Tag Archives: racing

WW #09 Drive Girls

Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. Barring some terrible graphics, we’re sorta aiming for PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware…

Here come the drive girls!If you’re a Gogglebob.com superfan, you probably watched (or participated in) last year’s live stream of an hour or so of Akiba’s Strip. Wicket, a woman that was dragged into the production basically because she was bored and somewhere in the immediate area (which, when streaming, is considered to be the whole of the planet), was responsible for the question that most stuck in my head: “This is supposed to be sexy?” And, in Akiba’s Trip’s case, I can understand the confusion. Yes, there is clothes ripping, and that certainly means there are great odds on a (near) naked lady appearing on the screen. But, other than that? It’s about as tantalizing as C-SPAN. And Akiba’s Trip was marketed as the thirstiest franchise since Custer’s Revenge. If that was supposed to be the apex, I pity the “low budget” horny title of this modern age.

Like, you know, Drive Girls.

Drive Girls could easily be another Senran Kagura. And, considering “horny beat ‘em ups” to be their own genre, that’s aiming for the top. What we have here is yet another game where cute anime girls battle legions of anonymous mooks across many levels that are little more than identical arenas. The enemies of the title are “bugs”, which are a step down from KH Heartless, but probably a step up from those ridiculous shadow monsters from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. And you spend level after level destroying bugs because… let’s see if I paid attention to the plot at all… they took over a random island? Or something? Look, they don’t have eyeballs, so they must be evil, time to kill ‘em across 24 or so levels. I only got as far as nine before I got bored…

But Drive Girls has to have a gimmick, and it’s right there in the title. Each of the five main heroines can turn into a car.

… Erm. Is that right? It is? Oh… Okay…

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed & Mario Kart 8

ARE YOU READY TO RACE?!Theme parks are amazing. Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, Universal Studios allows you to live the movies, and even Six Flags lets you soar like Superman. In a world where technology is traditionally aimed at more mundane pursuits (“The greatest invention since sliced bread!” “But bread is boring!”) theme parks seem to be the last bastion of wonder in the adult world. Nobody is ever going to mistake The Matterhorn for actually skiing down the Alps, but it is a creative and entertaining way to get your adrenaline pumping. Theme Parks are fun, plain and simple.

Unfortunately, theme parks are also pretty stupid.

Look, the rides are fun, whimsical, and mostly just sitting in a chair while stuff happens. You can ride the Delorean from Back to the Future! You can glimpse the world of tomorrow! You can feel real thrills as you hurtle through the air like a magical and fairly speedy god! Or you don’t feel any thrills, because it’s all fake, prerecorded, pre-animated nonsense. The delightful children of It’s a Small World were designed and built by people that were recently buried by their great grandchildren. … Okay, I know It’s a Small World is not an exhilarating ride, but it is required, so I figure it merits a mention. It’s Mega Man 1. The point is that, no matter how theme parks try to simulate excitement, they’re all just pre-made tracks that are about as “real” and “adventurous” as Mario’s initial trip through World 1-1. No turning around, no investigating something unusual, just a ceaseless march forward, and you will have fun.

KA KAW!You readers are a smart bunch, so you’ve likely already noticed the obvious simile that many videogames, and particularly racing games, are much like theme park attractions. And you probably noticed the title of this article, so, yes, we’re inevitably going to compare the tracks of Sega and Nintendo’s top kart racers to theme parks. That much is obvious. But there has to be a twist, otherwise I’m just randomly tossing words at my computer and hoping for the best (oh God, I hope they don’t find out that that’s what this blog has been all along!), and the twist here is a simple one: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a better Mario Kart game than Mario Kart 8 because Mario Kart 8 is a better game.

Wait…

Let’s see if we can’t make that a little easier to understand.

Super Mario Kart started the mascot kart racing genre, but it also… kinda sucked. It was a great game, but it was more proof of concept than anything, and the existence of such tracks as Donut Plains 42 and Bowser Castle 3,214 did rather give the impression that unique course design wasn’t high on the priority list. But that was okay! Because all anyone wanted to play was Battle Mode, and all the AI ever wanted to do was use a starman to ruin your day. The tracks weren’t really the focus so much as they were just map delivery systems (come to think of it, not unlike the original Super Mario Bros. and its limited tileset). Super Mario Kart was, for all intents and purposes, a (time) trial run.

