Genre: Racing Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of Japan Players: 1 Released: 1990
Whenever I buy games for a particular console, I like to diversify my library as much as possible. I might have more games in a particular genre, but I always try to have at least a couple of each, just for variety’s sake. Even those genres of which I’m not a major fan have representation on my shelf. For example, I really don’t like fighting games – never been good at them, never will – but I still like to have one or two around. Slugging away at a friend is always good therapy.
The same goes for just about every category, but racing games is a favorite. One of the main staples of my balanced gaming diet, getting behind the virtual wheel is something I tend to enjoy more than a lot of other types of games, even though finding the right type of racer can be problematic. Bare bones arcadey types don’t offer enough meat to satisfy, and hyper realistic simulations like Gran Turismo are just too complicated. No, I need something right in the middle, with gameplay that’s easy to get into, but enough depth to keep me occupied for a while.
In both regards, Super Monaco GP excels. Sega took a great arcade game that was perfect for pumping quarters and added a load of new features that not only extended its shelf life but also turned it into one of the deepest racers of the era. By adding the awesome world championship mode, the home version of Super Monaco GP makes itself available to those looking for a quick fix, as well as those seeking something to play over an extended period of time.
In contrast to the simple arcade mode, which offers a single track, the world championship mode boasts a daunting sixteen-round season in which players join a particular team and strive to take home the cup. To fully complete the game, two consecutive seasons must be played, and Sega thankfully included a password feature, though it’s a bit too large (sixty-four characters!) to be practical unless one meticulously keeps track of each one.
The way to progress through the season is to challenge and beat other players, thereby opening up opportunities to join other teams and use better cars. At the beginning of each race, players can select a rival from another team, or they might be challenged by someone. Beating that rival twice might earn them a place on that team, which means more prestige. The final team, Madonna, is the best of the bunch, and defending the championship from the first season means not only keeping the cup but also one’s place on the team. Lose two consecutive races and get dropped to an inferior group.
Though the presentation isn’t as well done as the feature selection, it’s adequate enough to keep players coming back. Backgrounds are sparse and the voice overs are among the scratchiest on the Genesis (the announcer’s “Come on!” is particularly grating), and there is no in-game music at all, but the roar of the engines and the sheer speed of the gameplay go the distance to make up for these shortcomings. The tracks in world championship mode are based on the 1989 season, and while that might seem quite outdated now, it was perfectly apt for the time frame of the game’s initial release. Besides, how many people are going to really care anyway?
No, I think players will be too engrossed in the gameplay. Racing isn’t really a complex thing to do, is it? I mean, all it really boils down to knowing when to accelerate and when to brake, right? Not so. Knowing all the intricacies of each track can mean the difference between the winner’s circle and the “there’s always next season” consolation speech. Having complete control of one’s vehicle is always of the utmost importance, and Super Monaco GP offers seven different control schemes to ensure that players focus on learning the track instead of how to control their cars.
And they’ll need to focus on the tracks in order to get anywhere in world championship mode at all. Each race thankfully provides a warm up option, which allows for nine laps around the track before the main race. This offers a great chance to learn the lay of the land, and it can make a huge difference in the main competition. To be frank, don’t come into Super Monaco GP thinking about just tearing through each track and winning. This game requires a slow and methodical approach, and anyone who thinks they’ll just hot rod their way through the competition is going to end up going home early.
Sega was obviously striving for a delicate balance between great gameplay and sufficient presentation. I would have preferred it had taken a bit more time to spruce up the visuals, considering that the arcade original is gorgeous, but I honestly can’t complain about the final package. Super Monaco GP offers deep and involving gameplay and is fun enough to maintain interest through to the end. The password system is a bit of a pain, but it’s nothing that some diligent copying won’t overcome. The sequel is a major improvement, and that should tell you something about Sega’s dedication to this franchise at the time, considering just how solid the original is. It’s inexpensive and worth tracking down, so find yourself a copy and burn some rubber.