Sunday 27 June 2010

B.C. Racers

In 1995 Core Design (who hadn't yet discovered Tomb Raider) hit us with this Mario Kart clone combining kart racing with their Chuck Rock franchise. It was released DOS-based PCs, the 3DO, the Sega Mega CD and the Sega 32X, and as three of the four aforementioned systems bombed in the marketplace, it might have seen a bit more success if it had waited a year for the PS1 and Saturn. But that's what you get for taking risks I suppose.

First to narrow down the ports. I'm not touching a 3DO emulator for this so that's out of the window straight away. The Mega CD port is watered down (despite the CD soundtrack and FMV intro) as it can't cope with large draw distances. The DOS and 32X versions are almost identical but as I've been working with the 32X version for Sonic Retro, you can make do with that for today.

Truth is neither version is great. The game feels like an unfinished product due to the lack of sound effects. It comes from a period in video game history where experimentation in the third dimension had a higher priority than high levels of polish. As a result, the game hasn't aged well, and being released for three dismal consoles didn't help either.

Nintendo fans tend to come around and claim this game has a low framerate compared to Super Mario Kart... but this seems to me like a common misconception. Aside from the fact that it is technically more impressive than Nintendo's racer, the framerate seemed fairly steady to me (at least on the 32X version). Some graphical effects push it down a little, but not enough to justify the "slow" title - there are many SNES games for example that suffer from similar problems and Star Fox is permanently slow. Doesn't ruin a game.

What does ruin the game is that B.C. Racers really is a bare-bones racing game. The only powerup as far as I can see is a boost (though you can hit other players similar to Street Racer), and though you can run down people and your vehicle can get wrecked, it's a bit... boring. It's difficult to tell whether the game would have been better for being a cheap Mario Kart rip-off, but there really isn't much you could have done with the genre at this point. In later years 3D realism and physics would have come into play, but that was just a dream back then so its unwise to expect anything better.

The graphics are slightly nicer than Super Mario Kart because unlike SNES Mode 7 racers, the sprites can be scaled and rotated in real time too. It means the graphics are less choppy, but at the same time this isn't the perfect solution as there aren't any filters to stop the pixelation. Mipmapping would have helped here. There have been many ideas stolen from the Flintstones, and though Chuck Rock (and his son) are selectable, it doesn't really feel much like a Chuck Rock game. It's fair to say it looks reasonable for the time though, even if that title screen is a mess.

But the sound... the sound is terrible. In fact, for the most part there is no sound. The engines don't make a noise nor do the racers, and the boring, unmemorable musical score only gets interrupted when the player skids or hits something. The game feels extremely empty - another case where it feels more like a technical demo than a finished product. Now this is perfectly acceptable for a DOS game from around this time as not everyone had amazing sound cards, but for video games consoles? Unacceptable. Even the Mega CD version suffers, and that had the wonders of CD technology at its disposal. What a waste!

The game should be much better, and I suspect that if it had been worked on a little longer (or given to another developer) it would have been. Luckily Tomb Raider would sort out Core's problems so we can forget about this one, but there are still many lessons that can be learned from it.

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