Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NES Month: Rad Racer

Rad Racer
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Squaresoft
  • Platforms/Release: NES: October 1987
  • Genre: Driving
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)
Has anyone seen the movie/feature-length Nintendo advertisement The Wizard? Well, one of the most memorable (?) scenes is when Lucas played a game with the Power Glove. And this was what he played it with: Rad Racer. Nintendo's answer to Sega's Out Run, Rad Racer was released in October 1987 by Nintendo and developed by Squaresoft. Yes, the house that built Final Fantasy. This wasn't the only time they went out of their RPG comfort zone (I am, of course, thinking of Driving Emotion Type-S for PlayStation 2), but at least they got it right the first time.

You get to choose one of two identically-performing cars, a not-Ferrari and a not-Formula-1 racer, and take it on a drive across eight levels. In their own way, the graphics are some of the best on the NES. Parallax scrolling on the background and a rising and falling horizon all contribute to a wonderful visual experience, even if Out Run did pioneer tricks like those the year before. But innovation or not, Rad Racer plays (almost) as well as it looks.

The basic controls are standard fare for pretty much every driving game ever: A for gas, B for brake, and Left and Right to steer. Pressing Down switches between three available music tracks, and Select toggles the anaglyph 3-D function on and off (more on that later). Holding Up activates a boost that gets you going even faster. It has unlimited usage, but is only available if you're going above 90 kilometers per hour. Having an unlimited boost function may seem artificial, but it's not like you can just hold it and win; you really have to slow down for the sharper turns. In most cases, you have to be going, at most, somewhere between 150 and 180 km/h to handle the curves without drifting out.
Speed control is essental on turns. [1]
Speed control is important in this game, because you'll have to dodge traffic at all times, even in the middle of turns. The other cars come in two varieties; one of them changes lanes more often than the other. Traffic can be a big source of frustration in the later levels, although you won't usually cause a full crash unless you hit one at high speeds. Flipping over, either by hitting a car or roadside object, can eat up a lot of time, since you have to wait until your car stops and then moves into the center of the road. If you want to make it to the end of a stage before the timer runs out, you'll have to crash as little as possible; even one accident is pushing it. If you do lose, here is a continue function: hold A and press Start, just like in Super Mario Bros..

Of course, the music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu. I'm going to say it, I'm not a big fan of his, but I'll still say he's great at what he does. Each of the three songs you can select from each has their own mood, and you'll probably craft your own mental image of a level depending on which song you choose. That's what nostalgia is, ladies and gentlemen. It's a shame it's so easy to accidentally press Down and skip the track.
The 3-D effect isn't all that great. [1]
Like I mentioned while discussing the controls, there is a visual 3-D effect in this game, toggled on and off by pressing Select at any time. It's the old red-and-blue kind, so you can use any of those kind of glasses that you may have collected over the years. Unfortunately, tt jacks up the colors (think black skies and yellow roads), and the effect isn't that great besides. In this game, it's handled by rapidly flickering the red and blue images instead of steadily overlaying them. Depending on the quality of your television and eyesight, you'll notice the flickering, lessening the effect. Oh, and make sure the blue side of your glasses is over your left eye; you may need to wear your glasses backwards for best results.

But when the game looks so good without the 3-D effect, you can live without switching it on. Rad Racer does loads of things that were unheard of for the NES at the time, and does them well. It has a thrilling sense of speed, some unexpected talent, 3-D visuals, and it holds up just as well today. If you've ever wanted a home port of Out-Run, or if you like racing games in general, then Rad Racer is not to be missed.

Control: 4 3D glasses out of 5
Design: 4 3D glasses out of 5
Graphics: 5 3D glasses out of 5
Sound: 4 3D glasses out of 5
Value: 3 3D glasses out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

[1] "Rad Racer - NES Screenshots". MobyGames. http://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/rad-racer/screenshots.

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