Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Rock 'n Roll Racing (Mega Drive)

A Super Nintendo classic, I'm sure you'll agree. So here's the Mega Drive version.

Released in 1994 by a pre-Warcraft Blizzard Entertainment, it's an... isometric racing game, and a good one too. Makes you wonder why the company only devote their time to RTSes and MMORPGs when they could be putting Monster Trucks on simple circuits to the plagiarized tones of Black Sabbath.

What ever happened to the art of top-down racers? In my quests for Sega Retro I seem to be playing more and more by the day, yet they're a rare sight in the modern world. Was the genre killed by Grand Theft Auto? Is the world trying to top Grand Turismo? Or is the idea of watching the action from above just not a grand one?

Because although you do get some mostly unplayable top-down racers, especially if they were built for analogue controls (see: arcade games of this nature), they're still able to provide entertainment. Rock 'n Roll Racing is one of those games that was hindered considerably by the hardware of the era - had it been made a few years later, it could have been an exceptionally good game.

But as it stands, it's nothing amazingly special. You race your slightly customisable vehicle around a series not-particularly clever isometric tracks, attempting to beat your three opponents. You can take damage, and respawning after death will slow you down, and your vehicle is upgradable, allowing it shoot down opponents if you so desire.

But this isn't all that interesting on paper. By the time Rock 'n Roll Racing was released, plenty of companies had tried similar formulae. Different, more "3D" perspectives were in, and all the shooting/upgrading stuff had been done countless times before. Of course, as you'd expect, the game implements all of this perfectly and may even expand on what was already in place elsewhere, but there's not much to write home about.

However, it's the "Rock 'n Roll" part of Rock 'n Roll Racing that makes the game stand out. We're racing monster trucks across alien worlds. The YM2612 sound chip is blurting out watered down rock anthems... real, recognisable ones. I'm not entirely sure if the game is licensed to use these themes mind you - perhaps they're getting away with it because vocals aren't involved, but this certainly counts in the game's favour.

There's positive things to say about the graphics too. Yes I suppose the worlds get a little boring as there aren't many tiles to play around with, but it's not an ugly game. Again, it's a victim of the hardware it was designed for - had it waited for the Sega Saturn or Sony PlayStation (and hadn't dipped into 3D like the sequel) perhaps we'd have the definitive isometric racer on our hands.

Though then again, the sequel doesn't look all that bad. But there's probably a reason why there's very few records of its existence.

The Mega Drive version of Rock 'n Roll Racing is yet another title overlooked by the gaming public, and therefore the assumption that this was a SNES-only release arises. Sega's version is slightly worse this time and it struggles to mask the problems - the sounds aren't as nice, there's a smaller palette to play with so things are less colourful, and the announcer has to stop the music to get his point across, but most of this is negligible. The Mega Drive does add 14336 pixels to the resolution, mind you.

The two ports are unequal, but not enough for the lesser version to be considered "noticeably worse". Both the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo versions are a better alternative than the more recent Game Boy Advance port, which with it's insanely bright graphics and lack of in-game music is definitely a step backwards.

Is it the best game on the planet? No (but it does take place on several planets). It still qualifies in my book as a good game though, putting up plenty of challenge in single player and probably being a load of fun in multiplayer. You can also play as Olaf from The Lost Vikings, which is another game worth hunting down.

Rock 'n Roll Racing is a game built for the wrong platforms, and though this port reeks of imperfection, I would still back any move to bring this style of gameplay to a modern age. Properly, that is - we need monster trucks.


  1. Not only is there a playable Olaf, but there's a Baleog cameo on billboards advertising a fictional brand of drink called Viking Cola on one of the tracks. I dunno if it's in this version as I've only seen the SNES version.

  2. Fun fact...Rock n' Roll Racing is a sequel to RPM Racing, which is a sequel to Racing Destruction Set on the C64.