Genre: Racing Developer: Polygames Publisher: Tengen Players: 1 Released: 1993
After hitting start four times you find yourself on the racing track. You hit “A” to accelerate, and indeed, slowly your car begins moving forward. You notice a fork in the road and try to turn right, sending your car careening off the road. And while you wonder what that strange cardboard cutout is doing at the side of the street, you hit the wide side of a barn. Shortly before it is cut off by a horrible sound effect, you could swear you heard a cow… wait a minute! This all seems awfully familiar!
And if you know the predecessor, you’ll feel rightfully so! Race Drivin’ was the sequel of the arcade classic Hard Drivin’, although update would seem to be the better word here. You could make a case that this is what the first game should have been in the first place. Finally, more than one track to race on, more than one car to choose from, and actually using cartridge space that’s more common for Genesis games. At first glance it may seem identically to the first game. But surely it’ll turn out for the better upon closer inspection?
Well, there are improvements, at least in some fields. The most obvious one would be the addition of two additional tracks. Aside from the original course that had already been in the original game, you can now also choose the “Super Stunt” or the incredibly short “Autocross” track as well. After selecting the track, you can select one out of three cars, with the Sportster resembling the car from Hard Drivin’ and the other two going slightly faster or slower respectively.
Otherwise, it’s just the same. You choose a track and try to beat the qualifying time. If you do, you race a phantom car in the racing stage, where there’s no oncoming traffic at all. If you beat the car, you have another try at the qualifying stage with a tougher time to beat. Accomplish that, and you race a phantom version of yourself where you can try to beat your previous time. There is still no option to save your best race or highest score, and neither is there a two-player mode. The gameplay is just about the same, only slightly – very slightly – touched upon.
If you’ve read my review of the previous game, then you know that my biggest gripe with the gameplay was the immense slowdown that the game suffered whenever additional objects like buildings or oncoming cars popped up. Race Drivin’ managed to get a handle on this problem by implementing a simple measure: reducing the number of objects! Now you won’t start your game with three other cars sharing your lane, and the amount of oncoming traffic has been drastically decreased. This leads to a noticeable faster and smoother experience. Don’t get your hopes up too high though. There is still slowdown in places. Other problems still remain, like the weird, glitchy collision detection: Quite often you seem to crash or fall down from the track because you literally drive into or through the road. Oh, and don’t worry; you still have enough pointless oncoming traffic on the original track.
Other than that, these two games are absolutely identical! The graphics are exactly the same – just have a look at the screen shots and compare them to those of Hard Drivin’, and you’ll see what I mean. They haven’t been touched up or changed the slightest! The only thing that is different is the design of the dashboard, which at least changes depending on which car you chose.
Speaking of the cars: they all feel practically identical. Sure, there are differences in terms of acceleration and top speed, but these are hardly distinguishable in practice. The handling is still very weak, and you’ll feel more like slithering over thin ice than driving on an actual road in any single one of them, be it Roadster or Speedster.
The cars also sound exactly the same – meaning they all use the very same sound effects that were used in the previous game, from the horrible screeching sounds down to the monotone droning of the motor. There isn’t a single new or at least improved sound effect to be found. Did they change something in the music department? Why, yes, actually! There is a new main theme, which sounds shrill, bland, and uninteresting! But don’t worry, fans of the old game: The original soundtrack is also here, all two musical pieces of it, so now you actually have THREE different themes! Interestingly, the original main theme seems to have been slightly remixed, not to its advantage, though, I must say.
There is one new feature I hadn’t mentioned so far: the custom track. Yes, there is an actual track editor in this game. However, it’s not all that great. The selection of tiles available for individualizing your track is very limited. Worse, the controls for the editing process are horrible: You can’t just select a tile and place it wherever you want. No, if you want to place a specific piece of road (a curve, slanted curve or loop-de-loop) you have to cycle through the entire selection until you get the desired item. You can’t even go one step back – if you missed it, you’ll have to cycle though the entire selection again! Don’t even try looking for any intersections to place, because there aren’t any. And worst: You can’t even save the track! Turn the game off, and it’s gone. What’s the point of having a track editor – one with an arduous creation process to boot – if you have to recreate everything from scratch once you restart the game? This is absolutely pointless!
To be honest, when I first played Race Drivin’ I felt rather confused, only to grow increasingly angry down to the point of actually feeling insulted after a while. I sort of had a soft spot for the first one. I could see its origins in an arcade classic and had the impression that, with just a little more effort, it could have made a decent game. And here we have the sequel, and what do we get? The exact same game, with an extremely irritating and pointless track editor tacked on! For shame, Tengen! Knowing the original, I feel ripped off, which makes me give this one an even lower score than I gave the first game, just out of spite! But to be fair, it’s not worse than the original, and even makes a few things slightly (VERY slightly) better. It’s still not what it could have been: a good game!