Deceptive marketing and mediocre racing makes for severe disappointment.
Any racing game releasing on Switch already has enough to worry about when placed on the shelf next to the colossal titan that is Mario Kart. Where most developers would try something unique to stand out above the crowd, Xenon Racer is content to merely be average. This might have been fine for people seeking a more realistic style of driving in a Switch racer, but unfortunately Xenon Racer is held back by some serious technical issues that detract from any mild value it may have had otherwise.
During a race, button inputs feel more like a vague suggestion than a command as your car takes a little too long to actually start turning. The sluggish drifting becomes a big problem on the tight turns that fill out each track. A strict health bar that sets you back significantly when emptied makes the resulting collisions a huge problem. Because of the loose controls, managing your speed to actually survive a turn without a scratch feels more like cheesing an exploit than like actual skillful play.
The atrocious porting job only serves to make Xenon Racer even less impressive. The screenshots and trailers on Nintendo’s store page and social media actually look pretty good, and it’s downright deceitful how this game actually runs on Switch. In addition to a low resolution and awful framerate, the graphics have received a major downgrade compared to other systems and environmental pop-in is hilariously omnipresent. It is outright shameful for the marketing on Nintendo’s official channels to so blatantly misrepresent the version that’s actually running on their platform.
The single impressive part of Xenon Racer for me was its extensive championship mode. The championship is a series of around 30 races on a branching path that can send you down different brackets with different tracks. This could add a lot of replay value in a better game, but sadly you’ll probably get too bored or too frustrated before you’ve finished a single championship. Tracks start repeating pretty quick, and a full minute of load times in between each race slows the pacing of the championship to a crawl. I was hardly out of the first bracket section before I’d gotten sick of the monotonous races, and I can’t bring myself to play much further.
Unfortunately there isn’t much value to be had in multiplayer either. There wasn’t another living soul playing this game when I tried connecting online, so you’ll have to trick your friends into thinking a race is worth their time in order to escape the lifeless single-player modes. To the game’s credit, the performance in splitscreen play isn’t bad, and there weren’t any particular framerate problems that couldn’t already be found when playing alone.
Xenon Racer doesn’t have anything that makes it particularly unique, so even the best port would still be mediocre. The one way it truly manages to go above and beyond is by doing its best to hide its shoddy port right up to its pre-rendered gameplay footage in the intro that was clearly recorded on a different system. If you’re in a desperate fix for a new racing game there are worse options than Xenon Racer, but make sure you pick it up on another system, because even the added portability on Switch can’t make this version worth the cost of admission.