A couple months back, I watched this really good documentary on the career of Ayrton Senna, who is considered to be one of, if not the, best driver in the history of Formula 1 Racing. My appreciation for auto racing has been extremely casual at best, with me playing a bunch of Gran Turismo 6. I don’t know shit about cars, and I’m also a terrible driver in real life, prone to an anxiety attack if I have to do anything more complicated than going to and from the grocery store (and even then). But two months go by, and I wake up yesterday morning and I say to myself, “fuck it, today is the today I get into F1!” Do I have a team or a driver that I want to support yet? No, because I am a stupid person who decides to become interested in things on a whim. Right now, my level of fandom is “watching YouTube videos covering its history, then watching highlight videos of last weekend’s races and enjoying watching the cars go fast.” Car go vroom, baby.
Since I’ve sort of written myself into a corner and extensively talk about video games, I thought I’d put these two interests together, play a bunch of 16-bit F1 games, then do short reviews of them.
First one is Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II. Let me just go ahead and temper your expectations for this piece and tell you that this is probably the best of the bunch, and that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. It’s not terrible or anything; another game in line with Sega’s other Super Scaler stuff, like Outrun, Space Harrier, et al. You hold down a button and you accelerate. You hold another button to brake. You steer and change gear shifts with the D-Pad. It looks nice, had some good music. Very much a Racing Video Game By Sega. I suppose the biggest issue is that there’s nothing really special about it. Well, that and the fact that it’s hard to gauge what you can see (this game uses first-person viewpoint) vs where your car actually is on the track, meaning that it’s very easy to hit other cars if they’re too close to your peripheral vision. This is bad.
Otherwise, Super Monaco GP 2 is pretty solid. If you were a kid with a Genesis and this was the only game you had, you could absolutely have some fun with it.
Something I don’t find myself saying very often, but if nothing else, this game probably has the most stylish menu screen I’ve ever seen. A digitized, pensive Senna off the track, in repose.
Next game on the list is Final Lap Twin. Here’s the other good one I played. But I mean, it’s a racing game by Namco; those guys have to go out of their way to fuck that up. I did about ten seconds worth of research, and discovered that this was a sequel to a sequel to Pole Position. So this would be Pole Position 3. Or maybe Pole Position 4, since there was a Pole Position 2? Maybe I should have done eleven seconds of research.
It has another pretty cool menu. And I know you’re eyeing that “QUEST” option at the bottom. I’ll get to that. There’s some F3000 racing, but I don’t give a fuck about that shit, give me those expensive, elitist cars in F1!
Final Lap Twin has this split-screen view at all times, even if you’re playing single-player, which is kind of annoying. Not sure why Namco did this. It wasn’t for performance reasons, because doing two viewpoints at once like this would make the game run worse. It can’t be because the dev team wanted you to also focus on your rival/teammate, because they also show up on the minimap up top. The game plays well, and it’s fun, but I hate this.
So that QUEST mode? It’s a racing RPG.
The big problem? Unlike the rest of the game, it is entirely in Japanese. Unfortunately, my Japanese comprehension is still terrible; I only know that “cheesu” means “cheese.” As a result, I couldn’t get very far.
Then things start to get weird. A racing RPG? Yeah, sure, that makes perfect sense, actually. Driving is an acquired skill, and like all sports, you constantly strive to get better. An RPG is a fine, uh, vehicle for that. But in this mode, you aren’t driving F1 cars? Or even F3000 cars? No, you control a Mini-4WD. Notice I said “control” there. That is because, if you weren’t aware, Mini-4WD’s are toys. Remote-controlled cars placed on a small track. Think along the lines of the Pocket Circuit mini-game from the Yakuza series and you’re on the right track (need to stop with these inadvertent car puns). So instead of being the best Formula 1 driver in the world, you are now a kid who goes around beating other kids in a battle of who has the better toys. Don’t get me wrong, that could be a perfectly compelling concept for a game (again, Yakuza’s side-plot did it really well), but I wanted a role-playing game about F1 Racing, and I didn’t get it here. Might be worth looking into again someday if there’s ever a fan translation, or if I ever learn more than 10% of the Japanese language.
F-1 Dream is up next. Hell of a title. And hey, Capcom is involved. Surely, this should be good, right?
No. It really isn’t.
See, the thing is, for whatever fucked up reason, the PC-Engine was home to this strange and perverse sub-genre of racing games (F1 or otherwise) that were all 1) overhead, which is great when you’re controlling a fast moving object and can’t see what’s in front of you and 2) had weird control schemes where instead of moving left on the d-pad to move left and right to move right (you know, like if you were driving a car), you had to press the direction based on the course; if you were moving down, instead of turning left or right on the steering wheel to get into position, you press down on the d-pad. It’s stupid, and you will never get used to it.
The thing about this game is that you don’t start as an F1 racer. That is a right that must be earned. I must admit that I was not up to the F1 Dream challenge, because the shitty perspective and bad controls kept me from winning the very first race.
F-1 Pilot- You’re King of Kings is next. These shitty games need to stop having awesome titles, so as to keep easily impressed idiots like me from playing them.
Here’s what you need to know: this game sucks. It fucking sucks so fucking bad. This might very well be the worst game of the bunch. It looks like shit. It sounds like shit. It plays like shit. I fucking hate this game.
What’s the problem? Easy, there is no way of knowing where you are going. Even if you study the pre-race map screen, you are not going to know when or where to make a turn. Turns come at you in the blink of an eye, with no road signage, no mini-map, no pit crew radio in your ear, no nothing. You either drop your speedometer by about 150 km or you are going off that track, asshole. Every single time. It’s bullshit.
I hate having to shit on most of these games, because other than Super Monaco GP, these all on the PC-Engine, which we all know is the preferred gaming console of God, if He had a favorite video game system. But these games are really bad, and a stain on a system with an otherwise mostly stellar library.
This is F-1 Circus. This game was almost good. It has some pretty cool aesthetic touches, like the cars being loaded onto the track before a race. And even though it’s another overhead racing game, it stick to a control of left going left and right going right. Problem? Controls are extremely fucking touchy. You either barely move in the direction you press, or you straight up turn 90 degrees on a dime and collide into a wall. Not helping matters is that game goes really fucking fast. Ridiculously fast. As in, I had to double check and make sure my emulator was not in fast-forward fast. I think you can see a problem here. I’m sure that if I really stuck to it, I can manage the controls and the speed and find something here, but I think I’d rather go back to Super Monaco, or for that matter, finally getting around to unlocking the F-1 races in Gran Turismo 6.
I had other games that I was going to write about, but this has gone on long enough, and they’re all bad, and I can only take so much. A real fucking shame that these games were, at best, kind of decent. Like, F-1 racing in Japan was a major deal throughout the late 80s until Ayrton Senna’s untimely death in 1994. And this was the best they were getting. That fucking sucks, dude.
Oh well, fuck it. I hear good things about that F-1 2020 game. Might check that out. Maybe by then, I’ll be a more knowledgeable fan.