Lotus Turbo Challenge, Mega Drive version. I feel like this review should have been a celebration of British engineering rather than a ruing of a misused license. The MD isn’t short on racers so Lotus needed to be something special. This is a direct port of the much-loved Amiga and Atari ST title Lotus Turbo Challenge 2. And did it make it into our top ten Mega Drive racing games list?
Rev your engines!
Loading up the cart the signs look pretty good. The presentation is as slick as you’d expect from Electronic Arts and Gremlin Graphics – 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. Bit disappointed about the lack of a grand prix mode but I can just dig out Super Monaco Grand Prix 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 Gremlin’s headquarters and stifled any kind of evolution (plot for a film? – Ed). The squashed nature of the track means there’s 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 about one frame of animation to react. The (admittedly pretty) map screen is only visible before and after the race. And the less said about the rain/snow effects the better.
Unfortunately, the graphics have a detrimental impact on the gameplay which 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’s 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. Couple this with the road signs, logs and whatnot and you’ve got a game that will have you tearing your hair out.
Why so difficult?
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/Gremlin in a way for trying to replicate this across the platforms but the MD version suffers. With the Amiga’s enhanced graphics and better sound 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 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.
Pro tip: Enter ‘Mansell’ on the password screen to play through all the stages regardless of how bad you are.