In the last year, Nintendo owners have seen a huge increase in the amount and variety of games available to play. However, one genre that has been severely lacking is racing games. The only titles available are Excitebike, a dirt bike game with heavy emphasis on designing tracks, and Mach Rider, which is more of an action-driving game than a pure racer.
This month, Nintendo is bringing us Rad Racer, a title developed by Square (Japanese company that also created 3-D WorldRunner) that should peak the interest of any racing fan, or anyone looking to experience something new on the NES. The game was formerly referred to by Nintendo as 3D Racing and was demoed at this year’s summer CES with its new 3D System glasses, which did a remarkable job of showing the game in 3D. Since then, no word on if or when these glasses will make their way out to retailers, but the game itself is compatible with the traditional Red/Blue 3D glasses, which hardly do anything but serve to give people a headache. This game is called Highway Star in Japan, which I think sounds more enticing to play, but I don’t make the big bucks to name games!
You are able to pick from two different cars, a red Ferrari or a white F1 Racer. If there’s any difference in driving and handling of the two cars, I couldn’t tell. You view your car from the back, like Mach Rider, as opposed to Excitebike where you drive horizontally. The goal is to complete a course within the given time limit, not necessarily to win the race ahead of the other cars on the road. Your car can reach a maximum speed of 255 KPH (or 158 MPH for those of us unfamiliar with the metric system.) There are four legs to each course, 3 checkpoints and the finish line. You need to reach these to get more time on your clock. If you reach the end of the course without your time expiring, you’ll advance to the next track. If time expires before you meet the checkpoint, you are able to coast, sometimes getting lucky enough to hit the point before the car stops. If you fail to reach it, it is game over. There are eight total courses, each more difficult than the last.
If you are able to avoid crashing, you’ll make it through each track with plenty of time to spare. Crashing severely hampers your chance of completion, because the crash is very dramatic and time consuming, with the car flipping over multiple times before coming to a rest and letting you hit the accelerator to get back up to top speed. The clock doesn’t stop for your reckless driving, so try not to put your sports car in the ditch. Generally you can get by with two, maybe three crashes per track, but any more than that and you’ll probably be seeing a Game Over screen.
Lining each track are trees, rocks, and other obstacles that are just waiting to wipe you out if you veer off the road. The courses are full of curves that the game luckily warns you of ahead of time. You’ll need to figure out which ones require slowing down for or even slamming on the brakes to get around successfully. Of course it’s not just you racing solo, there are plenty of other racers that get in the way. These drivers can be aggressive and will actively cut you off and block your progress. As you make it further into the game, the curves become more deadly and the competition more fierce.
Each track takes place in a different setting around the world ranging from the Arizona Desert, to the Rocky Mountains, and even the Ruins of Athens. Each look visually different, and in fact the game has an uncanny resemblance to Sega’s latest racing game, Out Run. However, there is more variety here with some courses taking place at night, some in the daylight, and even some in inclement weather conditions. Every course has its own unique rival cars assigned to it, such as Lamborghinis, Porches, and Mercedes.
Square did a tremendous job with the graphics. The cars look sharp and the backgrounds are gorgeous. The game incorporates a very innovative feature with the music. Pressing the down button while you are racing changes the radio station. There are three different tracks to choose from or you can choose no music at all if you prefer. The music is nice, although nothing too memorable or catchy. Still, the feature of an in-game radio is a terrific idea, and one that’s surely once again ripped straight from Sega’s arcade efforts. The sound effects of the engine noise and crashes are also impressive without becoming too annoying.
The controls are smooth and easy to use: B brakes, A accelerates, and pressing Up shifts the car into Turbo gear. Select switches the game into 3D mode, which you need the 3D glasses that came packaged with the game to use. I thought this was an unnecessary gimmick and wearing them did not enhance the gaming experience for me, but I can see the younger audience enjoying this feature.
This is the first true racing title on the NES, and I was quite taken with it. I had my reservations, given the lackluster racing experiences offered up so far on the system, but I’ve already put a lot of hours into this without becoming bored. The game is not insanely difficult like many other Nintendo titles, but it still has a healthy challenge to it. There are no continues, so you start from the beginning after you see Game Over. However, once you do complete the game, I can’t see a lot of replay value to it. It would have been nice to choose from more than two cars, and changing the driving mechanics of available cars would be a feature I’d love to see in future racing games. The gameplay, graphics, and sound all impressed me. The lack of a two-player mode is slightly disappointing, as it would be fun to compete against a friend. Overall Rad Racer is a very fun racing experience.