GAME NAME: Switch Galaxy Ultra
DEVELOPER(S): Atomicom Limited
PUBLISHER(S): Atomicom Limited
PLATFORM(S): Vita, PS4
GENRE(S): Twitch Racer
RELEASE DATE(S): December 23, 2014
Who’s up for some space trucking? Substituting a semi for a fast, sleek spaceship and regular cargo for blue space blobs, of course. This is the basic premise for PlayStation Mobile turned PlayStation Vita release Switch Galaxy Ultra from Atomicom. But is this one worth sticking out your thumb and hitching a ride with?
Switch Galaxy Ultra takes place in a world full of wonderful and terrifying alien creatures and very few humans. In fact, you are one of the few humans left. You’re also one of the best pilots around, so when your boss tasks you with gathering valuable and rare elements from space tunnels, you’re totally down (even if there really is no down in space.) The story is told via comic book style panels every few stops. The artwork from the WipEout original concept artist is beautiful and detailed, but unfortunately the text appears quite tiny on the Vita screen and can be hard to read without your space spectacles. But you don’t play a game like this for its in-depth story. You play it for the fast speed racing and twitchy piloting and pretty space views.
The bulk of the gameplay in Switch Galaxy Ultra has you racing down a multi-lane space highway avoiding colored gates and drone ships while trying to collect money and speed boosts while switching lanes in an ultra-like manner. The money can be used to buy new ships, color schemes, and parts for your current ship like boosting length and damage protectors. You can also use your collected coins to buy info about a level, such as the gold time, or gate keys to avoid slowdown if you crash. There are 55 levels total to race through, so you’ll be busy for awhile. They do start to run together and drag a lot towards the end, with only a few variations in the long tracks. About three-quarters to two-thirds of the way through a level, you will enter a mining hole to collect the pricey blue blobs known as tantalum. Instead of being tied to the road, though, you take flight. It can be a little jarring switching control schemes for these sections (I preferred the shoulder buttons for lane switching to the less precise analog stick, which is required for the tantalum collecting sections), and even more jarring trying to line yourself up correctly so that you actually make the collection. This precious substance is your ticket to unlocking more highways as you go through the game, with a maximum of 10 available in each level. After you emerge from your globule gathering, you have to complete another section of the course before arriving at your next port, but you lose some of your newly gathered loot every time you collide with an obstacle. It’s an interesting concept, but one I feel needs more work. I don’t like how your progress in a game is tied to how well you do in only the last part of a level. You could conceivably have a perfect first part of the level, hitting all boost pads and avoiding all collisions, but if you can’t maneuver to the proper spots to collect enough tantalum, or worse if you collect all of it but can’t maneuver around the road once you get back to it, you’re stuck. I’ve replayed levels more times than I would like just to try and get one or two more blobs so I can move on. And in these situations I would purposely go as slow as possible heading into the mine by crashing into every gate and drone I saw, so that I would be going equally as slow when I emerged on the other side with my cargo. This sort of defeats the purpose of a game build around speed.
But when you do get to zoom around, look out. The sense of speed is real. When the game gets really going, it reminded me of the infamous speed bike level in NES classic Battletoads, where you have to rely on twitchy reaction skills to safely navigate through the gates without crashing. Sometimes when the road bends just right and you can’t see what gates are coming up, it can feel a little cheap though. The Vita version, just like its PS4 counterpart, runs at 60 fps at all times. Of course the resolution isn’t the same, but it still looks very nice. The various different ships your have available to pilot all look very cool with great designs that are different enough from each other that you actually notice when you switch it up. The backgrounds of the track are full of lovely planets and stars and sets the mood very nicely. Even the cities you pull into at the end of each level look massive and cool. Along with a great set of visuals is a pulse pounding electronic soundtrack that adds to the sense of urgency. I especially dug the music that played during the comic cut-scenes.
If the 55 main campaign levels aren’t enough for you, there are a couple of other gameplay modes available. First off is the endless Survival mode, which aims to see how far you can get without crashing into anything. Things start of a little too slowly, as everything can be easily navigated by an awake person for the first 60 seconds or so. But once things start to speed up it can be a real challenge. I just wish these challenging parts started sooner. The long lead up time doesn’t make me want to rush back to test my might very much. There is also a multiplayer mode available that contains two different contests. There is the just mentioned Survival mode where you join a buddy or stranger to see who can make it the farthest, and there is a similar mode that has you navigating to go through the gate that is the same color as your ship. This latter mode is much more engaging and fun, as both you and your opponent have to weave a different path. But both start of super slow like the singular Survival mode, killing a lot of momentum between games. Also killing momentum, the lack of online players. In the two weeks the game has been out, I’ve been able to find a natural online game exactly zero times. I had to enlist my “amazing BFF” (his words, not mine) Tyler to even try it out, so props to him for helping a brother out.
Switch Galaxy Ultra is a fun game in small chunks. With over 55 levels (each with a gold time to beat), an endless mode, multiplayer and leaderboards, there is plenty to do. Unfortunately, the grind to unlock additional levels can wear on a player, especially when one wrong stick flick gets you nothing for your re-runs. However, the graphics and sound package is impressive and the game is definitely worth a look if you enjoy fast twitchy gameplay.