You are now hearing this theme in your headMario Kart 64, though, that’s where Mario Kart as Mario Kart really started. You’d be hard pressed to find even the most ardent of Mario Kart fans that could properly immediately recall the ups and downs of Ghost Valley 3 (pop quiz: did I just make up that track?), but who could forget MK64’s Banshee Boardwalk? Or Toad’s Turnpike? And while Mario Kart 64 relied on more than its share of tracks that were excuses for interesting gimmicks (race the train!), Mario Kart: Double Dash really firmed up the whole “rollercoaster” concept for the Mario Kart franchise. If there was once ever any doubt, it was blasted into space the very moment racers launched themselves up a mountain as a natural part of DK Mountain. That entire track could have easily made sense as a downhill slalom, but, no, you had to “fly”, because that’s a hundred times more interesting than continuous kart-skiing.

But Mario Kart Wii was a change from all that. Mario Kart Wii kept the gimmicks going with aplomb, but the tracks were no longer the main focus. No, the heart of Mario Kart Wii was the appeal and bane of that system: motion controls. Mario Kart Wii was built for its “steering wheel” wiimote functionality, and it seemed to lose a lot of fun as a result. There were certainly amusing tracks in MKW, but the controls, AI, and weapon distribution seemed to exist for the sole purpose of creating a more technical, methodological experience. Mario Kart 8, despite by and large dropping the more procedural concepts from MKW, does appear to be a direct sequel in many respects. Dolphin Shoals is always going to be a great track, but that giant eel can’t touch Dino Dino Jungle for sheer “I am racing in Jurassic Park” spectacle, and we can blame MKW for that.

Meanwhile, there’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (wait, why did they drop the “Sega” from the title? Was it because of Ralph?) did its best to improve on the original formula by adding planes (cool!) and hovercrafts (works for bards). But that’s a superficial reading of the new stunt du jour. What’s really important about the “transformed” franchise is that nearly every track morphs and transforms over the course of a race. Bridges collapse, lava floods caverns, and maybe Eggman blows up the moon at some point. … I think… I think he’s become addicted to the rush. Regardless, the tracks of S&ASRT change from lap to lap, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to encounter.

And it is amazing!

Burning sensationIt’s a theme park! It’s a roller coaster! It’s inevitable that the third lap will feature a dozen explosions, and it’s exhilarating! And, assuming you’re not grinding one particular track against a time trial or two, this rolling delight will keep up for an entire grand prix. Tracks are just short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome, and they’re long enough so it feels like there’s even spacing between rounds. I know Rogue’s Landing is going to decay into a flying course by the third lap, but it still winds up gripping every time. It’s a preset track with fixed obstacles and “events”, but it perfectly captures that feeling of wonder and excitement through every race.

Except… I quit Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed a long time ago, and have won every single trophy in Mario Kart 8. Twice.

And it all comes back to theme parks again. For a long time, people jubilantly exclaimed that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed had successfully eaten Mario’s lunch, and the new king of the kart circuit was now Sonic being showered with trophies by a cheep cheep in the skies. And I understand that feeling, as I was one of them, still feeling the rush of steering Gilius Thunderhead through Graffiti City. But those accolades seem to have faded over time, because it’s too much like an amusement park ride. You ever notice how nobody really stays at Six Flags? How the people that live near one, people who could potentially go every day… don’t? It’s because adrenaline fades, and, eventually, even a rollercoaster can become boring.

VroooomSo what’s left after that? All the technical mumbo jumbo. All the nonsense about powersliding and steering and scooting along a speed booster like you own the place. What’s left is where Mario Kart 8 excels. Even if you can randomly produce a glider, it’s not as interesting as NiGHTS transforming into a jet, but it’s still fun to soar over a pack of stacked goombas. It’s still entertaining, and “thrilling” or not, there is still a lot of meat on those Mario Kart bones. It might be the old reliable of the kart racing pantheon, but it’s one of the best Nintendo franchises out there for a reason.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. Mario Kart 8 is the gift shop where you know you can order the entire inventory online from the comfort of your home. And they’re both pretty great.

