I have something a little bit different for you this time. An indie game for the Playstation that was hidden away on a demo disc and resurfaced on the internet towards the end of last year. It’s called Hover Racing and was developed around 1997 by one Sato Tomokazu, a mysterious man who doesn’t appear to have anything else to his name.
Hover Racing is a Net Yaroze game. This was a service run by Sony in the late 1990s which sold Playstation development tools to hobbyists and universities. The Net Yaroze package included a special development console which was less powerful than the full Playstation devkit and provided access to dedicated Usenet groups for support in lieu of the full Sony technical support service. It’s quite a similar idea to the Xbox Live Indie Games service and the games that resulted from it were of similarly varied quality.
So what kind of game is Hover Racing and why is it worth mentioning? On the surface it certainly doesn’t look like much, just an F-Zero style game with very basic graphics but admittedly quite a lot of content. It has nine tracks, time attack and grand prix race modes, four vehicles plus an extra two to unlock. What sets it apart however, is the controls. As well as being able to steer left and right with a rudder, each ship also has four side boosters to give you a sort of thrust vectoring capability. It’s quite complicated to get a grip on but it provides so many options for controlling your ship and it’s a lot of fun. Some of the ships don’t actually have a rudder so you need to master the side boosts to be able to drive them at all. Even the ships that can be steered normally are better served by using the boosters so it’s best to train yourself to use them right from the start.
The unique controls give Hover Racing quite a steep learning curve but it’s worth persevering with for the satisfaction that comes from getting it right. The boosters are controlled by the shoulder buttons so it take four fingers to make use of all of them and you generally initiate the turn by using the opposite R1 button to the direction you want to go. If you’re looking for a game to entertain your pet Octopus, this is a perfect candidate.
Below are a couple of gameplay samples I’ve recorded for you. The first is a time attack on the easiest course in the game and the second is a race from the grand prix mode. I’m not the best Hover Racing player but I think these videos give a good view of the side boosting mechanics in action.
Net Yaroze games were sometimes included in demo discs which came with the various official Sony magazines but they’re largely forgotten by the general gaming populace. Hover Racing was featured on a Playstation Underground demo disc and thanks to the wonderful folks at PSXdev.net and Ghegs from the Rolling-Start forums it was converted to a standalone image towards the back-end of last year. It is this version of the game that I have been playing.
At the risk of being thrown in jail for a million years I’ve provided a link to the game here. It’s a very small download, less than 2MB and it works just fine in ePSXe.