When I talked about the SG-1000 before, I mentioned that it had more potential than the games library would lead one to believe. It looks to me to be about as powerful as the ColecoVision, and I actually use the MEKA emulator to play games for both systems. Unfortunately for Sega, that potential was rarely realized, and most SG-1000 games aren’t very interesting.
There were a handful of racing games released for this console, and I’ll review three of them.
Monaco GP (1983)
This is a top-down racing game that tries to combine the game play of “Spy Hunter” and “Bump n’ Jump”. And it’s nowhere near as fun as either of those games.
The controller for this system was a joystick with two buttons, so there aren’t any start buttons or anything like that. This console was released as a computer with a keyboard in some countries, so that’s what the “INS/DEL KEY” refers to. To choose the difficulty level, wait till it changes to your preferred level. It will cycle between 1, 2 and 3.
The game is colourful, and it looks a little cheap and toy-like. This would be a good game for kids.
You race by pushing forward on the joystick. The sound of your engine will match your speed, but the sound really isn’t that good. Pulling back on the joystick will reduce speed.
The scenery is pretty repetitive. You must dodge other racers and other hazards and obstacles.
Hitting another car will cause you to spin-out and crash. You always spin-out to the right, which can get weird-looking when the road has split and you’re driving way over on the far left.
Frequently, these yellow road signs will flash to let you know what comes ahead.
When you press either of the joystick buttons your car will jump into the air. That blue image underneath is supposed to be the car’s shadow.
Here’s the crash part of that spin-out.
I’m not quite sure what this road sign is telling me. Possibly that an electric razor is ahead?
Actually it’s probably telling me that the road is icy ahead. And this is supposed to be the ice. I thought this was Monaco?
There are also tunnel driving segments.
And bridge driving segments. Some of these bridges are broken and need to be jumped.
And here I go spinning out from the far left…
…crossing the median because that’s the only way this was animated.
There’s nothing special about this game. I didn’t have any fun playing it. Let’s move along to the next one.
Safari Race (1984)
EDIT: When I reviewed this, I thought this game was from 1988. You can see that date in the screenshot of the title screen below. Thanks to comments left by satori, I now know that this game was released in 1984. This makes way more sense. Please excuse all the ranting and raving I do about the release date.
Why were games still being released for this system in 1988? And by Sega of all people? This system must have had some deeply-entrenched popularity in Hong-Kong. That’s the only place where it really took off.
In any case, the premise of this game makes it far too ridiculous for me to take seriously. You must race what looks like a suped-up Pontiac Fiero across a set of different race courses in the wilderness of the African continent. As you do this, you must dodge the odd elephant, lion, rhinoceros and pack of gazelles, etc that would inevitably cross your path. There are also other race cars to dodge, piles of rocks strewn about the road, trees, and what look like safes.
Let’s get some perspective on the date, because it might help to explain why this is such a bad game. Around this time, Sega was developing the Mega Drive, also known as the Sega Genesis. Sega was also still supporting the Master System, which was damn popular in some parts of the world. On top of this, Sega was doing what it had always done, making arcade games. Let’s just say that the brightest and best of the company weren’t working on “Safari Race”.
But at least there are balloons!
In this first course, you get five minutes to race 1000 kilometers. You need to refuel frequently. In fact, you must refuel at every single fueling station you see, because if you don’t you will run out before you get to the next one.
By this point in the game you will already be sick of the music. It’s literally just two bars that repeat endlessly. And it speeds when you do, and slows back down when you do. It’s fucking awful.
There’s that safe! What the hell is in that safe? And why can I see through it? And what’s it doing on the side of a race track in the middle of nowhere in the wilds of Africa?
Acceleration and deceleration controls are also fucked in this game. Pushing forward and also backward on the joystick will accelerate. But pushing forward will only get you going to 80kmph. Then you have to pull back to climb the rest of the way. Top speed is 300kmph. There is basically no use in pushing the joystick forward to start then. Pushing forward when you are already moving will decelerate. How’s that for fucking stupid controls? There’s also a brake button. The other joystick button is a car horn, which does nothing productive in the game..
That cyan sprite is a gas pump. For this round I played to take screenshots, I didn’t bother stop at any of these because I didn’t want to prolong the experience. You have to brake and push the joystick forward to slow down as soon as you see these gas pumps appear on the screen. If you don’t, and you miss it, it’s pretty much game over right then and there because you will run out of gas just in front of the next one.
Here’s one of the other racers in this idiotic race on a highway that would never be.
The graphics in this game are garbage. Single colour sprites are something that only amateur programmers should be allowed to get away with. This was released by fucking Sega in 1988! There’s no excuse for the game to look this terrible.
The mountains look okay though. I think that’s both peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro. And a cheetah.
These rocks look embarrassingly bad. Besides being transparent, when you hit them, they destroy your car and then proceed to fly apart in all directions. In contrast, when you hit the animals, they demolish your car and then they scurry off unhurt.
The elephants are slightly larger than those cheetahs.
For a game where the entire premise is to avoid animals that run into your path, they sure are easy to avoid. The hardest thing about this game actually, besides having to hear the music, is keeping your gas tank full.
And here I am approaching another car. Look at how bad that sprite looks.
