A combat racer where the combat’s great and the racing is just okay.
The style and play of GRIP: Combat Racing feels like a throwback to another era, which makes sense considering its inspiration from the early 2000s racing series Rollcage. To that end, it almost feels too much like a glut of similar racers from that era in that it has moments of great fun weighed down by some middling ideas and frustration.
GRIP’s vibe will likely most remind Nintendo fans of F-Zero, though it also evokes a variety of other futuristic racers. The base hook is that your four-wheeled vehicle can drive all around the walls and terrain, flipping all around in the air when hitting jumps. That’s cool in spots, but in straight-on regular races, it gets problematic. While forgiving rubberbanding hides some ills, it’s still supremely easy to get knocked around in a way that obliterates your momentum, sometimes even leaving you in an area where your car can’t move or is facing the wrong way. It's like if a Mario Kart blue shell hit you but instead of an enemy spelling your doom, it was a slight environmental outcropping that sent you floundering. You can reset your position by holding down a button, which sort of helps. This issue is especially prevalent in handheld mode, which is complicated primarily because the detailed tracks are sometimes hard to navigate. My first lap through a new course would usually involve me not noticing barriers or hazards since the smaller screen obfuscated them.
Combat is where the game excels, specifically in two modes. The first is Ultimate Race, which takes the form of a traditional race but doesn’t judge you solely on your finish. You can pick up items along the way to knock out your opponents, which gives you points. Finish with the most points, whether you’re in first or last, and you win. You can still get off-course and turned around here, but it’s not as damning since the goal isn’t to go fast but to wreak havoc. Arena is the other combat-centric mode, which is essentially Mario Kart battle mode. While this mode was the one where I experienced the most slowdown (more on that shortly), it was fun to set up attacks and use abilities and the environment to avoid return fire.
Graphically, GRIP is demanding on the Switch but runs fine for the most part. Handheld mode might not look the best, but only sours when the action gets furious, like say when multiple cars are firing weapons in front of you in Arena. More often than not, I was impressed by how GRIP ran on the Switch. It’s better docked, which is also the only place where you can experience the split-screen multiplayer. That’s also a little rough around the edges for similar reasons as the slowdown in Arena, but with friends, it’s a good time. Online multiplayer is also present, but I wasn’t able to experience that too much.
A full suite of multiplayer options with customization and bots are available in addition to a lengthy campaign mode where you play through multirace tournaments. While you don’t need to place first in every tournament to progress, you do have to play through every tournament in order, which can be tedious when you prefer some match types to others. Campaign is the best way to earn experience and level up, which in turn gives you more car and customization options. In addition to everything in the base package, a few more modes are going to be added in the future. However, if those modes are in the same vein as the currently included Carkour, they could be disappointing. Carkour involves completing challenges by landing very specific and precise car jumps and turns. It amounts to a cool idea that just stumbles in execution as all the challenges seem to have very solutions that must be more or less aced to complete. It parallels some of the issues with the momentum in racing.
GRIP is a racing game filled with issues of give and take. The combat races and Arena matches are fun, but the straight-on racing is subpar. The courses are detailed and varied, but they’re hard to make sense of when going fast. While it’s certainly nice to see a throwback to old racing games, especially one with local split-screen, I wish it could have been a game I’d want to break out with friends more often.