“Welcome to your Mantis Burn Racing career.” It started with a race around the winding Summit in Sand Town, in which Captain Tripp, Amber Lights, and Daisy Chain were soon left in the dust. Then, it moved on to a time trial where I had to push for a lap time below 32 seconds to achieve first place and, much later, went on to see me tearing it up around the Harbour in New Shangri-la.
It was a fairly promising start to my career as a competitive racer, with my first season as a Rookie becoming a proving ground of sorts, before moving on to whatever awaited me next. I won’t lie. Amber Lights went on to become my nemesis, as we regularly found our bumpers colliding as we tried to edge each other out to score the victory in each event. But, then it eventually hits you. Whether it be the Pro, Veteran, or Elite seasons, there will come a time when you burn out and reach the limit of your racing prowess, a point at which you must choose to persevere against the increasingly skilful racers that you face.
With an unnamed mechanic acting as your watchful mentor between events, the Career mode in Mantis Burn Racing can often feel like a personal journey tinged with as much success as it has sweeping defeat. Your progression will soon see you experience the top-down racer’s different event types, where standard Races can come under Sprint, Standard, and Endurance that indicate their general distances, Time Trial events will pit you against the clock, and League events will see you participate in consecutive races with competitors awarded points based on where they finish.
And then there is Accumulator, which challenges you to be the first to reach 10,000 points over time – with the driver in first place earning points the quickest and whoever is in last place accumulating them the slowest; and Knockout sees the driver in last place eliminated each lap until only the winner remains. There are others beyond this such as Overtake, Spotlight, Time Out, and Hot Lap, but, hopefully, that at least touches on the handful of events that will vary your experience.
It’s worth quickly mentioning at this point that you only need to finish in the top three places to unlock the events connected to the one that you had just competed in on the Career grid – a sprawling network of events that is separated into increasingly difficult seasons.
Mantis Burn Racing has a simplicity in approach, somewhat, with a control scheme that sees VooFoo Studios simply ask you to hold the ZR Button to accelerate, to squeeze the ZL Button to brake whenever needed, and to use the Left Stick to steer your vehicle. And then there’s a Boost gauge that fills as you earn experience points that, once full to the brim, can propel you forwards once you slam the A Button.
“Amazing Drift. Awesome Air. Personal Fastest Lap. Great Destruction.” The constant encouragement that Mantis Burn Racing showers upon you in each event will spur you on and helps to make you feel like you are achieving something even if you are lagging behind in last place.
It has a purpose, too, in rewarding the player with experience points, with each event also having three challenges to complete. These will test your driving skills and while the first will always be to win the event, the others can range from jumping or drifting a certain distance, winning without using the boost, or even smashing trackside objects. This may sound like busywork but it helps to keep you actively engaged, and, more importantly, the gears that you collect are all added up – a specific amount required to unlock each season’s last event.
The experience points that you accumulate are important, too. This will see you, unsurprisingly, level up over time, in turn rewarding the player with in-game currency, parts to upgrade their vehicles, and unlocking new vehicles to buy. These can be bought in the Garage, which is also the place where you can change your vehicle and boost colour.
There are light, medium, and heavy weighted vehicles in Mantis Burn Racing which themselves are spread across five classes, whether that be Rookie, Pro, Veteran, Elite, or Battle. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and while your first vehicle – the medium weight, Rookie-class Renegade – is free, you will have to earn the right to drive the other vehicles first. Apart from the Elite and Battle class vehicles, which were made available as downloadable content on other platforms but have been bundled with the racer on Nintendo Switch.
The Elite class vehicles use powerful fans to hover a few feet off the ground, and are, therefore, unaffected by whatever surface you drive on. Whereas the three Battle Cars come with a forward facing, rapid-fire machine gun, a rear mounted, high-explosive mine launcher, and reinforced military-spec armoured bodies. It won’t come as a surprise that throwing weapons into the mix results in unexpected chaos, and the chance to obliterate your competition is one to be savoured. And, on top of this, there’s also the Snowbound downloadable content that adds frozen tracks with treacherous ice roads that have less traction, which can be played across all modes.
Whichever vehicle becomes your favourite, each has their own statistics relating to speed, acceleration, grip, suspension, boost. These aren’t fixed, either. Each vehicle has its own upgrade dial with separate sockets that you can insert the upgrades that you earn into. Whether an engine upgrade to increase your vehicle’s maximum speed, a gearbox upgrade to increase its acceleration, or a suspension upgrade to improve how it handles bumpy surfaces and jump, these, among others, can steadily improve areas in which a particular vehicle falters. But, there are also consequences to using them, as with higher speeds without enough traction can make cornering trickier or too much acceleration can affect your vehicle’s grip and make it harder to control.
It’s a balancing act and as you fill all of the empty sockets that are available to you, the player is given the chance to level up their vehicle to unlock more. This throws on a spoiler, lights, and more, to improve the way that the vehicle looks, but, clearly, it is the sockets that matter the most. Maybe. I wasn’t expecting there to be such depth under the hood in Mantis Burn Racing, and many will enjoy sprucing up their favoured ride.
Away from the substantial Career mode, you can take part in a Local Race with up to four players in split-screen, a Wireless Race between multiple Nintendo Switch consoles without requiring an internet connection, the chance to play two-player local multiplayer matches across a table with separate Joy-Con, and the Online Race mode which can, if you choose to activate it, support cross-network play with those on Xbox One and Steam.
There are even Weekly Challenge events to keep you coming back, with this week’s being to lap your opponent two times on Caves in the fastest possible time – with players on Nintendo Switch already having secured themselves top four places on the best scores leaderboard.
At this point, to say that Mantis Burn Racing is anything but robust and comprehensive would be an understatement. But, while tearing up the tracks at 60 frames per second in this entertaining top-down racer is an absolute riot, there are a few bumps in the road.
While the decision to include the Snowbound downloadable content partly alleviates the problem, the tracks are largely unremarkable and the selection too few. There are 12 by my count, and, while you can rely on your progression in the Career mode and competing against friends to motivate you, it won’t be long before your enthusiasm to race around the same track again wanes. That’s made worse by the fact that there only real differentiation comes in their twists, turns, and locations, with a need for the developer to make them more memorable given how much time will be spent drifting around them.
The soundtrack, too, started to grate against the noise of the roaring engines. In the grand scheme of things, it seems a trivial complaint, but the clear desire to use it as a chance to try and make the game seem edgier seems misplaced, seeing as the racer still has many merits to celebrate.
It is because of those that Mantis Burn Racing remains an entertaining addition to the Nintendo eShop on Nintendo Switch, with VooFoo Studios delivering a fast-paced experience that is bolstered with the expansive downloadable content. That repetition can soon seep in is a looming threat, but the chance to tweak cars to perfection is a meaningful one that, over time, will let you lean on your strengths in this otherwise addictive, competitive racer.