I hate to start this post with a downer, and I debated keeping this or leaving it out. I decided I'd rather be the guy that “said too much” instead of “not said enough” when it comes to this blog.
I know I'm just some random peon with a modest retro gaming blog, but I want to devote this article (and the other two as well) to Chris Cornell, lead singer of Audioslave and Soundgarden who passed away last Wednesday, the same day as my Road Rash 2 review. The reason I devote these reviews to him is because he actually plays a major role in videogame history, and did so via the Road Rash series. While there is some debate whether it was THE very first game to include a such a feature, the 3DO edition of Road Rash included a licensed soundtrack and is often attributed as the first game to have this (when it came to actual CD audio). Upon startup, the game would play the intro cutscene to the game. The song used in this cutscene was “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden. This was also the first song that kicked up on the main menu.
The inclusion of licensed music (which included other Soundgarden tracks as well) in the 3DO Road Rash would go on to win it several “best award” soundtracks, and is often cited as a big reason why the 3DO edition (along with its ports on PlayStation, Saturn and Sega CD) is so highly revered.
R.I.P. Chris Cornell. A musical genius taken way too soon.
Welcome to the 3rd and final part of my Road Rash retrospective. If you would like to read my reviews of Road Rash 1 and 2, check them out right here (Road Rash 1) and here (Road Rash 2).
Road Rash 3
1995, Electronic Arts
The third game in the Road Rash Genesis trilogy ended up not releasing until near the end of the Genesis' relevant lifespan in early 1995. At this point though, the Road Rash series was on the critical uptick, having released the well-received 3DO version (simply named “Road Rash”) just a handful of months before. With a PlayStation, Sega CD, and Sega Saturn port around the corner (and oh, how I wish I had a copy of one of those versions), Electronic Arts wasn't QUITE finished with the system the series was rooted in, even if the Sega Genesis was starting to wind down.
This isn't to say that Road Rash 3 was a rushjob by any means. In fact, Road Rash 3 looked, sounded, and played considerably different from Road Rash 2, which itself borrowed a lot of assets from the original game.
The graphics take on a more motion-captured, digital appearance as opposed to the drawn sprites of the first two games. I remember receiving this game for my birthday in 1995, and at the time it was ridiculous to see graphics this real coming from the Genesis (keep in mind, there were several Genesis games I never played during that time). But time hasn't been very nice to the art style of this game. The models look washed out, like they were processed for a stronger system and “dumbed down” so the Genesis could handle it. Some might chalk this up as an “art style”, but there's times where pedestrians, cars, and post-game rider graphics just look straight-up ugly. Also, the movements aren't as smooth as they were in past games. This visual style would also be used in the Sega CD port of the 3DO Road Rash game, and it makes me wonder if these graphics were made for the technically superior Sega CD game and then downsized for the Genesis.
That's not to say the graphics are all bad, though. The bikes and riders are much larger on-screen. You might not notice it much when you play, but if you play this for a time and then rewind back to Road Rash or II, you'll definitely notice it. Also, there's a neat effect where the overlay (which has seen the locations of statistics change, as well as a change from an analog speedometer to a digital one) will change colors depending on the color of the sky in each track. Sure, that's nothing but a simple color trick, but it's one of those little effects missing in past games that is pretty neat. This also carries over into the 2-player mode (which has largely remained unchanged from Road Rash II), but the visual effect isn't so strong.
And the courses in this game have seen an overhaul as well. Having taken the step from “California” to “nationwide” in II, Road Rash 3 takes the fight worldwide. Level 1 starts with races in Brazil, the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Kenya. There's neat touches in each course, such as animal life and props indigenous to each region. In a neat touch, the U.K. course even includes the traffic swapping lanes, and it's a much bigger element than it sounds. Another change worth mentioning is that even though there are still 5 courses per level, there are now 7 courses throughout the game. Reaching the “level 2” difficulty replaces the Kenya course with a brand new Australia course. Once you hit “level 3”, Italy is replaced with a night race in Japan. These courses will swap around some more (Kenya returns in level 4, for example). Also, a good amount of these courses are tougher, with tighter turns and chicanes. I never needed to use the brake in the level 1 courses of Road Rash 1 and 2, but needed to hit the brakes at least once in each course here. Germany especially has some lethal turns that will split your rider from your bike in short order if you try to take them at full speed.
