11/08/2017

FOOTBALL GAME COVERS

The world might seem like a dark and dismal place at times, but here’s a golden ray of sunshine to lighten my mood: it’s the start of the new football season! Ah, what a wonderful time of year – the anticipation of seeing how new signings work out, the excitement of laying bets on how long Daniel Sturridge will be injured for this season, the faint glimmer of hope I allow myself as I set up my fantasy football team despite knowing full well that they’ll be relegation candidates by January. Anyway, to celebrate I‘m going to to look at a bunch of covers from football games. A lot of them are from the eighties, so I hope you like short shorts.

2 Player Soccer Squad, ZX Spectrum


Let’s begin with a pretty typical example of the form, at least when it comes to home computer football games. Ignore the fact that a two-player soccer squad isn’t going to have much luck when football teams are supposed to have eleven players each, and instead focus on the charmingly amateurish artwork, making particular note of just how small the player in red’s shins are. That’s why he’s such a good footballer, the reduced distance means nerve impulses can travel between his brain and feet quicker than other players.

Soccer, NES


Look, I know what you’re thinking but there’s nothing in the rules that says a jockey can’t be a football player.

Sean Dundee’s World Club Football, DOS


If you’ve ever wondered who the least famous footballer ever to endorse a videogame is, then Sean Dundee might be the answer to that question. This game is the footballing equivalent of Guitar Hero: Puddle of Mudd Edition. Dundee – whose dressing room nickname was almost certainly “Crocodile,” knowing footballers - had an okay career in the German Bundesliga before moving to Liverpool in 1998, where he proceeded to do bugger all. Astonishingly, he’s apparently still playing today, turning out at the age of 44 for German amateur team VSV Buchig. And, of course, he lent his name to this game, as well as appearing on the cover in a garish yellow and green number that’s giving me a craving for sour lemon sweets. As a minor collector of (especially hideous) football shirts, I’d love to own one of these but sadly I’m 99 percent sure it doesn’t exist: this image has been manipulated and in the original Dundee was wearing Karlsruher SC’s 1997-98 home shirt. That’s the kind of in-depth analysis that I can only apologise for.

Manchester United Europe, Amiga


Blimey, that’s a face and half, isn’t it? It’s as if Richard Nixon appeared in the video for "Firestarter". You’ve got to be careful, gurning like that. One slip and you’ll bite your own tongue off. Maybe it looks a little less troubling in the original photo?


Erm, no, not really. That’s the late Manchester United keeper Les Sealy, by the way. He died of a heart attack at the shockingly young age of 43, so I feel a little bad about pointing out his unsettling face.

Soccer Director, ZX Spectrum


It turns out that Blofeld didn’t die when James Bond dropped him down that chimney – he crawled out, went to a wig shop and asked for the least convincing toupee they had before entering the exciting world of football directorship. “Die? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to sign a first-team-quality striker while remaining within our transfer budget for the season!” No, wait, that was Goldfinger’s quote, not Blofeld’s. Screw it, I’m sticking with it.

Football Fever, ZX Spectrum


Ah yes, nothing says “I’ve come down with an incurable case of football fever” like a black-and-white image of a stiff-looking footballer standing next to a goal with an interesting take on the concept of netting. I hope you all realise than my mockery is of the most gentle kind, because I really do love these types of cover art. They speak to a time when budding programmers could create and sell a game without necessarily being artists, and without wanting to sound too “wake up sheeple”-ish it’s nice to see game covers that haven’t been painstakingly composed or focus-grouped into blandness. This is especially true of modern football games, which are entirely dominated by FIFA and Football Manager. “What about Pro Evolution Soccer?!” cries a lone voice from the back of the room, but that voice belongs to a Konami marketing employee and thus can and will be ignored.

Football Director: 2 Player Super League, ZX Spectrum


If you thought that the previous cover was dull, wait until you get a load of this one! “Play Against A Friend” is coming across more as a command than a suggestion, I fear. I sincerely hope this version of Football Director was intended for mail-order sales, because as much as I enjoy these low-rent Spectrum covers I don’t think this one is going to catch the eye of anyone browsing the shelves unless they’ve got chronic insomnia and they’re looking for the cure. And yet, this isn’t even the most boring cover in this article!

