What’s it feel like to be inside a panda? Oh, hi, friends. When I mention being inside a panda, I mean the gigantic space panda featured in the early stages of Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme. What were you thinking?

That panda is a cameo – the same one featured in Chill Panda, from CGA Studio and Onteca – the team behind this futuristic racer. But that’s just an entry point into the mayhem – there are other animals involved in this quirky driving game.

Other than a cross-reference to their previous title, the heads of animals are the carrot-danglers of racing in space. The goal is to reach the finish line first, the same as any other game in the genre. The difference here in Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme is hinted at in the title: slipstreams.

Space Ribbon - Slipstream To The Extreme PS4 Review - Sneaky panda
Sneaky panda. Source: PR

Getting to the front of the pack has zero benefits other than when crossing the line, as no matter what vehicle you use, it will be at a disadvantage as the key is in the slipstream. Ideally, you hang back, as if in a peloton, and wait for the last minute to burn past your opponents. This is massively risky to do, but the biggest payoff. 

It was fair to say that no matter how diligent I was with a racing line, I’d lose my cool after spinning out or missing out on a win at the last second. Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme was determined to show me the ropes by having the AI overtake at the last minute or clipping my car with aggressive play, forcing a restart. I eventually got the scheme of things, but that never once diluted the aftertaste of being rammed off the road.

Each stage is unique and reminiscent of the Rainbow Road in Mario Kart. The visuals are excellent, even though you’re starting your campaign with a suped-up Morris Minor (Goggle it, winkle pickers). The races are a simple case of getting to the finish line as efficiently as possible; later, it turns to combat racing. There are three views: first-person, third-person and a slightly distant chase cam.

The handling in Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme is pretty good and handles like any arcade game like Cruis’n Blast, but don’t get me started on the drift – it’s pretty much redundant. Imagine going flat out and then pulling your handbrake/emergency brake and doing a 90º spin without any finesse. Sorry, but that didn’t work for me at all. Shame really, as the drift will help you maintain the lead. If you can pull it off.

The key then is the slipstream. Hang behind your opponents, and the gauge will fill, allowing you to rocket past them, hopefully for the win. Coming first is the goal in any racer, but here first place on a stage awards a prize; first place in the cup usually unlocks a new vehicle or track. It’s a little confusing with regards to ‘upgrades’ as you can’t always use them as stages are level restricted – you’ll never have the advantage. In other words, you equip gear that is either at or under the level requirement.

Upgrades in Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme include improving the engine and wheels, but the most common unlocks are paint jobs and cosmetic aerials. After grinding for a bit, it became apparent that you can play lower levels to upgrade your favourite vehicles to then race in other stages. This is a big help as once you get into it, Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme can be fun. Still, nothing compensates for being hit by an aggressive AI driver. Respawning at an angle so that you spin out upon landing, then when heading to the menu to restart, you inadvertently click quit by accident without an “are you sure?” dialog box, resulting in lost progress in a cup. True story.

The standalone racing in Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme is enjoyable enough, but that slipstream aspect is pretty crippling, as are the level restrictions. The combat side is ok. You have shields and an invisibility option, plus homing missiles that take too long to lock on to others. Other than that, there’s a free play mode which offers a decent selection of options such as removing rubber banding and even the slipstream mechanic. Plus there’s four-player split-screen. Overall, and considering the price, Space Ribbon – Slipstream to the Extreme is fun if a little bit too frustrating racing game. Watch some gameplay, read reviews, and look at your tea leaves if you want to know more.

Similar options include Slipstream for slipstream driving and Early Access title Phaseshift for combat.