The obstacles on the course are also out in full force. There seems to be a TON more cares on the road in this version, with their often being standstills in both lanes. It's somewhat irritating to have to go off-road and lose speed to get around these, while watching the CPU riders often split right through like there was nothing there. Another knock is that while in past games, a car that hits a bike will mow right on through and the bike would fall to the side, in this game the cars will stop in their tracks...sometimes. Other times, the car will continue to mow over the bike over and over again. Sometimes this will tack on just a couple of seconds to the process of getting back on. Other times, they can knock your bike back so far before the bike breaks free that you'll have lost considerable ground. If you're in a level 1 race and are unlucky enough to have this happen, you can pretty much kiss qualifying in the top 3 goodbye. I'm not sure if this was a design choice or a product of the new engine, but it's unacceptable in my eyes. There's also numerous animals that will try to cross the road; some can be ran right over (PETA would have plenty of material if this game came out today), some will send your rider flying off the bike in some way (deer might send the rider flying forwards, while bison will stop the rider and bike outright). While this aspect does take my complaint away of races being dull once you've pulled so far ahead of the pack, I'm not sure replacing “boredom” with “irritation” works out. There's gonna be a handful of races per run where things just won't work out for you. I had races at level 3 where within 2 miles of the 10 mile race, I knew I was screwed with my bike health in red and being near the back of the pack.
On top of that, the police have also kicked into another gear. Not only do the cops come in bike form, but now will bring cars out in hot pursuit (as opposed to them sitting idle in Road Rash 2, though they will do that too). In a moment of overkill, they also appear in helicopter form. They'll actually attempt to descend and knock you off with their landing gear, and can hover over you for a good amount of time, waiting for you to fall from your bike. It's just startling to see extremely low-flying choppers used to bust your rider.
In another curious move, there is also a “last chance” mechanic to this game. If you are arrested or wreck your bike and don't have the money to pay the bills, you're given a last chance to “snitch” or “repo” (respectively, depending on what event transpires when you have no money). “Snitch” will arm you with a billy club and give you one race to KO a specified rider assigned by an officer. Failure to knock this rider from his bike (you can't simply be in the proximity of the rider like the other cops) will result in your game ending, regardless of how well you finish the race. “Repo” is the same, except arming you with the new “crowbar” weapon. You'll typically only get one shot at these per playthrough and that's either/or, you won't get to "snitch" AND "repo" in one run. And you won't receive any money for accomplishing this goal, just the luxury of being able to play on. So you'll still need to find a way to rack up cash (and quickly) once you've made it through this.
Swingin' a crowbar before Gordon Freeman made it cool.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are new weapons in this game. In fact, the number of weapons increases from 2 to 7, a dramatic jump from the past games. The billy club and chain return, with the chain being nerfed a decent amount (akin to how the club was dialed back in Road Rash II). A crowbar can knock enemies off in a couple of power shots, and the nun-chucks take over as the top weapon (based on power), with 2 shots from it being enough to knock anybody off. The game also contains 3 limited-use items that only contain 10 charges before switching off to another weapon. The mace spray can stun enemies for a short time, preventing a rider from steering or accelerating their bike (I guess it's corrosive mace, considering it melts right through helmet visors). Oil cans leave a puddle of oil that will result in an instant KO if a rider runs over it while turning. Lastly, a cattle prod can electrocute and stun riders for a longer time than the mace. A mace or cattle prod shot followed up with a kick off the road is an almost sure-shot way to thin out the competition, but the oil can is totally lame. Even the CPU riders can't use this item effectively, as "Lucky Luc" in level 1 will try to stay ahead and spam this item like crazy, to no avail.
