It feels a long time ago since we were gearing up for Christmas and all the frivolities that had to offer, and as we say good bye to those long cold days, we await with baited breath spring and more importantly, lots of chocolate Easter eggs. Until that point, we have Valentines Day to contend with, and what better way of saying “I love you” to your nearest and dearest, stoking the fires of romance then with trucks (er, indeed – Ed). Big massive off-road trucks with massive wheels driving round in glorious four player simultaneous action! Don’t believe me? Well order in the pizzas, get those swanky new leather driving gloves that have never seen the light of day and let’s go with (Super) Off Road!
Super Off Road, or Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road Racing (which we will ignore for the sake of saving finger muscles) is a racing game with you control a truck with looks miniature and diddy on screen and you race against three others to gain supremacy. With Super Off Road, there are no weapons with which you can use to obliterate the other drivers, a game such as RC Pro Am utilises this, for example. With this game, you have to use your expert driving and channel your inner Lewis Hamilton in order to succeed and win. Or the stamina to keep your finger held down on the A-button long enough to complete several laps.
As soon as you thrust the game in to your console with such vim and vigour and turn it on, you’re welcomed by the legend himself Ivan Stewart. With his piercing blue eyes, shiny red helmet and a big thumbs up that lets you know everything will be okay. And you know what – it is reassuring to have that. More games should have this as their introduction. Anyway, back to the game, and what you will notice is that this is a game in which you can have up to four players playing at once on screen. It was a shame not more games were like this on the NES and although you do need to have to a NES Satellite or Four Score to get four folks playing at once, it is great to have this feature rather than standard multiplayer games on the console where you have to take turns in playing rather than being simultaneous. When you start the game, not only do you get to input a character name up to the grand total of 4 characters (don’t be jealous, Legend of Zelda) you do get to pick the country you represent which doesn’t have any bearing on the game and is more for national pride than anything else.
The idea as per any normal racing game is to come first so you can customise your car to be come harder better faster stronger. Depending on your final position at the end of the race, this determines the amount of cash you get to upgrade, and there are six different categories to upgrade your vehicle. You may prioritise top speed or acceleration but that is your decision in what to do. You can also buy turbos as well which do help but sometimes you do get the feeling it doesn’t matter how far along your car is customised and how much speed/acceleration you have, the computer opponents seem to whiz past you even though in previous races they have come last. The upgrade system is good though in that each upgrade costs the same amount, and is not like upgrading in modern games where it costs you a little more each time to upgrade. In the race you may notice cash or extra turbos which you will definitely need later in the game, but can also buy for $10k a go. Seems expensive, but the further into the game you get, you would have at that point maxed out your car’s stats so cannot buy anything else rather than turbos. But it is nice to get them free within a race.
You’ll notice with Super Off Road that when racing you get a view of the whole track from an overhead perspective. It isn’t like Micro Machines for example, where the game is centred around where your car is on the track. With the view from Super Off Road you get to see all four cars racing at once which makes the action more competitive and exciting.
Graphically, the game utilises a standard palette with which it is nothing exciting but does the job well. What also helps is that all four cars are different colours so you can clearly see how well you’re excelling, or how bad you’re doing. Controls, well they’re nothing complex which helps for a racing game. A-button accelerates, B-button initiates your turbo (should you have any) and the left/right part of your d pad controls the turning of your vehicle. Again, you don’t need anything complex for racing games and this simple system suits the game. There are occasions where games are ruined when it looks and sounds good, but the overly-complex control system renders the game complicated. As luck would have it, Mr Stewart did ask for simple controls, and the designers honoured his request well* (*please note, Mr Stewart was probably not asked this when he said he wanted to design an NES game, but for the sake of this review it is presumed he did).
So, long after the chequered flag is flown, is the game worthy to have in the collection? Absolutely. The main drawing point of the game is having four players on screen at once and so you could all get snacks, drinks and get involved rather than sitting round looking at your phone waiting for your chance to shine. Controls are responsive and do the job well, with the graphics playing its part. It is a good psychological experiment to see when you get the cash, what attributes you increase first. There is no right way or wrong way of upgrading your car, it is personal preference and at the end, when you’ve been playing for a while, your car gets all maxed out so it is six of one half a dozen of the other. The only downside is that it feels no matter how souped up your truck is, you could go from winning the race to lagging way behind with no good reason for doing so, so uncertain if this is down to the same mechanics that were evident with Mario Kart 64 and the “rubber band” effect.
Nevertheless, the game is easy on the wallet and you can find plenty of copies available at your local retro gaming store or online. So grab your Four Score, get some chums in and get set for off-road racing fun! Mr Stewart endorses it himself so you know it’ll be good, right..?
All screenshots taken from Moby Games.