After months of waiting, Eden Games finally brought Gear.Club Unlimited exclusively to the Nintendo Switch. The bad news is that its engine has seemed to have stalled out and the timing belt is squeaking like crazy. In other words, it has some issues. As the first (and currently only) realistic racing game on the Switch, this isn’t the best first impression. Does the genre have a future on the platform after this?
Eden Games essentially had an unspoken mission with this release; to pave the way for more realistic racing games to come to the Switch. This genre has been noticeably absent on Nintendo platforms over the past few years. The few realistic racers that have come out recently have mostly been for the 3DS, which of course isn’t the best fit for these types of games. There was basically nothing on Wii U aside from Need for Speed: Most Wanted U, but that’s more of an arcade-hybrid like Forza Horizon 3 instead of a full simulator like Gran Turismo Sport. The last batch of ‘competent’ (using that term loosely) racing simulators on a Nintendo system would be found on the Wii.
The Wii had a lot of different racing games, but the simulator sub-genre was still quite small on the Wii. It was rather surprising that the system got racing-sims at all because the Wii’s default control scheme (Wii Remote + Nunchuck) isn’t the best choice when it comes to the accuracy needed for a truly decent realistic racing experience. Nevertheless, some studios did try, like Codemasters, which brought F1 2009 to the system. This was fundamentally the last somewhat decent realistic racing sim on a Nintendo home system, and that was eight years ago. This is why I was hoping that Gear.Club Unlimited would be a hit; so racing studios could take a serious look at the Switch.
Essentially, Eden Games had a similar mission as that of Slightly Mad Studios. Now, this is a pretty touchy topic that’s been covered extensively by myself and others already, but here’s the quick version: in 2012, Slightly Mad announced that Project CARS would be coming to Wii U. The studio hyped up the Wii U version of the game several times until 2015 when it was released on other platforms, but was outright canceled for Wii U. Had Slightly Mad actually honored their initial promise, that would have been a pretty big deal. It would have been the highest-profile racing-sim to hit a Nintendo home system in years. But, that didn’t happen. And it still hasn’t happened yet with Gear.Club Unlimited being sub-par.
Eden Games essentially had a mission: to reinvigorate the dormant racing simulator genre on a Nintendo system. This was a start, but it’s going to take a little more.
Now, I know some might see it as a bit of a reach to have such lofty expectations for what is essentially a mobile port. But, I don’t think that’s a valid reason to disqualify the game from being fit for the task. After all, there are already other racing titles which have released on both mobile and console/PC that have turned out very well, like the Riptide GP series, for example. If anything, Gear.Club Unlimited had an even better chance of being a truly competent racing-sim by coming to the Nintendo Switch since the developers finally had some hardware that could properly compliment the experience. Speaking of the developers, they’re another reason why I had hope.
Eden Games has been around for quite some time and has worked on several racing titles throughout its history. Before Gear.Club, the last racing project the team handled was 2011’s Test Drive Unlimited 2. Now, to be fair, that game didn’t get very positive review scores either. In fact, the Metascore of the PS3 version (which was the most reviewed) is 70; just two points higher than Gear.Club Unlimited. When you look at it that way, it seems that Eden Games didn’t exactly learn much from its past missteps, which is a shame. But, I’m not ready to write the studio off just yet. I think if the devs really put their heads together and pay close attention to the other, more polished racing games out there, they can probably put together a great experience. Perhaps they should try designing something that’s built exclusively for the Switch hardware instead of a port. If it takes a few years, fine. After all, the Gran Turismo franchise has years between releases, and it’s doing quite fine.
But, there’s still the question of whether or not the genre as a whole really has a future on Switch. If only one studio is trying to work with it, that’s not much. So, will there be any others who jump on board like Codemasters, or even Slightly Mad? The Switch has been riding a massive wave of momentum since its launch in March. Game sales have been very good across the board, whether it’s a big AAA release or even a small indie. With the system’s user base growing so rapidly, it’s going to become harder and harder for devs and publishers to tip-toe around the matter. If they want a cut of the Switch profit pie, they’re going to have to take the plunge sooner rather than later.
As long as the Switch continues to be profitable, developers like Slightly Mad will hopefully be inclined to at least make an attempt to bring something to the system.
Like the Wii, the Switch is popular. Unlike the Wii, thankfully, it has a much more traditional control scheme. As a result, I think it’s a great fit for the racing-sim genre. Overlooking the lack of analog triggers (since this can be tweaked with software), the only real roadblock in the way of devs is that the system isn’t as powerful as the PS4 and Xbox One. The excuse that Slightly Mad gave as to why the original Project CARS was canceled for Wii U is that the system just wasn’t powerful enough.
This was a total contradiction to the aforementioned positive statements the studio was making since the initial announcement, which made a lot of folks suspicious. I think it’s safe to say the real reason the game didn’t come to the system is because of hardware sales, and in turn software sales, were so low. Since the Switch is a much healthier platform, I think developers will be more willing to deal with the lower specs just for the sake of not wanting to miss out on the potential sales.
That’s the ideal scenario, though. The racing-sim genre has basically been puttering along in the slow lane for about a decade on Nintendo platforms, so there’s still a chance that it just might stay that way. But, the thing about the Switch is that it seems to be doing things so differently than past Nintendo systems. It’s definitely shaking the dynamic up of the company, which gives me hope that racing studios really will be willing to take a decent look at the console in the near future. Interestingly enough, Codemasters is on the list of third-party partners that Nintendo released back in January during the Switch pre-launch presentation. Even so, the studio has only mentioned the Switch once so far, saying that there’s merely a “possibility” it will actually develop a project for the system. We’ll just have to wait and see how that turns out. But, you know what would really get the attention of these developers? What if Nintendo just made its own first-party racing-simulator? Xbox has one. PlayStation was the first to have one all the way back in the 90s. Nintendo’s main studios are definitely capable of doing it; wouldn’t that be cool?