Football Pools Program, ZX Spectrum


That honour goes to the cover for Football Pools Program, which is so completely lacking in visual interest that I think it might wrap all the way around to being avant-garde genius. I should point out that Football Pools Program isn’t a football sim where you can only play as Liverpool, Blackpool and Hartlepool, by the way. The pools are a time-honoured British tradition - a way of gambling on the football, with the aim being to pick games that end in score draws. Now that I think about it, betting on something but not betting on the winner seems like a very British way to go about things.

Peter Beardsley’s International Football, Atari ST


Here’s English football legend Peter Beardsley, having a kickabout with his clone on the world’s narrowest football pitch while a computer explodes in the background. You know, as you do. While it’s not surprising that Peter Beardsley starred in his own football game - he was an exciting, skilful player, in his day – I am surprised that the artist included not one but two instances of Peter Beardsley’s face on this cover. If you do an image search for “peter beardsley face,” you’ll see why this is an unusual choice. One of Beardsley’s nicknames was “Quasimodo,” after all.
On the subject of Peter Beardsley, I was lucky enough to see him play in person at the tail-end of his career (during his spell at Hartlepool United,) and I’m a little sad that these days top-flight players go straight into punditry or coaching when they retire and don’t spend a couple of years slumming it at fourth-tier clubs. Who wouldn’t want to see Messi or Ronaldo getting lumps kicked out of them by bitter League Two cloggers?

1st Division Manager, Amiga


More famous faces from British football with this one, a veritable Mount Rushmore of eighties and nineties superstars. At the back you’ve got a very relaxed-looking Brian Clough and the mighty moustache of Graeme Souness, who’s posing like a British tourist trying to get the attention of a waiter during a holiday in Spain. In front of them, from left to right, it’s the troubled Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes performing a can-can routine and noted potato snack peddler Gary Lineker. It’s a sign of this cover’s quality that all these people are immediately recognisable, although poor Gazza has definitely come out worst during the illustration process and now has a touch of the Frankensteins about him. Look at his face and tell me he’s not about to ask John Barnes to build him a female companion from reanimated flesh.

Pet Soccer, PC


Okay, two things: who the hell owns a shark or a polar bear as a pet? Also, why is one of these football players a giant gherkin with googly eyes?  That warty green skin texture is genuinely unpleasant to look at, but I steeled myself for long enough to take a good look at that creature and I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to be. I would have said “a snake,” but it has limbs so, I dunno, a dragon? A football-playing dragon that’s also someone’s pet. Okay, sure, why not.

Club Football: The Manager, Amiga


Fig. 1: Testing begins on electrified benches installed in the dugout. Early results are not encouraging.

Multi-Player Soccer Manager, ZX Spectrum


This one doesn’t seem too bad at first glance, but then you catch sight of the player’s arm. That is not a human arm. It looks like to belongs to one of those sensory homunculi – you know, those models that show what a person would look like if their body parts were proportional in size to the amount of sensory input they receive. If it even is an arm, and not a third, vestigial appendage that the goalkeeper’s had grafted onto his nose. It’s unlikely to help him catch any more shots, but it’ll probably do a good job of distracting the opposing strikers.

Jikkyou World Soccer 2: Fighting Eleven, Super Famicom


Just so you know, there are some really good football game covers out there. This one’s for Jikkyou World Soccer 2: Fighting Eleven, better known to non-Japanese players as the all-time classic International Superstar Soccer Deluxe. The same image is used on the European and US covers, but I think the vertical orientation of the Super Famicom box displays it in a much more appealing way.  A more appropriate way, too, given that it’s a painting and as such it benefits from having a bit more space to breathe. Konami’s decision to go with an impressionist painting is surprising but welcome, and I think it captures of the excitement and energy of a football match excellently – and the fact that there appears to be a couple of blokes made from living fire in the background both hearkens to the passion of the sport and introduces a bit of mystery – do the fire-demons from beneath the Earth’s crust prefer man-to-man or zonal marking? Will the Grand Overseer of the Flame-Men stay off the treatment table long enough to guide Searing Maelstrom of Unimaginable Agony FC to the league title? Sadly we shall never know, because ISS Deluxe only stars regular, non-incendiary players.

