Monster Jam Steel Titans
Developed By: Rainbow Studios
Published By: THQ Nordic
Category: Racing, Simulation, Sports
Release Date: 11.26.19
It is an inescapable fact that monster trucks are awesome. I have not really followed them outside of playing with some Bigfoot toys when I was a kid and this one time my sister brought the whole family to a Monster Jam event one summer (they had an Iron Man truck, it was cool as hell). So, even though racing games aren’t necessarily my jam, when Monster Jam Steel Titans for the Nintendo Switch came across the review desk, I was fairly interested in seeing what it had to offer. I mean, it’s not like monster trucks are really full-on racing games, right? It’s all about crushing cars and doing backflips and junk like that, right? Well, not necessarily. But let’s get to that.
Big Tires, Big Turns
Monster trucks are big vehicles; they have big tires, and they make pretty big turns. As a result, every truck handles like a dying yak, which is probably realistic, but it was no fun spinning out on pretty much every single turn for the first hour trying to get the hang of things. Once you’re in the groove things are much smoother and more consistent, at least from an uninterrupted handling standpoint. A bigger problem, and one that the game never really overcomes, is that trucks lack a consistent sense of weight. They bounce around at the slightest bump, and things that look like they should bend or break under the weight of a monster truck, like a road sign, will send you flying and totally screw you in a race. Hitting an obstacle or another truck pretty much ends any hope you have of winning any of the race modes, and that’s a fairly frustrating experience.
Beyond the inconsistencies in the physics, though, there is a solidly fun game to play. Speeding down a straightaway and hitting a big jump, or executing a backflip in the truck is extremely satisfying and suitably cinematic to watch from many of the available camera angles. Breaking crates, fences, and porta potties is fun in the destruction mode, but crushing cars is less satisfying than it feels like it should be. It’s awesome when real monster trucks do it, but it really doesn’t create a sense of power to do it in the game. That’s probably the biggest letdown for me. Oh, and just a quick tip: the tilt controls are on by default. It took me a long time to notice they were on, and I think that’s what took me so long to get used to the controls. Learn from my slow-wittedness.
Schedule of Events
Monster Jam Steel Titans offers a few different types of events in which to participate, and a couple of different ways to experience them. There are six different circuits to complete, each featuring a few different game types. There are a few different types of races, such as the circuit races (where you race in laps), rhythm (kind of a drag racing mode), and waypoint (an open track where you just need to hit certain waypoints). Freestyle is the trick mode, and destruction lets you rack up points by running around wrecking stuff. Head-to-head is a tournament style race, where you compete in a series of one-on-one races. You can play all of these modes as either part of a circuit, or in individual, one-off events.
While there are a variety of game types, they are somewhat gated at the beginning. First of all, you need to complete one circuit before you can move on to another. So while you can do single matches for all game types from the jump after completing the tutorial, the vast majority of the arenas are locked until you complete them in a corresponding circuit. So if you want to play more than the first two destruction arenas, you have to slog some circuits before you can unlock a new arena – oh, and you have to finish better than third in the circuit to unlock anything. So, while there are a lot of arenas to explore, getting to the stuff you want can be a chore. Luckily, all of the different trucks are unlocked by purchasing them from the truck menu, so if you want to break out the Grave Digger (and you know you do) that’s a lot easier than getting new maps. On the negative side, the different trucks don’t really play differently, so that’s really just a cosmetic thing.
The Visuals Are Not My Jam
Aside from the sometimes-questionable physics, Monster Jam Steel Titans is a little disappointing visually to boot. The graphics are fairly mediocre 3D stuff; the truck models are fine, but a little fuzzy and/or low-res at times. The whole things looks a little last-gen, and really doesn’t take full advantage of the Switch’s capabilities. I know the Switch is never going to look as good as the PS4 or X-Box (unless that rumored Switch Pro model really ups the system’s power), but the Switch can look a lot better than this. The soundtrack goes really well with the game; featuring a lot of electronic/rock songs that amp up the game’s energy to a satisfying degree.
Jamming with the Titans
Monster Jam Steel Titans is, unfortunately, lacking in a few important areas that take the game from a fun experience to just about average. Controlling the monster trucks in either race modes or the freestyle/trick/destruction modes is fun for the most part. However some finicky physics and outrageously sturdy road signs can ruin your run even if you only barely tap them, dropping things from furious and fun to frustratingly futile. I did like the large selection of trucks and tracks, even if the trucks were only different cosmetically and the tracks were a tad too gated. In the end, the physics were just a little too finicky and the graphics a little too lackluster for this to be more than a competent but ultimately mediocre experience.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.