In the motorsport racing calendar, few courses hold quite as much infamy as the Isle of Man TT. Described as “38 miles of terror” by one Sports Illustrated reporter in 2003, the time trial course has been running on and off since 1907 and sees superbikes racing past front doors and around country lanes at breakneck speeds. It’s one of the ultimate physical tests for professional riders, but it’s also claimed over 250 lives in the last century, so there’s not much hyperbole involved when it’s regularly dubbed “The world’s most dangerous race”.
While Kylotonn’s digital recreation of the Manx sporting event is considerably safer than the real thing, TT Isle of Man does a remarkable job of capturing that captivating mix of high-speed, elite-level racing set amidst a deceptively pedestrian setting. One moment you’re gently squeezing the brakes as you guide your beastly two-wheeled machine into a tight high street, the next you’re gunning the throttle as you leap over a small bridge and into the island’s lush countryside. It’s a thrilling experience, and the French developer behind it (which has a history of working on the WRC series and V-Rally 4) has recreated every dangerous bend and turn with impressive accuracy.
Depending on the level difficulty you opt for, TT Isle of Man ranges from a challenging course with moderately forgiving physics to a plate-spinning series of physical mechanics where the slightest misjudgement in weight shift will send you flying off your bike. For purists, you can manually shift up and down gears by tapping ‘R’ and ‘L’, while accelerating and braking with ‘ZR’ and ‘ZL’ and using the left analogue stick to control your rider’s position on the bike. When you take all those elements and launch them down a street at 150mph, the result is something frightening, frustrating and utterly exhilarating in equal measure.
The Snaefell Mountain course has been recreated with terrifying attention to detail, with its 37.73-mile route including every sharp turn, every rise and all 264 bends. It’s a monster, and with 25 official riders and 38 real-life bikes and sidecars to choose from, it’s as authentic a simulation as you could ask for. Kylotonn says it consulted real Isle of Man TT riders to get their input on the feel and responsiveness of each bike. So if you do decide to ride on more realistic settings, you really do end up wrestling with a machine that desperately wants to throw you off if you as much as kiss the side of a curb. As a pure simulation of that one race, it hits the nail right on the head.
It’s only when you’re not bombing around that famous circuit that you start to see some of the cracks in TT Isle of Man’s package. Most superbike or MXGP racing titles on Nintendo Switch – such as MXGP 3, MotoGP 18 and the upcoming MotoGP19 – all have full seasons of real-life courses to help balance out the varying levels of quality in overall presentation. This game, unfortunately, doesn’t, and a set of fictional courses around the UK and some threadbare modes aren’t enough to help round out the full experience. The career mode is passable, but there’s just not enough meat on its bones to really justify that full asking price.
This Switch port has taken a full year to make the leap from other consoles to Nintendo’s current-gen hardware, and Kylotonn has had to make some pretty heavy visual downgrades to optimise performance. There’s a real drop in resolution when playing in handheld, and almost every background asset seems either blurred, distorted or downright jaggy; it’s a good thing your attention is almost always focused on your marginally better-looking rider. Things are a little more improved when docked, but there are still intermittent moments of slowdown when playing in handheld mode that can be quite distracting in a game where the slightest error sends you flying to your doom.
There’s support for local multiplayer with up to eight players, which is a welcome touch considering there’s no one playing online at the time of writing. It’s a shame that this game hasn’t built up a community yet on Switch because the recreation of the titular course is amazing, especially when it comes to racing for the fastest lap. Honing your skills on that impressive track in solo is a fine experience in itself, even with the sacrifices made to make it run on Switch, but even the great Snaefell Mountain loses its charms without proper human competition.
As a specific and finite experience, TT Isle of Man is superbike and supersport racing at its most intense and exhilarating. There’s few tracks in the world of motorsport that are as challenging and downright frustrating as Snaefell Mountain, and even the most experienced of virtual riders will find their mettle tested. However, with a meagre career mode, few additional tracks and several issues with performance, this is a racing highlight surrounded by janky filler.