Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

Excitebike

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 30, 2009

Excitebike, released by Nintendo in November 1984 in Japan, and October 1985 in the US, is a classic racing game for the NES.

Two modes are available, Selection A and Selection B. In Selection A, you race against the clock, alone on any of five tracks.

You play the red motorcyclist, and must pass the required number of laps on each obstacle-strewn track before time runs out. If you fail to beat the third place time, you lose. Since you can select which track you want to play on, this isn’t such a big deal,though, and the early tracks are pretty easy.

The track consists of four lanes, which you can switch among with the up and down buttons. In addition to changing lanes, you have the choice of the slower or faster gear for your bike. The faster gear has an obvious advantage, but also a disadvantage: as you use the faster gear, your bike heats up, and if you keep it up too long, your bike will overheat, forcing you to wait on the sidelines until it cools off again. Using the slower gear will allow your bike to cool, as will running over arrows that appear on the track. As a result, much of the strategy involves knowing when to use the faster gear and when to take it slower. Use the right gear and avoid or manage the obstacles, and you shouldn’t have much trouble until the last two tracks.

In Selection B, you still must beat the clock but there’s an additional difficulty: other racers appear on the track.

The other racers don’t seem to be intelligent–they don’t seem to try to block you intentionally, but they do get in the way, and running into them can cause a crash, costing you precious seconds. This mode is a little more interesting than Selection A, because of the added difficulty, but play is basically the same. I’d suggest playing Selection A if you’re trying to get the best possible times, and Selection B if you just want to race.

In addition to the two play modes, there’s a design mode, which lets you select from the available obstacles to make your own track.

You can try to make some interesting tracks this way, and it’s a little amusing, but the inability to save means that it’s a bit of a waste to spend much time trying to make a really good track, since it’ll be gone when you power off the console. It’s not that there isn’t a save option–it’s right there on the menu, and will happily spend a few minutes claiming to save, but it’s intended for use with the Famicom Data Recorder, a cassette attachment which was never released outside of Japan. The rest of us are out of luck.

AI: 6/10
The computer-controlled racers provide a little extra challenge, and a little extra scenery, but it would have been nice if they were aggressive and tried to keep you from passing.
Gameplay: 8/10
The game controls smoothly, and it’s really quite fun. If it had more tracks and supported two players, it might get a perfect score. Even without these, Excitebike is an excellent racing game.
Graphics: 8/10
Ordinarily, I say you should never to anything 3D on the NES, but Excitebike pulls off the 3D obstacles very well–it’s easy to see how tall they are and what slope they’re at, which is the most important thing for this game. I can’t score this any higher, though, because the tracks are pretty bland, and the most variation we get on different tracks is a palette swap. Not bad, but they might have done a little more.
Sound: 4/5
I’m only counting this half since there’s no background music during the races, just sound effects. That said, what sound exists is not bad, but a little repetitive. Like Indy 500, the main sound we hear during the race is the constant roar of the engine. Unlike Indy 500, that is actually useful since you can tell how hot your bike is by the sound of the engine. It still gets a little old, but at least it’s functional.
Personal Slant: 10/10
Whatever shortcomings Excitebike has, it’s still quite a fun old game, and I have very fond memories of it. Especially given it’s age (it was one of the first NES games, 25 years ago), I can’t really find fault with it.
Total: 8/10
Fun fact: Excitebike fit on only 24K of ROM. By comparison, this review, together with the five screenshots it contains, takes up about 23K–just about the same size as the game that is its subject! There’s certainly a lot of excellent gaming packed in such a small size. This is one game that’s absolutely worth playing, and since I understand that it’s available on the Wii virtual console we all have the good fortune to be able to play it, even if we can’t find a working NES.

Posted in 1984, Driving, Full Review, Good, NES | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Indy 500

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 7, 2009

Indy 500 for the Atari 2600 is a racing game, developed by Atari and published by Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1977.

 
 

The cover boasts “14 video games”, though, as with most Atari games, these were mostly small variations. Indy 500 contains three or, generously, four distinct games. Three of the four game types have both one- and two-player modes available. For these, the object in single-player mode is to obtain the highest score in one minute, and in multiplayer to outscore the opponent.

The first game, “Race Cars”, is just what it sounds. Two tracks are available, with the cars moving faster on the second. This game is pretty good with two players, but quite dull for solo play.

The second mode, “Crash N’ Score”, involves catching a dot that appears on the map. Once caught, it relocates itself randomly, rather like a snakes game without the growing tail. As before, the cars move faster on the second map. This is the best game for solo play.

Third, we have “Ice Race”. This is like “Race Cars”, except with different tracks, and the cars continue moving as though they were on ice, making it very difficult to turn. I just found this one frustrating.

The final game is “Tag”. If you’re ‘it’, you try to touch your opponent and then run away. Points are scored for each second while your opponent is trying to catch you. This one is two-player only.

