One genre that’s been notably absent on Nintendo platforms for quite some time now is that of racing simulators. We’ve had these types of games for several years now, but Nintendo itself never really embraced them; at least not to the same extent that Sony and Microsoft have. Those companies created their own racing-sim franchises several years ago, and they still remain as the biggest names in the genre today. I think Nintendo should try its hand at creating something similar for the Switch.
Last year, I had the privilege of reviewing the PC version of Forza Motorsport 7. It was my first time jumping into a full Forza simulator experience, and I was totally blown away. I bought Forza Horizon 3 earlier in the year, but that’s a much more ‘arcadey’ experience. The Motorsport series is geared (pun intended) towards players who prefer more realistic racing mechanics. I felt the difference almost immediately and was really impressed by the attention to detail. Another major racing simulator also released last year, Gran Turismo Sport. I haven’t tried it out, but it got good review scores, similar to that of Forza Motorsport 7.
Seeing these two franchises go head-to-head was really interesting. I had never really paid attention to their rivalry until last year, but after observing it just a little, I was very interested. I decided to look back at the history of each franchise to see how far they’ve come, and it’s amazing how much more advanced these modern simulators are compared to what was considered “impressive” back in the 90s and early 2000s. But, taking that metaphorical drive through history really got me thinking: “Why hasn’t Nintendo ever tried jumping into this genre?”
Even now, I don’t really have an answer to that question. In the eras when Gran Turismo and Forza first came about, Nintendo was still using a lot of its IP that today lie dormant. A number of these were racing franchises: names like Wave Race, 1080, Excitebike, and others come to mind. None of these really fall into the simulator category, but it showed that Nintendo was interested in the racing genre, just not racing simulators. As time went on, eventually even these franchises faded into obscurity, and that continues to be the case straight up until this day. But now, we have the Nintendo Switch. In a lot of ways, it’s a new start for Nintendo; which is why I think now would be great time the Big N jump into racing simulation for the very first time.
The Switch is a platform of firsts and new experiences. A pretty good fit for Nintendo itself to try jumping into the racing-sim genre for the first time.
Now, I understand the Switch isn’t the perfect system for this type of game. This mainly has to do with the lack of analog triggers on any of its controllers. While they aren’t necessary, they definitely do contribute greatly to having a great virtual driving experience since they function similarly to that of a real gas pedal. Nintendo could even create new Joy-Cons that feature analog triggers, so it’s not as if this problem is impossible to solve. But, other than that, there’s really nothing else that should get in the way.
You might argue that the Switch isn’t powerful enough for a modern racing simulator, but I disagree with that notion. Sure, it may not have the power of the PS4 and Xbox One, but I believe a racing-sim could still work when put in the hands of a talented studio. What better studio than a first-party? After all, both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport are designed by Sony and Microsoft’s first-party studios, hence the reason why each release is typically very polished. A lot of people are currently losing their minds over how good the original Forza Horizon after its recent backward-compatible update for the Xbox One X. I agree, this semi-enhanced version does look pretty decent, and I think it serves as an example of what could run on the Switch. Remember, Forza Horizon is an Xbox 360 game; the Xbox One X is only applying minor enhancements to its visuals. The Switch is a much more powerful system than that of the 360, so it can definitely produce results that surpass that of Forza Horizon.
What really gets me excited about this whole concept is that a hypothetical polished Switch racing simulator would also be a really great portable racing-sim. There have been attempts at bringing the genre over to handhelds before, such as Gran Turismo on PSP, but the majority of these attempts have been subpar at best. It’s been difficult to recreate the experience since handhelds have always been so limited in terms of power and control scheme.The Vita came close to finally providing a proper environment for a true ‘console-like handheld experience’, but we all know how that turned out. Now that we have the Switch, this vision can be truly realized. There are even the added benefits of such a game making use of the tech inside of the Joy-Con/Pro Controller, like the HD Rumble, and gyroscope/accelerometer. But of course, the question is: “Will this ever happen?”
Is it logical to think that Nintendo would challenge the prestige of Forza and Gran Turismo?
Simply put, I don’t really know. Nintendo has never shown any real interest at jumping into this genre beforehand; that doesn’t mean things will continue this way, but it doesn’t give much hope that the situation will ever change for the better. Still, one can dream, no? Nintendo’s studios already create so many different types of games, so I’m sure they’re up to the task of trying out a new style such as a racing-sim. Considering the near company-wide trend to polish things almost perfectly, I’m confident that if this concept ever went into motion, its quality would likely be on-par with Gran Turismo and Forza from a gameplay perspective.
I’m tired of waiting on third-party studios like Codemasters and Slightly Mad to make a move. While they also happen to make really great racing-sims of their own, they’re still hesitant at trying their hand at bringing their projects over to Switch. This is what really fuels my desire for wanting to see Nintendo do it on its own.
If anything, since the genre has been absent for so long on Nintendo platforms, I believe it’s only most appropriate that a first-party studio be the one to get the ball rolling. But even so, I think it’s more likely that one of the aforementioned third-party devs would make a move before Nintendo does. Whatever it turns out to be, I just hope it turns out well. The Switch has such a small amount of racing games currently, and they’re almost all arcade-based. Hence, having just a pinch of realism would be appreciated.