Video: 3D Stock Cars II

I decided to try and make a video review and for whatever reason I ended up making it about 3D Stock Cars II on the Spectrum.

There’s a lot of ways this video could be better but I think it’s important for me to actually publish things rather than sitting on them forever because they’re not totally perfect. Anyway, here it is. Maybe I’ll do more in the future.

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Manx TT Superbike (Sega, 1995)

It’s been a while since I mentioned an honest-to-goodness arcade game on here so I’ll put things right by talking about Manx TT Superbike by Sega.

This is a Sega Model 2 game from 1995. It’s based on the Isle of Man TT which is an annual motorcycle road-racing event dating all the way back to 1907. There are two courses available in the game, including a very approximate recreation of the Snaefell Mountain Course over which the real event takes place. I say approximate because the real thing is over 37 miles long. You don’t get a very accurate recreation of the course but it’s quite faithful to the look and feel of it nonetheless. There’s also a shorter course which appears to start on the promenade of the Island’s capital, Douglas and passes by the famous Laxey Wheel.

Manx TT Superbike‘s graphics look as good as other games on the Model 2 platform with the same simple, bold style and Sega’s trademark blue skies. They’re simple by today’s standards but very clear and easy to look at. The music is up to the standard you’d expect from Sega, nothing quite so iconic as Daytona USA but upbeat and catchy.

As this was a ride-on cabinet and I haven’t played a real one since the late 1990s it’s hard for me to comment on the controls and difficulty with any certainty. I can say that playing via an emulator with a controller is very twitchy and that I found using my steering wheel set to 180 degrees felt a lot more natural. Both of these control methods let you play very aggressively and throw the bike around a lot more freely than you would be able to on a real cabinet. When using a pad or wheel, Manx TT Superbike is not a particularly difficult game. Most of the hard course’s challenge comes from the behaviour of the AI riders that I would describe as a sort of reverse rubber-banding. The opposing riders will set off in a pack at an impossible speed that you can’t match unless you manage to latch onto their slipstream at the start of the race. Once you slingshot past them they then become rather reluctant to overtake, even though you’re travelling a lot slower than they were previously. If you fall behind at any point they’re going to disappear up the road, never to be seen again.

 

The difference in speed between your bike and the AI combined with the sheer power of the slipstream makes me think you might be able to get better lap times by not taking the lead. When I started to realise this a lot of the shine came off the game for me. I really like the style and presentation of Manx TT Superbike and overall I still think it’s okay but I don’t think it has much long-term appeal compared to Sega’s other offerings from the mid-1990s.

There were two home versions of Manx TT Superbike, one for the PC and another for the Sega Saturn. I haven’t played the PC version because trying to get 20-year-old PC games working is usually more hassle than it’s worth but I did try the Saturn version. Aside from a significant graphical downgrade, I think the Saturn port is a really good conversion. The music and sound are reproduced exactly and it retains the speed of the arcade version. The AI also behave a little differently to how I described earlier. They spread themselves more evenly along the course making you feel more like you’re actually racing them rather than just chasing after them. The Saturn version also supports analogue controls which is a bonus.

Normally when it comes to making recommendations I’ll lean towards the arcade as that’s the original version. In the case of Manx TT Superbike and other games with ride-on cabinets I’m a bit more divided in my opinion. Although you can play the game more-or-less as intended via an emulator, you’re never going to get the full experience without very specialised hardware. In the case of this game I’d say give the arcade version a go and see how you find it but you might also enjoy the Saturn version just as much, if not more. It’s certainly no less authentic an experience than playing a full-motion arcade game with an Xbox 360 controller.

Bonus video: Here’s the TT Course played via the Nebula emulator.

 

 

Mini Reviews July 2017

I’ve got another batch of three mini reviews for you here. These are games that I played in June.  We’ve got an old-timey Gameboy game, an endless runner and an indie game jam entry. Grand Prix cars, solar powered planes and scooters.

F-1 Race (Nintendo, 1984/1990)

F-1 Race is a Pole Position style game from Nintendo for the NES and Gameboy. That tells you almost everything you need to know about it. You’ve played it ,or games like it, a thousand times already. I played the Gameboy version for a while because a friend of mine really likes it. It’s not very original, especially by the time the Gameboy version came out in 1990, but it does what you’d expect a game like this to do and does it pretty well. It has short levels which are ideal for a handheld game, it’s pretty challenging and it has really funky music. It’s fun in the way that all games like this are, but that’s about all you can say.