World Football Manager, PC


This is former Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday boss and disgraced pundit “Big” Ron Atkinson, photographed moments after realising he’s just destroyed his career by making racist comments on live television.

Marko’s Magic Football, Sega CD


Not all games with a football theme are strictly about playing or managing a simulation of the sport, of course: for example, here’s Marko’s Magic Football, a platformer about a cartoon child with a magic football and the sadistic killers who try to burn him alive with flamethrowers. When there’s a clown on the cover of a game and it isn’t the biggest threat to a child, you know you’re dealing with something truly messed up.

Rick Davis’ World Trophy Soccer


You know earlier when I said Sean Dundee was the least famous footballer ever to have his name attached to a videogame? Well, I’m willing to admit my mistakes. It turns out that Rick Davis holds that particular honour. He played his entire career in the US, apparently, including a spell at a club called the St. Louis Steamers. That, erm, that’s not the most flattering name, is it? I can’t imagine the fans chanting “Steamers, Steamers!” whenever they run out on to the pitch. Not in a positive way, at least.
As for the actual cover art, Mr. Davis appears to have swung his foot at the ball and missed. It’s not the effect I would have chosen when trying to promote my football videogame, but to each their own.

Crazy Chicken Soccer, PC


It’s chickens… and they’re playing soccer! Now that is crazy, he chuckled, while surreptitiously filming the footballing chickens to see if any of them would be worth signing to shore up Rotherham United’s defence. In today’s world of obscenely inflated player wages, it’d be nice to sign a player who’ll work for chickenfeed. No, that noise you just heard wasn’t a rimshot, it was the sound of me beating myself with kitchenware as penance for that joke.
Now, Crazy Chicken Football isn’t a concept that sprang, unique and wholly formed, from the mind of this game’s developers. Oh no, Crazy Chicken has quite the history. German history, to be precise – you see, in 1999 a game called Moorhuhn Jagd (Moorhen Hunt) was created as a marketing tool for Johnnie Walker whiskey. It’s a very basic point-and-click shoot-em-up, where you shoot down moorhens by clicking on them. However, Moorhuhn Jagd became ridiculously popular in Germany, to the point that it was accused of harming German economic production due to the amount of time people were wasting playing it. I suppose the US equivalent would be Elf Bowling, and just like Elf Bowling the Moorhuhn series grew to include dozens of games (including this football spin-off, pinball and kart racing entries,) plus comic books, a TV cartoon and, god help us all, a German tie-in novelty single. The Moorhuhn games are localised as “Crazy Chicken” outside Germany-speaking regions and, well, here we are.

Street Gang Football, Amstrad CPC


Did you really think we’d get through this article without seeing at least one “street gang” themed football game? Hah, fat chance of that, and here it is. They’re a street gang, and they play football on the streets. No rules, vicious tackles made even more dangerous by the plethora of metal studs on their jackets, oil drums for goalposts, that kind of thing. Given that they’re all carrying bats I suspect they thought they’d signed up for a baseball game, but this gang will never back down from a challenge even if they do look like a Poison tribute band that’s gotten in way over their heads.

Lego Football Mania, PS2


Lego Football Mania is the only game featured here that lets you play as a Lego skeleton, and consequently I hereby award it a rating for ten out of ten, five stars, one hundred percent, best football game ever.

Ultimate Soccer, Game Gear


Here’s a cover that’s just a big picture of someone getting kicked right in the face. That’s the kind of thing that usually gets described as “brave defending,” which I’m sure will be a great comfort to this player as he attempts to cough up his own teeth.

Animal Soccer World, PS2


In which the lion from Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks has fallen on hard times.