In another change to the fighting system worth mentioning, riders can now (FINALLY!!!) retain weapons through races. Once you obtain an item from someone, it's yours until it's taken from you again. Also, an item with charges (mace, oilcans, and the cattle prod) will refill charges once a new race begins. You can also change items mid-race, allowing you to horde multiple high-powered items. The controls to do this (press start while holding up on the d-pad) is pretty convoluted, but in a game already using all the buttons of the Genesis controller, I'll admit I struggle to think of a better way they could've implemented this. But taking your thumb off the accelerator and preventing steering is not a comfortable way to change items in such a fast-paced, twitch-reflex racing game like this.
The music in Road Rash 3 has transformed radically from its predecessors.
The music and sounds of this game are almost completely brand new. The songs in this game are unique to each territory, with exotic music playing in the Brazil and Kenya stages, while other courses sample well-known melodies from those regions, such as the UK course sampling “Rule Britannia” and Japan sampling “Cherry Blossoms”. The Australia stage simply samples the main menu theme of the game, which is one of my favorite tracks in the entire Genesis library. The yells in the game have been improved, mostly because females FINALLY sound like females (again, I'm only parading this because in past games females have let out extremely manly grunts). At the same time, yells sound more real as opposed to the overdramatic yells of the riders in Road Rash II. Though I'll admit, your rider sounds less like he's excited to place when he crosses the finish line and more like some pro wrestling mark trying to start a Daniel Bryan “yes” chant.
One last upgrade to mention is...well...the upgrade system. The bike shop still contains as many bikes as it once did, with the nitro bikes now being their own unique machines instead of just being remakes of previous models. There is also an upgrade shop, with upgrades available to “performance” (increases top speed slightly), “protection” (your bike takes less damage in crashes), “tires” (better traction), and “suspension” (keeps the bike stable when landing). The prices will fluctuate as you get better bikes with the exception of “protection”, which will always cost a cool $1000. Some of these upgrades will come in handy, as some of the stats on the bikes in the bike shop are only incrementally different. You'll need to strategize what upgrades to buy and what bikes you want to save up for.
In the end, Road Rash 3 is one of those games that takes huge steps forward in its set of features, but takes a slight step back in the gameplay. Whether you'd prefer it over Road Rash II is sortof up to interpretation. Some see Road Rash 3 as a total bastardization of the first two games, while some think 3 adds enough to make it the best in the series running away. I personally prefer II over 3, but could totally understand someone preferring 3. Road Rash 3 is only a slight bump more than Road Rash II, just slightly north of $10. However, the game CiB tends to run higher, with copies recently selling at around the $30 mark. This leads me to believe Road Rash 3 might be rarer than its current price point indicates...I say this knowing full well the last time I said this was discussing “Namco Museum Vol. 2”, only to find the price actually DID spike shortly after that post. I chalk that up as coincidence, but in the opinion of this amateur retro gaming collector, if you have this, I'd hold it tight for awhile. I don't anticipate this ever hitting "extremely rare" status, or ever being the crown jewel of an avid collector's collection, but I see Road Rash 3 considerably less often than I see 1 and 2. And if you find it cheap, go ahead and pick it up, just because the quality of the game is worth the $10 with ease.
RATING - 4 out of 5
And with that, I thank you all for joining me for this Road Rash Retrospective. I know I'm skipping a few noteworthy renditions of the game, such as the highly acclaimed 3DO version, and the set of games in the next console generation in 3D, Jailbreak, and 64. Maybe I'll hit those another time, no promises though.
And of course I skipped “Skitchin!”. I'll never review that...probably.
I hope you all will join me in two weeks for a special 6-month anniversary post. I plan to have a special treat ready and waiting.
Welcome to Part 2 of the TenEightEP “Road Rash Retrospective”, where I review all 3 games of the Road Rash trilogy on the Sega Genesis.
If you missed Part 1 where I reviewed the original “Road Rash”, I recommend you do so if you are not familiar with Road Rash, as I will be referring back to aspects of that review here. If you'd like to read it, click here.
