Now that I’ve gone from Odyssey to Xbox and burned chronologically through all the console hardware I own and emulate, I’m just going to focus on one series of racing games in particular for these next two posts.
There are many popular and well-known racing game series that have come out for various consoles over the years. The “Need for Speed“, “Gran Turismo” and “Mario Kart” series immediately spring to mind. But my favourite by far has been the “Road Rash” series.
If you read my review of Nintendo 64 racers, then you know how much I enjoy “Road Rash 64”. That was, oddly, my introduction to the series. It was also the game that kick-started my love for racing games in general, and since discovering it, I have found and acquired as many of the other Road Rash games that I could get.
The Road Rash recipe is simple: start with a very good motorcycle racing game. Add combat in the ability to beat up on your fellow riders. Mix in some traffic and some cops. Every game in the series has these elements – some more prominent than others. Some of the games are better than others, but I tend to enjoy playing them all.
The first of these games came out in 1991 for the Sega Genesis, and it was a hit. Over the next decade, a series of sequels, ports and re-boots would be released on many other different consoles. 2003 saw the final release on the Game Boy Advance. I won’t review every single version that came out, but I will try to say something about every major release.
I won’t stick to the release chronology either. I’ll go by the console release chronology. Starting with the Sega Genesis. I’ll work my way through console by console until I reach the conclusion that there really need to be more Road Rash games made for modern hardware.
Road Rash (1991)
This is the start of it all. Back in the heyday of the 16-bit console wars, this was just more ammo that Sega could use against that kiddie company Nintendo. Advertising and sloganeering aside, this was seen by some as a needlessly violent game when it was released.
But in this day and age, the idea of clubbing your fellow race riders with a pipe is positively quaint when you look around and see that almost every other major title released by game studios is a “Let’s Invade A Poor Country And Kill Their Brown People Up Close And Personal” simulator.
There are five open tracks to race: Sierra Nevada, Pacific Coast, Redwood Forest, Palm Desert and Grass Valley. There are also multiple levels to race each of these through, and they get harder and harder as the game progresses. As you win money from winning races, you get to upgrade your bike to a faster, more powerful one that will allow you to stay competitive.
The game menu is handled pretty well, with different options assigned to the A, B or C buttons. From here, you can choose a one or two player game, turn music on or off, or enter a password or your name instead of “PLAYER A”.
Before you start each race, you will get either a taunt or some advice from a fellow racer. Ol’ monobrow Biff here is actually wishing me good luck. Don’t worry, I beat him senseless for it.
B accelerates, A brakes and C punches. Later games had improved combat with more options, but right now it’s just C to punch. You can also steal a weapon from someone who is about to hit you with it, and then you swing that weapon for the rest of that race. You don’t get to keep it for the next race, sadly.
For a 16-bit game the graphics are quite impressive. In fact, I will say that this game has the most impressive racing visuals that I’ve ever seen on the Sega Genesis. Items that come near appear to scale, though this is done without any hardware scaling, like the Super Nintendo had built-in. This is all done with good programming.
Sound is also very good, even though the Genesis can never shake that “Sega Genesis” sound. You either love it or you hate it. The music is done well and all of the tracks take advantage of the way the console sounds and don’t really strike me as out of place or weird. You can turn the music off and have 16-bit engine sounds instead if you like. There are digitized voices in the game too, like the one you hear when you fall off your bike. These are also as clear as I’ve heard on the Genesis.
The first level is a piece of cake. There isn’t a lot of traffic, and the cops don’t even show up until the second race. You can also go back and re-race any of these tracks if you don’t like how you placed, or if you want to make some more money. This is helpful if you want to upgrade your bike a little earlier – before the next level begins.
After each race, your place is shown, along with the top three finishers. From here you can press C to buy a new bike, if you have enough money.
When you return to this screen, you can race the next track or or go back and re-race a previous one. Previously raced tracks will retain your highest place, so if you really fuck up and place 12th after placing 3rd, you will keep 3rd place on that track.
I have nothing to say about this screenshot, so I will link to an article about why Police officers are sometimes portrayed as being stereotypically Irish.
Like the graphics, the racing in this game is also among the best I’ve experienced on the Genesis. The steering is responsive, and probably among the best D-Pad steering I’ve played. All of the early Road Rash games that use D-Pad steering are like this, and it makes my cold metal heart glad.
The physics are also pretty realistic, and this game impresses in that department too. Oversteering will cause you to fishtail and lose control. hitting debris and obstacles will more often than not send you flying over the handlebars. Your bike will skid along too, and you will have to watch your rider run over and fetch your bike before you set off again.