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Race the Sun (Flippfly, 2013)

Race the Sun by Flippfly is an endless runner where you control a solar powered plane and attempt to fly as far as possible before the sun sets. It first came out in 2013 and has done the rounds on all the major platforms since then. It’s the not the sort of thing I’d play normally but I ended up really enjoying it. The stark, minimalist graphics look really stylish and the soundtrack is also really good. It contributes nicely to the atmosphere and tension of the game. What makes this game great for me are the controls, which are super smooth and responsive. I also enjoy playing in the first-person mode but that be a bit stressful sometimes. To keep things feeling fresh, Race the Sun generates a new landscape every day so even though all the same elements are always there, you’re not playing the exact same levels over and over. I’m sure most people reading this have already played Race the Sun but if anyone hasn’t I can strongly recommend it.

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Scoot Scoot (Watch Yr Step, 2016)

I found Scoot Scoot when I was looking for racing games on itch.io. It’s a scooter agility/autocross game that was created for the “A Game By It’s Cover” game jam in 2016. As it’s a jam game there’s not a whole lot to it but it’s really fun and well-presented. You drive your scooter around a course marked out by traffic cones in a car park and aim to complete 3 laps in as short a time as possible. You’re penalised for touching the cones and rewarded for riding fast through the speed traps spread around the course. It’s just a goofy little game with 1 level but it’s actually quite addictive. It’s available from the creator’s itch.io page (here) under a pay what you like scheme. If you do choose to download it I suggest giving them something because it’s absolutely worth supporting.

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ChoroQ Advance (Electronic Applications, 2001)

Choro Q Advance is the 14th racing game in the Choro Q series and the first of three entries released for the Gameboy Advance. It was developed for Takara by Electronic Applications (Eleca Ltd) and released in Japan and the USA in 2001 and Europe in 2002. Here in Europe we know this game as Penny Racers and in the USA it was called Gadget Racers. Both of these names are re-used for different games in the series so to avoid any confusion I’ve decided to refer to it by its Japanese name.

Choro Q Advance is a cute, colourful and simple game that I think works really well on a handheld console. Like so many racers on the GBA, it has a very SNES-like feel with its Mode 7-style graphics. This graphical style means the terrain is pancake-flat but there’s lot of track-side objects so the environment doesn’t feel as empty as a lot of other games with graphics of this type.

Like its home console counterparts, car customisation is a key feature of Choro Q Advance. You can race on tarmac, dirt, sand, snow or even on water so it’s important to equip the right parts for the race you’re about to enter. You can also collect and swap car bodies which has no effect on your performance but it’s a neat cosmetic touch that I really enjoy. The car bodies are mostly based on real cars with a few extra novelties thrown in and although they’re not named, you can easily tell what they’re supposed to be.

As with all games in this series, the driving mechanics are very basic. It handles like a kart racer with a slightly more realistic drifting technique. Don’t take that as a criticism though, it’s a lot of fun and the simple controls work in this game’s favour. It’s very easy to pick up and play and also easy to return to after a long break. For handheld games, those are very important characteristics.

I wish I had more to say about this game because I’ve wanted to mention it for quite a while. It’s one of those games that doesn’t do anything particularly unique or original but doesn’t really do anything wrong either. Those are the hardest games to talk about in my opinion. I’ve had a copy of it for a few years now and I still play it from time to time whenever I dust off my Gameboy Micro. If you want to play it yourself, it’s easy to get hold of. Loose cartridges are quite cheap and readily available and of course it’s playable in all the popular Gameboy Advance emulators.

 

Slipstream (Capcom, 1995)

I feel like it’s been a while since I featured an honest-to-goodness arcade game on this blog, so here’s Slipstream by Capcom.

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Slipstream is a 2D grand prix themed racer that runs on Sega’s System32 platform. It’s one of the latest arcade-only 2D racers I can think of, being dated 1995. There isn’t a huge amount on information on the net about this game; MAME lists it as a prototype and only 150 boards were supposedly made. It’s listed as being a Brazilian release and the menus are in a mixture of Portuguese, English and Japanese. Despite the inconsistencies in the menus, it looks to be pretty much a finished product in terms of the actual content.

