October 13, 2010, at 04:40 PM
Mini Review: Super Off Road
The SMS has four top-down racing games: the great Micro Machines, the not so great Buggy Run, the dreadful RC Grand Prix, and this. Where does it sit in the ranking? I’ve never tried it before so it’s time to find out.
The whole point of this game is that it doesn’t scroll; instead, you have tiny cars and a fullscreen track. So the graphics have two things to achieve:
- Discernable cars - they’re very small so they need to be clear
- Clear track - especially since it’s very “3D”
It manages to achieve both, mainly by using bright colours and consistent graphics throughout, although that makes it kind of boring. The “sexy lady” gets boring fast. You get the feeling this whole game only has maybe 16KB of graphics in it.
It is of course an arcade downconversion. The original was at 320×240 so something has to give for the 256x192 SMS screen; so things are a bit too tiny.
There are 12 tracks, and you get to race them in both directions. But: they are all single-screen tracks. Lap time is typically under 10 seconds, and a race is 4 laps. So the whole thing (in both directions) takes under 30 minutes.
There’s some upgrade strategy too (tyres, engine, etc) but I found that I was able to win all the races, hence get plenty of money to keep winning, without any real strategy.
The tiny sprites probably work OK on a huge arcade CRT right in front of your face. But I found it easily got crowded. Add in that collisions, rather than stop you dead (as in the woeful RC Grand Prix), instead tend to steer your car away from the collision. That’s great for keeping the race going, but annoying because you have to try to guess what direction you’ll be going after every encounter. The tracks are deliberately designed to have a lot of these (there are cross-overs and narrow corners) and the competitor cars don’t try to avoid you.
So, there’s a fairly large random element spoiling the fun.
Also, the handling doesn’t seem very logical. The small scale makes it hard anyway, but the bouncing between bumps and water traps and hills and jumps and barriers... all seems to handle much the same. I know changeable (yet playable) handling must be hard to achieve, but it seems quite absent. Slopes tend to steer you downhill, unless you’re driving straight up, and that’s about it.
I think there’s a bit of steering assistance going on to help you drive in the right direction, too. That’s not necessarily a good thing, as the game starts to play itself. Maybe it’s just easy to steer as you intend, but it seems suspicious to me.
The reverse-direction races are a cheap hack to extend the game, albeit not an unusual one. But once you get to race 24... it goes back to race 1. There is no end to the game and that’s just annoying.
Well, it’s an unusual premise. In the arcade the idea was that multiple players could play on a single non-split screen. On this version, you can play 2-player, but the single-player experience suffers. Just a bit of scrolling of the track might have made it a bit less scrunched up. I think a huge, zoomed-out track would look great at this scale. But that wouldn’t be the arcade original, I suppose.
In the Great Top-Down SMS Racer Ranking:
I think it’s about equal with Buggy Run, a step below Micro Machines and a mile above RC Grand Prix.