Super Woden GP Review: Heaps Of Fun… Eventually
I have a huge soft spot for retro racers. There’s just something about the simplicity of an old-school arcade racer that I love. Experiences where actual player skill progression is all there is to focus on, rather than a plethora of upgrade systems, overwhelming amounts of modes, and huge open worlds.
So when the trailer for Super Woden GP dropped I was instantly mesmerized. Developed by Vijuda and eastasiasoft, with publishing duties handled by the latter also, Super Woden GP is a complete throwback to a simpler time. A time when the focus was simply on unlocking cars and working your way through a linear series of events, each one getting increasingly trickier and demanding that the player becomes comfortable with all elements of the handling system. So with my high hopes for a nostalgia-filled adrenaline rush, does Super Woden GP make the podium, or does it find itself spinning off the track only to hobble back in last place?
A Simpler Time
As I’ve already alluded to, Super Woden GP is unashamedly old-school in its approach. Upon booting it up, players will be given a handful of credits with which to buy their first vehicle, which as you can expect, will be a total junk heap. There are a number of dealers that specialize in Japanese, British, and American cars, for example, spread across a simple-to-read map, which effectively functions as your main menu. There’s no upgrade system in Super Woden GP, so you can never actually improve the vehicles you purchase. Progression instead comes from the accumulation of credits that are awarded at the end of races and championships, which can then be spent on better cars. These in turn let you access better events that are gated by vehicle type and power, with harder events paying out more credits.
Super Woden GP soon slips into a really soothing and relaxing rhythm. While some racing fanatics will likely scoff at the idea of not being able to upgrade your vehicles in any sense, an upgrade system would detract from the purity and throwback nature that Super Woden GP aims for and largely delivers. I really enjoyed the gameplay loop of unlocking new cars, getting familiar with them, and mastering their handling, all before moving on to something else once I had accrued enough credits. It also forces you to try new cars, given you can’t upgrade something to make it worthy of harder events. You have no option but to step outside of your comfort zone and check out the roster of vehicles to find something that’ll serve you better going forwards.
Complimenting the moreish gameplay loop is the excellent on-track action. Using an isometric camera and a simplistic control system that only asks you to learn how to accelerate, brake, and steer, Super Woden GP instantly evoked memories of being huddled around my old CRT television and spending hours playing Micro Machines on the Mega Drive.
Controls are tight no matter what vehicle you’re using, though some of the heavier vehicles can take a while to master due to how slippy they feel. Track design also ranges from simplistic oval-shaped layouts to devilish designs that constantly twist and turn, requiring you to really get to grips with the nuances of each car’s handling. There’s a decent variety of ways to engage with the game, with one-off races, short weekend events, and full-on championships all to unlock. Unlocking new events is as refreshingly straightforward as the vehicle unlock process, with podium finishes granting stars based on your placement, and the number of stars you unlock dictating what events you’re able to access. One thing to note though; getting to those higher tiers and better vehicles can be a bit of a grind.
That grind largely results from the fact that Super Woden GP is a surprisingly difficult game, especially so in the early hours when you’re limited to a handful of pretty lackluster cars.
Unless you finish in the top three of an event, the payout is generally terrible, with races granting anything from between 30 coins to a couple of hundred if you fail to land on the podium. Most cars cost at least a few thousand coins which adds up to a hell of a lot of races before you can buy something that resembles any sort of upgrade over your starter car. And, I can already hear you – “just get better at the game and hit the podium!” Right, that’s a great plan, in theory, however, the AI in Super Woden GP is borderline flawless once you hit the top 6 in any given race. Even with the difficulty set to easy, rarely does the AI put a foot wrong, hitting perfect racing lines with ease all while you’re watching your hopeless tin can slip and slide all over the place.
What that adds up to is an experience that can feel like a real uphill struggle in those early hours. Unless you’re a total pro who manages to pick up the challenging handling system with ease, you’ll likely find yourself in the same situation I did, grinding the same couple of events over and over until I finally had enough coins to upgrade to a better vehicle. Once you do, however, Super Woden GP really opens up and sinks its hooks in, so I’d advise anyone who feels the same frustrations I did to persevere as the first few hours really aren’t representative of the experience you’ll eventually find with a more fleshed out garage and a better understanding of the handling system which you’ll naturally develop with time.
One element of Super Woden GP that completely impresses from the start is its visual design. It simultaneously looks completely bizarre, yet utterly charming all at once, opting for a low-poly 3d look that also has an oil painting vibe. It’s gorgeous and makes jumping into new tracks a complete joy due to how great each one looks. Vehicles look similarly great, with an impressive variety on offer for a title of this scale. As expected, there are no licensed vehicles on show here, but there are some gentle, and not so gentle nods to real-world cars and I got a kick out of trying to pick out where the developers were pulling inspiration from.
The audio is more of a mixed bag. Vehicles don’t sound great, but the soundtrack that dominates the menus and races is fantastic. Retro-themed pop and dance music accompany almost every screen and never failed to make me smile as they accompanied the throwback look and gameplay perfectly.
Not Quite Pole Position, But A Close Second
Super Woden GP pretty much delivered everything I wanted from it. An addictive gameplay hook, fantastic track design, and a simple yet challenging-to-master handling system all contribute to a retro racing experience that delivers fun in spades, all while looking stunning in action. The difficulty wall that the early hours present may be off putting to some and it is undoubtedly frustrating early on, but those that battle through it will find one of the most charming and rewarding racing experiences that Nintendo’s hybrid has to offer.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X; Developers: eastasiasoft, Vijuda; Publisher: eastasiasoft; Release: 9 November, 2022; Players: 1-4; ESRB: Everyone 10+; MSRP: $11.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.