2009
07.06

There are a lot of video games out there. Try as “family”-oriented pundits might, they have to deal with the fact that not only is video gaming not going to go away, but it’s an even bigger venture than the movie industry. Even worse for them, even the people who didn’t start gaming until it really started to pick up – back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System – are now fully-fledged adults who are becoming today’s doctors, teachers, politicians, and any other job imaginable. Nowadays, it’s a more troubling sign to find a young person who doesn’t at least play video games once in a while.

Nostalgia is a weird thing. Our minds tell us that some of the games we grew up with back in those dark days of 2-D were fantastic, but when you play them now, they simply fall apart. It’s not even because they’re graphically dated: not everyone likes a game with unresponsive controls that can’t be customized and a ball-twisting difficulty. Say what you want about how game companies are dumbing down games to make them more readily accessible – and there is some truth to that argument – but convenient features like free saving and customizable controls are perfectly fine with me.

Obviously, not everyone is going to agree on the best anything of all time, but that’s okay because my opinion is correct. From time to time, I like to look at games, both past and present, and decide which ones are ultimately worth playing and which aren’t. Some very exceptional titles have slipped through the cracks of time while other well-known titles have sucked hard but not received the beatdowns they so richly deserve.

Today, I aim to focus on racing games. From modern technological marvels like MotorStorm to some of the more humble beginnings in games like Championship Sprint, racing games have come big and small, well-known and obscure, and both awesome and shitty. The original Wipeout was one of the biggest system-movers for the original PlayStation when that console was in its infancy. Virtua Racer was a $100 project that helped show the future of polygon graphics, but ultimately fell short on fun. Just about every gamer owns, or at least has played, a Mario Kart title. However, I’m here to tell you, once and for all, what the greatest racing game of all time is: a game well ahead of its time; a game that paved the path that almost every racer ultimately took; and a game that actually lies to you, attempting to make you believe that the game is just like any other in an attempt to weed out the pussies and whiners from the champions at life. I’m talking about none other than this gem:

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That’s right. Way back in February of 1988, a company called Rare was busy doing things like “releasing some of the most awesome games ever made” instead of their more modern path of “generally sucking”. I don’t know how many people realized it, but even before my 4th birthday, they had already released a racing game so great that it still destroys its competition. However, right off the bat, Rare lies to you. You can take the description of “32 tracks of racing thrills” to mean one of two things:

A. That there are 32 different tracks of racing thrills
B. That there are a total of 32 “tracks”, or “levels”, of racing thrills

Well, guess what? You’re wrong on either count. The game features exactly seven different track layouts, and far from 32 tracks, the game actually goes on as long as you have the stones to handle the ever-increasing challenges the game throws at you. While the hazards and powerups on each track may differ, it doesn’t change the fact that there are still exactly seven different track layouts throughout the game. What the game is honest about, though, is the racing thrills.

It all starts out simply enough: you play from an isometric perspective that is very close to the track, and the game only requires the usage of four buttons in order to race. Pressing left makes your car turn left; pressing right makes your car turn right; holding the B button makes your car accelerate; and pressing the A button lets you either honk your horn in an attempt to make any women with an R.C. car fetish go moist or, if you’re packing any heat, it allows you to fire your weapons.

If you were ever wondering what game to thank for the manly addition that is blasting the crap out of other vehicles, you have R.C. Pro-Am to thank. The game features two collectible weapons: missiles and bombs. You can only carry one or the other, and their effectiveness is directly related to whether or not the three AI cars are in the correct position: missiles shoot in front of you, while bombs are dropped behind you. Either one makes cars blow up. The third power up is a “roll cage” power up that everyone can pick up. It allows cars to not explode when they crash into walls or other hazards, and touching a car without a roll cage causes it to spin out…often resulting in another fateful encounter with the wall. Fortunately for you, your manly missiles and bombs go right through the roll cage, so use them liberally.

The game also throws a feature at you to lull you into a false sense of security, and that is the fact that so long as you don’t finish in last place, you will always move on to the next track. Seeing as there are only four cars total – including yours – that seems to peg your odds as fairly high. However, the game ramps up the challenge to truly wreck the collective shits of people not awesome enough to handle it. The blue car is sort of your counter-balance: if you’re well ahead of the blue car, it ends up being faster than you, but if you’re well behind the blue car, it ends up being slower than you. The blue car is usually the ultimatum: if you’re racing the blue car, it’s usually for third place.

For those manly enough to get past the blue car, there’s the green car. The green car pretty much stays at one constant speed all the time, one that is usually a little slower than your top speed. This means if you’re awesome enough to hit the power ups and speed strips – another feature for which you have R.C. Pro-Am to thank – you should be putting the green car in, at best, third place.

That leaves you with one other car to deal with…this little fucker:

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I’d like you to get acquainted with by far the most annoying enemy in any video game ever made: the fucking yellow (really more like yellowish-orange) car. Sure, you thought enemies in Battletoads – another Rare title, it’s worth noting – were annoying enough, but they don’t hold a candle to this little guy. Besides the fact that you will usually battle the yellow car for victory – and you are shooting for victory, since real men see silver and bronze as losing – there’s the little fact that the yellow car is a cheating bitch. You see, if you ever destroy any opposing car – the yellow car included – you run the risk of having the yellow car activate his hacking bullshit powers, where he powers up to a speed that is considerably faster than the player can ever go without the aid of a speed strip. You can temporarily knock him out of this by blowing him up as he tries to pass you, but you run the risk of him doing it again. You could simply not blow up other cars, but you may very well do it on accident and, if that’s not enough, all of the cars will eventually speed up to the point where they’re always faster than you, no matter what, which means that you have to destroy them or else you can never catch them.

In the mean time, you have to deal with this cheating fucker who stands in your way between all the glory, honor and chicks that come with winning, and the “well, at least you passed” stifled laughter that comes with finishing anything lower than first.

So there you have it. Utter simplicity on the track, but so much innovation behind it. Above all else, there are very few things in life more satisfying than beating the shit out of the vile yellow car:

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Forget the future. The best racing title is old enough to take out to the bars. Enjoy it or die.

(TE)DC

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