Sunday, August 30, 2009

Uniracers-SNES-DMA Design

One of the genres that I have grown to love more and more as technology has increased is racing. Back when I was younger, I rarely had much to do with them unless I was visiting a friend. As a result, my experiences were limited to games like Mario Kart and Virtua Racing. Both were fantastic games, but only scratch the surface of the experiences available at that time. So I was excited to pick up DMA Design's (who would later go on to become Rockstar North) 1994 game, Uniracer. So does Uniracers keep up with the pack or does it lose its balance at the starting line?

Visually, the game is colorful and pleasing to look at. The tracks are brightly colored and look much like a candy cane. Similarly, the unicycles themselves are all vibrantly colored and do a great job of remaining distinct from the background. Unfortunately, there is very little to see while one is racing. The backgrounds are particularly bland, often being made up of repetitious shapes and colors. Yet, as a result of this, it is able to keep a strong sense of speed with little to no slowdown.

The mechanics, likewise, are simple to learn and difficult to master. Pressing left or right on the d-pad will send the living unicycle hurtling in that direction. The should buttons cause them to flip in the air, while pressing left and right rapidly while in the air causes them to twist. The Y button is the breaks, though one will hardly ever need to use it, while X and A both perform different tricks that are useful in the trick challenges. In any other situation, a flip or a twist is preferable because they can be preformed quicker. Seeing as boost is earned from landing a trick successfully, the quicker one can be pulled off the better.

There are eight different cups in the game (Four of which are unlocked from the start). Each cup has five races and three difficulty settings. The first difficulty level is bronze, followed by silver and gold. To move up to a higher difficulty, the player must win all five races on each previous difficulty level of that cup. Unlike Mario Kart, though, the new difficulty levels do not change how the races play out. There are no changes in speed or variations to the track that will help keep the game feeling fresh. Instead, the computer character becomes almost infallible, often times beating the gold rank that has been set on the time trials. This requires the player to preform perfectly in most situations. And seeing as a jump can be bungled by landing at just slightly the wrong angle, some races can become quite frustrating.

At the start of the game, the player is allowed to choose one of 16 differently named and colored unicycles, or if one is so inclined, he can go to the options menu and rename them. Every medal earned, will be saved to that specific character. Unfortunately, the game does not record beating specific races, so if the player beats four of five challenges, the progress will not be recorded. Even so much as leaving the screen would cause all four victories to be wiped.

As I've stated, each cup is made up of five races. These are usually made up of two lapped races, two race to the finish, and one trick race. These races usually have symbols by each which will inform the player a little about each race. A straight arrow generally means that the player will be mostly heading in one direction, while a hook usually means the race has large jumps. A circular arrow generally denoted a lapped race.

As frustrating as the game can be, controlling the unicycles is a breeze. As there is no slowdown even at high speeds, there is no delay between button presses and the action. This helps as more often than not, the player is required to make split second choices where any mistake could doom the round.

As I mentioned, the games environments are nondescript, which makes it difficult to tell exactly where one is during the race. Being a side-scrolling racer, the player is not able to see what is ahead of him. Luckily, the game color codes the track so as to help one know what's coming up. Blue and red generally mean that a sharp hill is coming and not to jump. An orange and yellow set of track always comes before a trap that must be jumped to avoid. Paying attention to these can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

Musically, the game is fantastic with a rocking, upbeat and fun tempo that matches the breakneck pace of the races. The sound effects, on the other hand, are almost non-existent. Other than the chime that plays when a trick is landed, the racing is extremely quiet. There is a muted sound to the jumps, but none for the landing. There are other things that make a sound, such as the wheels peeling off at the start, but for the most part it's a fairly silent in the sound effects department.

Uniracers is a simple game. It's equal parts frustrating and fulfilling. When you're wining or at least in contention, the game is a blast to play, but if you make a mistake, it becomes almost impossible to catch, especially up in the later difficulties. It's an archaic game that feels awesome. I can't personally say that I loved the game, but I didn't hate it either. It's a well made game, just don't go in expecting a perfect, or easy, race.

1 comment:

  1. I was very interested when I saw this game in Nintendo Power way back when. I never did get to play it. Oh, well. I feel I've vicariously played it through you now.