Whew, that’s a title and a half, eh? Good job it’s memorable, because it’s attached to probably one of the best racers on the Atari 8-bit.
The Great American Cross-Country Road Race is, in some ways, a spiritual successor to Enduro on the Atari 2600, but it’s also a considerably more complex game. It was one of the first racers to incorporate some distinctly sim-like elements — and a game that made me cry on more than one occasion when I was a kid because I didn’t understand how cars worked.
It may have a ridiculous name, but if you ask any ST enthusiast what the best racing games on the platform are — hell, if you ask them what the best games on the platform are — you will almost certainly hear Vroom mentioned.
Developed by Lankhor, this is a high-speed first-person racer that effortlessly blends smooth scaling sprites with polygonal scenery to produce one of the most thrilling games on Atari ST. It was so good, in fact, that publisher Domark went and sorted out a Formula 1 license and then released an updated version called F1 a little while later!
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, it wasn’t unusual to see developers for home computers take it upon themselves to make “sequels” to arcade games.
Hard Drivin’ II: Drive Harder… for Atari ST is a good example. It takes the basic format of Atari Games’ polygonal classic Hard Drivin’ and polishes it up with a better handling model, more tracks and a rather clunky track designer, allowing you to create your own challenges.
One of the first games I played on the Atari ST is also one of my all time favourites — it’s Elite’s excellent conversion of Tatsumi’s arcade racing game Buggy Boy, also known as Speed Buggy.
Buggy Boy is interesting in that it’s less about driving at high speed and more about negotiating ridiculous amounts of obstacles as efficiently as possible — and scoring points, of course. It still holds up very well today, and the ST version is one of the best ports.
A year after the well-received Formula 1 hit the PlayStation, Bizarre Creations proved that their apparent skill in creating great racing games wasn’t just a fluke — because they made another Formula One game, and it was even better.
Formula 1 97 hit store shelves in September of 1997, a month before the 1997 racing season came to a close. While development ran fairly smoothly — and apparently legendary commentator Murray Walker was so impressed with the game that he signed an exclusive agreement with Sony to provide commentary for another two years — Psygnosis and Sony ran into legal issues with the sport’s various governing bodies after the game launched, and ended up having to repackage, rename and rerelease the game.
Thankfully none of that matters now, and Formula 1 97 still provides an enjoyable racing experience for both arcade racer fans and more dedicated petrolheads. So let’s take a closer look!
So far here on Fatal Rewind: A Bizarre Creations Retrospective, we’ve seen how Martyn Chudley and, subsequently, a team of able assistants, commanded a solid technical mastery over the hardware they were working on, producing beautiful looking games that played well.
Today, we reach a significant milestone in the history of the company and their games, because it marks the point at which Chudley and his team became Bizarre Creations, the name under which they worked up until their untimely demise in 2011.
It also marks the first time they worked on a type of game that would come to be seen as their particular specialism: the accessible but realistic racing game, straddling the line between arcade game and simulation. Let’s look at Formula 1, released for PlayStation in 1996.
The racing game genre is one area of gaming where, outside of graphical and performance improvements, I suspect it’s always felt quite difficult to innovate.
After all, the fundamental concept of “two or more things moving in the same direction at high speed, with one attempting to get somewhere before the other one in order to receive some sort of reward” has been around pretty much as long as human civilisation. So what else can you do with that?
Well, says Tokyo Highway Challenge (aka Tokyo Xtreme Racer, aka Shutokou Battle) for Sega Dreamcast, why not rethink the fundamental means through which a winner is decided? Let’s take a closer look at how that works.
Racing games used to be very different to how we know them today — primarily due to the limitations of the hardware on which they were running.
Instead of unfolding in lovingly rendered, minutely detailed 3D polygonal worlds as most of today’s racers are, they took what we now call a “vanishing point” approach, where the road was drawn using two converging lines to simulate a sense of perspective, and sprites drawn at various sizes were placed along the sides of the track to assist with the illusion of movement and speed.
Of all the racers designed in this way — and there are many, including some developed quite recently! — Kemco’s Top Racer, also known as Top Gear, is one of the finest out there. This is a game that still gets regular play from a lot of racing enthusiasts today — plus now you can enjoy it as part of the Piko Interactive Collection 1cartridge for Blaze’s Evercade retro gaming system. So let’s take a closer look!
Before 3D became particularly widespread, there were quite a few top-down racing games in the arcades. And this perspective made them ideal for multiplayer competition.
A relatively late entry to this subgenre of arcade racing was Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off-Road, rebranded to simply Super Off-Road on subsequent re-releases due to licensing shenanigans. This got an extremely solid Atari ST port by Graftgold, who were well-known for their good work on a variety of platforms.
It’s definitely a challenge, but it holds up surprisingly well today. Check it out in the video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for more!
Burnout 2 best Burnout? In my mind it certainly is, which is why I was keen to spend a bit more time playing it for this week’s short;Play.
Burnout 2 is one of the best arcade racers ever created, as I’ve already argued at length, and it’s a crying shame it’s not one of the many games from the PS2 era that has ended up with an HD remaster of some sort. Although I worry it might lose some of the magic if ported to modern consoles — particularly if it ended up with a string of patches and DLC attached to it, as some of these remasters have ended up suffering!