Yeah, yeah. I’m not a big Mario Kart fan these days. So sue me. Granted, I do like the series a lot and yes, it’s fun as heck and all that. But when it comes to racing games or in this case, pure driving games, I tend to prefer a bit more realism these days or at least something that works as a hybrid of simulation and casual play where you can dip in and enjoy a game that has actual cars to mess around with. On my other consoles, it’s been a wealth of choices for quite some time and I’m more than pleased with the selection I have. On the other hand, we have Nintendo’s last two home consoles (Wii U and Switch) that up until late last year, had a grand total of three GOOD titles that featured licensed cars, one on the Wii U from 2013 and two which came out in 2017 and 2018. That’s just plain nuts.
Although both have a few issues that keep them from being as great as they should be, I’ll still recommend Microïds and developer Eden Games Gear.Club Unlimited ($44.99) and Gear.Club Unlimited 2 ($59.99) because warts and all, they contain a decent amount of actual licensed cars and are quite lengthy racing experiences when all is said and done. Yes, the load times are somewhat long (grrr!) and the handling can be squirrelly (and more so in the sequel even with the patches). But there’s a certain cool factor when you take a an actual licensed domestic or foreign car out for a test run from the dealership or can afford to add it to your digital garage and full-on race it whenever you feel that need for speed.
Speaking of garages, should there be a third game in this series, Eden should trim and simplify the garage function in order to give players a speedier means of car management between events. Keep the paint and sticker customization, but relegate everything else to a slick menu that’s faster to navigate. Also, adding the ability to drive freely on any unlocked course as a means of learning the handling model would be an excellent addition (as well as bringing back fond memories of the best parts of Eden’s Test Drive Unlimited games from the late 2000’s).
Meanwhile, back at the racing ranch, those too-short races from the first game have been replaced by a mixture of much longer events with shorter (but longer than the first game’s) races popping in from time to time. You’ll likely need to redo certain events thanks to that aforementioned handling model, but learning to brake early and guide your ride around the tighter turns helps out considerably. For some reason, handbrake response seems a bit sluggish even with all the assists off, but this isn’t a purely drift-focused game like the digital-only Drift Legends ($4.99), which features 40+ cars that will be quite familiar to those in the know but aren’t licensed at all (one reason that game is so inexpensive, no doubt). For the most part, the frame rate is pretty decent as is the overall sense of speed when you really get a car zooming along and can get it to stay on the road without smacking into something.
On the flip side (no pun intended), rally racing here feels trickier than in the first GCU because courses where snow, ice, jumps and other non-flat surfaces are prevalent tend to send you sliding a bit to the point where you’ll need that more responsive handbrake or even more perfect braking. The AI will slam into you and/or slip-slide around turns as well, so be prepared to deal with them as you jockey for a decent position. Naturally, the faster the car, the faster your reflexes need to be, but there’s a period of time when you’ll zone in and nail some courses with those faster rides because you’re more used to the tracks and most of the handling quirks.
In the GCU games, the cars are real, the courses aren’t and you’ll need to pretend you’re buying those upgrades from whatever favorite auto parts company you prefer. As noted above, the garage customization feature from the first installment is back, but with a few new features such as that decal customization and what seems like even more cosmetic garage items to buy. While yes, it adds the ability to mess with your vehicle options and garage layout as much as you want, it can detract and distract from the core racing experience if you’re in a hurry and want to concentrate on winning as many events as possible if you’re playing this in portable mode. Also, if you’re going on a trip with this, consider toting along a decent battery pack, as this game can drain the Switch’s stock battery relatively quickly once you settle in for a long session.
As far as the multiplayer goes, you get splitscreen play for up to four players with four tracks and six track variants per track for a total of 24 courses. With only you and your other opponents on the road, the frame rate is also quite acceptably solid. One caveat for those with larger hands, though. I’d highly recommend not using the JoyCons and picking up one or two of HORI’s lovely officially licensed controllers ($19.99) that do the job quite nicely. Yes, they lack rumble and gyro features, but are cheaper alternatives to the JoyCon and again, just feel better in meatier paws.
Eden has promised online play in an future update, so I can’t yet comment on that and how well it functions. I’ll also remain mum on the Clubs because I want to see how well online play is integrated before commenting. Still, as it stands, this is currently the most licensed car-packed game on the Switch until V-Rally 4 and GRID Autosport roll into retail and digital stores. Well, there’s the mostly outstanding Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds with its smaller but admirable stock of licensed trucks of a few types, but I’ll get to that game in a separate review, as it’s pretty unique and demands a whole other set of challenges it handles quite well indeed. As for this one, well, it takes quite a bit of practice and patience to play, but if that’s something you don’t mind, feel free to hop in and be ready for some bumps in the road.
Score(s): GCU: C (70%), GCU2: C+ (75%)
Review copy of GCU2 provided by the publisher.