Lotus Turbo Challenge on the Mega Drive. I feel like this review should have been a celebration of British engineering rather than a ruing of a misused license which this unfortunately is. The MD isn’t short on racers so Lotus needed to be something special. Loading up the cart the signs look pretty good. The presentation is as slick as you’d expect from Electronic Arts – bold intro screens, a functional menu screen and the all-important 16-bit stills of said Lotuses.
The game has one playing mode for the solo player – beat the clock. In essence this is an arcade game. OK, we can still work with this, bit disappointed about the lack of a grand prix mode but I can just dig out Super Monaco for that. Two players can enjoy a split screen mode – better get the other AA guys up to speed first…
Your first impressions of the game will be good, the car sprite stands out pretty well and you can initially forgive the slightly squashed nature of the one-player screen in lieu of the split screen mode. But then everything starts moving. I get that this is a Lotus game, what I don’t get is why all the cars look the same bar being in a different solid colour – it’s as though a late 80s racer has somehow infiltrated EA’s headquarters and stifled any kind of evolution (plot for a film? – Ed). The squashed nature of the track means there is hardly any depth which means a lot of the time you just cannot see what’s coming. Other obstacles (seriously?) like rocks and ponds appear as if from nowhere, you’ve one frame of animation to react. The (admittedly pretty) map screen is only visible before the race and if you miss a checkpoint (game over). And the less said about the rain/snow effects the better.
Unfortunately the graphics have a direct detrimental impact on the gameplay. This is further hindered by the width of the cars. The speed of the game is good, it actually feels as though you’re heading somewhere quickly, tick. What is not good is how there never seems to be enough room on the (four lane) road. You’re constantly crowded out by other Lotus drivers drawn to you like some horrible metallic white/blue/yellow magnets. Couple this with the road signs, logs and whatnot and you’ve got a game that will have you tearing your hair out.
The difficulty is ramped up from the first Forest level, meaning you’ll be stuck on it for quite a while. The timings between checkpoints leave little room for error – a couple of nudges from a blue or white “Esprit” and it’s all over. By the time (pun intended) you’ve got past the Forest you’ll be an expert, which can serve you for the next few levels then it all goes a bit Brighton Pier (all 50p coins and no return).
As a port of the Amiga version this simply doesn’t work. You can admire EA in a way for trying to replicate this across the platforms but the MD version suffers because of it. With the Amiga’s enhanced graphics, multiple game modes and better sound (the MD sound is almost 8-bit bar the occasional bit of speech) it’s easy to overlook the game’s one-dimensionality. Here, it’s all too obvious. Why they didn’t use the license to create a much more rounded game (maybe with the graphics tuned down) is beyond me. Fun in two-player if your mate has a bit of Lotus experience, but hardly re-playable in single player.
Lotus is much like the flower – pretty to look at for a while until it withers and dies all too soon.