NeoSprint – PS5 Review

NeoSprint is a top-down/isometric racing game from Costa Rican coders Headless Chicken Games and is one that can trace its lineage back to 1976 with Atari’s grandaddy of the racing genre, Sprint 2 (the confusingly-named prequel to Sprint 1, 4 and 8 – each of which indicates the number of players supported rather than their order in the series).

Of course, no-one this side of fifty really cared about the Sprint games (although interestingly the first game is one of the first examples of AI with its cars not just following a predetermined route but actually learning the tracks) until Super Sprint, a much nicer looking and more modern adaptation of the format and the one that many players either saw in arcades in 1986 or enjoyed home conversions on the various 8-bit systems of the day.

Super Sprint was classic Atari in that it was a lot of fun for a few minutes and then eventually became very difficult in an effort to get you to put another quarter/10p back into the machine.  Certainly the difficulty definitely ramped up fast, demoralising less skilled players as the AI continued to drive pretty much perfectly while you smacked into the barriers with all the driving care and attention of a BMW driver in a residential area.

Other games followed – Championship Sprint and Badlands – but the series effectively ended in the ’80s.  That is until now as Atari have, as part of their recent rampage through every old IP they’ve got, released NeoSprint to modern audiences.

The game offers a campaign mode where you’ll take part in several grand prix style tournaments.  You be placed on a track with three or more AI opponents and then it’s just a case of racing them over three laps.  Each grand prix offers three of these sort of races and then a single one on one race with a supposedly more competent opponent (more on that later).

In terms of the on-track action, this does all feel pretty familiar.  The game doesn’t feel quite as zippy as Super Sprint but that’s probably for the best as overhead driving games can be a lot more awkward than the usual in-car or behind-the-car view.  Even with the slower pace, initially judging your turns can feel a bit tricky.  This is definitely a game that you have to develop a familiarity with but the early AI opponents barely put up a fight, so you’ll still make progress while you’re getting your eye in.  With just steering, acceleration, braking and handbraking to think about, it’s all pretty intuitive as well.

You do get a choice of cars as well, so you can tweak your preference in terms of top speed, acceleration and turning.  So you should be able to find a car that hits the sweet spot.  That said, it’s a shame that the upgrading mechanic from Super Sprint hasn’t returned.  In that game you had to pick up spanners that then allowed you to improve your basic driving stats.  There’s none of that here though so once you get a car, that’s it in terms of performance.

We generally enjoyed the racing on offer here.  This is a racing game where you need to concentrate as just one mistake can really scupper you.  There’s no rubber-banding (mainly because everything is on one screen and so any blatant cheating from the AI would be too easy to spot) but if you smack into a barrier, it can really cost you.  But there are issues.  Namely, we won ever race we entered first time, although we did have to restart maybe a handful of times.

The only ways a moderately skilled player can lose is to either misjudge a jump (or land it but then flip onto your roof for some reason) – easily done but thankfully there aren’t many of them – or to get caught up in a corner when everyone crashes into each other.  The latter problem is a bit more common because the CPU driving is mostly awful.  This is especially true of the 1v1 encounters which are essentially boss battles.  Every single one of them was super easy to win because invariably the CPU would just crash into barriers for no reason.  It’s weird because when you win all three cups, a final one appears and it just involves four 1v1 races, so presumably they think this is the final challenge but 1v1 races are so much easier to win, so we didn’t really get it.

One series feature that we were really happy to see return was the track editor that had appeared in Championship Sprint.  This is a simple to use, but reasonably powerful, way to create your own tracks.  You also get to upload them which should mean that there will always be new tracks to enjoy (once people get past the learning curve of just making a basic loop).  You also get to unlock new track pieces and decorations during the campaign mode which should keep the interest going in both modes.

Another returning feature goes back to Sprint 8 in that this game supports 8-player co-op although, disappointingly, only online.  This isn’t the ’80s and getting eight players around one PS5 to play a fairly obscure indie game might be an ask but it’s nice that it’s included.

Visually the game uses a nice colourful art style with a trace of cel-shading (although the lack of headlights on night tracks is a stupid omission).  It’s definitely an indie look, you won’t be mistaking this for a full-priced offering but the cheerful, breezy presentation is likeable enough.  The in-game car noises and music aren’t offensive but won’t be turning many heads either.

And that kind of sums up the game as a whole.  It’s not going to wow you on any level, but it’s a really solid effort that offers up some pretty good racing (although your best value will come from getting human players to play it with you).  The track editor is a great bonus too.  But in a world where games like Mantis Burn Racing manage to combine this format but with faster action, an upgrading system and much nicer visuals, we can’t say that NeoSprint completely lives up to its legacy.

7 Overall
+ Solid racing action
+ Building tracks is enjoyable
+ Supports eight players (local only)
+ Bright visuals
+ Loses the upgrading from Super Sprint
+ Might feel a bit sluggish for some
+ Presentation is a bit ordinary
+ CPU competitors are often terrible drivers
While NeoSprint might not live up to the arcade royalty reputation and legacy of the Sprint series entirely, it's a solid entry that offers decent racing and fun track construction.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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