Spec Soccer, ZX Spectrum


Finally for today, here’s one last amateur ZX Spectrum cover because I do love ‘em. The shadowy shape reaching for the ball implies that this team has put a sea lion in goal, a bold strategy that seems unlikely to pay off unless the opposition team consists of eleven sardines. It reminds me of the things I doodled in my school exercise books, and as much I’m not one to eulogise about the good old days, there’s definitely something rather heartwarming about that.

07/08/2017

3RD PARTY SNES CONTROLLERS

Today I’m going to talk about control pads. Specifically, third-party controllers for the SNES, because when I was a kid I had a SNES that only came with one official controller and I also had two younger brothers who were not exactly gentle with our peripherals. One of them took our NES Zapper in the bath with him, for pity’s sake. So, over the years I was “fortunate” enough to try out quite a variety of third-party SNES pads. I’m sure many of you will share this pain – there’s a reason that “I went to my friend’s house and they made me use the crappy non-official controller” is up there with “blowing on the cartridge” in terms of shared videogaming memories. Well, I was that friend with the crappy controllers. I apologise to everyone that had to suffer through Super Mario Kart this way.

QuickJoy SN ProPad


Let’s start with the pads I actually owned, and this was one of them: the SN ProPad. It’s actually… not bad? That’s how I remember it, anyway, and when an official SNES controller wasn’t available this would be the one I’d go for. It’s pleasingly chunky, durable at a time when the potential anger generated by two-player Mortal Kombat matches meant that durability might be an issue, and as I recall the d-pad was decent, too. The d-pad is so often where these controllers fall down, but I definitely put a lot of hours into Super Street Fighter II with this pad and didn’t suffer for it.
However, the most notable thing about this pad is just how incredibly 90s it is. It could have come from no other decade. The overall shape of it, the transparent plastic casing and most of all the colours of the buttons, colours so much of their time that if the 1990s had an official flag, it would be rendered in those hues.


Yeah, something like that. In an alternate history where Nickelodeon representatives colonised Mars in 1993, that’s the flag they planted at the future site of New Gak City. There were versions of this pad where the buttons were the same primary colours as on an actual SNES controller, but I’m sure we can all agree those are clearly inferior.

Competition Pro


On the opposite end of the scale is this depressing lump of grey misery, which I also owned. Owned twice, even: I had one as a kid, and then years later – I’m talking early-to-mid-2000s, long after the SNES’s heyday – I saw them for sale in a pound shop. Boxed, brand-new Competition Pro SNES pads for the incredible price of one of your English pounds. Obviously I bought one, on the off chance it was an artefact that had somehow travelled here from a parallel dimension. It wasn’t, it was the same old not-very-good SNES pad I’d used as a kid. I recall the d-pad on this one being particularly bad - spongier than a Mr. Kipling factory, frankly - as well as the little turbo-fire switches being both very stiff and quite sharp.
Speaking of the turbo-fire switches, you might notice that there’s one for slow motion. Given that some of VGJunk’s readership is bound to be too young to remember, I should explain how this switch worked: it was just a turbo button for Start. In most games, the Start button is pause, so to achieve a “slow-motion” effect the game would rapidly pause and unpause. It rarely worked well and sometimes didn’t work at all, but its best use was in the original SNES version of Street Fighter II. For some reason, Capcom made the decision to include a sound effect that plays when you pause SFII. “Sound effect” doesn’t quite cover it, mind you – it’s a sample of someone shouting “Hoh hoh hoh hah hah hah!,” plus a cymbal crash at the end. When you unpause, it says “fight!” So, playing SFII using this slow motion function means you’re launching hadoukens and sonic booms while a constant stream of “ho-fi-ho-fi-ho-fi” assaults your ears.
On top of that, this SNES pad is the same shape as a Megadrive pad. You’d think there’d be laws against that kind of thing, or if not laws then at least widely-held social taboos that should never be crossed. I assumed that the reason for this pad’s shape was that there was also a Megadrive version of the pad and the manufacturers were trying to save time and money by re-using the same shell, but while there is a Megadrive Competition Pro pad, it’s a different shape.

