The Sega CD had some disappointing offerings when I reviewed golf games for the system. It’s often looked back upon as Sega’s first hardware blunder, and if you look into the history of the Sega CD, you will find the story of a good idea botched by bad management and poor timing. There are loads of outright shittastic games that help to give the console its bad reputation, but some games actually did take advantage of the improved hardware and turned out to be quite impressive and fun. We’ll see some examples in the racing games I’ll review.
Also, it’s worth stating that with advances in console hardware come improvements in graphics, effects, gameplay and features. Until now in these reviews, I’ve been trying to cover as many aspects of the games as I can. As we progress, this is going to become impossible. It would take hundreds of screenshots and thousands upon thousands of words to cover every single aspect of a game like “Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec“, for example. So rather than show you every track, or every car, or every mode or option, I’ll have to start grouping and generalizing things. I’ll show off the highlights of what brought these games to my attention and why I think they’re worth playing – or worthy of scorn and mockery.
While I’m on the subject of improved graphics and sound, I want to mention that I am most assuredly a fan of the older consoles. There are many games and genres of games that I think have been ruined by improved graphics and even improved sound. That’s what draws me to retro-gaming and emulation. However, racing games are a definite exception to this. I’ve found that the more realistic a driving or racing game appears and sounds to me, the more I can enjoy it. Concomitantly, it can often be hard to play and hard to enjoy a racing game when I can’t see the road clearly, or the sounds of the game are just too unreal to immerse me in the experience.
Okay, enough babbling. On with the reviews.
Jaguar XJ220 (1993)
I first saw this game when I played it on the Amiga. This version looks to be the same as that version, only with slightly better sound.
Lotus had their own racing video games to help sell their cars, so why not Jaguar too?
And I know these are supposed to be fierce growling jaguars that flank the selected menu options, but to me they just look like Alf.
Hide yo cats! Hide yo knife!
The options screen brings you these icons that you can select. You can enter your name here if you’re not already J. Gee or M. Avory. Automatic or manual transmission are also selectable, and automatic is shown here. Single player is shown by the single car above Player 2’s name. The CD icon will allow you to choose the in-game music. You get a chance to do this before every race too.
Over on the right are some more options, including the number of laps per race. This is an option I like to see in a racing game. Sometimes I only want to race one lap just to see how a game handles. Sometimes I want to race many laps if I really enjoy a game or if the tracks are rather short.
I’m going to start as I usually do with a practice round. There are 16 tracks in this game – one for each country featured.
It’s raining in Jolly Old England, and this adds to the atmosphere of the game. The rain looks and sounds very real for a game of this time. Sadly, there isn’t much effect on the driving. I didn’t notice any difference racing in the rain compared to racing on a dry track.
The controls are handled well, and nothing makes me wish it had been programmed differently. The A and C buttons accelerate, B brakes. The graphics are smooth for the hardware, and the screen layout is decent. I would have made the speedometer smaller, but that’s just a personal preference.
After each lap, your time is flashed upon the screen for you.
Not bad so far. Let’s check out Grand Prix mode.
Here we can also do a bit of practice before we start. We can also save the game from here. The Sega CD utilized the cartridge slot built into the Genesis for a special RAM cartridge for saved games. MY emulator does this with special emulator magic.
Here we can see that fine and dandy in-car CD player. This was some bad-ass technology for 1993. The six tracks available are all very good quality dance-music type tracks, but they sound very dated now.
You can turn the music off too, if you like.
Before you start the actual race you must qualify for your starting position.
So here I go.
This track is much the same except it’s not raining. The Sega CD’s hardware scaling is used to good effect on the items that line the track. It looks pretty smooth as they fly by.
I made it in pretty good time.
Now I’m being counted in for the actual race.
And I did well in that race. Afterwards, a cinematic flyby is shown…
The camera swoops past several news vans and Bubs’ Concession Stand…
…and we see the winners of the race.
That’s me… I guess.
The results are shown after each race, along with the leaderboard for all races so far.
And I think I’m on Team Jaguar XJ220… so go team!
And since I’m such a bad driver, I knocked up my car pretty good. All of the red-outlined parts need to be repaired, and I have to pay for it out of my winnings. If I didn’t win enough money and my car needs to be fixed, I can’t race. Luckily this time, I can more than afford to pay for the damage to the sides of the body.
After repairing your car, it’s off to the next race.
I decided to save this game and come back to it later.
Here we see the World Tour mode.
Let’s start with China. I picked China because it looked like I might be racing in the dark.
Here I must also qualify for position.
Green means go, so off I go. It doesn’t look too dark.
This track doesn’t have those helpful arrow signs along the turns. There’s one section of track in particular that appears to start turning left when it’s actually continuing to turn right. It looks that way because of the slope of the road. Kind of frustrating until you know it’s there.