Slipstream features 3 game modes and 4 tracks based on real grand prix circuits in Germany (Hockenheim), Japan (Suzuka), Australia (Adelaide) and Monaco (Circuit de Monaco). It has 8 cars to choose from, each with different performance characteristics. Of these, 4 carry the liveries of prominent Formula 1 teams from 1993 and the remaining 4 are re-colours. For a game of this type, that’s quite a lot of content, particularly the car selection.

 

The graphics are bold, colourful and quite stylised, especially compared to Sega and Namco’s later 2D racers which went for a much more realistic style. For a company that doesn’t really make racing games, Capcom clearly put a lot of effort into the presentation of the tracks. Out of the many, many late 80’s and early 90’s grand prix racers I’ve played, Slipstream’s tracks are among the most faithfully recreated. They’re hardly realistic but they’re easily recognisable and packed with track-side details.

Slipstream looks good and has a lot of content compared to similar releases but the gameplay is mostly standard stuff. The main selling point of the game is the titular slipstream mechanic. Following other cars charges up a meter which is activated when you move out from behind them giving you a huge speed boost. This is a very common mechanic in 3D racers but for a 2D game like this it’s a little unusual. The slipstream boosting is a huge part of the way you play the game and creates situations where you’re constantly trading positions with the AI cars. Even though the position swapping can be fun, it can also lead to frustration when you get overtaken by a boosting car just before the finish line. The key to winning seems to be timing that final push for the line so your rivals don’t get a chance to respond in kind.

 

I think overall Slipstream is a decent game but I can see why it never got a full release. By 1995, a game like this just seems like an anachronism. Sega and Namco released their last 2D racers in 1993 and they’d both been making 3D racing games since before then even. I think this could have been a successful game had it been finished a few years earlier but by the time it was ready the days of the “super scalers” were long gone.

 

 

 

 

NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona (Monster Games, 2002)

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NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona is considered to be one of the best NASCAR games ever made. It’s a perennial contender on top 10 lists and throughout my research it’s been consistently referred to as the best NASCAR game available on a console. I haven’t played nearly enough of the other contenders to say if Dirt to Daytona truly is the best of all time but from my experience with the game I certainly don’t have any reason to doubt that claim.

NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona was developed by Monster Games, the people behind NASCAR Heat, another very well-regarded game with the same license. They would also go on to develop Excite Truck and Excitebike: World Rally for Nintendo. It was released for the Gamecube and Playstation 2 in 2002 and as you would guess from the name, it features racing from a local level right through to the NASCAR Cup Series.

There’s a few things that stand out to me about this game, namely the depth and range of the content on offer and the attention to detail present in the game. Dirt to Daytona offers a good choice of ‘fast action’ modes such as single races, championships and two different challenge modes as well as a very long and in-depth career mode. There’s a lot of fun to be had whichever mode you play but the career is where the game really comes into its own.

The career mode starts you off at the bottom of the ladder, racing a street stock on local dirt tracks and trying to climb through the ranks to reach the NASCAR Cup Series, stopping off in the Modified and Truck divisions along the way. Whenever you start a new division you’ll have a car with only the most basic components fitted so earning money to buy upgrades is essential. You earn money in two ways, from your finishing position in races and from your sponsors. Finishing higher up the order will attract more lucrative sponsorship deals but big money also comes with high expectations and more challenging sponsor objectives.

Playing the career mode takes a significant time investment but NASCAR fans will appreciate its depth and the satisfaction that comes from building your racing team from the ground up. If a long-term commitment isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of content in the ‘fast action’ modes. The single races and championships will keep most players entertained for a long time and the challenges provide a real test of your driving skill in a variety of conditions.

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The aspect of Dirt to Daytona that I’ve seen given the most praise and attention is the physics engine. It’s an excellent mix of simulation and arcade. With the assists turned on most people will be able to turn laps and race but you’ll still need to take a realistic approach to how you drive. You can’t just mash the throttle and expect to get round corners without taking some of the outer wall with you. Turning off the braking and stability assists gives you a more realistic experience and unlocking the optional ‘hardcore physics’ turns the game into a very serious affair indeed. With the available driving options you can turn your game from ‘serious fun’ to ‘serious business’. A noteworthy aspect to the solid driving physics is the car tuning. You’re provided with as full a range of tuning options as you’d find in any modern simulator and from what I gather from other people who actually know what they’re doing, everything works exactly as it should. If, like me, you don’t know your camber from your Camembert, the game provides 2 sample setups for each track that work as a good baseline and even work well without any tweaking unless you’re playing on the highest difficulty setting. Players who know how to set a car up properly will certainly get a bit more out of Dirt to Daytona but the layperson playing on a moderate difficulty setting can get by pretty well without touching the setups at all.