Tecnoplus SNES Control Pad


Oh man, I’d forgotten about this one until I started looking up SNES pads. Another controller that I used to own, the Tecnoplus is certainly a game pad. Yep. That’s all you can say about it, really. It’s utterly forgettable, the very image of a generic videogame control pad. Like, if you needed to draw a controller, possibly to advertise the videogaming section of your online shop, there’s a decent chance you’d just end up drawing the Tecnoplus. On closer inspection a couple of details do reveal themselves. One is that the d-pad looks horrendous, which I’m sure it was but obviously I can’t remember because the Tecnoplus pad is so dull it defies the human mind’s attempts at memorisation. The other is that the start and select button have been fused into one unit. That way you only have to make one button. It’s efficient, you see.

Triax Turbo Touch 360


Fortunately I never owned a Turbo Touch 360: unfortunately, one of my friends had the NES version, so I still had to use it a bunch of times. Clearly this controller’s main gimmick is in the d-pad region, where the familiar cross-shaped button has been replaced by an octagonal patch of rubber I like to call the Zone of Failure. The idea behind the Turbo Touch 360 was that the d-pad is replaced by a series of touch-sensitive, erm, sensors, with the aim of creating a control system that requires less physical force to interact with. Makes sense to me, many’s the time I’ve felt the embarrassing glare of my doctor as I explain that I’ve fractured my thumbs yet again by smashing them into the SNES’s unyielding, implacable d-pad.
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh: apparently the Turbo Touch was endorsed by a surgeon specialising in sports injuries, and I could see this pad being an option for some people with reduced manual dexterity. Sadly, that doesn’t make the Turbo Touch good, and as I recall it has only two states: ridiculously over-sensitive or completely unresponsive. Triax tried to reinvent the wheel and ended up with a sack full of bricks.

Nakitek Power to Perform


I’m not sure whether the controller pictured above is using the same capacitive sensor technology as the Turbo Touch or if it just has the worst d-pad mankind could possibly conceive of. That’s not important, though – the shocking twist with this one is that you can use it on both the SNES and the Megadrive or Genesis! That’s incredible technology right there, but there’s only one drawback: who is this meant for? What kind of mad billionaire owned both a SNES and a Megadrive during their peak years? Maybe it’s just a British thing, but I don’t think I knew anyone who owned a SNES and a Megadrive at the same time until years later when they began collecting retro stuff, not even that one rich kid who got every Nintendo console on release day. Sure, it might look like something Batman knocked up so he could play emulated games on the Bat-Computer, but I have to question its overall usefulness.

“Performance”


Here’s another one that I didn’t actually own but I certainly used at some point: those scalloped shoulder buttons are dredging up some long-submerged memories. We’re back to the most nineties of colour palettes with this one, and on the whole it looks like someone strapped Picasso into a machine that blasted Super Soaker commercials into his face for a week, then kicked him out of the booth and ordered him to paint an angry owl.
This one also seems to have a hole in the d-pad where you can screw in a little plastic nub, turning it into a mini-joystick. I don’t think I ever used a “joystick” like that. Here’s a shocking fact about me: I’m not very good at games that use joysticks, especially fighting games. I much prefer using a d-pad for them, and I’m too old to learn how to use a fighting stick now. Okay, not old. Stubborn. Yeah, that’s it.

Aqua Pad


It appears there was a variant of the previous pad called the Aqua Pad. Isn’t that where Aquaman moved after his divorce? Anyway, the Aqua Pad. It sure is something, and that thing is specifically springs. Why does it have those massive springs in the side? I assume they work with the shoulder buttons, and I’m no videogame control pad engineer but they seem comically oversized to me. If you dropped this pad on a hard surface, there’s a good chance the shoulder buttons would fly off with enough force to punch through six inches of reinforced steel.