Road Rash II
1993, Electronic Arts
There's a low-hanging fruit of a joke to be made regarding Electronic Arts and churning out rehashes year after year, but in the early 90s it was rare to have a true sequel ready that quickly. The videogame industry wasn't the moneymaker it is now, and there were few sources of feedback that a game could be a hit or a flop until there were hard sales figures to quote.
“Road Rash II” came out in the United States in mid-1993 (and actually came out earlier in the year in Europe), just short of two years after the original Road Rash was released. Considering the amount of games Electronic Arts was putting out at the time for the Sega Genesis, it's hard to imagine they didn't start work on this sequel immediately after the release of the first game. And while the game borrowed a handful of sprites and a few sounds from the original game, there were a large amount of changes and additions made to the game. And as you'll read here, some are for the better, some adjust the game slightly, and a few are for the worse.
Right from the start, the game shows one huge improvement:
Holy crap! An actual menu system!
In fact, the music in this game is pretty good in general, and fits each of the game's 5 U.S. based courses (an expansion of the original's California based stages). Alaska contains an amazing, intense track for a rather difficult course (and serves as the game's de-facto theme song), Hawaii has around half a minute of drums before any actual song begins and keeps that as a backbeat once the actual melody begins, and Arizona has a low-tempo crooner of a song that matches the desert environment. The music in this game all around is a vast improvement to the music in Road Rash 1. I'd dare say the worst Road Rash 2 track is better than the best Road Rash 1 track. The only drawback is if you are on the Bike Shop menu when a certain track hits on the main menu track, one instrument track glitches out and sends some ear-scraping static in its place. It's disarming the first time you hear it, to the point you'll think your cartridge is about to freeze up or needs cleaned. In the sound department there are new grunts, but all riders (women included) sound the same. There's also animals in the road that serve as obstacles that can knock you off your bike, but they remain static and also make the same sound as the riders, except with a lower pitch (though not so low that the rider voice isn't recognizable).
As far as modes go, the two-player mode returns, except now there is legitimate, true split-screen multiplayer. The game still includes Road Rash 1's “take turns” multiplayer, but now two players can play through the full game simultaneously. Of course, the game suffers a tiny bit when running this way, as the graphics aren't as detailed and the screens are scrunched down to fill the screen (I heavily advise players not to try this mode on a small TV). But to finally have a true 2-player mode after Road Rash 1's half-baked effort is a breath of fresh air. There's also a “mano-a-mano” mode where two players can pick any level of difficulty, any bike, and any weapon they want (we'll get to that in a moment) and race in a simple 1v1 faceoff with no other CPU riders. This mode is pretty damn fun, but it's kindof redundant to have each player choose separate bikes, as there's only a few bikes that are similar to another bike.
The # of bikes in the bike shop also sees an increase. Many of these bikes vary across different stats. Some are very light, slip-and-slide around corners and have quick acceleration, while others are stable heavyweights that require the wind-up of the tight corners in Road Rash 1. The classes also differ now, as some of the lighter bikes will have souped-up engines that are more fit for higher levels, whereas some “super bikes” are heavyweights that need to build up to a proper speed (though some higher grade ones are a superb combination of speed and control).
On top of that, there is now the “Nitro Class”, bikes containing a number of turbo boosts that can be activated by tapping the accelerator twice quickly. You'll have to be careful not to trigger these accidentally in a race, but otherwise it's a welcome addition. It also helps that the game “introduces” nitro into the gameplay by putting them on bikes with bad acceleration and only including a small handful of boosts, serving as a remedy rather than a luxury. Though the higher grade nitro bikes scratch the itch to go from “fast” to “absurd”, with the “Diablo 1000 N” moving faster than a bat out of hell. And I dare I mention the “Wild Thing 2000”, a bike only available via cheat code that hits 200 MPH without nitro boosts (and still has them anyway).
Road Rash II's weapon addition is a chain that essentially makes the billy club obsolete.
