Thursday 14 October 2010

Super Off Road

In the early 90s, everything was super. From the fun houses to the star wars to the Metroids. But this is Super Off Road, in which the road isn't just super, it's off. Someone should have eaten it quicker.

Super Off Road belongs to a batch of Sega Game Gear games I bought for mere pence, partnered with the likes of Mortal Kombat II, Shinobi, Columns and Alien 3. But I haven't played much of either of these gems, not because the Game Gear is an unappealing console (though there's no denying the fact it drains batteries), but because being a regular internet goer and retro gamer means I know of (and have played) better versions of those titles... and they barely cost anything either.

You see, Sega's Game Gear plans weren't so grand in Europe. In Japan and the US, the Sega Master System was cut around about the time the Game Gear launched. In Europe, the SMS was allowed to live until the mid-90s, so you're left with the decision to either play these games with nice resolutions at home, or spend more on gimped versions on a poorly designed handheld. At least half of the Game Gear's library showed up on the Sega Master System, and lets not forget, many of its lineup showed up on the Sega Mega Drive (and even the Sega Mega CD/Saturn) too!

So my issue with these Game Gear games isn't so much that they're bad - they're just inferior. But as you might have noticed from these awfully small screenshots and post title, I've returned to the land of Game Gear to review this seemingly random Game Gear port. Why? Well why not?

Super Off Road is a top down racer in which you drive your little red truck around a track trying to beat other little coloured trucks. Though you'd expect that oblique perspective and tiny sprites would hinder the gameplay, it plays surprisingly well. You can upgrade your vehicles (though bar the nitro powerup I don't see what difference it really makes) and the computer only starts cheating when it's in a lower position.

Though it of course worth noting that the computer DOES cheat. The normal player is given a limited supply of cash, which goes on to fund methods of winning the race. Though there are often nitro and cash pickups during the race, the computer never seems to be under-equipped with nitros - it just simply chooses not to use them constantly in order to make things fair.

But even with cheating involved, gameplay remains sane and balanced most of the time. The terrain is, of course, not smooth in most places, but it's impossible to crash or take damage. Even if you're spun around by a badly timed jump, you can easily catch up because the computer is as accident prone as you. The Game Gear version of game is fairly tricky in comparison to say, the Mega Drive version, but it's neither too easy nor too hard.

But Super Off Road isn't without its problems. The big issue of course is the Game Gear's small resolution. Whereas other ports of the game can fit the entire map of the level on one screen, the Game Gear needs to resort to scrolling. It's understandable of course (and there's not much of it), but it doesn't do it any favours in the Game Gear vs. Master System struggle I highlighted above. The map edges also seem to be completely cropped off in some circumstances... though again, it doesn't change much.

The small resolution also brings other problems. I don't think the collision is as nice in the Game Gear version than in other ports for example - trucks shouldn't really rebound off walls as much as they do here. It's sometimes difficult to see which direction your truck is facing, and when multiple trucks are overlapping each other, things start looking a bit weird and unprofessional. When sprites start getting smaller the collision tends to suffer due to a lack of precision, but the Game Gear isn't alone with these problems.

But what makes matters worse is that Super Off Road was ported to EVERYTHING after its initial arcade release. But things aren't so bad for the handheld. The soundtrack, though not great, isn't a trainwreck like the Mega Drive versions'. It's prettier than the Game Boy and NES variants (and doesn't suffer from sprite flickering) and it doesn't waste your time with pointless information screens like the arcade original.

You also have to remember that by "EVERYTHING" this also includes ports to the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Atari Lynx and ZX Spectrum. And because it makes better use of colour than the Master System version, it's fair to say that the Game Gear port lies somewhere in the middle, with the SNES version leading the show and the Arcade/Amiga/Atari ST/Mega Drive versions not too far behind. Oh and it's safe from Ivan "Iron Man" Stewart plugs, unlike a lot of versions.

But as nice and polished as the SNES version is, there's no perfect version of this game. I'm not completely convinced that the top down view works whereas I know for a fact that first or third person perspectives are great in games like these. Perhaps if Super Off Road was transferred to a bigger screen things would be nicer, but it's not overly surprising that top-down racers such as these are few and far between these days. Either way, you can probably avoid the Game Gear version but there's no reason to ignore Super Off Road as a whole.


  1. Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my message if you do!

    I would appreciate if a staff member here at could repost it.


  2. Super Off Road was a classic game. Not too much advanced as technological angle but good to play that game.