Mini Reviews November 2017

Here’s another batch of mini reviews. I intend to say more about all of these games in the future if possible but for now here’s some quick impressions to tide you over.

Human Grand Prix/F-1 Pole Position (SNES, Human Entertainment 1992/1993)

On the surface, Human Grand Prix for the SNES looks like your standard early 90’s F-1 game, and in many ways it is. It doesn’t look much different to other F-1 games from the period and it has most of the same features. This makes it quite a difficult game to talk about but I feel like I need to say something because I played through the season mode recently and it really drew me in. It doesn’t offer anything unique and it’s far from a perfect game but in my opinion it’s towards the top end of the scale when it comes to old grand prix racers.

It’s a very straight-faced game and the season mode is quite long so I don’t think it’s something everyone would enjoy but if you’re looking for an old licensed racing game for a bit of nostalgia then this is a great place to start.

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RC de GO! (Arc/PS1, Taito, 2000)

I’ve wanted to talk about this for quite a long time but for whatever reason it kept getting pushed to the back of the queue.

RC de GO! is a remote-controlled car game by Taito. It was originally an arcade release but it also came out on the Playstation, which is the version I’ve been playing. It’s unusual in that it’s based on real-world RC racing rather than just being a game where the cars have antennas on them. You control your car from a track-side perspective and can use twin analogue sticks to control the throttle and steering, a bit like on a real RC handset. The handling is a little tricky at first but feels very rewarding once you start to get the hang of it.

The Playstation version of RC de GO! offers a choice of a “quick race” mode based on the arcade version of the game and a championship mode which is a bit more in-depth. The championship mode might seem a little dry at first glance, especially once you look at the vehicle parts shop but it’s really easy to get into and it plays just like the arcade mode.

It’s one of those games that looks like a joke at first but it’s really anything but. Look beyond the budget presentation and the offbeat premise and you’ll find a fun and challenging isometric racer.

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ThunderWheels (PC, Arcade Injection, 2017)

We’ll finish with a quick word about a Steam Early Access game I bought recently. ThunderWheels is a Super Off-Road inspired game which went up on Steam at the beginning of November. Although it’s a very early version, it’s a working game with 6 tracks plus reverse variants, local multiplayer and 8 vehicles.

It needs work in a few areas, it’s an Early Access game after all, but I think this might be worth following. It’s already had an update and feels a bit more polished than the initial build they released. I don’t how much of a splash a game like this would make in 2017 but I think it has a lot of potential and it’s always nice to see indies make racing games. I will keep coming back to this one as it gets further updates.

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Toybox Turbos (Codemasters, 2014)

Toybox Turbos by Codemasters isn’t a Micro Machines game, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was. It’s by the same developer, has the same toy car theme and includes a few pretty direct call-backs to this earlier series. Make no mistake, this game wears its inspiration on its sleeve.

The main single player mode is split into 7 levels each made of 5 race events of various types including standard races, overtaking challenges and time trials. You can choose from 4-6 vehicles per level which are unlocked with in-game currency plus additional vehicles that you unlock by completing the final head-to-head events. It’s pretty easy to collect enough coins to unlock everything with no grinding at all, which makes a nice change.

Toybox Turbos is a much more chaotic game than the classic Micro Machines series. The handling can be a bit wild and woolly with some of the cars and there are weapon pickups and environmental hazards which add a more unpredictable element to the game.  I know weapons are always a bit of a sticking point for some people but I don’t think they’re particularly annoying in this case. There’s only a small selection of them and once you’ve been hit with one you get back up and running very quickly. It’s a silly game that doesn’t take itself very seriously but it doesn’t lean so heavily on the whacky elements as to spoil the fundamentals of the racing.

If Toybox Turbos falls short anywhere it’s longevity. Maybe it’s because it reminds me so much of Micro Machines that I’m expecting it to have the same breadth of content that those games had. I just can’t help but feel that there’s a few things missing even it’s just adding a couple of outdoor tracks or the old speedboats in the bath kind of level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got good things in it. Any game that lets you drive a dustbin wagon is a win in my book, but it would feel more complete with few extra bits and pieces.  At heart, these games have always been more fun as a multiplayer experience so if you’ve got friends who want to play it then the single-player lifespan of the game becomes irrelevant anyway.

