Let’s Play BlazeRush: “Good Yab”


BlazeRush is a racing game that’s silly and pure fun, and very much the spiritual successor of old 2D racing games like Rock n’ Roll Racing, RC Pro AM, Super Sprint, Skidmarks, Racing Destruction Set, and Super Off Road.

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Midway Arcade Origins

midway arcade origins

Nostalgia can be extremely arresting.  Can a gamer ever return to the feeling experienced when first taking out the Death Star in Star Wars, smashing multiple baddies with a single rock in Dig-Dug, or playing a flawless board of Ms. Pac Man?

midway arcade origins

Gamer nostalgia is also conjured by environments and contexts.  I’m sure most middle aged gamers have swapped stories from their youth about visiting the local arcade (remember those?) to plunk some quarters in their favorite machines. In those golden years, we played for nothing but score and bragging rights, and we were fascinated by graphics that were so remarkable that they couldn’t yet be reproduced on our home systems or personal computers.  I used to beg my father to take me to the PX on base (military brat, represent) so that I could play one of my retro favorites—the cartoonish cop chase game A.P.B.  It was my fond memory of this 1987 relic that led me toward Midway Arcade Origins. I do not regret the purchase.  At the same time, some of the classic titles within this trove of 30+ games simply don’t reignite the longing to play arcade games that I fondly remember from my childhood.

midway arcade origins

The first problem with the compilation is that some of the classic control schemes just don’t translate to modern joypads.  720 is a prime example. In my youth, I would eagerly line my quarters on top of the black-and white-checkered plastic control panel assembly, but without the circle-locked joystick on the arcade cabinet, the game is almost unplayable.  Too much die, not enough skate.  The same unfortunately applies to A.P.B., a game that is dysfunctional sans its steering wheel and pedals.  Granted, you can still get some enjoyment out of the titles, but they just aren’t the same without the respective racing wheels and other cabinet specific peripherals.

midway arcade origins

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of useless filler in the compilation.  The less you remember about Pit-Fighter, Xenophobe, and arguably the worst sequel of all time, Spy Hunter 2, the better.   In light of these weak choices, I found myself wondering why Paperboy, NARC, and Roadblasters were left out.  All three were extremely popular Midway titles from my youth, and all three could have easily made the compilation exponentially better, especially since Paperboy is no longer available on Xbox Live Arcade.

midway arcade origins

Thankfully I was able to get a lot of enjoyment out a few of the included offerings.  Joust and Joust 2 hold up extremely well, as do Satan’s Hollow, Robotron 2084, Spy Hunter, Rampage, and both Gauntlet games (just don’t shoot the food!). Two titles I’d never played before, Wizard of Wor and Bubbles, ended up being my favorites.  Smash TV and its sequel Total Carnage also play well with a modern controller, and they still serve as a reminder that most of these games were simply designed to get one more quarter out of the pocket of your Kangaroos.  This is certainly a staunch contrast from the “save anywhere, unlimited lives” mentality that permeates game design today.

Leaderboards are also included so you can still appreciate how badly you perform compared to other hardcore retro gamers.  Further, multiplayer is offered on any title that traditionally supported it.   While the limitations of portable console gaming and the omission of certain titles does make the compilation feel a bit incomplete, the game isn’t a bad purchase if you are looking to scratch that retro itch. Just don’t expect most of the games to play like they did when you were waiting in line behind that skeevy dude in the Iron Maiden t-shirt to get one more crack at Sinistar.

Badlands

Badlands - Title Screen

Badlands (1989)
By: Atari Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 32,140
Also Available For: PC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

After helping to put the overhead racing genre on the map with Super Sprint, there was unsurprisingly soon a glut of similar games. Never ones to rest on their laurels, it wasn’t long before Atari offered their own ‘update’ in Badlands. This is one of those games that I’d been hearing about for years but hadn’t actually played until now for this review! Finally playing it yielded few surprises, however – aside from a few additions to the basic formula, an ‘update’ is about all it is – Super Sprint in different clothes! Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, of course; Super Spint is hardly a stinker itself. So how does Badlands differ from its forebear? Read on…

