You'd rather spend a day at the opera?
A Night at the Races isn’t quite what you’d expect from the title. It’s less of a race and more of a runner, and a very difficult one, at that. Unlike most runners, however, this one comes with a fairly intricate story to keep you involved between the levels.
It’s all set in a run-down apartment from which you’re about to be evicted. Through social media, you learn about a new game that people are playing in illegal competitions: No Berry Left Behind. The prize money is good, and a win could help you keep your apartment. So, you download the game and start playing.
Things get quite complicated, of course, but I won’t offer details; discovering the story is one of the joys of this game. After you complete a level, the game cuts back to your apartment so you can move around and pick up more of the narrative. You’ll interact with various objects and devices to further the story, then get back to the game. It’s all handled earnestly and with a pleasant degree of sophistication. If you’re able to get invested, it’ll push you through the very difficult levels.
The gameplay itself is simple to command. You have a cube that slides across the screen, and you have to make it jump. You do have some control over the cube’s movements, but it’s going to slide forward whether or not you want it to.
Timing your jumps is the key to progressing, as you have to avoid many objects and squeeze through the game’s levels. A Night at the Races does a good job early on of teaching you the various moves you’ll need to master, but it quickly turns you loose and watches you die over and over again.
Frustration is very much a part of this game. It’s written into the story, after all. Your character has to push through this in order to win the tournament, so the frustration is shared right on the screen.
Thankfully, the gameplay is quick on numerous counts. You immediately respawn and start moving again after you die, so there’s little chance to put down your Switch and move on to something else. More importantly, the levels themselves are quite short. Successful runs can be completed in around a minute, but it’ll take a while for them to become successful. What did they use to tell me in college? Spend two hours studying for every hour of class? In this game, I figure I averaged over a dozen tries per level before I was able to push up and through.
When it all becomes too frustrating, you can slow the game down quite a bit from its default speed. This is a nice touch, as it can be used just to get past individual sections that are proving too difficult, or you can play the entire game at a more relaxed speed. That takes away some of the elation of completion, but you’ve got to find your balance. And for those who are really having trouble, you can skip levels entirely to move on with the story.
Graphically, A Night at the Races is what you’d expect from a game of this type. The narrative segments have a ’90s adventure game look to them, while the action levels are in line with the modern mobile approach to action platformers.
There’s not a lot of texture or depth, but the stark color contrast makes it easy to see what’s going on in both docked and handheld modes. The visuals are set up perfectly for play directly on the Switch console.
It all comes together well enough to help A Night at the Races separate itself from other high-speed runners. There may not be enough here to win over players who aren’t already fans of the genre, but the unique narrative will certainly appeal to those seeking an engaging challenge.
Review: A Night at the Races (Nintendo Switch)
A Night at the Races does an admirable job of balancing difficult, twitch-style gaming with a narrative that’s unique to the genre. It’s not for everyone, but those who are up to the challenge will find it a bit more rewarding than most high-speed platformers.