Stunt Race FX (Nintendo, 1994)

Stunt Race FX was one of my favourite SNES games when I was a child. I really liked the quirky graphics, the upbeat music and the mix of race tracks and obstacle courses. Looking back at it now, I think a lot of what I liked about it in the mid-90s  still stands but unfortunately there are also a couple of areas where the reality of Stunt Race FX doesn’t measure up to my nostalgia.

Stunt Race FX (Wild Trax in Japan) was developed by Nintendo in association with Argonaut Software and hit the shelves in 1994. The ‘FX’ in Stunt Race FX comes from the Super FX co-processor that was added to the cartridge, allowing the SNES to render 3D polygon based graphics. This technology came at a price with the game retailing for £60 in the UK, an eye-watering £109 in today’s money. I didn’t get the game at launch so I didn’t pay anywhere near that amount but I shudder to think how much my friend’s parents paid for his import copy complete with cartridge converter.

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The 3D graphics in Stunt Race FX were very good by the standards of the day for a console like the SNES and the cheerful presentation is also very nice. However, the fancy graphics, as good as they were in 1994, come at the cost of compromised performance. The framerate of Stunt Race FX is less than impressive. I’m not a die-hard 60fps stickler by any means but even to me, the low framerate is noticeable. It really stands out when you compare the relative framerate of the race and time trial modes. The latter is considerably faster so you can really notice just how slow things are when you go back to racing. This is probably the biggest weakness of the game and will be enough to put a lot of people off playing it.

The cartoony graphics are one of the positives I still have about this game but unfortunately the handling is also rather cartoonish. On-screen the cars lurch around like their suspension is made of elastic and it certainly feels like it too. There’s a distinct spongeyness about the steering that makes things feel a bit unpleasant, especially when you collide with a barrier. You can easily find yourself hung up on the scenery while your car stretches and wobbles helplessly. It’s something that you can get used to, I certainly did as a child, but to me it still doesn’t really feel good even once you’ve got a grasp of how the cars handle. I read an old CVG review of this game which praised the handling as being ‘beautifully simple yet totally comprehensive’, with the benefit of hindsight I would have to respectfully disagree.

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Getting back to the positive side of things, the music for Stunt Race FX is pretty great across the board. Not only is the music good there is also quite a lot of it, each track has its own theme and they’re all pretty memorable. Nintendo were clearly quite proud of the soundtrack as they released it as an album in 1994, bundling it with some arranged versions of selected tracks too. From what I gather this is quite a rare album so if you’ve got a copy of it, keep it safe.

For me, the real strength of Stunt Race FX is the tracks. This is the saving grace that still makes the game worth playing at least a few times. There are 12 ‘Speed Trax’ for single player races, a further 4 ‘Battle Trax’ for two players and 4 ‘ Stunt Trax’, single player obstacle courses. This is quite a lot of content and it’s all good which is a nice bonus. I’d say if you were to disregard the difference in graphics, the tracks in Stunt Race FX would easily be good enough for any of the 3D Mario Kart games.

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Stunt Race FX still has a few things going for it but the framerate and handling will put a lot of people off these days. If you put it alongside other 3D games on the SNES or Megadrive it compares favourably. It loses out to Virtua Racing on the Megadrive for framerate and handling but it looks a lot nicer and has a lot more to it content-wise. It really stands out against the other Super FX driving games however. Dirt Racer and Dirt Trax FX are neither as polished or as fun as Stunt Race FX and have largely been forgotten. Even though it was a first party game on the SNES, Stunt Race FX has not had a Virtual Console release to date. This means that if you want to play it you have to either find a second-hand cartridge or use an emulator. It’s pretty affordable to buy so long as you don’t want a boxed copy, as is so often the case with SNES games. For emulators you can use any of the popular options but Higan is the only one which fully supports it, Snes9x and Zsnes both have problems with displaying some of the menus.

Bonus video: The commercial for the Japanese release of the game.

 

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