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.