Switch! has been around for several years now – originally starting life as a free-to-play endless runner on iOS and Android. In 2013 it was revamped, renamed and re-released as Switch Galaxy Ultra on the PlayStation Vita, bringing with it a proper mission structure and a gaming experience more akin to standard console titles. Now it’s the PlayStation 4’s turn. With overhauled HD graphics and bolstered with even more missions, Switch Galaxy Ultra is ready to blast into prime time. Can a revamped endless runner, released on mobile platforms almost half a decade ago, truly compete in next-gen space?
If you didn’t know about its humble beginnings, after playing Switch Galaxy Ultra for an hour or so, you certainly wouldn’t guess that it’s a jazzed-up mobile game – I certainly didn’t. Switch Galaxy Ultra looks, feels, and plays like like it was built from the ground up for a home console. Controls are tight and responsive (but are best left to either the triggers or the directional pad – the joystick can be more than a little imprecise), graphics are sharp and colorful, and everything feels on point. The talented team at Atomicom have really made an impressive effort, making a little go quite a long way.
Switch Galaxy Ultra’s premise is simple: get to the end of the track, avoid any/ all obstacles in the quickest time, and collect enough Tantalum to unlock the next track. I have to stress now – this is not a racer. In fact, Switch Galaxy Ultra plays very much like the PC indie title Audiosurf (and to a lesser extent, Harmonix’s excellent Frequency and Amplitude) – moving left and right ‘switches’ you to a different track, and there is only very limited scope for boosting and braking. That’s not to say there isn’t much going on – with barriers, portals, traffic, bombs and more it’s easy to fail a track if you don’t pay attention – but there’s enough to keep you entertained.
For a while, at least.
My main issue with Switch Galaxy Ultra is that so much of it comes across as pointless, especially when playing through the story. The only way to unlock new routes is to obtain Tantalum via an odd mini-game which occurs about 2/3 through each stage. That’s 2/3 of unnecessary flying beforehand, because only the last third matters once you have picked up the Tantalum. Collide with anything after this point and you lose one tantalum per hit. Unfortunately, this all means that if you make a mistake in the last third, and you’ll need to race through that entire pointless 2/3 of the track again before you can re-attempt the mini game and get it perfect.
Although the irritation factor is somewhat mitigated by the fact that each stage is fairly short, it’s such an odd example of game design that it nearly spoils the entire experience. Surely it would have been better to have some risk/ reward mechanism throughout the entire level, allowing the player to lose/ regain Tantalum all the way through? This would have given meaning to each part of the track, and not just the last 30 seconds of it.
Get past this issue, however, and there is some fun to be had. There are plenty of tracks and challenges to race through, the graphics are smooth, and the framerate is rock-solid, creating a good sense of speeding across the galaxy. There’s also just enough humorous banter between the characters to keep things light and entertaining, without veering into annoying background chatter. Add to this a fairly decent campaign length, survival mode (giving you an endless runner to pit your skills against), and, leaderboards – and there’s enough content to provide maybe 10+ hours’ worth of game-play. It’s just a shame that only about 3 of those ten hours actually feel meaningful.
Like so many budget downloadable titles, Switch Galaxy Ultra is great for short bursts, but lacks any kind of longevity due to a premise that is too basic and gameplay that’s too repetitive. The game was clearly made on a small budget, and though Atomicom deserve praise for creating something that elevates itself above these limitations through the strength of its presentation, more focus was needed on getting the basic structure and pacing right.
A bit more track variation and more meaningful storyline progression would have raised Switch Galaxy Ultra‘s status to more than just average. As it is, it’s the type of game that you might have fun with a few times, but which only the truly dedicated will stick with to the end.