Toybox Turbos is available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC via Steam.  With the 360 and PS3 being a bit old hat these days, PC is probably your best choice. It’s got a budget price tag and is frequently discounted so you can pick up copies for yourself and your friends at a reasonable price. Either way, whether you’re playing this alone or with friends, I can firmly recommend this game.

 

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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Riptide GP Renegade (Vector Unit, 2016)

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Riptide GP Renegade is the latest entry in the Riptide GP series from Vector Unit. Like its predecessors it’s a futuristic watercraft racer with a mixed emphasis on racing and stunts. I enjoyed the previous game in the series when I played it earlier in this year. I think this instalment makes a lot of small improvements that add up to a significantly better game with a lot more personality.

The basic structure of the game is similar to the earlier games in the series. You race in a series of events consisting of a variety of race types and earn XP, cash and stars which let you unlock rider perks, vehicle upgrades and more races respectively. A major addition to Riptide GP Renegade is a story mode which acts as a framing device to link the different race events together. It’s a very simple story but it provides a framework for progression and unlocking more vehicles and riders.

Vector Unit have made a lot of cosmetic improvements since the previous game. The graphical style is very similar to Riptide GP 2 but with more detailed environments and better rider and vehicle animations. It still doesn’t look like a big budget game, because it isn’t, but it looks fine to me. It’s bold and colourful just like an arcade racer should be. The tracks, as well as looking nicer, are generally much better overall. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the tracks in the other games but they’ve taken things in a much more Hydro Thunder-like direction this time which can only be a good thing. There’s more alternate routes, more huge waves, more stuff happening in the background, just more of everything in general and it’s great. There’s maybe one track in the game that I’m not as fond of but even then it’s not bad.

The handling has changed a little bit since the last game. It’s much lighter now and feels a lot better. I didn’t dislike the way the last game handled but in comparison to this it feels very heavy.  Even though the handling is lighter than it was in Riptide GP 2, it’s still very easy to get to grips with and new players will be able to just jump right in and play without any problems. The stunts work the same way as previously, by hitting different analogue stick combinations, and they seem to be mostly the same. I think there might be more tricks added at the top end of the scale, there’s some pretty crazy ones that you can unlock later on and I don’t recall seeing them before.

Overall, Riptide GP Renegade is a good game at a good price. It’s easy to get into but becomes very challenging as you progress through the story. It’s a much better game than the already pretty decent Riptide GP 2 and it’s probably the best watercraft racing game since Hydro Thunder Hurricane, which Vector Unit also made. It looks pretty good for a game made by such a small team. It certainly looks professional even it probably didn’t have a huge amount of money behind it and in my opinion it looks the way a game like this should, simple and bold.

I’ve always been a fan of  budget games that punch way above their weight and this certainly fits the bill. I give it a firm recommendation. It’s available now for PC, PS4, Android and iOS with an Xbox One version on the way.

 

Indianapolis 500 (Papyrus, 1989)

The first Indy 500 themed game we’ll be looking at this month is Indianapolis 500: The Simulation by Papyrus Design Group. This was released for the Amiga and DOS PCs in 1989. Papyrus were around for a long time and made some very popular and influential racing simulators, most notably NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. The source code of that game would later be used as the basis for the early builds of iRacing.com which was co-founded by Papyrus co-founder David Kaemmer.

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The game simulates the full race weekend of the Indy 500 from practice through to qualifying and then finally, the race itself. The field is made up of the real entries for the 1989 race including their qualifying order. You as the player take the number 17 car which was driven by Rich Vogler who qualified in 33rd and last place for the race.

