Atomicom’s space racer stormed onto the scene in the wake of WipEout‘s absence and seemed to target the same fast-paced thrills – the final package is far less satisfying thanks to some bizarre design choices but can still provide a fun time in small doses.
World-building & Story
Switch Galaxy Ultra stars Vince Vance, an intergalactic rogue who gets caught up in a bar fight and soon finds himself working for the ‘Dakur Corporation’ delivering freight between planets to make ends meet. His adventures throughout the galaxy see him exploring foreign planets upon arrival, often finding himself in a comedic set of events with the local alien species.
While the stories told here are nothing terrible, they’re also nothing special. Generally Vince’s travels are disjointed from each other – there’s no over-arching plot here and each planet he visits just leads to a set of humorous circumstances. While this maintains a nice light-hearted feel for the game, I really didn’t find myself invested in the story in any way and found myself skipping through a lot of the plot.
World-building actually fares a little better – this is a generic space world with more than a few cues taken from Star Wars and Star Trek, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing in theory. I quite enjoyed the idea of a rogue adventurer travelling the galaxy and the art design paints a good picture of a populated galaxy built on travel between planets, although the routes do begin to look a bit samey after repeated travel (which is emphasized by the fact that each city you leave and arrive in looks exactly the same).
Presentation & Sound
All of the story for the game is told through well-drawn comic panels that seem incredibly professional. Their problem is in their size – they clearly weren’t designed with Vita in mind and as so the text is absolutely tiny and often difficult to make out on the handheld’s screen. It makes reading them a chore and definitely feels like a glaring oversight on the dev’s part.
Navigation throughout the game is done through a series of menus that are functional but nothing special – perhaps not quite the slick minimalism I’d expect from WipEout alumni. A level selection map is available, Mario-style, for the campaign which is a nice way to show your progression through the galaxy.
The rest of the game’s presentation is in the actual racing itself and generally this is a pretty impressive fare. The game is fully 3D and although ship models aren’t as detailed as those found in F-Zero and the like, they’re good enough here. It can be quite spectacular to weave your way through a web of enemy craft while stealing credits from them all.
Environments are detailed and thanks to some pretty vistas in the distance the game does a good job of making you feel like you’re genuinely racing through these space roller-coasters, particularly as the draw distance remains a good way out constantly meaning you can always see the upcoming track. The first time you get sucked into a wormhole is equally thrilling, particularly as you’re instantly tasked with collecting Tantalum while in it.
The game’s major presentation problem is simply repetition – you’ll always start and end each race in cities that look exactly the same; the sea of barriers you’ll be dodging begin to look samey after a while and you’ll even see the same space landmarks on multiple different tracks. Although I accept this is an indie game made on a shoestring budget, a little more variety would’ve gone a long way in making the game look less stale (but there still are moments of beauty in there and overall I’d say this was an attractive game).
Sound is generally alright – a standard set of speeding and crashing noises are in place while racing. The soundtrack has a few moments of greatness, but is mostly forgettable although fits with the tone of the game fairly well.
Finally, I would just to make a quick note about performance – the game runs extremely smoothly, at a fairly rock-solid 60 FPS from what I can tell, which is to be commended as this certainly stands it among few others on Vita.
Gameplay & Content
Although at first glance the Switch Galaxy Ultra may appear a WipEout clone, the game is a pretty different beast taking more cues from the likes of Audiosurf (although as with its influence, speed is central to the experience). The clue is in the name – themain mechanic here involves switching lanes on a futuristic space track to avoid obstacles, all the while building up your speed as much as possible.
Your ship, therefore, isn’t controlled like any usual racing game vehicle – you simply have the choices of using boost or braking along with changing between a given number of lanes. This makes it initally more user-friendly than its contemporaries, although you’ll soon realise that – as with WipEout – anticipation is key and it’s not so much about where you are as where you’re going next.
Obstacles come in a number of forms – the most common being coloured barriers, but extends to other ships; ramps and even incoming fire from enemies. Barriers can be driven through without losing speed if a ‘barrier pass’ is used, which can either be obtained in-level or bought prior to starting, adding a nice margin of error for newcomers who can use these to progress, at least in theory.
One of the game’s strangest design choices – to me at least – is that to progress through the campaign you need to collect a certain amount of Tantalum in each level to unlock the next. This resource isn’t tied to speeding through the levels at all – in fact quite the opposite as it can be lost by hitting barriers – therefore you’re encouraged to drive as slowly as possible once it has been collected in a wormhole. In a game with all its mechanics seemingly designed around speed, it’s baffling how progression through the campaign is handled.
The actual collection of Tantalum is a frustrating experience too. They’re found in wormholes and rather than being confined to the track where ships are fairly easy to handle, the game switches perspective – allowing four-way movement and tasking you with catching the incoming resource as it flies towards the screen. Control in these sections feels incredibly unresponsive – in addition to having to judge the depth of incoming objects (a difficult task in itself), the ship barely moves when you want it to and often auto-centers (similar to aiming in Timesplitters) which makes the whole experience annoying.
If you do choose to ignore the Tantalum and play Switch Galaxy Ultra as a fast-paced dodge-the-barriers racing game then there’s actually fun to be had here – the sense of speed the game offers is fantastic and you can quickly get into a rhythm of dodging barriers and planning your next move. Yet the game does nothing to incentivize this unless you’re chasing trophies, therefore you’ll eventually have to go back and gather more resources just to progress. It feels like the game is attempting to block your progression in such cases, rather than adding variety.
In terms of content, Switch Galaxy Ultra has a decent amount to offer – there are tonne of levels in the campaign and an optional survival mode revolving around covering the greatest distance you can without being hit. The problem is it’s all so samey, interest will wane long before you’ve seen all it has to offer.
Not a bad game by any means – just an average one that could’ve been better given the pedigree, Switch Galaxy Ultra has moments of brilliance when you’re bombing it down the track weaving in and out of barriers. Yet these moments aren’t common enough to detract from the tedium of the rest of the game, which seems full of great ideas which don’t quite come together.