Monday 17 August 2009

Street Racer

And now, a game that requires a long introduction - it's the semi-obscure racing game Street Racer, developed by Vivid Image and published by Ubisoft.

Street Racer turned up in 1994 for a variety of platforms that couldn't handle it. The Sega MegaDrive, Commodore Amiga and Game Boy all got a version styled similarly to the likes of Super Monaco GP or Super Hang On, (i.e. like OutRun, but not as good). The game attempted to throw in a few items and was more appealing to kids, plus it could be argued that it was quite an impressive achievement on the hardware, but on consoles that couldn't handle sprite scaling such as these, it quickly faded into obscurity due to blandness. However, one port released at this time for the Super Nintendo was a success, mainly for its use of mode 7. Though still overshadowed by the likes of Mario Kart and F-Zero, Street Racer was able to put up a good fight, having a different styled battle mode and even a "soccer" minigame to keep things fresh. Still a distinct lack of "streets" on all these ports however.

Two years later the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation arrived on the shelves, and so Street Racer was spiced up and brought to the new generation... where it had to compete against a variety of full 3D racers (not to mention it had to watch the rise of Mario Kart 64 on the other side of the bridge). Needless to say things didn't run too smoothly. It was also ported to the PC at this time, though it was unable to gain ground there either. In Japan, this version was appropriately titled "Street Racer Extra", meaning it was easier to differentiate between the 16-bit game, and the 32-bit one, but for some reason this name didn't carry through to the other markets, meaning consumers had to guess. Because the 32-bit version gets less love, this is what I'm going to cover today. It means I have a lack of screenshots, but hey.

The game has nine characters including the secret character, Rabbit, ranging from Frankenstein's monster to the surfer girl to the 400-year-old Turkish magician to the World War I veteran. Standard stuff. My beef with these people? They're a bit lifeless. Sure having the likes of Mario or Luigi scream at you every time they pass you in their pre-rendered karts can get a bit annoying, but in Street Racer the contestants are cartoon characters plucked from various timezones... and not one of them speaks. Sure they might just be a bunch of sprites, but none of them have any personality - even the box art has more personality than the racers in-game.

It's a very solid racer and the closest you'll ever get to Mario Kart on the Sega Saturn. Unlike the 1994 game, the environments are in full, low draw distance 3D and the sprites are a bit bigger. For some reason the 32-bit ports neglected the "Soccer" mode found in their 16-bit cousins, but they've kept the "Rumble" mode so that's okay (though not quite as good as Mario Kart's battle mode). I'm also quite happy with the soundtrack. When CDs became the standard often actual music was abandoned in favour of quiet "themes" and ambiance. It's a problem that still exists today in some cases, but not here.

The only other complaint I could really make about Street Racer it its controls. Not because everything's unresponsive (though there's no way to drift around corners which is awkward), but because every "item" is given their own button. It's an advantage over Mario Kart because it means you're not restricted as to what you do next, but here B is accelerate, C is boost, Z is fire and Up on the directional pad is jump. To reverse, you've got to push Down on the D-pad, so it's a bit clumsy unless you configure your controls a bit. And then attacking is assigned to the L and R buttons, so you've got to wonder if perhaps it would have been better to have a randomised powerup system.

Street Racer isn't a bad game but there's nothing memorable about it. With such a generic name as "STREET RACER" the game was always doomed to be mistaken for being a cheap budget title, and I feel it could have done significantly better if the carts had been filled with the works of Warner Bros. or Disney. Vivid Image went on to develop uh... "S.C.A.R.S.", another racing game involving animals and "Dual Blade", a fighting game for the Game Boy Advance similar to Samurai Shodown. Ubi Soft went on to produce garbage such as IMAGINE PARTY BABYZ, among other things.

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