On top of adding to the number of bikes by several, Road Rash 2 adds to the number of weapons......by one. The chain is now added to combat, which can take out just about any rider in two hits (no more one-hit KOs, sans a cheap one you can get at the very start of the race). This sounds like a fun addition, but it really only serves as a substitute to the original game's billy club. The club does return, but the power is so toned-down from the original game that you might as well just stick to the bare fist (I mean, when you're bare-handed, you can steal someone's chain). At least the club still retains its satisfying golf club-like “woosh” when swung. And again, you still lose weapons after races. But again, considering how easy battles become with the chain, this might be the best decision, or else fights would become a total non-factor.
The rider AI in this game is also more unique for each rider. Some will only attack when provoked, some will actually speed up enough when passed to keep up with you and instigate a fight (even following you from the back of the pack to the lead spots if left unattended to). In the original game, fights only really took place when you drove past or if an AI opponent's bike had similar attributes to the bike you used. And sometimes, having an upgraded bike will override some of this AI. But you likely won't last long if you plan on simply racing your way to victory. At least a couple riders per race will force you to throw down.
Unfortunately, some of the problems of the original game crop up. On longer races, there will still be plenty of track left once you pass your opponents, so that “you vs. the road” aspect is still present. In my experience there seemed to be a lot more cops present than in the original game, as well as cop cars/trucks, but those never seemed to be too much of an obstacle. Again, just don't crash in their vicinity and you'll be a-OK. As well, it's always the later segments of the courses that become tougher and tougher. If you have a rough go at it in the earlier portions, the later parts will make mincemeat out of you. This wouldn't be so bad if you weren't using faster bikes and the number of obstacles weren't increased. And in an effort to spoil as little as possible, I'm only calling this out because this is something that Road Rash 3 gets correct.
In the end, Road Rash II is a much improved sequel to the original game, and whether you prefer this more “locked-in” rendition of a classic Road Rash game, or prefer the transformation the game would undergo in the form of Road Rash 3 a few years later (which I will discuss next week), this game is worth flagging down. It's going price right now is around $10, which is a pretty easy deal to me. While Road Rash 1 is far from a letdown, I would personally skip over it for Road Rash II, a game that improves on the original in all ways.
Rating – 4 out of 5
It would be almost 2 years before Road Rash 3 would arrive on the Genesis, near the end of the Genesis' relevant life cycle. And with that would come a large transformation as to how the game looked, sounded, and played. However, does that necessarily mean "improvement"? Fine out next week.
1991, Electronic Arts
Sometimes you walk into a rental store (...OK, once upon a time you would), you go through the games and see a game so tempting, so visceral, so brutal, so fun-looking, you can't help but pick it up. You see a videogame that seems to be the digital evolution of a game you'd played with your toys a hundred times before. You just have to see if the game itself lives up to your imagination, and maybe even stretches it a bit.
This is what the Road Rash series was to 7-year old me. I hate to play the cliched “90s kid” slant, but I grew up in a time where there was mild concern over violence and fighting in the cartoons we watched, but there were cases of it everywhere. A ton of those shows would have cars or bikes laced with weapons. Sure, they might have been laser beams or grappling hooks, but no cartoon worth watching didn't have a vehicle loaded for war. Hell, that's pretty much all the "Transformers" franchise is about! So of course that spread to the toy cars and bikes I had too, constantly wrecking them and pretending they were firing weapons and smashing into one another.
And sure, Road Rash isn't about machine guns and laserbeams. But the idea of a racing game, mixed with a fighting game aspect of punching other racers off their bikes or kicking them into obstacles, was a pretty novel concept at the time. It wasn't the first game to ever introduce this concept, but it was the first to get any real attention for it. The Road Rash series would go on to rest in that “cult-hit” status on the Sega Genesis, while moving on to next-gen systems with...mixed results (we'll hit those another time). There were also well-heralded entries on the PC, and a version on the 3DO that's considered by many to be the best game on that entire console. But even then, the Genesis trilogy is the most well known of the franchise.
It also led to this. Ummmm...yeah, we'll get to this another time...maybe...if you're really nice.
Today is part 1 of a 3 part series over the next 3 weeks where I will be reviewing the entire Genesis Road Rash trilogy. I'll be showing how each game thrived, where each sequel evolved, where they took a step back, and what flaws they could never ever shake.