 

Badlands - Gameplay Screenshot 1

The most immediately obvious difference is the game’s setting. Rather than the professional, organised world of Formula One, this series of races is contested in and around the ruins of a post-apocalyptic war! The game plays much the same as Super Sprint did, but the scenery is comprised of wrecked roads and terrains, and surrounded by various ruins. There are again eight courses and they are in much the same style as Super Sprint, getting progressively more complex until they start repeating. Racing over them are just three vehicles per race this time and, as can be seen from the title screen, they’re not as delicate as F1 cars! They are armoured cars of some sort and each comes equipped with a roof-mounted cannon with which you take pot-shots opposing cars! This only slows them down and generally knock them around a bit but it’s still pretty amusing!

Badlands - Gameplay Screenshot 2

It’s also possible to buy upgrades for your car between races using the golden wrenches once again, and you can even buy gold wrenches this time with any spare credits (i.e. money). Perhaps most notable among these are missiles. Arming your car with these babies causes a bit more inconvenience than the little roof-mounted cannon! They are heat-seeking to a degree – if there’s a car roughly in front of you, you’re guaranteed to take it out, but they won’t chase your chosen victim round and round the course. Nonetheless, they’re perfect for getting someone out of the way, or indeed for exacting revenge on a trigger-happy friend! Other upgrades include shields, speed, turbo, and tires. Luckily, the wrenches are plentiful enough and you should quickly boost your car’s meagre specs!

Badlands - Gameplay Screenshot 3

In addition to the missiles, the courses feature some hazards of their own, though mostly less extreme! They include the mildly inconvenient water and oil spills and broken/damaged surfaces (including a jump or two), and the more dangerous mines and retractable spikes. Some courses, particularly later ones, also feature the ‘gates’, first seen in Super Sprint, which allow short cuts, but only when they are open. Timing the use of these well can often make the difference between first and last place! There are some further differences between the two games, aesthetically, of course, but as far as gameplay is concerned, the difference is negligible. Even the courses aren’t entirely unique here – the design of one or two is recycled from Super Sprint! The control of the cars is more or less the same too, although the turning circle of the cars seems to be tighter here, which obviously makes navigating the courses easier at high speed.

Badlands - Gameplay Screenshot 4

As mentioned in its review, Super Sprint was a pretty basic game, even for its time. Badlands, released three years after it, must therefore be considered even more so for its own time. Whilst it’s true that it improves on its predecessor, graphically – each screen contains more objects and detail here, and there’s a bigger variety in the appearance of the courses – the improvement is marginal considering how much graphics had improved in the intervening time, generally, and the fact that this game’s colour pallette almost exlusively consists of various greys and browns means that, despite the technical improvement, Super Sprint is actually nicer to look at in my opinion! Sound is also improved – there’s tunes here while you race as well as the mostly identical sound effects, but they’re largely forgettable, unfortunately. Overall, like Super Sprint, this is a fun racing game, particularly in multi-player, but the dreary-looking visuals, loss of a player, and lack of any real innovation in the genre mean that you’re probably better off sticking to the 3-player thrills of this game’s unofficial prequel.

RKS Score: 6/10

Super Sprint

Super Sprint - Title Screen

Super Sprint (1986)
By: Atari Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 3 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade
Also Available For: NES, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

The overhead viewed racing game certainly didn’t start with Super Sprint – the genre goes right back to the pre-microprocessor, black and white games of the 70’s – but it’s possibly the most fondly remembered example of this all but dead genre. In the eighties and early nineties, there were a lot of these games around. Some were variations on Super Sprint, such as Super Off Road, others experimented with games that only showed a small part of the course at once, such as Motoroader for the PC Engine and, of course, Micro Machines (most popular on Amiga and Megadrive), which required lightning reactions by the player, and there were some which were viewed from an isometric viewpoint like Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing for the SNES. All of these variations on the original blueprint were exciting and good fun, esepcially in multi-player, and I’ll be looking at some of them later in this series of features, but it’s Super Sprint and its sequel, Championship Sprint, that old timers like me most fondly recall.

