when we saw games like Rock ‘N Roll Racing on SNES.
A lot of these aforementioned games were a product of technological limitations at the time. Yet, they were so innovative in creating a driving experience only possible in video games. Racing games today can fully come alive on modern hardware, and yet the charm of vintage racers is something that’s become irreplaceable.
Circuit Superstars captures the essence of retro racing games. Rather than simply creating something resembling Micro Machines, it takes things further by implementing its own nuanced driving model. This is an accessible game many people can jump in to enjoy, but it’s certainly not an instant pick-up and play. There is a trick to the driving system here, and honestly, this helps the experience overall.
The game probably would have become old fast if the driving mechanics were too simplified and basic. So instead, there is some measure of practice required to develop your driving technique. If you’re getting a little frustrated early on, then go back and play something like Sprint 2 in an Atari collection; these games were always deliberate in their learning curve.
Once you get the hang of the driving model, it becomes rewarding as you improve and slowly learn the various race tracks. Of course, you will crash and fail a lot early on, and yet the game has the pull of getting you to try one more time. No doubt the physics can feel a touch floaty and sensitive, but thankfully the controls can be customized. The key here is to not accelerate too quickly, let go of it during tight turns, and apply brakes steadily, which will eventually help you get the hang of things.
As you’re polishing your driving skills, Circuit Superstars throws in a fair bit of gameplay variety for you to explore. If the various tracks weren’t enough, try several vehicle types that all handle differently. The game has everything from Formula 1 racers to rally cars and even trucks. Plus, there are vintage variations of race cars from the ’80s and ’50s. It’s just so fun to jump into the Grand Pix mode to try out all the different cars and tracks. The track design is generally quite interesting, although some feel a little too narrow as cars start to congest and pile up, but maybe that’s part of the entertainment.
As a four-player couch game, Circuit Superstars can be an absolute riot with the right company and beverage of choice. Thanks to its success during the Early Access period, the cross-platform multiplayer will allow you to get the most out of online play, and honestly, most of the players in the community are good sports. I was up against an opponent who clearly saw me struggle and decided to wait for me until I reached the final lap just to give me a fair chance, and surprisingly, I won.
A part of the appeal of having a skill-based driving model to learn is in the time attack mode, including a special Top Gear variant as players get to drive around the iconic test track from the BBC show. However, this is where the long-term playability of Circuit Superstars lies, as you continue to best your own scores and go against a global leaderboard.
Ultimately, while the game is indeed an arcade racer, it has enough simulation depth to make it worth mastering. Some races will even require you to make pit stops to main your vehicle’s performance. There’s nothing worse than your Formula 1 breaking down on the final lap.
The vibe of the game is just charming; it has a crisp and clean visual presentation that doesn’t fail to put a smile on your face. The graphical style is simple but effective, where the textures have a nice clean polish to them and look great under the lighting effects. There’s even some fantastic music in the menus, which give the game a chill ’90s vibe, but it’s too bad there’s no music during the actual races.
Circuit Superstars is a fun and charming arcade racer with depth that is both surprising and rewarding. It fuses retro racing design with modern gaming sensibilities to provide a driving experience you can’t help but want to keep coming back to. With a variety of cars, tracks, and all the essential gameplay modes, this is one of those games you’re going to enjoy jumping into and find yourself wanting to improve your driving skills.
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