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed

  • System: Sega Genesis. Wait, no! It’s Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii U. There are also Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, and friggen iPhone ports, but I can’t speak to their collective authenticity. Let’s assume they’re all great?
  • Number of players: Four sounds right.
  • Other Advantages: S&ASRT has maybe the most robust single player experience in kart racing games with its Career Mode, which is basically the quest mode from Soulcalibur. There are all sorts of interesting challenges available as you fight your way toward finally unlocking a playable VMU. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems a little too stretched out and tiring, so maybe the extra content isn’t the best thing in the world.
  • Say something mean: The powerup/weapons/whatever you want to call them in this game kind of suck. They’re mostly more boring rehashes of what you’d see in other kart games, and, really, Sega? You couldn’t do better with all of your franchises contributing characters and concepts? Mecha Bees are cool, but the generic twister could be replaced with, say, any damn thing.
  • WeeeeeFavorite Track: Graveyard Gig, a House of the Dead house party, is everything you could ever want from this premise. After far too much media exposure, we’re back to zombies only being cool when they’re members of The Rolling Stones.
  • Favorite Racer: Vyse, because I enjoy being reminded that we will never see Skies of Arcadia ever again. It hurts so good!
  • Head Canon Corner: Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive, is racing in a car as a handicap. He wants a nice, fair match.
  • Did you know? Toejam & Earl were planned for original Sega All-Stars Racing, but there was some manner of snafu in actually contacting T&E’s creator. He claimed that he was interested, but the game was too far along by the time he found out. But, you know what? I don’t see the Funkotronians rocking around in the sequel, so I think everyone involved is crazy.
  • Would I play again: Without a doubt. Sometimes you just want to roll around the Death Egg. But, you know, with wheels.

FGC #356 Mario Kart 8

  • System: Nintendo WiiU and Nintendo Switch. The Switch version was used for this review, because I can’t get enough of those squid kids.
  • Number of players: This time I know it’s four.
  • I am a consumer whore: Yes, I purchased this game in its entirety, bonus tracks and all, for the WiiU. Then I bought it again for the Switch. I figured that, since I’m going to have the Switch for a while, and it’s portable, I may as well have an entire Mario Kart game available at all times. I have not regretted this decision.
  • Favorite Track: Cloudtop Cruise is a fun track, features an airship, and reuses music from Super Mario Galaxy. Technically, one could claim this entire course was designed exclusively for me. Or, ya know, any other Mario fan.
  • Favorite Racer: Princess Daisy deserves her own game. Read my newsletter to learn more! (There is no newsletter.)
  • Don't look right at itA shape of things to come: Now that Mario Odyssey features a food world and a decidedly Japanese castle, Sweet Sweet Canyon and Dragon Driftway seem almost prophetic. Or maybe the people behind Mario Odyssey actually played other Mario games. It could go either way.
  • Did you know? This is one of the few games that requires Amiibo functionality only once, as Amiibos unlock new costumes, and are then never need be scanned again. This is in stark contrast to many other Amiibo-based games, like Breath of the Wild or Smash Bros 4, that require frequent visits from your favorite statues. Granted, the Amiibo functionality was kind of grandfathered in anyway, so I wouldn’t see too much into it.
  • Would I play again: Until the Switch is retired, it’s kind of inevitable. And after that? Only the kart under Mario’s butt knows for sure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Um Jammer Lammy for the Playstation! Rock out with your wool out! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Eat it, Beat. … No, not you.

FGC #297 Uniracers

Gotta race fastLet’s have a big hand for Uniracers, one of the stupidest, smartest games for the Super Nintendo.

Racing games have always been fairly intriguing from a gameplay perspective. Racing, in a weird way, is maybe the purest, easiest to understand form of gaming. If you were to take a random bumpkin off the street and show him someone playing Super Mario Bros. stage 5-1, there is no immediate indicator that this player is over halfway to saving a princess from dinoturtle clutches. Meanwhile, take that same unobservant fellow, show him a race with four cars, and one car is right there in the front, well, he’s easily going to spot the winner. And what’s more, depending on the perspective, it’s really easy to tell just how much that winner is winning. “A big lead” could be understood by Einstein or a toddler, and that instant recognition is essential for a fun gaming experience. Taking ten minutes to clear Quick Man’s stage isn’t a clear measurement that you’re doing something wrong, but being fourth place out of four cars certainly means it’s time to git gud.

Of course, while identifying the winner in a race is easy, recognizing how to get better at racing is a little bit more tricky. “Go faster” is the obvious answer here, but, by their very nature, videogames can’t be well balanced if one car/racer is naturally faster than another. There are games where the “challenge” is creating the perfect load-out before a race, but that creates more of a RRPG (Racing Role Playing Game) than a pure racing experience. And in games where there are projectiles (whether they be missiles or turtle shells), the answer usually involves dodging or properly rationing your own weapons supply, and acknowledging that ramming into seven banana peels in a row might slow your roll. But once you iron out all the fluff, once it’s just you and a couple of other cars (or maybe a time trial), then the careful dynamics of racing come to the forefront. How do you corner? Do you ever use your breaks? Better memorize that track, learn every last bend and nook and cranny, and then, and only then, will you be able to obtain the checkered flag.

WeeeeBut, uh, important side note? Pretty much none of that could work in a 2-D world.

