The Switch conversion of Virtua Racing quickly achieved almost legendary status on its Japanese release, but its UK release this week rather snuck up on me. After throwing a very reasonable £5.99 at the Nintendo eShop, I got straight into very definitely the best version of Virtua Racing I’ve played.
But in this case, a bit of context greatly enhances the enjoyment. It was only after looking back at previous versions of Virtua Racing – including the arcade original – that I could appreciate the scale of what M2 have achieved with this conversion. The Switch version looks great, but it doesn’t look like the arcade version – it looks likes what I thought the arcade version looked like. That’s a mixture of ’90s naivety – it was cutting edge at the time – and my mind’s eye upscaling my memories of the game.
That’s upscaling which M2 have – with a great deal more effort, and starting from the original arcade source code – performed in this conversion. It’s explained far better than I could in this video by the unreasonably knowledgeable sorts at Digital Foundry. But suffice it to say, side-by-side with the arcade version, it’s clear just what a remarkable job has been done: the resolution, frame rate and draw distance improvements in particular make a real difference.
It would have been a massive waste of time if the game itself doesn’t hold up, but it really does. The course design remains exemplary, the handling is solid, and the AI is surprisingly believable – it’s easy to lose time scrapping with another car, and with its arcade roots that’s time you can’t afford.
There are only the three original tracks, but with the tight checkpoints forcing you to spend time with each track, they feel less disposable – echoing a theme Matt explored recently – and that’s no bad thing. And the price point should stop any grumbles about value for money.
So: definitely an improvement on the PlayStation 2 version, which I obsessed over on this site more than a decade ago. That version was built from the ground up, and with that it acquired a few quirks – the cars strangely turned on a central pivot, and when they made contact they’d stop and spin on the spot. It also had some fairly horrible pop-up.
By working from the arcade code, and updating the heck out of it, the Switch version avoids all of those issues. The result is, as I said, very definitely the best version of Virtua Racing I’ve played. But more than that, it’s a stunning example of what a conversion should be.