Gameplay: 7/10
The controls work pretty well in “Race Cars”, though I found the turns a little too tight to manage on the second track. “Ice Race” was entirely too difficult to control–once you got to full speed, you would slide across half the screen before stopping, even if you turned the car to accelerate in the opposite direction. The controls in the other modes are as in “Race Cars”. Minus a point for “Ice Race” having such horrid controls, but otherwise not bad.
Graphics: 8/10
Though it was possible to do nicer graphics on the 2600, Indy 500 doesn’t look bad. The only real problem is that the blue car didn’t show up well on the ice background, making it difficult to tell which direction you were facing.
Sound: 7/10
The only sounds I noticed were the hum of the engines and the crash of cars hitting walls. Those effects were fairly well done, though the engine sound did get a little old after a while.
Personal Slant: 7/10
“Race Cars” in two-player mode is pretty good fun, and “Crash N’ Score” is similarly fun in single player. That’s a pretty good value, really.
Total: 7.3/10
Indy 500 may not exactly deliver the 14 games it claims, but “Race Cars” and “Crash N’ Score” are good enough by themselves to make this a worthwhile cartridge. Some later games of each type were better–I like R.C. Pro-Am for racing, and pretty much any snakes game–but for 1977, Indy 500 wasn’t bad at all. I’d definitely give it a go for the nostalgia, even if you shelve it in favor of newer games afterward.

Posted in 1977, Atari 2600, Driving, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

SkyRoads

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 16, 2008

SkyRoads was a driving game released in 1993 by Bluemoon Interactive.

The object is to complete each road, passing through the pipe at the end. There are various obstacles along the way, including blocks or gaps that must be jumped over, pipes that must be entered or avoided, as well as the threat of running out of oxygen or fuel before the end of the road.

The early roads are quite easy, requiring little jumping. Each can be completed on the first play through with minimal difficulty.

As the game progresses, though, the roads become more difficult, some requiring multiple tries to complete. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Sometimes, pipes hide walls or missing sections of floor, which will kill you, so you must remember to avoid those pipes the next time through. In my opinion, since the levels are so short (each requiring less than one minute), this required repetition does not detract from the gameplay.

SkyRoads has nice graphics, and very nice music as well, together with fun gameplay–the makings of a great game. It does fall short on replay value, though. While the roads are still nice after you’ve beaten them, there’s no real incentive to play them again–no way to try to beat your best times (which wouldn’t really matter, since most roads will be completed at maximum speed anyway), no secrets to be found, and only one way through the road, with minor variations. Despite this fault, though, SkyRoads is well worth playing, even if you might not play it much after you’ve completed it.

Below you’ll find a video of the first three roads, Red Heat, being completed:

SkyRoads can be downloaded for free from Bluemoon Interactive.

Posted in 1993, DOS, Driving, Freeware, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Donkey

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2008

After far too long a break, a new game. Or, rather, quite an old one: Donkey, written in 1981 by Bill Gates.

Donkey was written1 as a way to showcase the capabilities of the BASIC programming language which shipped with new IBM PCs. Therefore one might expect it to be a very simple game–and simple it is:

The object is to avoid the donkeys in the road as you drive. The controls consist of only a single button, the space bar, which is used to switch lanes. Each time you successfully pass a donkey, your car moves a bit closer to the top of the screen, so that it will be more difficult to switch in time to miss the next one. If you hit a donkey, the donkeys are given a point, you explode, and you start over:

Every eleventh donkey that you pass, you are reset to the center of the screen and given a point. The game keeps track of the score, but there’s no particular reward for reaching any certain score; the game just continues until you exit. As simple and unrewarding as this game is, that’s likely to be fairly soon after starting.

Update: I’ve added a video demonstrating the gameplay below.

Download the game here.


  1. According to Wikipedia, which has a lengthy article, if you’d like to read more. 

Posted in 1981, Bad, DOS, Driving, Full Review | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Bump’n’Jump

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 25, 2006

It’s a driving game, of sorts.

bump-n-jump_01

The Japanese version was called Buggy Popper:

buggy-popper_01

We start with a car driving away, with someone crying “Help me!” inside. Being the heroic gamers that we are, this is sufficient motivation for us to follow.

bump-n-jump_08

The premise of the game seems to be that we have a car which can jump at will, and we like to land on other cars and destroy them for no reason. Well, except that it gets us points.

bump-n-jump_09

Whoever designed these roads needs to be shot. Apparently in the bizarro-world that this game take place in, cars normally have the ability to jump (but only yours does, as far as I saw), so in order to save some of the cost of roads, they just left out some sections. Yeah, that’s logical.

bump-n-jump_13

But, we can forgive some strangeness if it’s a good game, right? Of course we can. Unfortunately, the designers decided to take all of my good will and stomp on it, by putting in a ludicrously long repair sequence when you drive over one of the bonuses on the road:

bump-n-jump_15

You sit at this screen for upwards of fifteen seconds while text flashes on screen assuring you that they are repairing your car and have not, in fact, run off with your money and girlfriend to Tijuana.

When you finally finish the first level, you are treated to the second level, in which the brilliant road designer decided that if there wasn’t any water to break up the monotony, then we’d just have to build some raised roads to block the lower ones instead.

bump-n-jump_21

Of course, there are helpful black areas that look like tunnels to pass through. They aren’t. They are just there because the designer was sadistic. The problem is that if you jump any time when the little jump warning box is on the screen, you’ll end up hitting the wall anyway, and it’s much harder to figure out when to jump when you have to make it over a wall instead of just some water. You can’t really tell how tall the thing is, since, as we all know, you should never do 3D on an NES.

So, we crash and die, and the game ends. I don’t know what happened to that car we were chasing earlier. Probably some girl was kidnapped, and since we couldn’t catch her she was raped and killed. And it’s all the road designer’s fault.

Verdict: There are worse games. This is like a mix of Spy Hunter and Roger Rabbit, and it doesn’t do well at emulating either. Play Spy Hunter instead, since it had the good sense to give you guns for killing people with, and was a better game anyway.

Posted in 1986, 1988, Driving, First Impressions, NES | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »