29/11/2010

MAD GEAR

In a dark and distant time, before Capcom made their fortune with videogames about large men punching each other, they did release some other games. Their 1988 coin-op Mad Gear is certainly one of them!

If the name sounds familiar, that's because Capcom later re-used it as the named of the villainous, Mayor-baiting gang from Final Fight. This isn't a fighting game, though. Oh no, this is a racing game... well, not a racing game as such, because you're not really in competition with the other cars. So, it's more of a "move forward quickly" game, I guess. It may not have direct competition between the racers, but what it does have is some high-grade 1980's Engrish, as seen during the attract mode. Let's take a look!

"Today is opening day of "WORLD RACE 24" the most dangerous rally in the world. Daredevils are coming for the rally award USD 1,000,000.-."
Okay, that's all understandable enough. You get the idea that there's a dangerous rally with a million-dollar prize, at least. However, this level of clarity obviously cannot be sustained, and the second paragraph is a doozy:
"Hero FRED whispering to himself "What type of cars is most easy-driving for me?" Then FRED challenging the race."
While it's not quite as glorious as Violence Fight's explanation of the battle to become the No. 1 Quarreler, it's still fantastic stuff, particularly because it makes FRED sound like a schizophrenic who mutters to himself about easy-driving and race-challenging while performing surgery on himself to remove the secret tracking devices the Shadow Government have implanted in his cerebellum.
The obvious question that needs answering here is which car is the most easy-driving? Well, here are your three choices:

There's the F-1 Machine, which is obviously the fastest but eats fuel at an alarming rate. Despite its speed, it's probably not the best choice. Then there's the Porsche 959, and I'm fairly certain that Capcom didn't have any kind of licence to use the Porsche name. That didn't stop them though, and, it's a decent all-rounder, as you might expect. Finally there's the Convoy, a big Optimus Prime-style lorry with a fuel tank bigger than Piers Morgan's ego but only a fraction as oily. It's probably my favourite, due both to its fuel management and its afore-mentioned resemblance to the heroic leader of the Autobots.

Car selected, the WORLD RACE 24 begins. The gameplay simple; your car stays at the bottom, the screen scrolls forward at a fair old lick, and you simply have to move left and right to avoid the various obstacles thrown at you.

Your car also has the ability to jump into the air at the touch of a button. Fair enough (maybe) in the F-1 Machine and the Porsche, but the Convoy? I have to question the sanity of the person who thought that having the hundred-ton truck bound into the air using magical fairy wings or however the fuck it jumps was a good idea. It's a stroke of luck that a complete psychopath designed the jumping truck, however, because in a similarly insane decision, the race organiser have set the race route over the most badly-maintained roads they could find, littered with chasms, floating remnants of motorways and dinosaur skeletons. Yes, it's WORLD RACE 24, brought to you by the same people who created HAND-GRENADE TENNIS and PARTIALLY-MELTED LAKE FIGURE SKATING. It's not an exaggeration to say that you spend around 50% of your time in the air. Makes you wonder why they didn't just make it a flight sim, really.

Your greatest enemy is not the other competitors, or the road conditions (I was going to make a joke about Sheffield City Council here, but that would be rather solipsistic of me, wouldn't it? Also, it probably wouldn't have been funny). Your true nemesis is the dread power of the Fuel Meter. You can see it on the screen shots, it's the green bar at the top. It constantly drains as you drive around, and you lose a hefty chunk of it if you fall into one of the many holes in the road or your car explodes, and when your fuel is empty, it's game over. So, energy / fuel is important, and you have to make sure you pick it up when you see it (in the form of petrol canisters) lying in the road or occasionally flying in the air tied to a balloon. It's not as though you could possibly forget that your car has an unquenchable thirst that must be attended to at all times, because any time your fuel drops below about a quarter full, the game shouts "You're running out of energy!" at you until you pick up some petrol. You will hear the phrase "You're running out of energy!" a lot when you play Mad Gear. In fact, you'll hear it pretty much constantly during the later stages. It might even have become the new holder of the "Most Frequently Heard Sound Effect" trophy, because not even the amount of "SHORYUKEN!" you hear when playing Street Fighter IV online can compete. It is not an award that comes with a lot of kudos.

There's really not that much more to say about Mad Gear than that, really. The gameplay is simple and it doesn't change any during the various stages. One odd thing is that your car doesn't really turn when you move it left and right; it just sort of slides around. Maybe it was just me, but it felt a little peculiar, like I wasn't really in control of what was going on. Not that it matters, because all there is to it is making sure you slide into the right positions to pickup the extra fuel and timing your jumps correctly. After nine or so stages, the game is completed, and there's a little more Engrish:

"We've made it. I am vary glad that I was with, you. I will keep this memory deep into my ram and I will never forget this. I hope to see you again."
Wait a minute, my car was some kind of goddamn sentient super-car who has just left me a touching message to tell me he will never forget the adventures we had together? Why wasn't this mentioned before!? You would think they would have made a selling point out of the fact that your car possessed some kind of artificial intelligence and possibly human emotions. I guess this means it was actually my car bleating "You're running out of energy!" at me. If I'd known sooner, I would have ripped out his voicebox.

Mad Gear, then. It's exactly the sort of simple driving game that you would expect to find in the arcades of the late 80's. It's by no means a bad game: it's certainly fast, the music is good and I really like the chunky vehicle sprites. There's just not that much to it. So, if you fancy a quick blast of arcade fun and you have a high tolerance of irritating sound effects, then give it a go.

One last thing though: pictured above is the arcade flyer for Mad Gear. Despite the fact that the game is clearly set in the future, (actually, I think it's supposed to be set in 2011, which barely qualifies as the future these days,) the flyer depicts some kind of 1950's James Dean scenario, where cool guys in leather jackets with cigarettes dangling from their lips drive about in sentient Formula 1 cars. Now that is a game I would like to play, but such a game does not exist outside my fevered imagination. And on that note of disappointment, goodbye until next time!

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