Inertial Drift – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Level 91 Entertainment and published by PQube, Inertial Drift is a unique twin stick arcade racing game, with a 90’s retro aesthetic that is bathed in a neon glow. Featuring a variety of cars, tracks and a colorful cast of characters, Inertial Drift, shifts arcade style racers up a gear. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC. Links to each version of the game will be at the bottom of this review (a link to the website will be available as the Xbox version is yet to be released).

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PQube for providing the copy of Inertial Drift that was used for this piece. The provision of this title has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions expressed within are my own.

Now, with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review. I will be omitting the main story segment and going straight to discussing gameplay.

Gameplay – Inertial Drift is an arcade style racing game, with a unique twin stick control mechanic, using the left stick to adjust the turn of the car and the right stick to control the drift. This style of play is both the greatest strength and most significant weakness of Inertial Drift, as the drifting mechanics are the only real way of steering the vehicle when playing this game. The requirement of drifting is pushed harder by the almost useless steering, which has little to no affect when not using the drift stick.

At the start of the game, a tutorial kicks in, giving players all of the information needed to get started. After the tutorial has been completed, the other game modes are made available to the player, these modes are as follows;

  • Story Mode – take on a variety of events as one of the playable characters, going on a road trip across the country and meeting other racers on their travels.
  • Challenges – take on a set of car specific challenges, with each one unlocking a new vehicle for use in other gameplay modes, with a total of 12 vehicles to unlock, spread over three vehicle classes.
  • Arcade – select a track and freely play any of the event types in the game, with both global and friend scoreboards available for players to submit their scores.
  • Grand Prix – select a car and take on a preset selection of challenges, with each car having their own individual event and track selection.
  • Splitscreen – play with friends on the same system, either in tablet mode or docked into the tv.
  • Online – play online with people around the world in each of the different car classes, take on the world and see how you stack up. Matchmaking is organised by chosen car class and the region set by the player.

I want to talk a little about the story mode and the way that it progresses, then I will be moving onto the other parts of the gameplay experience.

In story mode, travel to each of the locations in the game, taking part in events for that track, along with the option to practice and learn the overall layout. Between each event, a story segment will play out, giving the player details of each area and the racers that drive there. Each challenge has three medals to be earned, a gold, silver and bronze for the different placements during the event. When an area has been cleared, you progress to the next, with the option to go back to the previous places to improve overall scores.

Now, I want to talk about the other parts of Inertial Drift. First I have some issues with the way that drifting functions on an individual basis with each car. The cars that the player starts with are separated by difficulty and drifting technique. The easier to handle vehicles use a simple drift which allows the car to handle turns by simply moving the stick left or right. This is a stark contrast to the more difficult technique focused drivers that require a combination of braking, acceleration control and drift timing, making for an almost impossible challenge for more inexperienced players.

Unfortunately, the game fails to provide any indication of how each car handles and uses the drift system, causing the attempts to portray the game as a pick up and play arcade racer to fall flat. This may also lead to accessibility issues and sudden difficulty spikes that can hinder progress, causing some of the more advanced vehicles to be unobtainable to those who are unable to effectively use each drifting technique.

The tracks that are available to play also vary in both challenge and overall quality, as the lighting, layouts and design of the locations fail to invoke the feeling that this is a homage to 90’s arcade racing games. Some of the courses are poorly laid out in places, with turns having little to no real warning of when they are going to appear, this is made worse by the lack of an on screen map and the strange choices for street lighting. Most of the tracks are bathed in an unusual pink neon glow from the street lights on the roads, which can make seeing boundary signs and even walls a challenge at times.

The next part of the gameplay that I want to talk about is the CPU racers and ghost cars. When taking part in an event featuring a ghost or computer rival, the game can suffer from frame drops and slow down, causing issues when attempting to make precision turns and maintaining driving performance. Another minor flaw with racing is the lack of collision between vehicles, with cars simply passing through each other, eliminating any real jeopardy from a head to head contest.

Now, while the game does have some flaws, there are areas that the game excels at. First, the amount of content available in this package is very generous, with 16 cars, 10 tracks (20 when counting the reverse versions) and the ample game modes. The race types have enough variety to them that no two challenges are the same, giving depth to the experience and adding more value to the overall product.