The AI is probably worth mentioning too. For a 14-year-old game it’s pretty astounding how good the AI drivers are in this game. They’ll race you hard and aren’t afraid to muscle you out of the way but there’s none of the pointless aggression that you see from the computer in a lot of modern games such as the Grid series. They struggle a little with regaining control if they get knocked loose and pit-stops tend to turn into a traffic jam but overall they’re very good opponents and they drive quite consistently.

If Dirt to Daytona falls short in any areas it’s in the graphics and the patchy licensing. The two bottom divisions are mostly made up of fictional drivers and tracks and the truck and cup series don’t have full coverage either. It’s not a big complaint but there are some notable omissions that a fan would probably notice. In terms of the graphics I think the game captures the look and feel of the tracks really well but the detail in the models really shows the game’s age. I normally play this game in the Dolphin emulator with the resolution cranked right up and that does a lot to improve the look of the game. That’s definitely how I would recommend you play this game today.

The depth and breadth of the content on offer in NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona combined with the great physics and AI make it one of the most complete oval racing games available on a home console. Whether or not it’s the best console NASCAR game is still open to debate but even so it remains an enjoyable and satisfying game that offers at least as much to a player as modern titles.

Extreme-G 3 (Acclaim, 2001)

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This is a futuristic motorcycle racer developed and published by Acclaim. It was released for the Gamecube and Playstation 2 between 2001 and 2002.

I had this on the Gamecube when it was new. I played it quite a lot at the time but my decision to revisit it was more down to wanting to see what games I could run in Dolphin than any real desire to play it again. In spite of this I actually ended up playing for a few days and even completed it. This game has aged a lot better than I had expected.

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Extreme-G 3 is quite a typical game of this type and it doesn’t stray particularly far from the Wipeout template. You race through futuristic environments at breakneck speeds using a selection of weapons while balancing your shared shield and speed boost energy. Like the Wipeout series, Extreme-G 3 also features licensed music. All the artists featured are affiliated with The Ministry of Sound.

It got decent reviews at the time, quite a lot of 8s. It got a lot of praise for its sense of speed and the quality of its tracks. I would agree that those are definitely the game’s strong points. The tracks are like roller-coasters with banked corners that flow into one another, huge changes in elevation and exciting features such as jumps, loops, corkscrews and my personal favourite, the underwater tunnel. The other main area of praise, the sense of speed, is also a real selling point for this game. I’ve not played many games from this period that can match Extreme-G 3 for sheer speed and even fewer that let you visibly break the sound barrier.

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As well as these two strengths there are a few weaknesses in the game which the passage of time has done nothing to diminish. Firstly, a few of the environments look a bit bland. I think they always did actually and it really goes heavy on the motion blur. You can also find yourself racing alone for extended periods as the field stretches out along the track. If you’re lagging behind you can feel like you’re miles away from anyone and don’t have any indicator of the time gaps to the front or back.

These are only minor issues but I do have a couple of bigger gripes about the game. The first is the weapons system. Your weapons are permanent upgrades that you buy in a shop so both you and your opponents carry them throughout the game. The AI drivers seem to really like the micro-mine weapon in particular. These are little bouncing orbs that you scatter behind you and remain on the track for a few seconds. They’re not a long-term problem but every overtaking opportunity carries the risk of getting a face full of exploding jet balls that can bring you to a dead stop. The other larger problem I have with the game is the huge spike in the difficulty curve near the end of the single player mode. Most of the races are a fair challenge and they gradually become more difficult until the last two or three events which suddenly become incredibly frustrating. The difficulty isn’t insurmountable but it’s a brick wall in the middle of what was a steady challenge up to that point.

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The flaws I’ve outlined didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of the game, in fact Extreme-G 3 exceeded my expectations, but I know that for some they could be deal-breakers. The Extreme-G series produced some of the better Wipeout clones out there and this one in particular is definitely above average. I think I would still recommend this game on the strength of the tracks alone, at least in the short-term. I enjoyed it but I don’t think I’ll be playing it again in a hurry. It might be a good idea to look up some cheats so you can just jump in and try all the tracks without having to go through the full single player mode.