Version tested: PlayStation Vita
Switch Galaxy belongs to a very small subset of video games: games that might remind you of a specific brand of crisps.
Or perhaps that should be a specific brand of corn- and wheat-based snacks. Whatever: Switch Galaxy has a lot in common with Space Raiders, and not because Atomicom's futuristic racer has anything to do with pickled onion. Instead, it's all down to the fact that Space Raiders, for some strange reason, used to come with bits of expanded-universe gibber-gabber on the back of packet. They'd provide a little more narrative than you realistically needed from a 10p lunchbreak treat.
So it is with Switch Galaxy, which spins a whole science-fiction yarn about an element called Tantalum that in the future can only be collected at high speeds, just so you feel like you have the proper emotional context for doing the sort of thing you almost always do in this sort of game - pelt along a deep space highway dead fast as you blast from one planet to the next. That's not all. Each planet you buzz past comes with a handful of details, too: click on Setovia and you'll learn the name of its capital city, the number of satellites it has and the length of its yearly cycle. I now know more about Setovia than I know about Saturn.
It's charming, yet Switch Galaxy has a lot more going for it than mere charm. Created by a team that includes veterans from Psygnosis/Sony Studio Liverpool, this is a slight game but a very thoughtful one: a racer that's concerned with positioning as much as it's fixated with sheer speed. It's full of playful little semi-familiar quirks, the first of which being that there's no accelerator - you just travel faster and faster the longer you blast along the track, sliding over boosts, without hitting anything. The second is where the fun really lurks, though: you control the game by using the Vita's triggers to shunt you back and forth across a series of lanes, avoiding obstacles and collecting power-ups.
As concepts go, it's a sly expansion of Switch, the studio's endless runner for smartphones, and the main difference is that your journey's been carved into bite-sized missions as you hop from one planet to the next. Instead of chucking in rivals, each race gives you a time to beat, and while the backdrops don't change a great deal, the game steadily piles on complications as you go - barriers to avoid, keys that will get you through barriers of a certain colour, enemies to dart past and hovering baddies that work as lane-denial forces, stealing your cash reserves if you spend much time in the channel they're currently patrolling.
In between time trials there's a shop where you can spend the credits you pick up as you zip along, levelling up basic attributes, buying additional skins, and switching your immunity between barrier colours. On the course itself, you can also collect power-ups that grant invulnerability, say, or trigger localised bombs that take down obstacles.
The whole thing's clearly been built on a tight budget, but it's been built with care. You can see that in the little details like the way your craft bounces up and down after a jump, or in the manner the simple lane-switching conceit steadily builds into an elaborate, high-risk plaiting mechanic that practically dares you to blink, even for a millisecond.
More than anything, however, Switch Galaxy really delivers on a sense of speed that's earned through showboating dexterity, and that's extraordinary really since, for the most part, all the developers have to work with is gently curving lengths of track and a few simple sound effects. Give in to it: power up your ship - which, considering the lineage, will inevitably put you in mind of a Wipeout craft - and prime your fingers over the triggers. This is arcade racing at its most simple and its most focused.
8 / 10