The race types available in this game are;

  • Practice – take your time and learn each racing line for each course, playing without restriction during each practice session.
  • Ghost Battle – challenge preset ghost racers, taking them on in target races. Beat the target time in three laps to clear the challenge against the chosen opponent.
  • Time Attack – race on the chosen course for three laps, trying to set the best time possible. The best time will be added to the global rankings.
  • Race – challenge a racer to a three lap head-to-head race, reach the finish line ahead of your foe and win.
  • Duel – race against an opponent in a battle race, the first driver to pull ahead and cross the line in the lead or score 1000 points will win.
  • Style – drive around the track, performing drift tricks to score big points, the riskier the drift, the bigger the bonus.
  • Endurance – hit top speed and don’t take your foot off the gas pedal, the clock is ticking so travel as far as possible, hitting checkpoints to extend your time.

All race types are playable in the split screen game mode with the exception of the endurance mode. In split screen, players have access to the currently unlocked vehicles and all tracks in the game. During a local multiplayer session, the game uses a horizontal split which works well in both of the console styles for the Switch, giving a good field of view without warping or distorting the camera. Please bear in mind however that this game requires two thumbsticks on each players controller, so single Joy-Con and other controller peripherals will not work.

Unfortunately, I was not able to play the online portion of the game during my time with this title, which may have been due to a lack of population for the game server or the time of day I was attempting to connect. This may be different for other players so have patience if you try to connect to the online servers.

With the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the difficulty options.

Difficulty – the difficulty curve for Inertial Drift can vary from player to player. From a personal standpoint I found that the simple drifting techniques were much easier to pick up, due to my experience with arcade racing titles. The more challenging drifting styles were much tougher to adapt to, with needing to tap the brakes and accelerator being more difficult as I haven’t played many of the more technical simulator style games.

The second part of the difficulty that I want to discuss is the targets for the events. Some of the races have very tight times to beat, with hot laps on some tracks being under a minute, score requirements in the tens of thousands for style events and CPU racers that drive perfectly around tight corners without any difficulty. These factors combine together to make for a long and hard road ahead of the player, with many of the challenges requiring several attempts and a lot of practice to succeed.

Controls – The pro controller is the most effective way to play the game in docked and tabletop modes, with the larger controller being the more comfortable option over the Joy-Con (if available). When playing in handheld mode, the attached Joy-Con controllers will perform well, although the smaller thumbstick does make the driving feel less precise (if changing from a pro controller). The difference in size between the two control sticks can make the drifting feel jerky and inconsistent, leading to crashes and missed turns during races when switching between handheld and docked/tabletop modes.

Presentation – the visual style for this release is executed well, with a mix of cel shading, neon lights and 2D character designs that work together in harmony for the style that the developers were aiming for. This combination of visual choices feels like this game is the love child of the anime Initial D and the cool neon glow of the 90’s. The sound design and music is cohesive and fits the theme of the game, with the roar of the engine meshing well alongside the heavy beat and electronic soundtrack.

However, while the aesthetics are pleasing and work well, the performance is unfortunately lacking. During play, the game suffers from slowdown, frame drops and full pauses that last for a couple of seconds at a time, which break the flow and cause difficulties during gameplay. The performance flaws may be due to the hardware limitations of the Nintendo Switch, as they are more prevalent when playing the game in handheld mode so bear that in mind if you only have a Switch Lite.

Final Thoughts – overall, Inertial Drift is an aesthetically pleasing and mechanically solid game. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time with the vast differences between drifting techniques, the flaws with track design and the performance issues were a source of frustration. I did enjoy the majority of my playtime, but each time a flaw showed itself, the flow of the game was interrupted putting a damper on the experience.

However, I commend the developers of the game as there is a lot of passion that shows in this release. The game has a unique style, with the twin stick drifting mechanic separating it from other titles, even if the game does rely on this system a little too heavily in my opinion. I can recommend this title to racing fans, the drift gimmick takes some getting used to and the game does have its flaws, but the amount of content and variety of gameplay on offer does compensate for some shortcomings of Inertial Drift.

In the end, I give Inertial Drift a final score of 3.5/5. The drift gimmick is a unique addition to the racing genre alongside a wealth of content for a competitive price. The visual style is a delight and the soundtrack hits all the right beats when tearing around corners at high speed. If you want to check this game out for yourself, links to each version will be linked below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

Official Inertial Drift website (HERE)

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