The 1989 Indy 500 is remembered for its dramatic finish which saw Al Unser Jr and Emerson Fittipaldi fighting for the lead 6 laps ahead of their nearest rival, Paul Boessel in 3rd place. With 2 laps to go, Unser and Fittipaldi were running side by side until they collided in turn 3 sending Unser into the wall and Fittipaldi to the first of his two Indy 500 wins.

Indianapolis 500: The Simulation let’s you choose to race any of three cars; a March, a Lola or a Penske. In its baseline setup the March is the slowest and easiest to handle, the Penske is the fastest and the Lola is in the middle. You can tune all these cars to your liking though if that’s something you’re into. With the right setup, even the March can be a competitive car. There’s all the different setup options you’d see in a modern sim: tyre pressure, stagger, camber, toe-in, all that kind of stuff. If I’m being honest, I don’t really understand it myself. Luckily there are still some FAQs floating around on the internet that include some good  car setups.

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You’ve got a few options for the kind of race you’d like to have. You can choose to race 10, 30, 60 or the full 200 laps. Each increment gradually adds more realism to the race, you start off at 10 laps with no cautions or player damage then 30 with just no damage and then full realism for 60 and 200. This also includes the need to look after your engine and occasionally take on fresh tyres and fuel.

This game is old but for 1989 it looks excellent. The track is recognisable with all the major landmarks present. You can make out the famous pagoda and the yard of bricks on the start finish-straight and all the grandstands including  the distinctive VIP salon just outside of turn 2. It’s as accurate a depiction as you could get back then. With old 3D games you quite often get frame-rate issues but when you play it today in Dosbox, it’s pretty smooth. The same can’t be said for the Amiga version unfortunately.

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With the game being 27 years old, the graphics aren’t the big draw here. What still makes this game worth bothering with is how it plays. After all this time, it’s still a lot of fun. The handling can be a bit challenging but it’s supposed to be. With a joystick or a mouse it actually handles well but it’s certainly not a game to be playing with keys.

Although this is a good game and in general it’s aged very well, there are a few rough edges. The AI is a bit clumsy. They have a habit of running you off the road and lapped cars don’t yield to you, quite the opposite in fact. This is compounded by the vision you have in the car; it’s not always easy to tell if you’ve completely passed somebody. There are rear view mirrors but they’ve got a very narrow field of view and you don’t have a spotter feeding you information. Your most useful cue is the noise of the other car’s engine. I play with my own engine noise turned off to make that process a bit easier. Also  the DOS version’s engine sound is like a swarm of angry, metallic hornets so the less I hear of it the better.

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Indianapolis 500: The Simulation sets out to do one thing, recreate the experience of a single race. It does this very well and with an amazing amount of detail for the year it was made. Like all the best simulators, Indianapolis 500 balances accessibility and realism very well. For the skilled player it provides a detailed and challenging race that will reward dedication and practise. It lacks the driving aids that a modern game would have for newer players but with the base car setups and the shorter race formats anyone can get up and running, turn laps and have fun quite quickly.

iRacing Diary 2 and 3

Here’s the next two iRacing videos. I won’t be posting them in pairs after this, it’ll go down to one every week or two. Excuse the clumsy audio ducking in episode 3, there were just a few too many breaks in the narration to leave the engine noise uniformly low. If people complain loudly enough I’ll re-upload the video with tweaked audio.

Introducing my iRacing Diary

I’ve decided to do something a little bit different for a couple of months. I’ve signed up for 3 months of iRacing and I’ll be making a video series about my experiences playing it. I know it’s a little bit outside of what I normally cover but I’m not really a strong believer in the arcade vs sim dogma that the internet is so fond of. It’s okay to like either kind of game, or both.

I’ve made two videos, an introduction and a proper first episode. I’m not great at narrating or audio but hopefully this will give me a chance to improve a little.

Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be the only thing I’ll be posting. I’ll still be waffling on about old arcade games a few times a month too. This won’t have a regular schedule, just an update when I have something to share. It’ll be a couple of times a month probably.

Anyway, here are the videos. Hope you don’t fall asleep listening to my soothing voice.