Super Sprint - Select Screen

There can’t be too many people that don’t know all about Super Sprint, and there’s not really too much that you can say about it. It was a simple game, even compared to others of the time. It’s based on either Formula One or Indy/Cart racing (probably the latter considering how unpopular F1 is in the US) and can be played by between one and three players simultaneously, whilst a fourth ‘drone’ car is controlled by the computer. This was before the days of linking machines together of course, so this is achieved by presenting each course in its entirety from an overhead perspective. The races are contested over four laps by four cars regardless of how many human players there are. If there are less than three players, the remaining places are taken by additional drone cars. Though there are only eight courses, the competition can go on for as long as the player(s) like, since the courses just keep repeating over and over again. The object is obviously to finish in as high a position as possible, but only the first three positions score points; the higher the position, the more points are awarded, but if you finish fourth, you’ll soon have to insert (giggity) more coins.

Super Sprint - Gameplay Screenshot 4

As can be seen from the screenshots, each of the courses feature a wide track, and they pretty much fill the screen. Since the whole course has to be shown at once, however, there are lots of bridges and sharp corners (including some 180 degree, and even a few 270 degree turns!). There are also a few features that are not exactly common on F1-style circuits. Some of them hinder your progress such as jumps (if you fluff it, at least!), tornadoes (which make your car spin around if you drive near them), and pools of oil (which do something similar to tornados), and some are there to help you like short cuts, bonus points, gold wrenches and gates. Not all courses have gates but when they are present, they allow you to take further short-cuts. Beware though – the gates aren’t always open – they open and close in regular patterns (and often seem to favour the computer-controlled cars). If you head towards one at high speed and it closes just as you get there, you often can’t avoid it in time and…….. BOOOOOM!

Super Sprint - Gameplay Screenshot 1

When you start the game you don’t get to choose which car you want to drive as they’re all identical (except their colour), but every time you pick up three gold wrenches, you can choose one of four upgrades. Three of them – higher top speed, turbo acceleration, and super traction – can only be chosen up to five times each, but the other, which gives you bonus points, can be selected as often as you like. Be careful if you upgrade your speed too much though, as hitting a wall too fast will result in your car exploding. A replacement is soon ‘choppered’ in enabling you to continue on your way, but it all takes time. It’s also possible to make the others cars crash by driving into them and knocking them into the wall, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they can also do this do your car.

Super Sprint - Gameplay Screenshot 2

As mentioned earlier, Super Sprint was a pretty simple game, even back in 1986. There’s precious little music (including none in-game) and a few weak effects, and, while the colours are bold and the title and presentation screens are nice enough, the graphics aren’t particularly impressive either. The courses all look damn near identical (aside from their layout, obviously), the cars and other objects are all small and not especially detailed, and animation is almost non-existent, but this is one of those games that doesn’t need flashy or detailed graphics to be playable. Even far more modern variations on the theme don’t usually look particularly great – playability is all that counts here, and fortunately Super Sprint has that by the bucket-load. The cars here handle very precisely and have tight and quick turning circles. In fact, since the track is mostly very wide (compared to the cars) it’s easy to turn too sharply and end up driving backwards or something! This just adds to the fun when racing against friends though, and is rarely annoying. What is a little annoying, however, is something that’s commonly annoying in racing games – the computer-controlled cars. They’re inconsistent in their performance and are ‘magically’ unaffected by the hazards present on each circuit, like the tornados, but this was always intended as a multi-player game anyway. The courses are nicely designed for the most part though, and are varied enough in their layout to keep things interesting too.

Super Sprint - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Racing/driving games are among the most enjoyable multi-player games there are today. The strong sense of competition, not to mention the ability to fight dirty by making your friends crash, have helped to prolong the lifespan of many games that would otherwise have started gathering dust long before, and this game proves that this has been the case for almost as long as there has been videogames. They may have changed dramatically over the years, particularly as far as their appearance is concerned, but their roots run deep, so to speak. Super Sprint may be almost 25 years old but it has stood the test of time better than many much newer titles.

RKS Score: 8/10