[REVIEW] Mantis Burn Racing (Switch)

A fun top-down racer that needs a tiny tune-up.

Racing games having a top-down perspective have had its glory days about 3 decades ago offering simple pick-up & play mechanics that allowed anyone to play and enjoy racing against their friends on an angle that displayed all racers on the entire track, whether in the arcades or at home. Games like Super Off-Road, Micro-Machines, R.C. Pro-Am & Super Sprint are just a few to name that helped fill in the genre. Occasionally one comes around every so often, but they rarely see a console release. Mantis Burn Racing is a game created to ignite that same fun and pick-up & play mentality which is why the Nintendo Switch version is best for those reasons. There’s nice driving physics, customization options, a dozen race modes and online multiplayer. At $20 USD, the previously released DLC consisting of faster vehicles types, battle cars and a set of snow-based tracks. Mantis Burn Racing brings enough features to the table(top), but the way the package all comes together feels a bit off track.

Drifting is fun, but also accessible for everyone.

There’s enough single player content.

Immediately, you have the choice of jumping into local play or competitive online modes. The best option to start off with, I think, is Career Mode. Here, you will gradually get accustomed to everything Mantis Burn Racing offers. Going through different circuits requires to be played in order where you’ll begin as a Rookie but eventually become an Elite as you complete the many events spread across 11 different seasons. When a single event is completed, you earn gears. A certain number of acquired gears are necessary to unlock the next season or special events. Each event within a season have optional challenges to complete, up to 3, allowing you to earn additional gears. These challenges vary and a little extra to the events. Some may need you to gain a certain number of seconds of air time while others may need you to perform amazing drifts or even destroy enough obstacles to be rewarded. Players are rewarded with a free car upon the game’s boot. You are able to change the paint and boost color of every car at any time at no cost. Control wise, the game is simple enough. Right Trigger for acceleration, Left Trigger for braking, A (right face button) for boost. Earning experience points (XP) and leveling up acquiring upgrades is part of becoming a better racer. You can earn up to 5 vehicle parts to place into rotating sockets: Engine, Gearbox, Suspension, Boost, and Tyres. Additional slots can be earned through leveling up your car at a price. It does a good job of teaching you all that you need to know as you’ll play through different modes and the weight classes: Light, Medium & Heavy.

Upgrading allows you to get the most out of your vehicle how you choose.

Light, as you would expect, allows for easier maneuverability and with better suspension when taking on the bumps. It just isn’t the fastest. Medium is sweet middle. Heavy is like an absolute tank which are slow to accelerate, but have the best speed. Taking corners with a Heavy weight class is also more difficult to control. However, they are the only ones who can plow through heavy obstacles without a boost. Many tracks have shortcuts that need a bit of destruction and Heavy’s can do the trick. In order to gain the ability to boost, there is a gauge that needs to be filled completely. Tailing another racer or any time spent in the air are great ways to fill the gauge. Drifting is the best (and most fun) way to fill it quickly, however. No special input method is required for drifting other than being able to sharpen your turning and controlling it with the analog stick. Whether drifting or gaining air, it all feels great thanks to the proprietary physics engine the game is built with. But… just because it feels great, the fun to be had unfortunately isn’t consistent.

Leveling up always feels nice, but this ain’t no RPG.

Mantis Burn Racing fuses the pick-up & play experience of a top-down racer with a bit of realistic simulation. It’s because of this that it will leave the player feeling disconnected from the experience at times. There isn’t a deep learning curve to the controls which is great for players of any skill and that is where the problem lies. The game expects you to not make mistakes even if it’s easy and fun to play. One wrong turn or crash into a corner can cost you the entire race. This is especially apparent when playing against 1 other human player. Once you two are separated by a certain distance, there is only a mini-map in the bottom left corner displaying dots of racers; dots you may not even see. When this bit of risk vs reward accident happens, it just feels like you are the only one on the track even though there are other players. You can feel isolated when playing online. At times it’s almost as if Mantis Burn Racing doesn’t know whether to be an arcade racer accessible for all players or a skillful racer meant for veterans. I can’t exactly fault the game for being that way. I am just unsure who it’s targeting. I’ve had a blast playing online against more than a handful of players at once. It feels as if this game is best with the more players you have as only a few just isn’t thrilling.

Which is a shame because underneath all that is a fun game. The physics and drifting are all part of the experience and the tracks designed are good for it.

Though not much variety, tracks are still cool.

There’s essentially 3 different course aesthetics with each having multiple layouts, pretty much breaking into the skill levels of Rookie, Pro & Veteran. There isn’t much variety and you’ll soon realize playing the same-ish areas repeatedly can be a bit tiresome, but they do enough to switch it up. While this game isn’t winning awards for pushing graphics, the details of the tracks make it a beautiful top-down racer. The Rookie courses are all dirt tracks set around construction zones and mountainous areas. At points you may go into caves or drive into industrial areas. The Pro courses belong to the rural areas. You’ll be taking curves driving through sea ports and mountain roads with the scenic autumn trees surrounding you. You will even drive through the city with plenty of building and lit street lamps. The Veteran courses offer the most challenge with its curves and road conditions being all snowy. In these courses you will see bases and construction with plenty of curvy corners being extra slick. Being mindful in these areas is recommended and are probably the most fun for skilled players.