Beeshu Jet Fighter


Finally for today, we’ve got this mad thing. I’ve had some kind of connection to most of the other pads I’ve mentioned, but it pains me to say I have never had the pleasure of using the Beeshu Jet Fighter controller. I couldn’t not include it, though, because look at it. More people should be made aware that there’s a SNES controller shaped like a stealth fighter, and if I can be a part of spreading this good news then that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It must surely be an absolute nightmare to use, but on the plus side if you’re the kind of person who throws their controllers when they get frustrated with a game then the Beeshu could probably travel about four hundred feet with enough air under its wings. Don’t throw your controllers, though. Breathe deeply, relax, see your failures as a path to eventual success. Unless you’re using that Competition Pro pad; in that case, go nuts.

04/08/2017

LETHAL CRASH RACE (ARCADE)

Today I’m going to put my pedal to the metal, feel a little bit annoyed that “pedal” and “metal” don’t rhyme and then crash a sports car into the side of some poor bugger’s house – it’s time for Video System’s 1993 arcade racer Lethal Crash Race!


First things first, that title is 33% a lie. I crashed plenty of times during this game and no-one died. There’s definitely racing and crashing, though. In fact, that’s about all there is to the game, which I suppose is what you want from an arcade racing game. I can’t imagine a coin-op version of Gran Turismo would be that much fun, not when you can’t spend all that time fiddling with your wheel camber or spoiler angles. Speaking of Gran Turismo, I think my favourite part of those game was using the car wash. There was something very satisfying about that. Anyway, back to Lethal Crash Race – obviously you’re going to need some cars to race in, so what does this game have to offer in terms of vehicles?


How about the Dadge Vipre? It’s a sleek and sporty number, with impressive acceleration and a name like someone trying to say “Dodge Viper” with a wet flannel wedged in their mouth.


Or maybe you prefer the classic flair of an Italian supercar, like the Lanborjini Daiblo? It’s got vented disc brakes, who could say no to that?
So yeah, Lethal Crash Race features real cars with their names changed juuust enough to make a mockery of trademarks, and there are plenty of Hontas, Pheraris and Mursedes-Banzes to choose from. I do enjoy such flagrant disregard for brand names; it certainly makes the names quite fun to say out loud. Which I did, several times, alone in my house. Don't judge me.


Each car has a driver, naturally, so there’s a colourful cast of characters for you to choose from. My mind was made up the second I noticed one of the drivers was a large man with a monocle and a vampire cape. What are the rest of the characters like? Who cares, I’m playing as a large man with a monocle and a vampire cape. His name’s Alfredo von Gourmand, and he drives a Porsche 959. Sorry, I mean a “Borsche 969.” He also flicks out his unnaturally long tongue and eats a fly when you select him, so he’s a Dracula and a Renfield.


Then it’s off to “Korea” for the first race. The game doesn’t specify which Korea, but I’m going to assume South. I can’t imagine the Dear Leader would have much truck with illegal street racing, which is what Lethal Crash Race is all about. It’s you against one CPU opponent in a race to the finish line, with no in-built special abilities or weapons to contend with – although you’re not totally defenceless.


The race is underway, and Alfredo and his Borsche immediately takes a healthy lead over his rival because, well, it’s the first stage in the game and thus it’s not really all that difficult. As you can see, Lethal Crash Race is a vertically-oriented racer, which makes sense. Video System (and the later developer Psikyo which was founded by former Video System staff) are most famous for their vertically-scrolling shoot-em-ups, notably the Sonic Wings / Aero Fighters games, so it’s not surprising that they’d put their knowledge of that genre to use when creating Lethal Crash Race.


My rival did manage to catch up to me near the end of the race, thanks to my insistence on driving through all the roadside patio furniture so I could watch it be scattered around the screen. I say “roadside,” someone’s clearly set up a cafe in the middle of the road and that’s not going to end well.
It doesn’t take long to get into Lethal Crash Race’s groove, and the actual gameplay is very easy get a handle on once you realise that two out of the three control buttons are superfluous. As well as using the joystick to steer, you’ve got one button to accelerate (very important) and two other buttons: brake and honk your horn. I cannot think of a single instance in this game where using the brake would be a good idea. Lethal Crash Race is not a game that requires what you would traditionally describe as good driving skills. As for honking your horn, I don’t think it has any practical applications, but it is fun to beep at your rival when you overtake them so the horn is still more useful than the brakes.