Oh, man, I did bad on this one.
Okay, I can muscle my way past 19 other cars in 3 laps. I’ve done it before.
Meh. Ten grand ain’t nothin to sneeze at.
The results are in and I am filled with the shame of 1000 wax butterflies. I don’t know what that means.
And again, I banged up my car, so a fixin’ I will go.
China’s been raced, so it’s flag’s been replaced. Have I the time to make this all rhyme? Nope. Let’s see if we can check out The Pyramids while we race in Egypt.
What? “Why don’t you try Japan?” Oh, this guy must be trying to warn me of the dangerous situation for foreigners in Egypt right now because of the political strife and turmoil since the ouster of Mubarak. Thanks for the warning buddy.
Let’s try the Track Editor instead. We can choose our country here as well.
And we get nice background music here too. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do though.
Well, I did something. I don’t know how I did it. I think it involved moving the D-Pad around and pressing the C button.
I can add stuff to the sides of the track too, I guess. I think I’ll skip this whole part. 16 built-in tracks are plenty for a game like this.
So there you have Jaguar’s branded racing video game for the Sega CD. It’s a fun little game, and it manages to take advantage of the Sega CD’s improved hardware capabilities nicely. If you really, really like jaguars, or Jaguars, or Alf, then pick this one up.
F1 Circus CD (1993)
Here’s a game that came out only in Japan. And that name in the bottom right corner almost says Mitsubishi.
And this is almost a great game. Almost. The actual gameplay parts are damn good in my book. The menus in this game are just horrific though, and there are some real nasty problems that you face when you try to make your way through them to play this.
Here we see the first menu, which shows you the four gameplay modes. This particular menu screen requires a double button press for some reason. Get used to inconsistencies in the menus because they lurk everywhere.
Sometimes the C button is the action button in these menus. Sometimes it’s the Start button. Hell, sometimes it’s even the A button. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve seen a game that fucked it up this bad. But with all the other racing and driving games available for the Sega CD, I chose this one for a reason. If you can get used to the crappy menu navigation, the game itself is worth it.
First we’ll check out exhibition mode. This is my favourite part of this game, and other than a wider selection of tracks, I personally see no need to come back to any other mode of gameplay. We do get to see a lot of scaling and rotation effects and some very cinematic intros and openings before races start, so we know that a lot of work went into this game. Too bad no one pointed out the shitty menus.
In Exhibition Mode, we have our choice of five different vehicle types. I’m not sure if any of these choices affect gameplay, so I just chose the Wing Car.
We can also choose our gear shifting method. I’m not a fan of gear shifting in games, so I go with fully automatic.
Also, oddly, we get to see how the game controls right after this. Handy to have, but I wonder why it’s been shoehorned in just here. This game is full of odd moments like this.
And here we go. In this mode, we’re off to the “rolling start”, which I do not like. But that’s how this mode goes so I’ll roll with it. This is a qualifying race for position.
I like the layout of the screen, and everything is easy to see. The rearview strip at the top is a neat effect, but I don’t find it useful. I do find the track map to be very easy to see at a glance in this game.
Driving is smooth and the scenery goes by very fast. The other car sprites appear a bit glitchy sometimes, especially if there are a lot of them close together. But other than that, this is a great game to get that “racing” feel.
And I qualified into first position. I’m as surprised as you are.
After qualifying, we can choose how many laps to race. Let’s go with 3.
Now here we are, counted in by signal tones and a flag below our data display.
To start, we pull the joystick down and accelerate (C button).
There are pit stops in this game, but I don’t know how to utilize them or if I need to or what they do. I’m only off the track because I had to reach up to the keyboard for a screenshot during a turn.
The music during the races is great. It can be a little repetitive, even though there appears to be a lot of different music available throughout different parts of the game. I think they could have spread it out more and made it more interesting.
And I finished this exhibition race.
In first place? When I was playing this on my TV, I think the best I did was 13th or something bad like that.
And we have the option to race again. It looks like there’s only the one track in Exhibition mode.
Here’s the Test Drive mode. I really don’t know why this is called test drive, as it isn’t anywhere near what we would consider a test drive here in North America. This is competitive racing, but it has different options than the other gameplay modes.
As you can see above, first we choose our car. We can choose from three model years and a bunch of manufacturers. I know less about Formula One racing cars than I do about Ancient Roman funerary rites, so I just chose some stuff at random.
This one has a cool paint job. That makes it go fast, right?
Here we have a much wider selection of tracks to choose from, and each track has different music.
And a new kind of menu. Seriously, this game needed a major fucking overhaul in the menu department.
These menus are like the fucking Labyrinth. Often you can choose between free or race mode, but choosing race mode still makes you practice before you race anyway.