I love driving at night.

There’s a bit of extra detail allowing you to change the time of day for the tracks as well as weather conditions. Unfortunately, I’ve tried many modes and weight classes to get the option working but to no avail. The options are listed, but won’t allow for scrolling through them. I’ve read this to be a problem for others as well. I am unsure if there’s a certain completion method to unlock it, but it would seem a bit silly to not have these available from the get-go considering you can choose every map and vehicle class in both offline and online modes.

And the modes are plenty. There are various race modes involving who has the fastest single lap in a race to a mode where racers needs to stay inside a steadily shrinking spotlight as they drive. One mode requires racers to accumulate points up to 10,000 first, where depending on which place you are in generates points faster; 1st place being fastest. Knockout is a mode where a race is continuous and whoever is in last place in a lap gets disqualified until there is only one racer left. Additionally, most modes can altered to be a Battle Mode. When this option is applied, players receive guns after the first checkpoint which they can shoot (Y or left face button) straight ahead. There is a cooldown period if it overheats. After the first lap, a set of 3 mines are rewarded which players can place behind them (X or top face button) and are refreshed every lap. There are also 2 exclusive battle modes. One in particular being King of the Track is especially fun. At the beginning of the race, one player is chosen at random to sport a crown. They are ahead of everyone else, but they are also much slower. Each player needs to reach up to 6 points to win. The goal for the crown-bearer is to get away and reach checkpoints to earn points, but they can also shoot and place mines to destroy vehicles to earn points as well. If the one who wears the crown is destroyed, the one who’s responsible for their destruction takes their place. In all modes with Battle, there are repair pads placed on the tracks that players can drive over to remove the damage done to them. Battle sometimes reminds me of the good ol’ classic Spy Hunter at times. Whether playing in Career or other offline modes, you will always gain XP for part unlocks and money from leveling up. Your score from a current offline race will always show how you rank against other real players after the race. This can help you want to get better lap times. VooFoo Studios also has a weekly challenge so everyone can try to aim for the top.

The number of race modes here are well worth it and add enough options to keep it interesting. Just make sure you have enough people to play with.

You also have a few choices of how the camera follows you while racing. There’s Standard and Dynamic options which gradually rotate along with your turns. There’s Static, a helicopter view that only pans without being tied to you. This feels cinematic, but also causes problems as many of the tracks’ environment will obscure the view of your vehicle at times. And then there is Tight, which moves 1:1 with your turns. I find the last option to be my preferred camera setting once familiar with courses. You can toggle through them at any time during a race with R.

Cross Table play anytime, anywhere!

Mantis Burn Racing allows for 8-player wireless play and up to 4 player split-screen. The cross-table function allows for 2 players to compete comfortably while opposing each other vertically. The game runs at 60 frames per second, but you’ll see a huge amount of chugging happening when players all crash into each other. This is most frequent at the beginning of each race when players are scrambling to cut each other. Online play also allows for Cross-play with the other consoles. The ability to play with motion controls is also available, though it comes with a much higher learning curve. This little top-down racer certainly went the extra mile and it’s very nice to see it utilizing everything the Nintendo Switch has to offer.

Be careful not to slide off!

Mantis Burn Racing executes plenty of things well, but is also rough around the corners; specifically in the menus. What the game does well is giving you information for every new thing you come across. There is an illustration of a mechanic who pops up on screen and gives you the rundown on every mode you select for the first time and every new part upgrade you acquire. It’s a nice way of teaching players right off the bat without the need of going into ‘help menus’. Unfortunately, there are no help menus. It may not seem necessary at first, but the casual players acquiring upgrade parts without knowing how they affect their vehicle after the first notice will intimidate players. Selecting parts only shows their icons with no information other than the name of the part. Upgrading vehicles doesn’t feel particularly rewarding since trying to make out the difference in how your vehicle handles before and after upgrades is more of a guess based on its feeling. There aren’t any visible stat improvements showing the difference and no sense of “leveling”. Navigating menus is also not very snappy. There’s a bit of lag at times and registering input. Also, when choosing to play online, you’re immediately thrown into a public lobby with players. You can choose to back out and create your own lobby, but it doesn’t make any sense to not be able to create a lobby first. Why am I always joining a public lobby first? Hopefully VooFoo Studios is considering patching these things to make it a smoother experience. This music isn’t memorable, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It definitely takes a backseat. Actually, it reminds me of the old times with games like San Francisco Rush on Nintendo 64. The music may be fitting depending on how you view it, but it won’t pump you up.

 

Summary
All-in-all, this is an enjoyable game. The way vehicles handle feel great and despite the lack of variety in courses, they are detailed and beautiful. There's many modes to choose from and playing with others with a similar skill level will be fun. It offers a single player career mode with 150-ish events and you can play it in multiple ways. I'd say it's a bang for your buck. The gameplay is really good, but the surrounding parts aren't up to par. It could just use a few more boosts in the balance department.
The Stellar
  • In-house developed physics feel great.
  • Beautifully detailed set pieces for tracks.
  • Lots of options.
The Lesser
  • Variety in track themes is lacking.
  • Lacking some sort of "umph" when only few players are present.
8
Pretty Good
Gameplay - 8.5
Visual - 8.5
Audio - 6.5
Value - 8.5

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