WRC 9 is a pretty hardcore rally sim made by the French developer Kylotonn. It features long, hardy races through harsh conditions, all with a dedication to simulating a realistic racing experience. It has seen major improvements in the last few entries, and this release builds on those more, if only slightly.
What we get with the Switch version is a little different, even if that core gameplay is still there. With muddier visuals, shorter draw distances, and some seriously dodgy shadows, the overall visual quality of WRC 9 has taken a serious hit to make it onto Nintendo’s plucky handheld. While graphical fidelity can often be a matter of preference, there may be one concession too many for this to be a properly competent racer.
Story & Gameplay — Drift Through The Ranks
No racing game can really claim to have a story, but most have a career mode. This sees you climbing through the ranks to become the best driver there is, and WRC is no exception, aiming you at the big leagues — the World Rally Championship (that’s what WRC stands for, by the way). In terms of racing, it’s about what you’d expect: drive faster than other drivers and climb up and up until you’re at the top. Pretty simple.
There are, however, some extra trimmings that make WRC 9 much more engaging. Similar to the F1 series of games, you have to manage your team to make sure they’re well-trained and well-suited to help you through. There’s also Research & Development, a huge tree of different things to make your car better than your competitors. It’s not that excitingly presented — reminding me more of a Football Manager game than anything else — but it does add a bit of realism to this lengthy career.
Thankfully, the racing is also top-notch, so you can get really entrenched in the career, trying to perfect your driving style. The cars slip and glide believably, constantly feeling hard to tame. I like this style of rallying — I think it’s dull when a driving game just thinks rallying means “do lots of drifts!” — but I do think more casual players will find it tough. This game isn’t really trying to appeal to casual players on a gameplay level, but it’s hard to imagine any hardcore players wanting to pick it up on Nintendo Switch. It would have been nice to see some more options for lower levels of play.
Sadly, though, the gameplay suffers due to the visual concessions. We’ll get into that more later on, but the primary issue for driving is the draw distance. Both objects (i.e. trees, rocks) and shadows jump into view when you’re getting near to them. If they are visible they’re blurry and hard to see, with the lack of good lighting and shadows making it very hard to tell how far away they are.
Taking it slower around a twistier rally is fine, as you don’t need to react as quickly to incoming obstacles. But on any long straight, it can be really difficult to see where the course goes, meaning there could be a slight right that isn’t as slight as you thought, sending you barrelling straight off the course and incurring a five-second penalty. You can tweak the difficulty quite a lot, but the way the visuals change your driving style is a bit egregious.
There are, of course, your co-driver’s pacenotes. These are a set of instructions as to the direction and angle of corners, as well as any notable jumps or blind hills. These are useful, and a great touch of realism, especially as they are voiced to a much higher standard than previous entries. But you definitely can’t rely on these when tiny, incremental tweaks need to be made. What this resulted in for me is a much more tentative approach to pretty much anything when I was travelling at speed. Less edge-of-your-seat rallying, more like you got lost in the woods.
There’s also the issue that all racing games suffer from on the Switch — the triggers. In racing games on other consoles, analog triggers allow the player to feather the throttle, making tiny tweaks mid-corner or after a long jump to keep the car under control. This is pretty important to any serious racing game and particularly important in WRC 9.
You can still feather throttle sort of, but it doesn’t quite work in the same way. Just tapping a button to get across a slightly larger or smaller input is never going to really work. You can also tap the brake, but this can often make the car harder to control than easier. All in all, the Switch has a major problem for any high-level racing, and WRC 9 suffers because of it.
Visuals & Audio — Caution!
Let’s get the good out of the way: this game sounds decent. There’s no obvious super-compressed audio that some other Switch ports have suffered from, and the cars growl and hiss like I’m sure they would in real life. This accompanied with the mud squelching or the gravel rolling as well as your co-driver shouting “jump, caution!” all makes the game sound like the real deal. Weaving your way through any rally in this game is an aural treat, for sure.
Sadly, it isn’t a visual treat, even by Switch standards. A rally ought to be you rushing through the environment, tweaking your steering with twitch reflexes to get through a kink right. Instead, it feels like you’re catching up with the environment, as trees unblur and appear, with shadows just dropping into place instead of already being there.
Visual concessions are commonplace with the Switch, and I don’t normally care (I gave The Outer Worlds on Switch a good review, believe it or not), but here it forces the player to play differently. If you can’t properly tell how hard a corner is, and you get it even slightly wrong, you can go tumbling over into the trees. The rocky visuals turn what is an already hard game into a much, much harder game. And that is hard to get behind.
WRC 9 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch and a code was provided by Home Run PR.