I’ve never been particularly good at 2D platformers, especially of the precision kind. Sure, flashy hundred-hour long JRPGs with overly convoluted plotlines are my bread and butter. But, there’s something about leaping from one platform to another that my brain simply cannot comprehend. I’ve tried all the greats, attempted to perfect pro-platformer tricks, even dedicated entire swathes of my time to mastering the art of leaping. Alas, no matter how hard I try, I always seem to falter at the last step. Fortunately, when playing the excellent A Night at the Races I found myself having an absolute blast. The best part is that I didn’t lose respect for myself while doing so.
“The greatest thing about A Night at the Races’ platforming is that it wants you to have fun.”
I don’t want my sudden ability to play a platformer to put anyone off playing A Night at the Races. If anything, my newfound talent should be indicative of A Night at the Races’ incredibly intuitive controls. I’ve never played a platformer capable of getting someone so dumbfounded by an entire genre to finally enjoy it. The grace and agility with which you whizz around the screen is immensely satisfying. The platforming is simple enough to wrap one’s head around, without being totally devoid of originality or entertainment value. It makes sure to introduce plenty of new mechanics for the player to busy themselves with as they progress through each level.
The greatest thing about A Night at the Races’ platforming is that it wants you to have fun. While there is plenty of challenge to be had and a lot of precision required of you in such short bursts of time, A Night at the Races affords the player plenty of opportunities to succeed. I almost certainly never achieved three stars on every level. But nevertheless, I still felt a sufficiently satisfying sense of achievement whenever I got through unscathed. I found myself grinning as I somehow managed to clear yet another level without dying umpteen times.
As you bounce your way through each level, your box-like character moves automatically. Essentially, all you have to do is time your jumps to perfection, and ensure you’re pointing in the right direction. It simplifies the process in a way that isn’t detrimental to the overall experience as it puts the emphasis on the most important aspect of the overall gameplay: jumping. A Night at the Races’ platforming is so frantically fast that you’ll quickly forget you’re not always in control as you watch mesmerised by the explosive on-screen action.
“Whenever something doesn’t go your way, you can restart the level almost instantaneously.”
Unfortunately, A Night at the Races’ platforming is a little inconsistent. While it’s almost near-perfect, I found a few of the levels to be a little unfair. A few cheap enemy placements or damage blocks ensured I almost always lost health. Now, that’s not to say there wouldn’t be a way of avoiding these one way or another. But I felt that for an unseasoned player such as myself, the insurmountable task of perfecting the precise series of moves to mitigate these obstacles was a little unreasonable.
Additionally, whenever you jump too high in A Night at the Races, you inadvertently cut off the previous portion of the map. This means, should you fall back down after not making a jump, you’ll fall into a black abyss and take damage, as opposed to the platform you just leapt from. This isn’t inherently an issue for two reasons. Firstly, A Night at the Races has a generous restart option. Whenever something doesn’t go your way, you can restart the level almost instantaneously. Furthermore, this feature, regardless of its flaws, ensures the gameplay is constantly moving. As you’re scored based on your time, amongst other things, I felt that altering the map this way kept me on my toes.
Unfortunately, when it becomes a significant issue is towards the ends of levels. Often, while frantically trying to reach the end, my character would bounce too high. This would mean that, despite having reached the finish line, I would no longer be able to complete the level. It would quite literally disappear and I’d be left stranded in the abyss until I eventually died. It was a little frustrating, especially when I realised I had to restart the level despite having essentially already completed it.
“A Night at the Races is by far the best precision platformer I’ve ever played.”
Fortunately, A Night at the Races has more to offer than just its exceptional platforming. The writing team at Mushy Jukebox have masterfully woven a meta-narrative around the game’s central mechanic. While the platforming definitely plays a larger role in the context of the overall game, the expertly crafted world-building and storytelling help elevate the material. This is supplemented by the gorgeous pixel art aesthetic which brings to life a world on the brink of chaos.
I found the overarching narrative to be a little surreal and at times even eerie. It is certainly slower-paced than the platforming segments, although hardly as present nor predominant. That’s not to say it’s unimportant, or even unappreciated. Rather, the story offers players a point of reference for why exactly they’re leaping and bounding across various levels. The developers and writing team have just ensured that said point of reference is not only genuinely fascinating, but expertly offered as well.
A Night at the Races is by far the best precision platformer I’ve ever played. It has seemingly done the impossible and renewed in me an interest in the platforming genre. While there are some minor inconsistencies in its central mechanic, it’s otherwise outstanding gameplay kept me engaged throughout my entire playthrough. I thoroughly enjoyed its world-building and narrative and consistently looked forward to their developments throughout. A Night at the Races is a truly fantastic game only further elevated by its port to the Nintendo Switch. I highly recommend playing this for both veterans and newcomers to the genre.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.