Road Rash pits either 1 or 2 players (though the 2 player mode consists of just taking turns) against multiple other riders across 5 California locales in a race to the finish by any means necessary. And by “any means necessary”, I mean throwing fists and feet to put opposing riders out of commission (at least temporarily). Along with these opponents, players must also watch out for traffic in both lanes, police bikes that can end your race if you crash within their vicinity, and obstacles both on and off the road.
You have two health bars you'll need to watch as you race; a rider health bar and a bike health bar. The bike health will go down as you crash into things, but regenerates to full at the end of the race. The rider's health bar goes down as he takes hits from other racers. If your rider's health bar hits zero, he will be thrown from his bike. This bar does regenerate after being knocked off, but if you're knocked off your bike in this manner enough times, your maximum health will begin to fall. You can also regenerate health simply by not being attacked, and you'll get a good amount of pockets where that will be possible. In fact, even though the fighting AI is at its toughest in this game compared to the sequels, you likely won't be sweating fights unless you come across someone wielding “the club”.
Some riders will be in possession of a billy club that does incredible damage to other riders, as well as to you. However, if you can punch a club-wielder while they are winding up their swing (and fortunately, their wind-up is slower than your own), you can steal the club right out of their hands. Policemen also possess a club that you can steal. And believe me, this thing can be a game-changer. Being able to take out riders in a couple of hits (sometimes one hit if you use the “up+C” power shot) can make you feel like an unstoppable force of nature. It's just a damn shame you lose the club at the end of every race. Future Road Rash games would add extra weapons on, both to the benefit and determent of each game. But for this initial entry, there's not a whole lot to complain about having just one “power-up” that vanishes at the end of the race. But the itch to want to be able to have the item “for keeps” is certainly there, and it would take EA some time before they'd scratch it for us.
Yeah, the only results screen cap I got was of one of my...less fruitful attempts.
Finishing 4th place or better will officially “qualify” you on a course, though obviously placing higher will net you more cash. Cash is used to upgrade to a new bike, to pay the police off if you're “busted”, or for repairing your bike if your bike's health bar hits zero in a race. If you're busted or wreck your bike and don't have the money to pay up, the game is over. It feels kindof strange that not finishing in the conventional “top 3” is required, and this is the only version of the Genesis Road Rash games that give the benefit of 4th place being good enough to qualify. Qualifying on all 5 courses will boost you to the next “level”, which will make the courses longer and the opponents faster. It's a good idea to make sure you've upgraded your bike at least once per level before you hit the next difficulty. Constant 3rd and 4th place wins might make an upgrade difficult to obtain, which could become a problem for players in the higher levels. In theory, you could work around this via retrying a race, but Road Rash locks out courses if you have already qualified on them. You can only retry races if you finished out of the qualifying range.
As for the gameplay itself, it's pretty impressive that Electronic Arts got so much right on the first go. The bikes handle with a sleight delay as the driver has to swing their weight around to get the momentum to turn. These aren't “lean-back” cruiser bikes that allow for simply turning the steering wheel a great amount, and at high speeds it is possible to wipe out from hitting a turn too tight. Some bikes are looser on turns, while others are a little tighter and need some “wind-up” before hitting the corner. Be sure to read the bike descriptions carefully so you know what to expect.
The difficulty of the races themselves can be harsh right from the start if you're new to the game. On the first level, the length of the races is usually so short that you won't have much room for error. Falling off your bike a couple of times is about all you can afford if you're aiming for a first place finish, and if you're knocked off a third time, you'll have to scrap to stay on the qualifying podium. This becomes more lenient if you knock off a bunch of riders (Pro Tip: club), and longer races later on will afford you more wiggle room (but again, keep an eye on your bike's status). One disadvantage to later levels is that once you get into first, there's still often a lot of course left (this assumes of course, you have upgraded your bike properly). At this point it becomes a test of patience to simply stay on the bike. It gets kind of boring at this point, as Road Rash doesn't have the control or constant obstacles a pure racing game like Outrun has once you've left all other bikers in the dust, and unfortunately, this is a slip-up in every Road Rash game in the set. It might not sound too bad on paper, but once you've gone from throwing punches and kicks at every rider within your general vicinity to just trying to “ride the storm out” once you're in first, the gameplay change is pretty jarring. That's not to say there isn't anything to do; cops, traffic, and the course itself should be accounted for at all times, regardless of how far ahead or behind you are, but it certainly feels like a lull in a game that gives the impression of not having any.
