Within minutes of diving into the first region of Phantom Spark, I’m cursing myself. I’m watching my own ghost zoom off into the distance as I fail – again – to get the perfect line on that long curve. I know ticking off the final challenge for this level is within reach and yet I just keep failing on this one bend. My ghost mocks me, telling me I’ve done it before and can do again – although clearly not this time. But, by the time I’ve hit B and restarted the track, I’m back in, locked into the quest for speed and exercising that ghostly personal best.
Phantom Spark from developer Ghosts and publisher Coatsink just got revealed as part of the latest Future Games Show showcase. Like classic WipeOut or Thumper, Phantom Spark is an intense time-trial arcade racer where whipping around the tracks as fast as you can is your main goal. Tracks are short, but perfectly pitched to offer just enough challenge to ensure you’re plenty happy to repeat them over and over again. As you’d expect from a game of this type, completing the tracks is easy; it’s the mastering that’s the real lure.
I’ve had the chance to blast through the game’s first region, and basically had it on repeat ever since. Each region offers up a series of tracks to master, and with each one you’ll earn points that rack up to unlock special trails or other elements like customization, and eventually the next region too. It’ll always give you the option to move onto the next track as soon as possible if you so wish, but for me it’s the repetition and the mastery that’s had me coming back for more with Phantom Spark.
Unlike the humming beetle chaos of Thumper or the futuristic sci-fi elements of WipeOut though, Phantom Spark’s vibe is more cocktails in a swish beach bar. There’s something distinctly zen about its original soundtrack and each track – at least in the opening region I played through for this preview – is set in a kind of sun-dappled ruin. It’s not overly busy aesthetically, but that works in its favor as you’re able to just focus on the track in front of you. In between punishing yourself to get faster times, you can enjoy the slightly otherworldly architecture that forms the structure of each level, accentuating each bend, obstacle, and ramp that’ll send you skywards for just a few minutes for a small change of pace.
But of course, it’s not really a break as you’re still in control of your speed and trajectory while in mid-air. You’re not behind the wheel of a car in this one, more some kind of moth-like spaceship that’s apparently formed around your very being. It’s beautifully designed, and customizable too, but the low-key engine hum used to emphasize your speed annoys me somewhat. It distracts from the otherwise fairly synesthetic experience Phantom Spark offers through its races.
Phantom Spark manages to capture the sense of speed well too. As you gain momentum, you’ll trigger little flourishes that indicate you’ve reached another level of speed. That’s mirrored by a bar along the bottom of the screen, which handily indicates just how fast you’re moving. Regardless though, that sense of momentum is clear from just the way your Spark handles. It’s expertly realized, especially as you reach the kind of speeds that feel totally out of control. I’m told that not even the developers have reached a max speed in this game yet, and I dare say I’m nowhere near anything they can achieve, and yet I can’t stop trying.
I’m also intrigued by the narrative wrapper developer Ghosts is adding. You’re essentially a new Seeker that’s part of the Phantom Cascade – a sort of spirit-like core that’s able to fuse with these vehicles and pelt round the tracks. Within that you’re tasked by different Guardians in each region, allowing you to gain in power and seemingly emotional intelligence too. It might not be the most groundbreaking story of all time but does add context to the ghost challengers that appear alongside your own PB. They’re the times set by these Guardians, asking you to push yourself to a higher level.
I’m told that each region will introduce new track elements too, alongside new mechanics to keep things feeling fresh. It’s been said that a runthrough of the entire game should be around 4-6 hours, but with my preview time already at 2.5 hours on the first region alone that should give you an idea of just how engrossed you can get with beating all the times set. It feels like it’s been a little while since a time trial racer like this has launched, so I’m definitely hyped to see more of this atmospheric title.
Phantom Spark is due to launch on PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch, but there’s no release window as yet.