If you crash too often, you will fall too far behind like I did in the screenshot above. It’s best not to crash at all, but tell that to the cows that like to sleep in the middle of the road. You must also watch out for oil slicks, pot holes, cars, other riders and road barriers.
Here’s some timely advice from a woman with vaguely elven features.
And I already knew this, but thanks anyway, Jean Chrétien.
The way the game looks is pretty good, but I think it suffers from a problem that a lot of 32-bit games suffered from.
The hardware is really being pushed to its limits with this game, and sometimes things don’t really look as clear as they could. The frame rate is also pretty low, and that’s also bad for a racing game. There really isn’t any way around this though, and the game is still a lot of fun to play regardless of these issues.
I drink DVD DRY. I am Robotman, after all.
Here is a shot of the bike shop. I made enough money by losing and re-racing to finish first that I could buy this next-step-up bike a little earlier.
But with faster bikes come a little more difficulty in handling. You have to learn how to handle the power properly.
And it turns out that crossing the finish line is something you can do with or without your bike.
For the most part, the scenery looks great for a Genesis game. Elevation rises and falls in a realistic-looking way, and you really get the sense that you are playing a 3D game when you play this, even though it’s all sprite-based and on a 16-bit console. The sprite scaling in this game is freaking superb.
The character animations are also top-notch. Your rider leans into corners in a convincing way and the person waving the flag at the start of the race looks good too. The crashes look the best, especially when you get up and chase after your bike. I don’t think anything like that had been seen in a home console racing game before “Road Rash” came out.
Once you finish and place well in all five tracks, you can advance to the next level.
Depending on how much money you have, you can buy a new bike too. You will have to upgrade if you are to win races, because the other racers all have better bikes, and your old bike won’t cut it.
Advancing to a new level gets you an animated cut scene…
With more info to advance the “plot”.
And that’s the basic template. The first game in the series is still a great game to play, and I have a lot of fun whenever I load it up.
Road Rash II (1992)
The game engine is much the same, but some improvements were made to this second installment. For one thing, another weapon – the chain – was added to the mix. The combat sounds are now clearer than they were in the first game, but I think they sound a little cartoony.
The graphics have had some improvements and tweaks.
The menu has also been revamped, making it more like a standard game menu.
The bike shop is accessible from the main menu, and there are many more bikes here, including some with nitro boost capability.
The five tracks in this game are Alaska, Hawaii, Tennessee, Arizona and Vermont.
The tweaks become obvious when you play – they aren’t really noticeable from these screenshots. Things go by a little more smoothly, and overall everything just looks a little nicer.
Crashing is still bad, but it still looks graphically impressive. There are more things to crash into, and this game is more difficult than “Road Rash” when you start. There are deer, bears and wayward cars among other obstacles that edge their way into the road, and you must be on the lookout for them.
One new feature is the addition of these cut scenes. They are spliced in after each race or after you crash out or get busted.
Repairs to your bike come out of your winnings, and if you go into the red, it’s game over.
The same thing goes for getting busted by the cops. They’re more aggressive in this game than they were in the first.
The art here is also more realistic, and looks to have been digitized from photos instead of rendered as pixel art.
Each track has its own music, which is pretty good. Here’s Hawaii…
Overall, everything that was good about the first game was either kept or improved, and some problems and issues were fixed or ironed-out.
Road Rash 3 (1995)
The third and final release for the Sega Genesis.
Everything that was great about the first two games is present in this one, and it’s really a tough call to say which is the best out of these first three. This one has the deepest gameplay and the most polished graphics and sound.
The menu selection screens are reminiscent of “Road Rash II”, but they’ve had a bit of a facelift too.
The bike shop has been revamped as well, and I personally like this look a lot more.
One new feature is the “upgrades” screen, which will allow you to buy parts for your bike. This is a welcome addition to the game, and on some courses it can mean the difference between success and failure.
You can start racing the circuit or choose one of the five courses from the beginning. Here’s Brazil…
You might notice when you start to play that a more “realistic” look was attempted for the graphics. The player and opponent sprites are based on real video motion, like what can be seen in the game “Mortal Kombat” and other titles. It depends on your opinion whether or not you think this is an improvement over the way things looked before.
But things certainly are more detailed everywhere else. There are people, animals, buildings and objects all over the place that move around and can get in your way too, so you have to watch out for them, of course.
The animated cut scenes are back, which would remain a Road Rash staple from here on out.
Messages between races are back to a less photo-realistic art stile, but they still look better than they did in the first game.
The three Sega Genesis games are incredibly fun to play to this day, and they remain some of the best 16-bit racers you can find. Each of these are just about the same in quality, so if you find any of them, pick them up. They were all quite popular, so they should be relatively easy to find.
