I am a man that fully admits my failings. I am not the funniest person this planet has ever seen, but I do feel that I at least have a sense of humour that could be acknowledged as within the bounds of good taste (those that thought I was going to mention my writing, well, that too). Unfortunately the initial impression of Switch Galaxy Ultra is one of a slightly lecherous persona whose attempts at humour are at times crass and border on mildly offensive. And that is before I actually start to play the game.
Vince Vance travels between planets with the occasional interruption of well-drawn comic book panels to indicate that a story is happening. The art has a great sense of style but the writing that accompanies it is awful. Bad jokes that play on puns and humorous tropes consistently fall flat, with even the in game tips being used to shoe horn in cheap laughs to poor effect. As an introduction, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
But let’s be honest, it is a game after all; even if the writing is a drawback, the actual gameplay can compensate if it knocks it out of the park. The premise is a fast paced lane switcher, where you control Vince’s craft by moving left and right while using boost and brakes to navigate between barriers, fellow ships, jumps and other obstacles. The risk and reward is simple; the more boost you use the faster you become and the faster your reflexes need to be. There are variants put in, like tokens to let you pass through certain coloured barriers, or pickups to gain extra currency for upgrades, but it boils down to go very quickly and avoid anything that will slow you down or damage you.
This simplicity is the charm of the title, and there is no doubt that when I was frantically avoiding obstacles to keep my speed up, those endorphin’s were kicking off left right and centre. The controls are very responsive when using the L1 and R1 buttons to switch lanes and there is a strong reminiscence of Frequency and Amplitude, especially in regards to hitting those Zen moments. This is when the game shines, when the speed and the dexterity is just right to make you believe you can achieve anything it throws at you.
But there are two big Achilles heels that pull this game down from being addictive to simply diverting. The first is in the lack of leader boards, goals or ratings. There is a good time attack game in here, but it is neutered by having no visible way to compare my time against the world, or at least none that was readily apparent. The website does mention leader boards, but none were visible during my time playing the single player. Each course does have a gold standard to be beaten, but that only brings in credits and never feels worth pushing for. Worse is there are no grading or extra goals, nothing to make me want to come back to these routes to try and improve. Well, bar one…
Progress is controlled by an element called Tantalum with 10 available on each route. There is a portal that contains floating Tantalum to be collected before the final part is started, but the problem is that it punishes you for hitting anything by removing one Tantalum per impact, decreasing the overall total earned. What this leads to (very quickly), was needing to replay completed routes to scrounge for missed Tantalum just to move forward, as these are gated by Tantalum values. It should also be noted that I suffered from auto save issues including a large chunk of progress failing to keep my progress.
Now the easiest way to do this is to get to the portal, get your Tantalum, start the finale and slow right down, play it safe. Which is dull and feels like it goes against what the game was designed for. With no extra goals replaying previous routes is just not that fun or interesting, quickly turning into a chore. Those in the back seats are possibly shouting that I could simply be a cack-handed chimp who has all the agility of a very tired sloth but my average return per route was between 7 and 8 Tantalum on the first run. This means that any mistake on that final section becomes far more punitive than it should, leading to me crawling along these final sections being more concerned with progression than having fun. The mode that works the best in getting round this is survival, where all I need to concentrate on is my own skill and this shines through simply because of this back to basics approach.
This leaves a conundrum. A good idea, a smart premise and a decent looking game undone by too many systems in the wrong place. The hook should have been to make me want to replay these routes to get better, as it turns out replaying them felt more like a job. And I already have one of those.