“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man,
I gotta be a macho man!”-Village People
Set in a dystopian future where people torture themselves by listening to 16-bit covers of “Born To Be Wild” and “Bad To The Bone”, Silicon & Synapse and Interplay’s Rock n’ Roll Racing for the SNES, Sega Genesis and Game Boy Advance is a battle-car video game with RPG (or CarRPG?) elements.
In this heavy metal universe, gladiatorial racetracks are packed with rugged Mad Max-ish villains and heroes duke nukem-ing it out with souped-up buggies, tanks and hovercrafts. This game is a prime cut slice of hyper-macho dude-ism. Every jaw is a jutting cleft chin. Every vein is filled with pure testosterone extract. Every sound bite an adrenaline-infused, crash-tastic, bro-splosive, macro-masculine, quintessentially 80’s, hardcore, destructive, raw-meatarian, classic rock battle cry like a bat out of Meatloaf.
Now I’m out of breath… but too bad! Because “Hawk jams into first!!”
The narrator, Loudmouth Larry, shrieks that line. He shrieks it, like his esophagus is being man-handled by a bludgeon wrapped in thick-cut bacon. The narration over the battle-races is one of the things that stands out most in Rock n’ Roll Racing, right beside the rock n’ roll itself. The guy is really pushing himself. If he had more enthusiasm for the game he’s narrating, odds are his heart would detonate in a thermal-nuclear “mansplosion”. Larry’s super-stoked to announce everything from “fading into a distant third!!” to the player that comes in fourth being “in another timezone!!”
The game begins by prompting the player to select their character, and you can choose from a slew of generic sci-fi nobodies. The Chewbacca-like person is especially hideous, and that’s in the context of a game where everyone’s face looks as if it was crafted from decade-old playdough. I usually go with Cyberhawk for the coolness factor and his Xenomorph-shaped head.
After that, your character is whisked away to the first planet that’s hosting the death-race. There, you can participate in the racing season, purchase your car, change its color, buy upgrades from your winnings and collect enough points from victories to travel to the next planet (if you ask Solid Snake-Hasslehoff-Nick Fury nicely) and face the home turf champion. Eventually more types of vehicles become available for purchase that will include advanced components and capabilities. On the microtransaction scale, however, the upgrades to your car include new shocks, engines, weaponry, boosts, shielding and tires.
Once on the racetrack, surrounded by guttering turrets of fire or alien lava or vast oceans, or whatever other weird surroundings occupy the planet, races are set in an isometric view and the four competitors are required to complete four laps. First place takes the most rewards in points and monies. Second place takes less, as does third, and fourth place takes nada. The unique, nigh-3D visuals allow the player to interpret turns and slopes, and navigate around hazards such as magma, mines and oil slicks, or collect upgrades and money scattered about the racing arena.
This wouldn’t be a death-race without being able to attack your opponents, which these vehicles are well-equipped to do. Each vehicle comes with a certain amount of health and you can blast away your opponents, destroying their entire car and putting them out of the race for a few seconds before they respawn. It’s also possible to knock enemy cars out of the race over the siderails (or fall over yourself), in which case they’ll respawn similarly to being blown up after an attack. The game encourages this kind of automobile bloodlust by awarding an “attack bonus” to anyone who executes the finishing blow to an enemy vehicle.
Since points are required to advance to the next racing division on the next planet, you’ve got to win as many races as you can. If you fail to meet the requirements of being a man and do not collect enough points by the end of the racing season (8 races on the first planet), then you have to start again from the beginning of the season with zero points and be subjected to the humiliation of knowing that you are less manly than your little sister. You do get to keep your upgrades, though.
So man-up, brofist your mom in the face, whip out your air guitar, fix yourself a pork and indifference-to-society manwich and “Let the carnage begin!!”
The 8-Bit Review
The visuals serve the racing as the isometric squares help you to gauge the exact direction of your vehicle, ensuring you steer around dangerous hazards and keep away from the siderails. Outside of races, you’ve got several ugly mugs to look at across drab, brick-colored menu screens. The best graphics are on the race track, and it is admirable what they’ve done in order to create a very maneuverable racing experience. These specifically are exemplary 16-bit graphics with bright, bold colors and definitive outlines.
It’s Rock n’ Roll Racing so that’s what you get. No false advertising here. Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” are just as rockin’ in these video game renditions, and they all make for great driving music. Makes you want to put the peddle to the metal. But the truth is, there are only a handful of songs in the entire game. So considering how many races you’ve got to complete, these tracks get as old as Mick Jagger.
Straight forward racing games get pretty boring to me pretty fast. I got into Gran Turismo 4 for the PS2 once, but that was a long time ago. Racing games need to revolve around a good theme or gimmick for me. Think Mario Kart or F-Zero. Rock n’ Roll Racing has gimmicks in spades, not only in the musical arena, but also in terms of its weaponized combat. There are plenty of cool upgrades and a few slick vehicle models to please. In the end, what hurts Rock n’ Roll Racing the most is too little content. Too few songs. Too few differences in races. Different planets do little to truly mix up the basic gameplay. But if you’re here to blow up cars with missiles, then hey, I warmed your seat for you.
Multiplayer (split screen) is the way to go with Rock n’ Roll Racing. Nothing better than blowing up your buddy’s car and watching him sob a big man-tear. Hilariously, if one of the two human players manages to collect enough points to advance to the next division but the other does not, then the player in the lead can elect to advance upon the game’s prompt of: “Leave your loser friend behind?” which will remove the other player from the game. That should serve as a real-life guide to the kind of bros you should keep as friends.
The game is ticked down a few notches for fiddling with things like car models, upgrades, weapons and how to use their unique features, but essentially this is still a racing game at heart. Press a button to accelerate and don’t let up, make a few turns, pass the finish line. We’ve known that routine since before we were learned arithmetic. Only here, there’s no silly narrative or plot to get in the way of blowing away the competition.
Even though Rock n’ Roll Racing comes with multiple difficulty modes, it isn’t all that difficult. The easiest mode is in fact a real bore, a chore of collecting points. Things become moderately tough on its hardest mode, but nothing you can’t handle, G.I. Bro.
The CarPG and the battle-racer are not new innovations, and Rock n’ Roll Racing actually began development as a sequel to RPM Racing until they decided to dose it with heavy metal. However it’s use of dystopia, creating its own characters, its music covers, and its attitude prevent it from dropping too far in this category.
My Personal Grade: 5/10
This is one of the more memorable and enjoyable racing games for me from the SNES. The best one in my opinion was Top Gear 3000. That isn’t to say that Rock n’ Roll Racing is great or that it doesn’t have its generic side. It certainly does. But when blasting enemies and filling an entire racing field with mines gets boring, then go play something else. Until the metal calls for you and you come back for more carnage. And if you’re a dame reading this review, I hereby apologize for my overuse of insensitive use of the masculine. It was all in jest, Brotato Chip. “Rip takes a weak third!!”
Aggregated Score: 5.9