The first race ends with Alfredo’s victory, and the startling revelation that beneath his cape he has the body of a Greek god and the underwear of a male stripper. He’s half vampire, half hen night entertainment. He’s a Chippendracula!


And so goes the life of a lethal crash racer. You win a race, travel to another country and meet its resident weirdo – in this case Brazil, and a chap who looks like a cross between Jet from Cowboy Bebop and Popeye. Then you race them and move on. There’s no grand tournament at work here, no grand prix season or glittering prize, you just turn up in different countries and challenge random people to a street race.


Okay, it's not just “street races,” because they don’t all take place on the streets. This one covers the jungles and dry riverbeds of Brazil, for instance. This should give my rival the advantage, because I’m trying to off-road in a precision-engineered sports car and he’s driving a much more sensible truck, but I was willing to discard the stuffy etiquette of the racing driver, so that levelled the playing field a little. One of the nice things about Lethal Crash Race is that your rivals are just as susceptible to the “crash” part of that title, so you can nudge them into nearby cars or other obstacles to slow them down. In this case, I managed to shunt my opponent to the side a few times so they missed the ramps that jump over the speed-reducing swamps, bogging them down just long enough to allow me to take the lead. The way collisions are handled in LCR seems a bit strange at first: they’ll slow you down, but nothing ever really stops you, so you’re constantly barrelling forwards even if you’re ploughing into roadside buildings.


As for the car-to-car collisions, personally I think they’re really well implemented. There’s not so much impact that each hit sends you careening around the course, which could have rapidly become frustrating, but you’ve got just enough grunt to nudge your rivals into hazards and give yourself a bit of breathing space.


The next stage is set in England, and I do always like to see how Japanese game developers have decided to depict my home country. In this case, a lot of it is duck ponds, complete with quacking sound effects. You know what? I’m happy with that. There are a lot worse things for your country to be associated with that the gentle, relaxing scene of a duck pond. Plus I’ve got two duck ponds with a five minute walk of my house, so clearly it’s a very accurate portrayal of England.


Okay, so later on it does get a bit more stereotypically British, with the wrought-iron lampposts and cobbled streets, plus a large collection of the Queen’s Guard. I suspect this entire race was simply a test of the Queen’s Guards famous resolve by lining them up on the finish line and seeing whether they flinch when a racing car drives straight at them.


Now that I’ve had a few races to get to grips with LCR, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really good fun. It’s definitely fast, which helps, and tearing through the tracks and smashing through obstacles is enjoyable in exactly the kind of way that an arcade racer should be. It doesn’t really feel all that much like a racing game, truth be told. Not many of the usual hallmarks of a racing game are present. You never have to brake, there’s not much of a “racing line” to adhere to – it’s really all about reactions, and taking the opportunity to mess up your opponent’s race by leading them into other road users.


Plus, it’s all presented in a graphical style that I really like, with that small-yet-detailed look that’s something of a Video System (and later Psikyo) hallmark. Everything’s crisp, there’s a good level of detail that provides fun backdrops without being too busy or confusing when you’re blasting through them at two hundred miles an hour, and you can tell someone had a lot of fun drawing all the cars.
Something I’m not so keen on is the game’s music. It’s not horrendous or anything, just a set of fairly bog-standard techno tunes that have all the impact of a moth’s fart. What makes it worse is that if there was ever a game that could have benefited from some ludicrously cheesy guitar rock, it’s this one. If I play it again, I’ll probably listen to the F-Zero X soundtrack at the same time.


I managed to lose the race against Alfredo’s doppelganger, but LCR is generous with its continue system and you can try the race you failed again. You can even select a different character: I went with the duo of Ellen and Cindy / Cincia, who you might recognise from their later appearances as playable pilots in the Sonic Wings series. The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be much point picking a different character, because all the cars are disappointingly similar. Some might have slightly higher straight-line speed or marginally smoother handling, but really they’re all much of a muchness. The only car that I did notice a difference with was the Mercedes-Benz, and that difference was that I crashed into a lot more things because the car’s bloody massive.


