Horizon Chase Turbo is a love letter to fans of classic racing games, bringing that format into a modern light with beautiful stylized, low-poly visuals.. The question is, does it drive as smooth as looks?
Playing Horizon Chase Turbo was an interesting experience for me; it took some getting used to. Although it looks like a game from this era, its gameplay mechanics are pulled straight from racers of the late 80s/early 90s. What sets the racers oft hat time from what we have today is that, due to hardware limitations, these classic titles used visual techniques which gave them a pseudo-3D look despite being sprite-based. The only racer from that time I have experience with is OutRun (the 3DS port), but that just so happens to be where Horizon Chase Turbo takes a lot of inspiration, especially when you look at its red “totally not a Ferrari” cover car (which is just like OutRun).
Horizon Chase Turbo shakes the formula up a bit by having players race in closed circuit courses rather than through gradually changing locales like in OutRun. The tracks are scattered across a global map, which is why the main mode being named ‘World Tour’ is quite fitting. In this mode, you take part in various races in different cities in a variety of different countries. What makes this mode interesting is how you progress. Your performance in each race will determine your overall World Tour score, which is counted in gold tokens. Each new country cup is locked behind a certain number of these gold tokens. Thus your overall goal is, of course, to win every race in order to rack up these tokens as quickly as possible. But, don’t expect this to be easy.
Succeeding in a race is purely dependent on your skill. Horizon Chase demands that you be as precise as possible, which is hard to do when you’re zooming around at 150MPH. You see, each race has you starting all the way at the back of the pack of 20 cars. Your main goal is to get into 1st place before the race is over. What makes this difficult is that there really isn’t much in the way of power-ups to help you like in most arcade racers, nor are there any shortcuts. You have a nitrous boost system, but it’s limited to three uses per races. Some tracks have one or two extra that you can (try to) pick up, but these are rare. So, each race requires you to gauge when to use that boost, so you can make your way forward. You’ll also need to time it exactly right, as using it right before a turn can be disastrous. But, yet another obstacle lies in your way: the other racers and the track itself.
What I mean by that is the way the physics system (if you can even call it that) handles collisions. It has a very exaggerated effect. Hitting another racer from behind causes them to bounce forward, whilst also bouncing you back. This means you essentially give your opponents a tiny boost! Bumping them from the side has less of a bounce-back effect, but doing so too close to the edge can send you careening into one of the many trackside scenery objects. Doing so can cause your car to tumble or spin out, thus resulting in a total loss of speed. It really bites when moments like this end up coming up towards the end of a race, hence the reason why I said that timing and precision is so important. Another thing to watch out for is your fuel consumption. This was surprising to see in an arcade racer, but it adds to the adrenaline. There are fuel canisters on each track; sometimes they’re easy to get, while other times you’ll whizz past them, which can put you in danger. Running out of fuel results in your car gradually slowing down, and unless you have boost, you’ll end up stopping and losing the race. A very unexpected touch, but like I said, Horizon Chase Turbo is a real challenge.
Another aspect of the gameplay that I found challenging has to do with its classic-inspired mechanics. Again, racers back then had a pseudo-3D style. Draw distances were incredibly minimal, and everything looked cramped and condensed. The same is true here in Horizon Chase. While hardware limitations are no longer an issue, the game still pretends as if it’s a 16-bit title. Thus, it ends up feeling like you’re moving with the track rather than on it, as the aforementioned limited draw distance and cramped design almost makes it seem like you’re racing with constant tunnel vision. This means you’ll have to really anticipate turns and react quickly, as objects on the horizon blink into view just seconds before you arrive. Thankfully, each track is represented by a minimap in the corner, which can make navigation a tad easier.
In addition to World Tour, there are also Tournaments and Endurance races. I didn’t get a chance to tackle the Endurance mode as unlocking it takes quite some time. As for Tournaments, they’re unlocked very early on by completing just a few races in World Tour. The only true difference is that Tournament races act like a Grand Prix/Championship, so you play a series of four races at once. But, the tracks are exactly the same as in World Tour.
Each mode kind of exists on its own. While completing them will add to your overall progress, they mostly have a progression system all their own. It would be nice if the Tournament races gave you tokens in World Tour mode, but of course, that would be much too easy for a game like Horizon Chase Turbo.
Of course, there are a variety of cars to unlock. While they’re not licensed vehicles, they might as well be. The designs will be recognizable to any car enthusiast. In addition to the aforementioned “totally not a Ferrari” red cover car, you also have familiar rides both modern and classic like a Dodge Viper and BMW Bettle; they just go by different names and don’t sport their rea manufacturer logos. There’s no real customization. While cars can be upgraded, the way this is handled is different than usual. You have to complete an ‘Upgrade Race’ in the World Tour mode, which will then unlock upgrades for all your vehicles at once. Unlocking new vehicles is handled by increasing your World Tour coins, and some cars require you to complete specific tasks, like getting 1st place in a cup, for example. As you can see, just about all progression is totally dependent on your racing performance. So, win, win, win!
While the gameplay of Horizon Chase Turbo is difficult to the point of making you feel like a masochist, it’s at least really easy on the eyes. It has a low-poly, stylized look similar to early 3D games of the 90s. But now that we have HD resolutions, the game takes full advantage of that, offering an incredibly vivid color palette and clean textures. The backgrounds and environmental effects also look stunning, really capturing the look and feel of each real-world locale. The engine sounds of the vehicles are also nice, but the soundtrack didn’t really wow me. Each song sounds upbeat and intense, but there’s a limited selection so it can get very repetitive. The game may borrow a lot from OutRun, but nothing can top SEGA’s killer work on that soundtrack.
Despite its difficulty, I’ve been having quite a bit of fun with Horizon Chase Turbo. It certainly does feel like a game from the 80s/90s, as they were known for being quite difficult anyway. The selection of cars and tracks is quite nice, and it’s all wrapped up in a beautiful visual style. So, if you want to take a trip down memory lane at lightning speeds, I’d definitely suggest giving it a try. Just don’t throw your controller at the screen.
If you want another take on a retro-racer, then check out my review of Slipstream. Like Horizon Chase Turbo, it’s inspired by the racing games of old, although Slipstream completely embraces its retro heritage by sporting a completely pixelated artstyle, and gameplay mechanics that are closer to classic racers like OutRun (with a few tricks of its own). Still, aside from a few key differences, both of these games are quite similar to an extent. So, if you enjoy either one, I do suggest having a look at the other.