You could bounce a quarter off that chin...
The graphical style is rather inoffensive for an early Genesis game, but never really pushes the boundaries. Some of the rider portraits before races are pretty jarring to look at though, and there is an occasional pop-in from scenery. While playing for this review, I found a car crossing at an intersection, but the car spawned before the intersection, making it appear like it was driving out of the grass. Your rider is always a different color than the other racers, making him easier to spot when there are several bikers on screen. It also helps all of the other bikers are the same color, and that color only fluctuates from level to level.
One other graphical hiccup is with EA's attempt at a streamlined “menu” system. When selecting a race or on the results screen, every button has a function on the screen instead of having a simple “main menu” setup. For example, when selecting a race, the “A” button will switch the game between 1 and 2 player modes (even allowing the single-player game to be played by Player 2, in a strange design choice). The B button will shut the music on or off. We will get to the music very soon, but believe me when I say, EA's sound chip trying to process the roar of a bike engine is a sound you don't deserve to subject yourself to. And the C button takes you to the “name/password” screen. Thankfully, Road Rash contains a password system that lets you continue progress, but the passwords seem hilariously complex for a game that really doesn't have a lot to keep track of. These are functions that only appear on the Course Select screen, which is the very first screen you see upon proceeding past the title. You'll need to keep these functions in mind or wait several seconds for the screen to remind you of the functions.
As well, the results screen is needlessly complex. Hitting the A button will take you to a high-score screen while hitting C takes you to the bike shop. Why these cannot be accessed from the basic course select screen is beyond me. You better not skip past the results once you obtain enough money to upgrade a bike, or else you're sunk. And the high-score board is simply a list of names with a money amount next to them. The issue here is that your entry on this board is based on the money you have at a given time, NOT the amount you've accumulated throughout the entirety of the game. You likely won't be on this board for long (or at all) if you're upgrading your bike like you should be. All of this effort to “streamline” instead makes things overly complicated, and requires you to either wait out until you see what button you have to hit to perform the function you want, or have them ingrained in your head (and it's pretty easy to forget once you've stopped playing for a long period of time).
The last thing worth mentioning is the sound design of this game. The fact that this is an early EA Genesis game might be enough to prepare those “in the know” for what's coming. Early games by Electronic Arts on the Genesis were known for having especially “twangy” music that sounded borderline sci-fi, and Road Rash is a prime offender in that regard. That's not to say the music is awful, but it almost sounds like the music is performed on extra-terrestrial interpretations of bluegrass instruments. A friend of mine, CJ, described the music in the game as “a synthesizer trying very hard to be a guitar”.
Take a listen for yourself:
Fortunately, EA would improve greatly in regards to the soundtrack across the 3 games. Road Rash 2 contains music better fit for the limitations of the hardware, and 3 sounds like something completely different altogether, but we'll discuss those in greater detail as we get to them.
One other hiccup is that every rider sounds like a male, giving very deep, loud grunts when hit or crashing. This would be OK if there weren't clearly female riders in the game. It's jarring to see Natasha (who is shown in the pre-race opponent commentary to clearly be female) wreck, and then give out a manly “OOOUUUUUH”.
Road Rash 1 on the Sega Genesis runs around $10. And typically, I would recommend picking this up. It's not a very deep game by any means, and there are a small number of flaws. But there's certainly fun to be had, and a respectable first try at something different. However, the next game in the series costs only a small pinch more, and improves upon the original game. How much improved is it? Come back next week.
Rating – 3 out of 5