As laying your cards on the table go, saying you will bring back the glory days of something is always a bold strategy, Cotton. And quite often, it’s nothing more than empty rhetoric to get people nostalgic for days gone by that actually weren’t as great as one remembers them – see the current state of transatlantic politics. But in gaming, the concept of spiritual successors is very popular. Games meant to pay homage, or even be the sequel/reboot we never got, to classic franchises and genres. See games like Perfect Dark; a spiritual sequel to the classic Goldeneye 007 game on N64, or indeed Danger Zone, a game reviewed here on this very site made by former Criterion developers to pay tribute to the currently dormant Burnout franchise.

My interest was piqued when I spotted Super Street: The Game in the new releases pile late last year. Between the box art depicting a car that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Fast and Furious movie, the Super Street license (Super Street being a popular network of car culture magazines) and the back of the box touting a ‘return to classic arcade racing’, this game screamed one thing and one thing only:

‘Remember how much you loved those mid-2000s street racing games like Need For Speed Underground, Midnight Club and Juiced? Yeah, us too.’

As someone who spent their early teens gluing paper subwoofers and plastic spoilers onto toy cars, I consider myself firmly in the demographic this game is appealing to. And though street racing and tuner culture isn’t as ingrained in the popular conscious as it was back in 2004, when the Fast and Furious films actually were about street racing rather than The Rock punching torpedoes and Vin Diesel taking down nuclear submarines with Dodge Chargers, there’s still a decent variety of games that scratch the itch – see Forza Horizon 4, my game of 2018.

But a game that specifically claims to be ‘bringing back class arcade racing’? That ain’t so much laying cards on the table as slamming them on the deck and flicking chips at your opponent.

Furthermore, things took a nosedive when I did some background research. Early critical reception was, to put it mildly, poor. Youtube videos with titles like ‘IS THIS REALLY THAT TERRIBLE?!’ are the first things that pop up when you Google search this game. And of the three critical reviews Super Street has on Metacritic, the highest rating is a 50% – and the lowest, a 30% from Playstation Lifestyle, calls the game ‘a disappointment in all aspects’. I also discovered that developers Team6 Game Studios’ most prominent previous title was Flatout 3: Chaos and Destruction – a game widely regarded as an absolute disaster that killed the FlatOut series stone dead.

Not exactly promising signs then.

Nevertheless, once the game had dropped steeply from full price, I picked it up for a crack of the whip. With shotguns and baseball bats primed for a kicking, I booted up the game and dropped into the world of Super Street…

…and found myself rather pleasantly surprised.

 

The core premise of the game is simple; take a base car that starts off as a rusty piece of scrap, go street racing in it, win races, ???, profit, and spend said profit on turning it into a badass street machine. The selection of cars is quite interesting; Team6 declared during development that there would be no licensed cars in the game, citing high costs and complexities of getting licensed cars. So the car roster is instead a lineup of fantasy cars very obviously based on real equivalents; the Prodigy Inspire for example is very blatantly a Nissan Skyline R34, the Avian Revolution (named after a bird-based uprising?) is obviously a Mitsubishi Evo, and the Krucher Kollektiv (pictured above) is unmistakable an old-style VW Golf. It didn’t matter in early Burnout or Driver games that the car you were driving was a Ford Mustang in everything but badge, so why should it here? The Ridge Racer series went further and created an entire fictional universe of car brands, and should Team6 want to, they can go in this direction as well – right after they’ve added the options to have more than one car in career mode and more than one career mode save. It’s rather galling to be stuck with just one car for the entire game, and the only way to own another car is to erase the existing save and completely restart career mode from scratch. I mean c’mon, even in the mid-2000s we had memory cards with enough slots for multiple career mode saves.

Where Super Street does spend the cash on licenses however, is in tuning brands, which in turn leads us to undoubtedly the strongest aspect of this game; car customization. There’s a huge variety of performance and visual modifications on offer here; everything from bodykits, turbos and nitrous to things like engine swaps, seats, steering wheels and kitting the trunk out with speakers for your bangin’ tunes. The one major omission is the ability to add vinyls and decals, but otherwise the customization options are very extensive. As a bonus, the menu screens show off a nice garage setup, and each modification is previewed in detail with each part rendered very well. I’d like to see Team6 expand further on it in future updates – add a proper livery editor and possibly a preview/photo mode to fully show off the looks of the player’s car.

