Slipstream Review: A stylish homage to old school arcade racers

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As racing games become more realistic, there’s a growing demand for simple, easy to pick up and play arcade racers. Thankfully, indie developers are responding to the demand, spawning a new wave of retro-inspired racing games.

Inspired by 16-bit racers like Top Gear and Lotus Turbo Challenge, Horizon Chase Turbo is one of the most popular retro indie racers. Slipstream is another attempt at reviving classic arcade racers for modern audiences.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Slipstream drifted onto Steam in 2018. Now, this retro-inspired indie racer has been ported to PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, bringing the game to a wider audience.

Table of Contents

Review conducted on PS4. Review copy provided by publisher.

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OutRunners

Slipstream is heavily inspired by OutRun. This is most obvious in the main Grand Tour mode, which sees you passing checkpoints and weaving through traffic in exotic locations, from beaches and cities to forests and deserts.

With branching paths, changing scenery in each stage, and rivals that taunt you, it perfectly captures the essence of OutRun. All that’s missing is a fake Ferrari and a thrill-seeking girlfriend in the passenger seat.

Slipstream screenshot title screen
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Slipstream replicates the sprite scaling technique used in retro racers to great effect.

Speaking of vehicles, Slipstream’s car selection is limited to only five models. However, each feels unique, with different acceleration, handling, and top speed. Money earned in races can be used to increase performance and improve handling, but the limited customisation options don’t make a noticeable difference on the track.

There are no licensed cars, though this didn’t stop Sega from using a Ferrari Testarossa in the original OutRun. Most designs are inspired by iconic Japanese models such as the Honda NSX, Toyota AE86, and Nissan 300ZX, the hero car of the Chase HQ sequel Special Chase Investigation. Fans of 1990s pop culture will also spot references to Sonic the Hedgehog and Initial D.

Slipstream is more than a mere OutRun clone, however. As the name suggests, Slipstream features a slipstream speed-boost system. Closely following a traffic car or rival for a few seconds lights up letters spelling the word “slipstream.”

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Slipstream screenshot sunset.
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Slipstream's gorgeous pixel art style sets it apart from other indie retro racers.

Once every letter is lit up, you automatically get a massive speed boost. Manga-style speed lines create a thrilling sense of speed, but slipstreams are tricky to time. Mistiming a slipstream and hitting other cars loses you a lot of speed.

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Additional game modes outside of the OutRun-style Grand Tour add variety. Grand Prix mode is a traditional championship mode with four cups containing five races.

Cannonball, on the other hand, lets you customise an event with options to disable traffic and add up to five stages, while Battle Royale is a gruelling test of survival and endurance. Featuring 15 stages and 15 opponents, the last racer is eliminated after each stage in Battle Royale.

Super scaling

Slipstream’s colourful pixel art style sets it apart from other retro-inspired racers. As vibrant scenery rushes past at a silky-smooth 60fps, Slipstream looks, plays, and sounds like a Sega sprite-scaling game, transporting you back to the golden age of arcade racers. This is thanks to Slipstream’s impressive custom game engine created by Ansdor, the game’s sole developer.

Before the rise of 3D polygonal graphics, developers used sprite scaling techniques to create a pseudo-3D effect in games like OutRun. Other racing games have tried to recreate this visual style, but none pull it off as convincing as Slipstream. You can even apply CRT and pixel filters for a more authentic retro look.

Slipstream screenshot drifting
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Drifting in Slipstream is tough but satisfying to master.

Taking four years to develop, a lot of passion was clearly poured into this project. Combined with an original synth-wave soundtrack, Slipstream recaptures the aesthetic and atmosphere of old school arcade racers perfectly.

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But is Slipstream all style and no substance? Thankfully, no. Reminiscent of OutRun 2 and Ridge Racer, drifting in Slipstream feels fantastic, allowing you to navigate tight turns at high speed.

Letting go of the accelerator, tapping the brake, and reapplying the throttle executes a drift, and you can also steer to adjust the angle. Holding a drift while narrowly avoiding traffic and trackside scenery is satisfying and exhilarating. It takes time to master but you soon develop a satisfying, zen-like flow.

Hard Drivin'

A less welcome aspect of retro arcade racers replicated in Slipstream is the steep difficulty. This is a brutally hard game that requires a lot of skill, fast reaction times, and practice to master.

Make slight contact with the scenery at high speed, and your car somersaults in the air before crash landing, costing you precious time in Grand Tour mode. There’s no AI rubber banding in Grand Prix races either, making it almost impossible to catch up with opponents if you crash – even on the easiest difficulty setting. There’s no room for error here: a single mistake will cost you the race.

Slipstream screenshot snow track.
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Some players may find Slipstream's steep difficulty frustrating.

Rewinds, which let you rewind up to five seconds and reset to correct mistakes, help reduce the difficulty, but they need to recharge so you can’t always rely on them. Slipstream rewards players who put in the time to practice, but lowering the difficulty on the easiest setting in future updates would make the game more accessible to new players.

The developer’s limited resources also show. With no extra cars to unlock, only four Grand Prix cups to complete, and no online multiplayer, Slipstream’s replay value is limited, despite the variety of game modes. Don’t expect an extended campaign to keep you engaged like in Horizon Chase Turbo.

But considering Slipstream’s cheap asking price (it costs £7.99 on digital stores) and one-man development team, these shortcomings are forgivable. Split-screen multiplayer for up to four players also makes up for the lack of online multiplayer.

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The steep difficulty can be frustrating, but Slipstream is a stylish homage to old school arcade racers with slick presentation, a superb soundtrack, and satisfying drifting. If you love retro arcade racers and crave a challenge, you won’t regret taking Slipstream for a spin.

RacingGames Rating: 7/10