Sprint Vector: A Solid Start with a Ways to Go

Intro

As someone who’s found an appreciation for fast paced, flying games like Eagle Flight and Windlands, I charged headlong into Sprint Vector with sky high expectations. With people hailing it as the “Mario Kart of VR” you would not be totally at fault for imagining a level of quality that very few games ever reach. While Sprint Vector does eventually find its stride, to say it ascends into the genre defining heights of Mario Kart is a pretty generous overstatement in my opinion. Sprint Vector does provide a fun, motion controller-centric thrill ride and does so with style and a lot of heart. So without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.

Locomotion

In SV, as the name suggests, you move through the world by swinging your arms in a sprinting motion while pressing the respective trigger in time with your swings, sort of like ski poles. It’s a bit of a mental exercise, but you get used to it pretty quickly and it smartly frees up your hands for other interactions when the time calls for it. When you start building up your rhythm and hit that max speed, moving through the world feels great and being driven by your body’s natural movement makes the motion disconnect a little easier to handle for motion sensitive players.

The game employs a snap turning feature by tilting the right analog stick for reorienting yourself, and there’s a little graphic on the floor with an arrow pointing toward the front of your playspace. You can also turn on a field of view reducer if motion sickness is rearing its ugly head. As someone who is moderately susceptible to motion sickness, beyond a few gut wrenching moments as I struggled to learn the controls and occasionally during drifting, the game is surprisingly comfortable.

The movement system is also a tremendous arm workout, just today I put in about 2.5 hours across two play sessions and burned 1200 calories according to my Apple Watch! :O

Gameplay

Overall, I found SV to have bitten off a little more than it can chew mechanically speaking. In a game like this, finding that perfect balance between simplicity and complexity is a real challenge, and I’d say Sprint Vector slips into the overly complex category. You’re keeping track of your arm swinging pace and hand position, your double jump, glide boost, break stomp, many diverging paths, items to collect and use accordingly, and tons of obstacles to avoid. Keeping track of everything takes a lot of mental and finger dexterity. After playing for about 4 hours or so I had just started to get a good feel for all of it and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable 4 hours as you’re pretty much running into things the entire time. I suggest playing through all of the tutorials first thing, and then some of the challenge courses where it’s less stressful and more open to experimentation to really help nail down how to move.

So with the comparisons to Mario Kart you might think a race is composed of 3 laps around a course. That’s not the case, there’s a definitive start and end point with multiple checkpoints in between. It feels a little bit like SSX or similar downhill type game in that regard. The problem with this style of race within the battle context, is that your traps have a less significant role to play. In lap based combat, as the race progresses, players will naturally create more hazards lap after lap making it more chaotic and interesting. Here, once your opponents are past your trap, that’s that; which leads me into the power-ups in general, they’re pretty generic. You’ll find your typical arsenal of speed boosts, things to shoot at your opponents, and traps to lay. They get the job done, but don’t have much character or variety to them, either activate the speed boost, or point and shoot the projectile/trap. Having quirky and interesting power-ups could have inspired more emergent gameplay opportunities. Give me a grappling hook that flings me past an opponent, or helm a super fast mutant dog sled team, or a boom box that spits out sound waves knocking players away from you, or a remote that teleports every racer to your location, these are probably terrible examples, but ideally the items would be brimming with as much personality as the rest of the game.

By far, the most frustrating thing about SV is that activating power-ups requires double tapping either trigger… you know, the thing you’re hitting over and over again as you swing your arms. The power-ups can feel pointless at times because it’s likely you will accidentally fire them off before you find a desired use. And when you don’t have a power-up, double tapping the trigger fires a little energy ball that can deactivate certain traps. So if you see an obstacle incoming that could be disabled, but already have a power-up in hand, you have to figure out how to avoid it, which is occasionally impossible because some of these traps are gigantic. For these reasons, the triggers feel overloaded with responsibility.

And then there’s the AI. Over the races I played I’ve seen characters get stuck on walls or ledges, just stop running completely out in the open, or even turn around and run the wrong direction. At one point I thought I was going the wrong way because two characters ran past me going the other direction. Because there are no difficulty modes, I’m guessing the system is trying balance the race on the fly and this is the result. Sadly, it comes off too algorithmic and can feel disingenuous when you place well. Once you get a better feel for the systems and can power through the courses without too much trouble, the AI does start to feel better in single player. In multiplayer, the AI are basically just set dressing as you’ll be much more engaged with the other real players.

Single Player

In single player you can progress through and unlock all 12 races to enjoy at your leisure a’ la carte and a series of challenge maps too. There are a few different settings like turning off the AI opponents or turning off the power-ups. Sadly there is no Grand Prix mode, that goes for multiplayer too. The game feels structureless without it, just you racing with no definitive goal beyond reaching the finish line so you can do it again next race. Hopefully they can add this mode in a future update.

Due to the lack of a Grand Prix mode and the aforementioned AI issues, single player is little more than a practice mode to sharpen up your skills and learn the tracks before heading out into the wide open web for some multiplayer mayhem.

Multiplayer

I’m happy to say, it’s here that the sneakers really meet the road. Having actual opponents that don’t give a toss whether you can keep up or not really gives perspective on how well you’re doing and following opponents can be a great way to figure out the best routes. The drama in multiplayer is also amped up. On the straightaways at the end of each level, hearing the sounds of your opponents as you all furiously pump your arms to try and pull just a little bit ahead is devilishly exhilarating. It can make wins feel hard won, and there’s usually some laughs to be had when it’s all said and done. I did notice a few network connection issues and even a full on crash in multiplayer, but nothing so frustrating that I gave up trying to play.

Design and Feel

The cast is colorful and interesting. The entire premise of the game is sadistic and silly. The music nails the style it’s going for. The UI is clean and intuitive. The art style feels like something out of a bubblegum ad, bursting with blobby, juicy colors. The only gripe I have is that the two announcers, from the moment the game loads up to the moment you quit, are chiming in with these little advertisements from their ‘sponsors’. They’re pretty funny, and they play a crucial role in conveying a deeper sense of the world, but you’ll have heard all of them after a few hours of play. I can already tell it’s turning from cute to annoying, just like real ads! And I am learning to tune them out, just like real ads! Perhaps limiting when and how often they trigger would help extend their longevity.

Conclusion

Overall, despite a solid first try at this subgenre, I found Sprint Vector has a ways to go before it takes home the gold. A vanilla power-up selection, overburdened control scheme, and shallow single player, trip up its otherwise compelling locomotion, great multiplayer experience, colorful characters, interesting world, and a great workout to boot. There’s still plenty of fun to be had if you dedicate yourself to learning the systems, and I’d consider it to be a must-play for anyone interested in a fresh racing experience built from the ground up for motion controllers.

That’s all I’ve got, stay safe out there travelers; hope to see you at the starting line!

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