Even before you start the game properly, it’s clear that Horizon Chase Turbo is going to be a riot of kaleidoscopic colour. The title screen is bright, bold and joyously, unashamedly colourful; as is the game that follows. Even the map screen pulses with colour, light and sound; here, even the water effect on the ocean is a standout – low-poly, stylised waves hypnotically, rhythmically swaying with the soundtrack.
Taking its cues from the racing games of the mid-80s to early 90s, before Mode 7 and 3D racers blew us away with their graphical advances, Horizon Chase Turbo most closely evokes games such as Out Run, Top Gear and Lotus 2. I could feel the influence of Hang On too – despite that game taking place on motorbikes.
It’s not just in the visuals that Horizon Chase Turbo is so evocative of these retro racers – the cars handle in a very pared back, arcade style; there are no complex crash physics models here. Rather, full on crashes are a momentary setback with your car spinning theatrically before being straight back on the track and in the race. Hitting other cars will push them away, but the only ill effect you’ll see to your own vehicle is a quickly-regained loss of speed. There are tokens to collect on the track – collectables as well as fuel tokens to replenish your limited supply of petrol (or ‘gas’, for my friends across the pond). The collectables serve a further purpose: collect all tokens on a track during a three-lap race and – if you manage to finish in first place – you’ll unlock the Super Trophy, which is essentially a ‘Perfect’ for that particular track.
Another aspect of the game that helps to evoke fond memories of aforementioned games such as Lotus 2 and Top Gear is the fact that the developers have enlisted legendary composer Barry Leitch to provide the soundtrack; Leitch was also the composer on those two 90s racing classics. The pulsing, urgent synth-rock soundtrack is the perfect complement to the visuals, which provides a huge dose of welcome aural nostalgia and just a straight up great set of music tracks to accompany the game.
It’s difficult to describe just how fast Horizon Chase Turbo feels to play; how smooth it is in motion. Despite the fact that it’s a clear homage to now-ancient racers – from a time of sprite scaling and faux 3D effects – the clarity and vibrancy in the art direction create a technically impressive game. With actual 3D models – albeit relatively low poly by today’s standards – replacing the 2D sprites of old, the framerate never seems to drop – despite the crazy speeds that can be attained, even on the earliest levels.
The Playground mode – though not unlocked from the start – has remixes of tracks on timed rotation; new conditions such as extra nitro boosts, mirrored tracks and varied weather, for example, add further variety to the races.
There’s split-screen multiplayer here too; up to four players can race against each other on the game’s gloriously vibrant tracks.
You’ll likely spend most of your time in the Tour mode, however. With 12 countries to visit – each containing multiple race tracks – and 32 cars to collect, plus a nice selection of paint jobs and upgrades for each car – there’s plenty here to keep you busy. Races themselves are fast and furious (yeah, I went there) – though the battle for first place is fought over three laps in each race, they’re over before you know it.
Horizon Chase Turbo plugs a gap in the market that most people won’t have even realised was there, along with bringing back a style of game that many won’t have realised they missed so much. Racing games tend to fall into one of two extremes these days: either the uber-serious photorealism and physics of the driving sim or the cartoony, OTT, power-up led antics of the kart racer. Falling into the arcade-style gap in-between the two, Horizon Chase Turbo warmly evokes memories of classic racing games and still manages to be a great game in its own right – being a hugely satisfying, addictive experience even when the comforting pangs of nostalgia wear off. Races are brief and competitive, so there’s always time for a quick go, no matter how long you have to play.
Those of you who experienced those classic computer and console racers in the early 90s – or the arcade racers as far back as the mid-80s, even – are sure to find instant appeal in the look, feel and sound of Horizon Chase Turbo. Even those players who weren’t there to experience these games – either first-hand at the time or, indeed, at all – are sure to find a lot of joy in the technicolour stylings of this brilliant racing game. With very little in the way of competition (as an indie game in its mid-tier pricing bracket), as well as a wealth of content and modes – particularly with the addition of free content in the form of the Playground mode
It’s a gem of a game; a glorious, deliberate throwback to the halcyon days of arcade racers that didn’t need to take themselves too seriously to be fun. Dare I say it? Yeah, I dare: Horizon Chase Turbo is top gear.