I don’t know why, but I’ve pretty much been a fan of anything that goes fast since I was a little kid. Planes, cars, rockets—you name it. All I’ve ever liked to see is things moving at high speeds; for whatever reason, it just amazes me. With that said, it should come as no surprise that racing is my favorite genre of games. As a result, it’s a little disheartening to see so many racers skip Nintendo systems. But, the recent announcement of Gear.Drive Unlimited shifting its gears over to Switch gives a little glimmer of hope for the future of the genre on Nintendo hardware.
Of course, I’m not saying that there are absolutely no racing games on Nintendo platforms. There are indeed many, including a few exclusives. The thing is, the majority of them are arcade racers. Whether first-party or third-party, the vast majority of racing games on any given Nintendo platform are over-the-top, wacky, arcade racing games that are more focused on casual fun instead of trying to provide an authentic driving experience. On other platforms, things are a bit more balanced.
PlayStation, Xbox, and PC have always enjoyed a pretty solid mixture of both sides of the genre: arcade and simulator. There are even franchises that are basically a hybrid of both, such as the Forza Horizon series. Of course, there’s also the first-party racing juggernauts: Gran Turismo from PlayStation and Forza from Microsoft. With the advancement of console hardware, even more racing simulators from other studios have made the jump over to PS and Xbox, like DiRT, Assetto Corsa, and Project CARS. Absolutely none of these or anything similar can be seen on recent Nintendo systems.
Back when Nintendo had better third-party support, primarily the between the NES-Gamecube eras, racing games were plentiful. The whole ‘simulator’ sub-genre didn’t really come into the picture until things moved into 3D, so the N64, Gamecube and Wii (to an extent) are really the only systems that can be considered in this specific situation. Taking a quick glance at the list of racing titles across both systems, you can find quite a number of arcade titles, and even a few sims in the mix too. Move over to the Wii and Wii U and things shift drastically. Due to the Wii’s heavy focus on motion-controls, a proper simulator experience was hard to achieve. There were a small number of attempts like Need for Speed: ProStreet, but the quality was vastly inferior to the PS3 and 360. While the Wii U offered a much more traditional controller and stronger powerful hardware, the one simulator that was set to come to the system never made it. So with all this said, what do we have to look forward to on Switch?
Gear.Club Unlimited isn’t a big game, but it offers a sizeable opportunity to racing sim fans who own a Switch.
Gear.Club Unlimited definitely does not have the same level of brand recognition of other franchises like DiRT, Gran Turismo, and Forza, but it is a pretty sleek-looking title. True, currently it’s only available on mobile devices, but this is still a step in the right direction, even if it’s a small one. GCU is still a racing simulator at its heart and offers a lot of polish in terms of both game mechanics and visuals. The Switch is more powerful than any phone and tablet currently available, so the game will most likely look and run best here on Nintendo’s system. It will also benefit from a proper control scheme, with the Joy-Cons/Pro Controller possessing analog sticks and buttons; this, of course, is much better than touch and motion controls.
One key feature that the Switch is currently missing is analog triggers. Nintendo had analog triggers on the GameCube controller, but have never added them back to any of their controllers since. I’m really not sure why this is the case, but they’re the perfect match for realistic racing games. Like the actual gas pedal in a car, analog triggers offer the ability to gradually increase and decrease acceleration, which is critical in realistic racing titles. Arcade racers don’t really suffer or benefit from this since most of the time you’re putting the pedal-to-the-metal anyway. This is likely another reason why racing simulators haven’t really been seen on Nintendo systems for such a long time now. Even so, Gear.Club Unlimited’s team is obviously working out a solution and I’m excited to see what the final result will be.
If the game manages to perform well on Switch from both a gameplay and sales perspective, I really think this could pique the interest of other developers, such as Slightly Mad Studios. They were all gung-ho about bringing the original Project CARS over to Wii U. Obviously their initial vision fell completely through the floor, but I really think it has to do with the fact that the console just wasn’t selling well, even though it’s the system’s lack of power that was blamed. The Switch itself is already selling really well, so if developers see a game like Gear.Club Unlimited also do well, then that will make the situation hard to look away from.
If Gear.Club gets good sales, other racing sim studios could be swayed to bring their titles over to Switch as well.
I’m really not sure how many other racing-sim fans are out there in the Nintendo world, but there are some indicators to go by. Back when Project CARS on Wii U was still a thing (a thing that was consistently hyped up by the devs themselves on several occasions), the fanbase was very excited. In fact, Slightly Mad Studios ran a poll on the game’s website asking people which version of the game they wanted most, with the selections including Wii U, PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Interestingly enough, the Wii U version remained as the highest-rated option for quite some time, despite being the platform with the smallest amount of hype surrounding it at the time. This goes to show that there is a starving fanbase of racing simulator geeks out there in the Nintendoverse.
With all that said, it’s time to assemble again race fans! If you really want to see more racing simulators like DiRT 4 and Project CARS 2 make their way to the Switch, then it’s time to rally together and support Gear.Club Unlimited. It’s a small game, but this is still an opportunity to show that we will indeed buy this genre on a Nintendo system. Being the home platform with the exclusive ability to be taken on-the-go, having racing-sims on Switch would be a pretty sweet experience; much better than any phone or tablet could offer. So, let your wallets burn rubber when GCU races onto the eShop later this year. Let’s show the other studios that we really want this!