 

On an aside; though the ability to unlock crew members throughout career mode is good, the fact they all take the form of skinny supermodels in crop tops is…well, it’s something. I’m not saying they all have to be greasy dudes in overalls, but I definitely wondered where the game was going tonally when ‘Jessica The Secretary’ arrived in our garage wearing glasses and a shirt missing the top three buttons.

How does it fare when you leave the garage and hit the streets? Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps I had the right idea not playing this game on release; a look at the Steam user reviews reveals more recent reviews claiming a major update fixed a lot of the handling issues. And indeed, the handling is pretty decent; solid and weighty with a good sense of speed, and easy to settle into a groove after a few races. It is however rather understeery – drifting is limited to just a brief flick sideways when you hit the handbrake, before the car immediately straightens out again. Given a huge part of both old-school arcade racing games and street racing culture revolves around drifting and spectacular powerslides, this is rather puzzling. Perhaps the focus was on getting a stable handling engine in place before working on drift mechanics, but it’s definitely something I’d like to see tweaked down the line.

And maybe slightly toned down damage physics.

 

Yes, for a game that touts itself as bringing back ‘classic arcade racing’, the game it most reminds me of when behind the wheel is, appropriately, FlatOut. The AI in particular are super aggressive, and both the player and AI cars can be punted and spun out pretty easily, causing some spectacular crashes. Even a minor scrape can cause entire parts of your car to deform and fly off. Don’t be surprised if you finish most races with a car that looks like it just rolled off the set of Mad Max right into an episode of Scrapheap Challenge.

This does pose a question, though. The core mechanic of the game is transforming your car from rustbox to sweet ride, right? That was always the appeal of games like NFS Underground; unlocking more and more parts to turn a relatively humdrum hatchback into an eye-popping visual thrill. And yet, if even minor contact can knock most of that expensive bodykit off in one hit, riddle me this; what’s the point in spending money on visual upgrades in the first place? Sure, in games based around vehicular destruction like Burnout and Flatout, cosmetic damage is very important, but in Super Street it feels strangely out-of-place.

 

Graphically, Super Street looks remarkably pretty. In daytime races, the sunshine glints off your ride appealingly, and at night the streetlights glisten on the road in that very NFS Underground style. Aside from some dramatic texture pop-in on loading screens and at the start of races, the game also runs smoothly even in high-speed multi-car pileups. The aforementioned cosmetic damage is rendered well aside from some glitches with body panels glitching into other parts of the car when deformed. There are also some bizarre bugs that crop up; weird physics can send cars pinging off down the road, skidding and flipping forever until the game respawns you, and I once managed to take a shortcut across some grass that sent me out of the world altogether and plummeting into the infinite void. None of these bugs are truly game-breaking, more the kind that are fun to laugh at in glitch compilations on Youtube.

I haven’t mentioned the actual career mode yet, because there’s surprisingly little to say about it. There’s no story to speak of, the only cutscenes are brief clips introducing each crew member, and progression is fairly linear. Most races revolve around either checkpoint time trials or circuit races; criminally, modes like Drag and Drift are absent, as well as other unique race types from those old NFS games like Speedtrap, Touge racing or any kind of cop chases. If any part of the game could desperately do with more content it’s this; without the ability to own more than one car and every part in the game unlocked from the start, the only reason to progress in career mode is to earn money to buy parts – and once your car is maxed out, there’s seemingly little motivation to keep going.

Verdict: ‘Dude, I Almost Had You!’/10

If I gave out actual number scores for my reviews, I’d give Super Street: The Game a nice, round 5.5/10. It’s in no way as terrible as early reviews suggested, at least since the updates have dropped; at no point did the game flat-out (badum tish) annoy me or make me want to stop playing. And the car customization mechanics at the game’s core are generally very well done and show real attention to detail. Ultimately though, I came away wanting more; a game that ties the customization and tuning elements with a deeper and more varied career mode, and a more polished and satisfying driving experience.

For £20, there’s potential there that I hope Team6 unlocks. For the £44.99 the game retailed for on release, just buy a second-hand PS2 and copy of NFS: Underground 2 on eBay.