Road Rash (Sega CD) (1995)
If ever you needed to justify buying the Sega CD addon, this game would make a fine excuse to do so.
It’s basically the Genesis version of Road Rash with a few enhancements and a near CD-quality soundtrack. So if you’re looking to get your 16-bit racing and fighting fix, this is the way to go.
The audio and video enhancements that the addon brought to the Genesis are in full force here, and you see them immediately. You get a blast of Soundgarden and some of that infamous Sega CD full motion video.
The video is actually some of the best I’ve seen on the Sega CD, though it still looks choppy and grainy.
And luckily for me I’m a big fan of Soundgarden. They feature heavily in the game’s soundtrack.
The rest of the tunes are decent to good alternative rock tracks from the mid 90s.
If that kind of music isn’t your thing and you’re playing this game on an emulator, you can always replace the audio tracks with those of your choosing. Race to some Chopin or some Dvořák, if you prefer.
This was the first Road Rash game to split the action into “Thrash Mode” and “Big Game” styles of gameplay. The first lets you race individual courses one by one, and the latter is a career-style game.
Like its predecessors, there are five different courses, and a number of difficulty levels to play through.
The “Restroom” is the options and settings screen. Since this is the Sega CD, you can save your games now and start them up later, which is nice.
In Big Game mode, you can race as one of eight different characters, and each of these has different strengths and weaknesses that you can consider. You have also probably noticed the distinctive art style by now. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I would imagine.
The layout of the menus takes some getting used to, but it’s based on “locations”.
“Olley’s Scoot-A-Rama” is the bike shop, where you will need to go to upgrade after races.
Also like previous games, there are different classes of bikes, and you can choose whichever one you think fits your racing style.
You can also “schmooze” for some reason. I don’t know if there is a purpose for this other than to provide atmosphere.
Once you get racing, you will see that things look much the same as they did in the Genesis games. The sound is better, of course. If you have the music turned on, you can rock out to the tunes and hear your 16-bit engine roar at the same time.
The graphics are also improved, but only slightly. The colour palette is a little better and the frame rate looks a little smoother, but I’m not exactly sure about that. Another enhancement to the game is the addition of pedestrians, which you can hit for fun.
You get those video cut scenes before and after every race, and it’s no walk in the park. This game will give you a challenge early on, and as you move forward in the levels it gets harder and harder. Winning is rewarded by video of (relatively) hot chicks and (clothed) boobs though, so there’s that.
This is definitely the apex of the 16-bit Road Rash experience. If you can find a copy cheap, snap it up while you can. If you can’t, don’t hesitate – emulate!
Road Rash (Sega Saturn) (1995)
This is now the third game in the series to be called simply “Road Rash”, and that’s not counting the ones that were released for hand-held systems like the Game Gear. It can be hard to keep track of this stuff. This was however the first 32-bit version of the game to be released, and it’s awesome. This title came out on the PlayStation and the ill-fated 3DO console too. (Screenshots are from all over the freaking place, courtesy of Google Image Search.)
The game structure, modes, menus, art, cut scenes and even some music are identical to the Sega CD version. The difference and the reason to get this game if you have a Saturn (or PlayStation or 3DO) is the updated and improved gameplay.
Things look and play more real, generally speaking. You can glance off of objects instead of always colliding and crashing off your bike, for instance. I just wish this game supported the Saturn’s great analog controller.
Races are a little harder, which makes crashing off your bike that much more costly. In order to win, you will have to start memorizing tracks and avoid crashing at all costs. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play though, because it is. The driving is great, even with digital steering, and the game lives up proudly to the Road Rash name. The controls are the same as they were on the Genesis, so you can go from playing one of those titles to this one without missing a beat.
I have to point out that a couple of these screenshots show the PlayStation version of the game. It’s hard to find screenshots of the Saturn version. I only mention this because I’m a fan of the way that the on-screen data was handled. The more room taken up by action, the better.
The in-game music is the only part of this game that leaves me scratching my head though. It is produced by the Saturn’s sound chips, which is a rarity to say the least. And it doesn’t sound nearly as good as the music in the Genesis Road Rash games. The in-game music here sounds like demented off-kilter Polka from hell that’s been filtered through a synthesizer and played by angry meth addicts who’ve just gotten out of jail. That might have been precisely the effect they were going for, so who knows.
This is one of my favourite Saturn racing games, even though it doesn’t support analog steering and even though it only has five tracks. I only paid a couple of bucks for my copy, so there’s no excuse not to own this if you have a Saturn.
Coming up next, five more Road Rash games to keep you racing and fighting your way to the top.