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Here's what's coming to WRC 9 on Nintendo Switch
With rallying game WRC 9 arriving on Nintendo Switch, publishers Nacon run us through what you can expect from the spectacular raacing title.
It's fair to say WRC 9 received a warm welcome when it landed last year. Boasting a wealth of features, glorious tracks and locations, as well as gameplay that managed to balance the toughness of the sport with a brilliant level of accessibility, it was arguably the zenith of a series that's had its share of heady heights. Now, it's coming to Nintendo Switch.
We spoke with Sébastien Waxin, racing project manager at Nacon, to discuss the game's release on the hybrid console, the challenges of a successful port and the toughest tracks to test your skills.
First, we asked Waxin what his experience was of porting WRC to Nintendo Switch. He tells us that the challenge was so much greater this year (WRC 8 was the first in the series to come to Switch), as the game was developed for more consoles than ever before, being brought to the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox, too. Ensuring the Switch version was done justice was a key consideration however.
"We took the time that was necessary to finally release this 'last, but not least' version of the game," he says. "The result is really enjoyable and being able to play the same content as the other versions everywhere you are is really satisfying."
With rallying games on Switch a comparative rarity, the importance of getting this right was emphasised by the enthusiasm and outspoken feedback from Switch players, who shared a number of requests with developers and weren’t shy in outlining their expectations.
"It means a lot to us to meet these expectations with a comprehensive version of the game, as many members of the Switch community are looking for entertaining and optimised racing experiences on their favourite console," Waxin explains. "The Nintendo Switch is a must-have for a game like WRC 9."
Waxin explains that the first port of call when meeting players' expectations was to ensure that the same level of content would be available on Switch as the other versions, both in terms of cars and rallies, as well as the main game modes. He also adds that lessons have been learned since WRC 8, where there were some difficulties in adapting the game to the technical specificities of the console.
"It's a challenge that was worth the effort, as 18 months after the release of WRC 8 for Nintendo Switch, we still have more than 500,000 stages performed per month on that platform. We even got a few peaks over one million stages per month in 2020," he says. "So, this is a platform we really consider as important for our fans and we're making sure that WRC 9 will deliver an even deeper adventure. The only mode we weren't able to port is the new co-driver mode we brought in as a DLC on the other platforms. A post-launch update will soon give access to synchronised online multiplayer, split-screen local multiplayer and more challenges on Nintendo Switch, though."
Speaking of challenges, a vital element of porting to Switch is ensuring performance remains, regardless of whether the console is docked or handheld. But how difficult is this to achieve with a game like WRC 9?
"With the WRC series, we try to be as realistic as possible in terms of physics and gameplay," Waxin explains. "Obviously, you can't find the same range of racing peripherals for Switch that you have on PC or consoles. With that platform, you know that gamers will play with a controller or even directly in handheld mode, but we also need to keep the DNA of the game with the realistic feeling, so it's not the easiest part."
With Nacon and developers KT Games working hard to bring the same features to Switch in WRC 9, we asked what in particular they were most excited to see Switch players experience?
"Again, delivering the same content was a nice challenge, so it would be hard to choose one mode," Waxin explains. "We know that some players faced issues with the Career mode on the previous version of the game on Switch. So, this year we definitely want them to enjoy it, as it deserves to be experienced. It's a full and satisfying experience to manage your team, your calendar and to bring your driver to the top."
When new features were revealed for WRC 9, much was made of new pace notes made from scratch for a better immersion. According to Waxin, in the past, pace notes were recorded with a different method. Now, the team works with professional rally drivers, performing a recce as drivers do in real life and the notes are recorded with much longer sections.
So, how will this impact the player? Waxin tells us: "It improves the feeling and gives a natural flow to your co-driver. We don't have a robotic or navigation system feeling anymore and every year we try to improve the precision of the notes. As you know, rallying is a game of precision and speed, so every detail you can get on the road, or on the line, you need to follow to improve your time is vital."
Any rally sim worth its salt will deliver a firm challenge for players eager to test their skills on some of the toughest terrain in the world. With three new rallies to enjoy in WRC 9, Waxin runs us through his pick of the toughest.
"To me, Rally Japan is incredibly hard," he says. "Driving in the mountains as fast as you can on really tight sections is a strong challenge. You need to be careful with some traps as well, which are really close to the road, and avoid the security barriers. On the other hand, I really enjoy New Zealand, where you sometimes have the feeling of dancing with your car by throwing it from one corner to the next one, playing with the weight transfer. It's really satisfying."
Finally, given the brilliance of the latest edition in the rally series, we were keen to find out whether WRC will return to the Nintendo console. The answer from Waxin was emphatic: "Yes. This platform is still on our roadmap for the next WRC games. The Switch lets you play your game everywhere you are. Even if it's something we're starting to see with cloud gaming for other platforms, it's not yet as widely adopted as the Switch console is."