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‘Slipstream’ Review: An ‘Outrun’ Love Letter That Can’t Catch The Classics

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‘Slipstream’ Review: An ‘Outrun’ Love Letter That Can’t Catch The Classics

The work of Brazilian solo-developer Sandro Luiz de Paula, aka ansdor, Slipstream is a throwback arcade racer indebted to and hugely inspired by the likes of SEGA’s OutRun and Power Drift. As a tribute to a pre-polygons era of coin-op racing games spanning the mid- to late-1980s, it absolutely looks the part, and is accompanied by a lo-fi chillwave soundtrack (not by ansdor, but by eff) and VHS-ish crackly visual effects. But those supremely positive first impressions fall away somewhat once you dig into Slipstream’s gameplay.

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The game has plenty of options available to adjust the experience. Game modes include the OutRun-style Grand Tour, where the player races through five stages with branching routes; a five-stage Cannonball Run; Battle Royale, where the last-placed car at the end of each section is disqualified until one winner remains; a five-race Grand Prix where cars can be upgraded with prize money; and a single-race option for those who want to see the sights on their terms, one track at a time. Local split-screen four-way multiplayer and solo time trials are also available, and then there’s further settings to fiddle with. Screen tilt and shake can be scaled to suit your preferences, and game speed reduced from 100% to as low as 50% to help make these twists and turns easier. Fifty percent is too slow, but chances are you’ll want to make Slipstream easier to start with.

Watch the Slipstream trailer below

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Racing on the standard settings - using manual drift, with the difficulty set to normal and speed at full blast - Slipstream can feel incredibly unfair rather too frequently for comfort. The smallest dink from a rival can send your car spinning across the track, massively slowing progress, and should you strike a tree or roadside sign (look out for some very SEGA-styled displays) your vehicle will flip forward and crash, costing you more valuable time. Because it’s the clock that represents the meanest opponent in Slipstream’s Grand Tour mode - you’ll tear past a dedicated rival in each stage, which range from a Bob Ross-alike to a character clearly modeled after Back to the Future’s Emmett Brown, with ease; but the clock in the corner won’t spare you a millisecond as it fades your effort out to game-over static without so much as a, thanks for trying

It’s tougher than it needs to be to finish a Grand Tour run with more than a few precious seconds remaining - doable with practise (it may not make perfect, but it sure makes better), but I can easily see many players giving up long before winning that particular in-game trophy. Changing the controls helps too, as the default setting of using A to accelerate and B to brake really doesn’t lend itself to the game’s drifting system, which is so essential to get right if you don’t want to be eating dust all the time, or constantly smashing into off-track objects. Switching to ZL and ZR improves Slipstream’s, I guess, game feel, moving it closer to the intuitive slipping and sliding of Ridge Racer and OutRun 2 - and there’s an automatic drifting option should you want to further improve your chances of finishing any event.

Slipstream / Credit: BlitWorks
Slipstream / Credit: BlitWorks
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The SEGA influence goes further than OutRun, too - there are stages named after levels from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, including the sunset-soaked Oil Ocean and vividly green Emerald Hills, and before each Grand Prix race the screen is a dead ringer for the level-start visuals of the spiky mascot’s celebrated sequel from 1992. (Other stages reference real-world locations, such as Villa Rica, the Valley of the Kings, and Highgate Cemetery, which I’m pretty sure has never hosted a Grand Prix.) Other stages take in snowy conditions and neon-kissed city streets, as well as a few beaches blessed by those classic SEGA blues. Not everything’s a blast from the past though, as Slipstream includes a rewind function, taking the action back up to five seconds should you come a cropper. Sounds useful, but you’ll rarely use it - it genuinely feels faster to just ride out a crash and keep the accelerator down rather than mess about with time travel (though it's fun to see what each of your rivals has to say about the ability).

With five cars to pick from, each with different stats regarding top speed, acceleration and handling, and the aforementioned depth of game modes, Slipstream feels like a complete-enough package. That said, there are a few things that simply don’t work properly, at least pre-release. The records screen, for instance, is meant to show your times for all stages but only ever displays two; and whatever your distance achieved on Grand Tour mode, the final stat will always read 0.01 miles. Minor annoyances, but they’re indicative of a much-iterated project where certain small details are missed in pursuit of finishing a far bigger picture. Perhaps patches will fix these, and maybe the difficulty spikes, too.

Slipstream / Credit: BlitWorks
Slipstream / Credit: BlitWorks
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There’s something about Slipstream that feels as much like a game within a game than a standalone release - if you showed me a screenshot, or even 20 seconds of gameplay, and told me this was a mini-game within something like Hotline Miami or Paradise Killer, I wouldn’t doubt you. But for £7.99 on the eShop, despite its collision frustrations and odds-stacked-against-you difficulty level, it’s a worthwhile pickup for dedicated fans of this particular breed of racer. There are better retro-styled titles in its genre available - the Virtua Racing-like Hotshot Racing and OutRun-riffing Horizon Chase Turbo come instantly to mind - but you can also do a lot worse. It’s taken ansdor four years to develop Slipstream to this point, and they should be proud of their achievement in and of itself, regardless of the competition or the words and score on this page. If you’re reading this now, congratulations, and I hope this is a sign of more to come.

Pros: lovely nostalgic visuals, lots of game modes, a clear labour of love recalling 16-bit and arcade greats

Cons: exceptionally difficult at times, not everything is actually finished, a bit of a fiddle to find the right settings for you

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For fans of: OutRun, Lotus Turbo Challenge 2, Power Drift

6/10: Good

Slipstream is released on April 7 2022 for Nintendo Switch (version tested), PC (Steam), PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox One. Code provided by the publisher, BlitWorks. Find a guide to GAMINGbible’s scores here.

Featured Image Credit: BlitWorks

Topics: Retro Gaming, Indie Games

Mike Diver
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