Things you want to be when you grow up: astronaut; movie star; game blogger (kidding? – Ed); Formula One star; etc… I can’t speak for etc but there’s definitely a way you can fulfill your Niki Lauda dreams on the 16-bit and that’s Super Monaco GP on the Mega Drive.
Originally released at the arcades, Super Monaco GP was quickly ported to Sega’s home consoles and rightly so. As soon as you load the game you know something special is going to happen. The menus are pretty (we’ll overlook the opinion-dividing image of the pit girl) and easy to navigate, whilst the cut scenes in between the racing action make you really feel part of the action. There are three modes – Practice; World Championship and the Super Monaco GP (which isn’t quite the same as the real thing but good enough).
The Super Monaco GP mode is ported straight from the arcade and requires you to partake in a punishing qualifying round (set mode to Easy!) before taking part in the Grand Prix proper. In a Ferrari. It’s called a Firenze but the real constructors names never made it to the 16-bit. So straight away the game gives you access to the fastest (I don’t care what Madonna says!) car – and it’s fun.
A lot of previous games have done the behind-the-car thing. Super Monaco GP puts you in the cockpit and it works really well. Rather than seeing your car’s exhaust you see two arms frantically throwing a steering wheel about. Couple this with the strong car, track and background design, you have as realistic a Formula One experience as you’re ever going to get on the 16-bit. Strong sound design (apart from the perhaps too realistic engine gear-braking noise that drowns everything else out) and jaunty tunes carry the action along nicely. I even like it when my team is screaming at me for being rubbish.
So, the presentation is up there and you’re ready to go. What’s the action like? It’s fast. It’s damn fast. It’s so fast that you need bags of patience to master it. You can shunt your opponents but that will damage the car and you’ll need to pit which means for the most part you’ll come last in the race (set mode to Easy!!! – Ed). You need the cunning of Lauda, Hunt, Senna etc… The tracks play like proper racing tracks which means you need to brake, so watch out for those chevrons! This is to be the first game in ages I’ve played where it’s easier to opt for manual transmission instead of auto which doesn’t give you the control you need. Blocking your opponents off is a major part of Super Monaco GP and for the first time (I believe) you have a rear-view mirror. It’s so slick I almost slipped.
The ace in the home consoles’ pack is the World Championship mode – which is a lot of fun. You start in the Class C team Minarae (that one’s a bit too close to the original – Ed) which is one off the bottom. They could have started you out right at the bottom but it wouldn’t have worked so well. You’ll find your demise almost instant and you’re scratching around in Class D trying to find other same-class drivers to beat. The only way to move up in this world is to move up the teams so Super Monaco GP builds in this rather nice “choose your rival” side quest. Which is great when you beat them. Not so great if you don’t. Persist with all the tracks from the 1989 season and you’ll get a chance to do this all again. Will you find yourself at the helm of Madonna or Firenze? Will you be world champion. Eventually. But my have you played this game a lot. Thank heavens there’s a password feature.
And that’s really the crux of the argument for Super Monaco GP, there’s so much game here. You could ace it in a weekend but your friends and family will think you’ve been kidnapped.