Genre: Racing Developer: Stormfront Studios Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
There are some games that the Genesis just completely dominates. Sonic games, for example are the flagship titles of our beloved system. Then there are some games that the Genesis just can’t make happen, like Hard Drivin’ or Race Drivin’. At least in those it was fun to crash and view the replays. Up until this point, there really hadn’t been a true three dimensional NASCAR-type experience that was worth a darn for any system. The only games that I can think of that even attempted this feat were Days of Thunder and Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge. At least they had cool names.
We know that 2D games have worked and by the time the Genesis came out multiple different versions of the Sprint series had made their mark on the gaming industry. I’d provide you an article to read here, but there are simply too many to list. But, if you haven’t read about the Sprint series of arcade games, there are plenty of articles to read. Cutting to the chase, basically the best (serious racing, I’m not going to include Micro Machines, OutRun or Rad Racer) racing games released around the early 1990s were “Ironman” Ivan Stewart’s Super Off Road, which got a Genesis release and is one of my all-time favorite racing games, and Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat, which is actually a better racing game (basically Super Off Road with Indy cars) but only got a NES port.
However, I can only think of two 3D racing games on the Genesis: Mario Andretti Racing and ESPN Speedworld. I guess I just signed off on my next review! MAR is one of those games that you’ll find when you’re taking thirty minutes digging through the bargain sports games bin and think “whoa, I never remembered this game? It’s only a buck? EA made it? I’ll take it!” I miss those days. Well, I got this game, and I thought to myself that I clearly never remembered it ever being released or even advertised on the backs those cool posters that advertised the new titles. So, I have absolutely no nostalgic memories to skew my opinion of it. Okay, enough pre-race show, let’s put on our fire suits and helmets and LET’S GO RACIN’ BOYS!
Okay, for one thing, the game looks tremendous. Everything is pretty sound in the title screen and opening menu. One thing I don’t like is the button control in the menu! I accidentally go back a screen so much during the game! Anyway, there’s a lot of different choices you can make. You can choose between the stock car (NASCAR), the Indy Car and the Sprint Car (dirt track car). Each car will allow you to choose from a number of tracks, all with fake names and locations. The tracks will be specific to the car, as in sprint cars will all race on small dirt tracks, the stock cars will race on mostly speedways and super speedways like Talladega, and the indy cars will race on road courses. I’m pretty confident that the stock and indy car tracks are based after real tracks, but there’s no way to find out. It’s really cool that the game has different tracks for each type of car, since that’s not something that you would think would happen on such a little cart, and a forgettable one at that! It makes me excited. Boogity!
Well, since there are three different cars, there are three different “kinds” of controls as well. My favorite is the default stock car option. It is basically as close as you can get to driving a NASCAR car on a Genesis. That being said, the controls still feel like you’re driving a car that is rinky-dink. That is, I feel like in the straightaways you can pull your car around too easily, and the cornering is based on pulling the car rather than the weight of the car. I still think it’s a good job; maybe I’ve played too many of the newer NASCAR games, and I’m getting picky.
Driving the sprint car is exactly like trying to drive one of those slick track cars at the local go-kart track except it’s about ten times harder. Basically, you gun it through the straights, then when you hit the corner let off the gas and slide and come out of it to gas again in the straights, and so on. I had a few problems with getting the hang of it, but after some practice on the “Andretti’s Tips” mode (more later), I got the hang of it and it was very fun and enjoyable. It’s hard with a lot of cars on the track, though.
Last but not least is the Indy car steering, which requires the most practice to be successful, but on the surface is not too difficult. The sense of speed in this version adds to the difficulty, as little mistakes can have big a impact during the race. All of these controls get a lot tougher while your racing rather than practicing, but I think that this one is the toughest because you’re moving the fastest.
In the race menu, after you’ve chosen your car and track, the game has an “Andretti Tips” practice mode that will have Mario “tell” you how to drive each track or tell you basic things you need to know like where the pit is and the ilk. Speaking of the pits, all the game measures is your tires and fuel, there is no long term damage effect or penalty (other than slowing down after bumping into the wall). Most of the time I drive in automatic, but there is manual speed if you want to play this game long enough to master it. You just shift by pressing up or down on the D-pad, and it gets kind of annoying having big fingers accidentally shifting too far when cornering. I just leave it on automatic because I’m lazy.
On to the things I don’t like about this game. I hate that the A button goes back in the menu. How many other games do this? I can’t think of one. I also don’t like that you can only race up to ninety-nine laps. It probably has something to do with memory limits, but I’ve always been the marathon racer. I’ve played at least one 100% length race on every mode, and they only last just over an hour or so depending on various factors. Also, I don’t like how there are no yellow caution flags. Don’t crash, otherwise you’ll be behind or down a lap again in an instant. Also, since there are no cautions, the racing gets away from being pack-oriented and it gets to be solely about catching up. They also claim to have draft (gathering speed behind another car while saving gas) included, but I highly doubt it’s in there. If you can find it, then 1000 Whose Line is it Anyway? bonus points to you.
Honestly, I was quite surprised with Mario Andretti Racing. I believe the only real problem it has is the graphical limitations. Well, that and the darn A button going back all the time. Other than that, this is way worth the money, and I guess it’s on the rare side of the $1 sports games you’ll find from EA Sports on the Genesis. My copy is perhaps a little rarer since it’s the regular cartridge design and not the one with the yellow tab that usually came with EA games. Who knows? Regardless, this is a good game and you should check it out.
SCORE: 7 out of 10