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.