I could probably draw a better series of sprites in MS Paint if you give me an afternoon and a pizza.
Here I am running out of gas. It’s about time. I’ve already played this game once today. That should last me about a lifetime.
Oh, here comes my chance to refill.
No thanks. Refilling from these things is kind of tricky anyway. You have to be almost pixel perfect in front of them, and then move your car to the side of the road while it’s parked (figure that one out) to start refilling.
But I’ve had enough.
You can see that my speed is decreasing.
Down to zero, and the game is over for me. I did finish this first course earlier, and it was fucking tedious, let me tell you. At the end, I was greeted with a finish line and more balloons. Then I was told to get ready for race two… 10 minutes to race 2000 kilometers!
At that point I said out loud “Oh, HELL no!” and shut off the emulator. You could say that this is the hallmark of a bad game.
But I didn’t want to leave you with this meager sampling of screenshots to show off this games bad artwork. So I took some snapshots from the game’s demo after I turned the speakers off.
Here’s what it looks like every time you crash. Sometimes this image is flipped so that the damage is on the other side. One of your remaining “tires” will then come down from the scoreboard in the sky and affix itself to your car, and you can start off again.
Here’s another race… with a green road in the middle of the Sahara?
And a lone rhinoceros.
This is what the second race looked like.
And this is the after-effect of getting hit by another car. The other car magically turns mauve while you’re a crashed out mess again.
Now that you’ve read these words and seen these images, there is absolutely no point in playing this game. It’s very bad. The best thing that I can say about it is that at least it isn’t “Hyper Chase Auto Race” for the Vectrex.
GP World (1985)
Now this is how you make a racing game for the SG-1000!
“GP World” takes many of its cues from “Pole Position”, and I think this game is much better than any home console version of that game.
The third-person view is well-thought out, and it pushes the hardware of the SG-1000 to its limit. The sound is also fairly good, though the SG-1000 was never going to sound very realistic for this kind of thing. Still, it’s been handled admirably by the game’s programmers.
When you start a race you get the simplest track to start (go Canada!) and a random colour of sky. This happens to either be sunrise or sunset.
The two joystick buttons control acceleration and braking. And you will need them both. There are so many racing games that get lazy and let you slide by with just keeping that accelerator mashed down, but not this one.
You will also need to start accelerating in low gear and then switch to high in order to reach your top speed. Forward and back on the joystick control gear shifting, while left and right steer.
You will need to stay on the race track, because like in “Pole Position”, there are billboards along the sides that you must avoid. There are also trees along the sides of the track, and of course…
…the other racers.
These racers all look the same, but they behave differently and sometimes unpredictably. Some of them will stay off to one side of the road, while others will zig-zag across as you try to pass. And some of them will start zig-zagging only as you pass.
Even these shallow turns require you to slow your speed down a bit. The sharper turns require full-on braking to avoid getting sent off the road.
Some of the AI cars seem to get right in front of you at the worst times too.
Like making a turn for instance…
The explosion animation looks damn impressive considering the hardware this is on.
Another frame in the explosion animation.
I wasn’t able to finish that race, so I started another one. This time, I’m racing with a dark blue sky in the evening. And as you can see, I made it past the finish line with time to spare. If you are too slow, you get the message “TIME UP” instead.
And I even beat the record. This is the easiest setting of the game and the easiest track, but it still took me a bit of practicing before I was able to complete it.
You get bonus points for each car you’ve passed during the race.
This is race #2. I haven’t finished this one yet, but this is one of those games that I will surely be playing again, so you can bet that I will be doing my best to beat it. This is a game that requires skill and practice to master. It’s not just hard because it’s difficult, it’s challenging and it’s enjoyable because of it. Now that’s a good game.
Another impressive feature this game has is a track editor. I don’t know if this is the first racing game to have a track editor, and I don’t think it is. But it is the first game in this series of reviews to have this feature.
The track editor works pretty well once you get the hang of it. The joystick moves that red cursor on the grid, and you are given a segment of track to choose from. The track segments you are given will only be those which can connect to the track adjacent to where your cursor sits.
I started making a track but messed up somehow. After this point, only the “clear” button worked, erasing segments of track. So I hit reset and tried again.
This time I just made a simple circuit track to make sure I could connect it. It then asked me if I was finished.
Then it tested itself.
And then it asked me at what difficulty level I’d like to drive it.
So here’s the sample track I made, with a midday sky.
The race was the same as the regular game, only it was raced along this extremely easy track.
After I finished, I got a chance to race it again.
This track editor alone adds all kinds of replay value to what is already a great game. There are a lot more tracks in higher levels of the game, and the game’s demo shows some of these. Here are some more screenshots.
The Holland track during the day.
Spain during the day.
Holland at night.
Italy at night.
Canada at night.
This is a very good racing game, and the only thing that prevents me from calling it truly great is the sound. The SG-1000 just didn’t sound so hot, and even though the developers made the best of it, the gameplay suffers as a result.
But I do strongly urge any fan of racing games to check this one out. The SG-1000 hardware is pretty rare, and it might be damn near impossible to come by for a decent price. So give this a download along with the MEKA emulator. If you like 8-bit racers, you will enjoy “GP World”.