Racing games need 3-D, or at least some stab at a 3-D world. Mario Kart might be a Mode 7 trick, but you’ll note Mario’s racing adventures are not nearly as 2-D as his turtle stomping times (or the delightful, pretend 2-D characters on the Mario Kart title screen). Super Off-Road and racing games of its time offered big, overhead maps that were closer to Zelda than Mega Man or Castlevania. And once gaming systems were able to support “real” 3-D, we never looked back, and haven’t so much as attempted a 2-D racing game since. And who would even want to try such a thing? A 2-D racing game would just be nothing more than “hold right to win”. Maybe the tracks could have some obstacles or other such nonsense, but it would still be an amazingly hobbled experience compared to proper racing.

But there was a 2-D racing game back in the 90’s, and it was one that everyone played…

Gotta go fast

Okay, yes, that was technically an action platformer hop ‘n bop (or whatever), but there was a 2-player “race mode” in every Sonic the Hedgehog since Sonic 2 (“So also Sonic 3?” “Yes.”). It wasn’t much of anything, but this was a game released within a decade of Ice Climber, so the stupid kids of the time (this stupid kid included) went gaga for (super) Sonic racing. And why wouldn’t we? This was Blast Processing! This was as fast as a 16-bit game could go! Feel the need for sonic speed!

So Nintendo, never one to be outdone by an erinaceinae, decided they were going to showcase the native speed of the Super Nintendo. With the help of DMA Design, Uniracers was born. And, naturally, it was a 2-D racing game… so hold right to win, article over. Have a nice day!

YuckBut wait, there’s more! Uniracers is not as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 2P Mode, and it doesn’t rely on silly powerups or spiny distractions. Uniracers has one simple trick up its sleeve: do tricks. While racing forward (or backward, let’s not assume all tracks have to go right), if there’s a spare length of track, go ahead and jump, and attempt to flip your unicycle. Perform even the fastest flip, and you’ll gain a speed boost. Wipeout and you lose some speed. That’s it. Figure out the ins and outs of the tracks, determine exactly when you can get flipping and when you should hold off, and you’ll win every race. Quick, simple, and easy to understand. Always be tricky.

And that is brilliant in its simplicity. I… don’t think I’ve ever met an actual unicyclist, but I remember being seven and having a bike (but not a skateboard), and all anybody ever wanted to do was show off rad tricks. It’s natural to want to do “cool stuff” with your toys, and it follows directly into videogames. What is a speed run but a “tricky”, stylish way to play a videogame? So of course the first thing a player is going to do with a uniracer is attempt random tricks. And then that unicycle goes faster! Awesome! This is the path to victory! No tutorial necessary, you know everything you would ever need within the first ten seconds. And that’s the essence of a good racing game.

And that’s why Uniracers is simultaneously dazzling and thoughtless. It’s a 2-D racing game, which means extremely limited gameplay, but it also teaches the player that “simple” gameplay almost instantly, and exemplifies the “easy to learn, hard to master” maxim used to advertise many lesser games. Uniracers is a stupid concept with the smartest design, and thus becomes one of the best, wildest games on the Super Nintendo.

FGC #297 Uniracers

  • System: Super Nintendo. Gee, wonder why this franchise never saw another system.
  • RadicalNumber of players: I think you can have a league with, like, infinity players. Or maybe just eight. But there are only two simultaneous players, so we’ll say two.
  • Favorite Uniracer: Why would I enter my own name when there’s a red Robbie right there? Works for me, dude.
  • Pixar Problems: Pixar, foreshadowing its eventual absorption into the Disney machine, claims to hold the copyright on moderately sentient unicycles. Apparently that held up in court, and Uniracers was sued into oblivion, causing production of the game to stop prematurely. This is likely why the franchise has never been revisited. Oh, that, and unicycles are boring.
  • Brain Problems: I always think Uniracers and Stunt Race FX are N64 games for some reason. Conceptually, I know they’re not, but they’re lodged in that part of my brain. Probably has something to do with the box art…
  • Did you know? If you attempt to enter “Sonic” as a player name, the game will chastise you for being “Not cool enough”. Ice burn, Uniracers.
  • Would I play again: It sure would be nice to see Uniracers on, I don’t know, a tiny Super Nintendo or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That said, I’d like to take Uniracers for a spin more often, but I’m a lot more likely to play something a tweak more complicated (like Mario Kart 64), so the odds are low on this one getting popped in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rumble Roses for the Playstation 2! I think I let ROB watch too much Netflix recently. Get ready for some foxy… wrestling. Please look forward to it!

Seriously