As Lethal Crash Race moves towards its latter stages, one thing I noticed is that a lot of the tracks feel very similar, as though they’re assembled from a limited pool of pre-made sections. Quick chicanes are very common, as are sections where the road narrows, but thankfully you’ve got a rally-style “upcoming corner” indicator to let you know what you’re about to crash into. There are also some corners where the entire track “rotates” - think of a top-down SNES racer using Mode 7 effects – but on the whole they can feel a bit samey. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, though, mostly because the races in LCR only take a couple of minutes at most, so you don’t have much time to get burned out on them.


Oh, and your sodding car can explode. It took me until the final third of the game to realise this. You’ve got a damage bar at the top of the screen and everything. Too many collisions and whoops, I guess the name Lethal Crash Race is accurate after all. The damage is cumulative, too, and it’s not automatically repaired between races. There are repair item that appear on the track sometimes, but after a few races your car is almost certainly going to take enough damage to blow up. I’m not sure how I feel about this as a gameplay mechanic: on the one hand, it adds a bit of tension and collecting repair kits gives you something else to focus on beside winning the race, but smashing through every single roadside object and pinballing around the sides of the track like a hyperactive child in a soft play area is what LCR is all about, and it doesn’t feel right that I’m being punished for driving like a lunatic.


Forget what I said about the F-Zero X soundtrack: now that I’m driving down the highway in a red Ferrari, trying to overtake a yellow car with a big RIVAL indicator over the top of it, it has become clear that I should actually be listening to the OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast soundtrack instead. I mean, that statement’s true in any situation, really. Speaking of, I haven’t mentioned it for a while so here’s a reminder that the song “Night Flight” from the OutRun 2006 soundtrack includes the lyric “this is paradise / and it’s very nice,” which is simultaneously the best and worst lyric ever written.


Also fun: the opportunity to race against Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, before he became a mutated warthog creature.


The final race took me through the streets of a Japanese city and then some kind of temple, which served as a reminder that there’s a good reason people don’t generally hold motor races in temples. There’s just too much stuff to crash into. LCR has had a particularly smooth difficulty curve up to this point, with the races definitely becoming harder to win as you progress but without any obnoxious spikes in difficulty, so that by the time you reach the end it’s pretty goddamn difficult to hold onto a lead but it never feels unfair. Like, I had to try the race a few times but each time I felt as though I was getting a little better until I managed to win. An honest victory! At the end of an arcade game! Who would have thought it possible?


I switched back to Alfredo at some point, which means I get to see Alfredo’s ending. And what an ending it is, especially if you’re a big fan of chiselled abs, restrictive underwear and inappropriate amounts of exposed flesh.


So inappropriate, in fact, that Alfredo is hauled away on charges of indecent exposure. Seems reasonable to me, there’s no way he managed to do all that aggressive driving and subsequent victorious flexing without at least one of his nuts falling out of his posing pouch. Maybe it’s an Al Capone type situation: they couldn’t bust him for illegal street racing, so they had to arrest him for outraging public decency.


It’s always nice when I can unreservedly recommend a game I’ve written about, especially when it’s something that most people probably haven’t played, so I’m happy to report that Lethal Crash Race is definitely worth your time. It’s simple and straightforward in the best possible way, a real arcade-style experience packed with high-speed racing and almost constant stimulatory overload that’s a blast to play mostly because it refuses to play much like a racing game at all. The relatively samey tracks and cars mean it might not keep you hooked for hour after hour, but I’m sure LCR will become a game I return to whenever I’m in the mood for a quick fix of complete automotive insanity. Now I’ve just got to figure out whether Alfredo’s get-up of a cape and only a cape is enough to include him in my own personal category of “vampires that are Draculas.”

VGJUNK Archive

Search This Blog

Followers