Here I am in the free race. This is kind of pointless because this part of the game forces you to make a qualifying practice run before you race anyway. I like having a practice round before I race when a game is new to me, but if I have to do it every time I race, there will be… trouble.
Pressing the Start button inside a race will bring up this charming two-item menu. Your choices are Retire and Exit. Exit will exit this pause menu and go back to the game. Retire will quit… sort of.
If you are in the practice race, you will only retire to the next phase of the race… and if you were far behind in position at that point, well tough luck.
So here’s the qualifying practice round in “Test Drive” mode.
Once the tedium of the menus has been gotten past, the racing is the same as it is in Exhibition mode.
Once you qualify or “Retire” out of the practice round, you can move on to the “Final Race”. I know this is a Japanese game for the Japanese market, but I wish that some clearer word choices had been made.
And again, the actual gameplay is fun. I have a general dislike for a lot of the Formula 1 racing games I’ve tried because they are either way too hard or way too easy. This game gets it right.
Moving on, we come to “Formula Mega”. The above screenshot tells you what it’s all about. Yeah, I can’t read that either.
But it looks to me like it’s some kind of “career mode” game. WARNING: This is not what I look like! You can customize your appearance in this game somewhat. I made a pudgy version of Phil Collins. NOTE: I am neither pudgy nor wealthy.
But I’d carry that sucker in my wallet any day! I might just print that screenshot out and do that!
Here we have a limited amount of money to start out with (in dollars, not yen for some reason) and we must buy a car and hire a mechanic.
Wait a minute… “Purchase teh machine”? LOL, OMG, WTF, etc. “RELEASE TEH KITTEHS!!!”
This guy looks a little sketchy. I don’t know if I can trust him.
Sigh. Free practice mode again. One day, when I have my time machine, I will go back in time and force this game’s developers to make this shit optional.
Okay, enough practicing, that’s all I’ve done in this game. Time to retire.
What? After “Free Practice” I have to go through “Qualifying Practice”?!? Fuck that!
Well, I didn’t even bother race, and it looks like I’m not even in the standings.
Now we’re in the F-1 World Championship. This time, I’ve customized my appearance to be that of a typical Nordic Swede.
I don’t know what this says. それが重要なのですか？
And now this guy’s giving me grief because he doesn’t know me.
And this is more practicing to qualify to race. This mode also forces you to drive with a manual transmission… so I hit that magic retire button.
This is probably the screen that’s made the most sense out of all the ones with text on them in the entire game.
I can certainly consider this game to be flawed. It’s worth playing, but you have to slog through probably the most badly designed menus of any game ever. I’m actually curious to know if any game has worse menus, so if you know of any, let me know in the comments.
Other than that, the racing is solid, fast and fun. It really is a shame that you have to crack open a radioactive shell of hairy confusion and hideousness to get at the sweet, but all too brief fun inside.
If you do decide to give this game a try, be prepared to sit through some practice and qualifying practice rounds. But once you get past those, this is some great racing.
BC Racers (1994)
There isn’t a whole lot to say about this game. It’s pretty straightforward, and also pretty damn fun.
This game was brought to us by the same person who brought us Lara Croft’s fine pixelated buns. So thanks, dude. When I first tried this game, I kind of saw it as a Flintstones ripoff. Whether or not you want to see it that way is up to you, but this is an absolute hoot to play. The characters are based to some extent off the Chuck Rock games. I never got into those, so I don’t know much about them.
You can choose a team of racers, and you race on a prehistoric motorbike and sidecar. It looks goofy as hell, and that adds to the charm.
You can scroll through the available teams by pressing D-Pad right or left. Pressing A, B or C will show you their attributes. You should choose a team appropriate to your strengths as a player, of course, but be aware that damage to your bike and sidecar will put you out of the race. The attribute that affects this is “Energy”. If you run out of energy due to damage, the race is over and you lose.
You can get damaged by bumping into obstacles or by being hit and beaten by other players. Have you ever played “Road Rash“? This game features combat like that game, and you need to beat up fellow racers too, and defend yourself from their attacks. “Road Rash” is one of my favourite games of all time, so that might be a reason why I think so highly of “BC Racers”.
Speaking of controls, you need to have a 6-button controller to play this game. I use my Saitek gamepad for Genesis and Sega CD games:
If you have an actual Sega CD, then you will need an actual Sega 6-button controller. If you’re using an emulator and a USB gamepad, you will need to map those 6 buttons somehow.
B accelerates. A controls the driver’s weapon (punches) and C controls the passenger’s weapon. X zooms the view in, Z zooms out, and Y is a nitro boost – when it’s available.
