Something felt a bit off after a few hours with Gear.Club Unlimited, the Nintendo Switch’s first semi-realistic racing game. The racing itself was more “real” than arcade games and more accessible than “real” racing games, and the balance worked. The game looked good, both in portable and docked mode. The fundamentals were all there, especially considering the game had the genre basically to itself on the hardware.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, a number of issues keep the game from being as good as it should have been.
The biggest issue is that Gear.Club Unlimited needed a bit more massaging to adjust from its roots as a mobile game to a console experience. The races tend to be short, and setting up your garage and upgrade stations can be a fiddly and repetitive affair. Each upgrade has to take place in a specific station, which has to be purchased and then placed in your garage. Of course, you’ll have to buy more space in your garage to fit everything you’d like to. I haven’t played the mobile version, but much of this feels like vestigial aspects of a microtransaction economy.
Having to pick up and move your virtual car from station to station feels like yet another way to stretch out the time spent between races. It’s an interface that probably worked better on the touchscreen of a smartphone, but detracts from the experience when played with a controller on the Switch. The lack of analog trigger buttons is also frustrating, but that’s not the developer’s fault. Racing games are another area where the Switch could benefit from modular control options.
The game’s structure in terms of power levels and tiered races that require specific cars feels perfect for shorter sessions on a phone, but it doesn’t quite fit as well on a system where people are expecting longer sessions. None of these things destroy the game, but it could have used a bit more time and care making sure the experience was more elegant on a console.
That didn’t totally stop me from enjoying the game, however, especially after purchasing a few more licensed cars and dialing back on the racing aids to test my own skills. This is a pretty engrossing portable racing game once you get over the structure and lack of online play, and racing against up to four other people in split-screen proved to be a very pleasant way to spend a few afternoons with my kids.
As an aside, it’s funny how devs on more powerful consoles often complain about the challenge of adding split-screen multiplayer to their games, while so many Switch developers recognize the value and make it work. It’s a great feature that benefits the game and helps Gear.Club Unlimited to feel at least a little more at home on the Switch.
Race, do well, earn credits, buy better cars, upgrade your garage to upgrade your cars and then repeat: It’s a common loop in racing games, but I could still smell the faint whiffs of mobile here and there. At least any hint of premium currency has been massaged away, so I could earn all necessary cars and upgrades just by racing well.
My kids were hooked on the game and all the ways to optimize the licensed cars, although they wished for more aesthetic options. Playing a game with shorter races and some strategy in car purchases and use of your garage — without the incentive to pay up that the mobile version likely includes — was a relief.
But Gear.Club Unlimited could have been much better with a little bit more of the mobile-style busy work removed from the Switch version. I’d recommend that you turn off the racing aids as soon as possible as well; the game opens up once you feel like it’s not holding your hand. The AI is a bit on the bland side, which can often make it feel like the main goal is to earn money to upgrade your way out of any challenge you find in the game.
The need for more fine-tuning makes the $49.99 price tag a bit hard to justify. Gear.Club Unlimited proves that racing games can work, and work well, on the Nintendo Switch — as long as the developer is willing to put in the extra care.