Here’s the standard racing view. It’s third-person, which I love. I chose these two characters for their speed, but since they’re modeled after Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, I could have just as easily chosen them for my love of their music. Most of the characters in this game are modeled after famous musicians. Bob drives and Jimi smashes people with his prehistoric guitar, of course.
Here I am racing after zooming out once. The scrolling road and scenery takes advantage of the hardware scaling and rotation effects of the Sega CD. There is also a version of this game for the 32X. One would think that it would be better than this version, but one would be wrong. They really botched that one badly, so don’t even bother checking it out. This version is by far the better one.
And with judicious use of
orange juice nitro boosts, I’ve won handily.
Results for each race are shown…
Speaking of music, this game has some awesome music in it. It fits the mood and feel of the game perfectly, and is just a joy to listen to as you race around the tracks.
This second stage is a little bit of night driving. It was very hard for me to get the hang of this at first.
But after a few times, I got it.
Knowing when to use that nitro helps. It also helps that these first two tracks are pretty easy.
Here’s the third race.
Off to a slower start.
And this race really gets the combat involved. I’m taking a clobbering, as you can see. “Bike energy low” means I better avoid getting hit or I won’t be in the race much longer.
Too late. I got hit and sent off the road.
Actually, I think I broke the game. It kept rotating and zooming out like this and the “crash” sound wouldn’t stop. There’s one bug that should have been squashed before release.
Oh well. The next levels are harder as you progress. There is more fighting and there are bridges across water that need to be crossed. Some of them are very tricky to navigate, and you need to have memorized the track to know that you have to start turning while still crossing certain bridges to make it to the next one.
I’ve only made it to the fifth race in this game, but I’m already in love with it, so I’ll definitely keep playing this one. You have to play this, especially if you’re a fan of goofy cartoons and such. The racing aspect of this is surprisingly solid, and it has a “Mario Kart” feel to it. Track down the CD or download it for your emulator today. Kega Fusion handles it nicely.
Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors (1995)
And now, an honourable mention. Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was never actually released. Back in 1995, just as it was about to come out, Sega killed off the Sega CD. Some review copies of the game had gone out to game reviewers though, and that’s how we all came to know the glory… the wonder… the resplendence that is “Desert Bus”.
As Messrs Penn and Teller explain, video games are fun, but they aren’t realistic. Sure you have racing car simulators, airplane simulators and even hedgehog simulators, but what kind of game will prepare kids for real life?
So they introduce the first in their series of “Verisimulators”.
The premise of “Desert Bus” is to drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas. This is done in real time. It takes 8 hours. There are no breaks. The road is perfectly straight. You can not pause the game. You can not take your hands off the controller because the buss veers ever so slightly to the right. And if you hit the ditch, you will be towed back – also in real time – to Tuscon.
What do you get as a reward for all of this? I think a few hours in, a bug hits the windscreen. That’s about all that happens. Oh, and you get 1 point for completion of the trip. And when you complete the trip, you have to make the return trip. The return trip plays the same way, but from Las Vegas to Tuscon.
This is probably the most realistic driving simulator anyone could ever play. Fuck “Gran Turismo”.
You do get to enter your name on your time card.
And your bus is kind of old, and doesn’t like to start right away.
There we go.
And I’m off and running.
Look at that air freshener spin! Wheee!
Well, enough of this. I’m not going to sit here for eight fucking hours for a game review. I’m hungry. I need a pizza. Time to ditch this Desert Bus.
There we go. There’s no getting out of the ditch once you’re in it.
Silence comes soon after your engine shuts off.
And then the very realistic sounds of a tow truck backing up and chaining your bus to the truck.
Siren flashing and everything
And pretty soon you’re rolling again… only back to where you came. In real time.
That air freshener is still just a spinnin’ away.
At least the tow truck driver is competent on this road.
Well, that’s the end of that.
The blazing, hot guitar rock before and after the game really hammer in the point this game is trying to make. If you’re missing it, I’m not going to explain it for you.
Well that’s the end of “Desert Bus”.
Except it wasn’t. Twelve years after this game was very nearly released, Loading Ready Run started up “Desert Bus For Hope“, an annual charity event where people actually, literally, for-fucking-real play this game and raise money to buy toys for sick kids in hospitals. Now that is awesome.
But how bout a review?
Yeah right. I’ve played “Desert Bus” exactly twice, and for no more than two minutes each time. And I think I’ve played it more than most people ever will or should.
But this game is god-damned hilarious and I’m so glad it exists. I think it’s one of the finest pieces of satire ever created. Cheers to Penn & Teller for the idea, and cheers to the people at Absolute and Sega, even though it never saw an official release. The rest of the Smoke and Mirrors games are pretty amusing, and if you’re a Penn & Teller fan, you shouldn’t miss out. Download the game for that, and the next time “Desert Bus For Hope” is on, send out a donation.