So many features. So entertaining. So…. rad. Rad Racer emerged onto the scene in 1987 as one of the first racing games for NES. Although it had a reputation as being an Out Run knockoff, it still holds up and has its place in console history.
In Rad Racer, you’re driving around a series of 8 open-road courses that grow increasingly more difficult, starting by the beach and moving to cities, Greek ruins, deserts and mountains. You experience night driving, adverse weather conditions, hairpin turns, crazy drivers, and your car bouncing wildly around the screen with each crash. In order to beat this game, you can’t really allow yourself to crash on the later levels. Crashing is avoidable, sometimes more easily than others. If you hit another car square on the back end, it will slow you down without you losing control. Hit it at an angle, however, and your car will shimmy to the right or the left pretty far, possibly knocking you off the road and into an object, causing you to crash. Crashing is bad. Anything that leads to that awful tire squealing sound is bad, in my opinion, but you just can’t avoid that.
Each course has a series of checkpoints you have to reach before the timer runs out. This game gives you the liberty to coast your way to the next checkpoint after time is up, as your car is still technically slowing down, allowing you a few extra seconds to reach the next marker. This has saved me several times. Get your car up to its maximum 255 km/h and let yourself coast through the course after time runs out. The game is forgiving in this way.
Rad Racer offers a “continue” cheat- when your game is over, wait for the gameplay video to come back on, hold A and press start. You’re back on track. But which track? There’s a way to select that too- also during the demo, push B for as many times as the course number you wish to play- the tachometer will light up 2 bars for each level you are selecting (for example, 12 lit up bars will have you start on course 6- Snow White Line). Once you’ve got the right number of lights, press Up and Right on the control pad and hit Start, and you’re off!
They tried hard to pack as many features and gimmicks into this game as they could. Out Run was the hit at the time, and that was pretty steep competition. Square had to make this title stand out, so they did. Let’s talk about the lamest feature first- 3D. This game came with a few pairs of black-framed 3D glasses. Pressing Select would enable you to switch back and forth between 3D mode and regular. Great idea, in theory. In reality, the 3D mode was basically a black screen with red and blue shapes off-set in such a way you couldn’t even make out what it was supposed to be. It made no difference if you had the glasses on or not. This was disappointing, and helps knock this game down to 3 stars. If anyone ever actually found this game to be in 3D, please speak up.
The next bit of excitement was the ability for the player to pick which vehicle they wanted. A fancy ketchup red Ferrari, or a mustard yellow F1 racer. Both offered identical gameplay, but you’ll still find yourself trying to discern why they would give you this choice at all if there wasn’t SOME difference, right? Wrong. There’s no difference. Also a little disappointing.
Then there was the music. If you’ve played GTA on a newer console, you’re familiar with the overwhelming variety of radio stations, ranging from talk radio to hip hop, offering up internationally recognized artists warranting pages of credits in the back of the game manual. I’d like to think Rad Racer helped influence this feature for the genre, as it offered up 3 choices of 8-bit driving music which you accessed by pressing down on the control pad. I always preferred the third one, personally.
The end of this game always makes me think. Your car pulls up alongside a few messages of “congratulations” and the suggestion of a sequel (“See you again”) and then you see that you had a passenger with you this whole time, your girlfriend, I’m assuming. She waves nicely at first, then she hops in the car and drives away, leaving her boyfriend running after her, in what appears to be a powder blue tuxedo. At first you think, wow, that was a mean thing to do. But if you were her, and your boyfriend was this reckless driver squealing his tires around every turn, bumping into cars without stopping to see if anyone was okay, scrambling to reach rest stop after rest stop on the highway with no real explanation as to why, you’d probably react in a similar fashion. She was elated to reach the final destination, a coastal metropolis with a clear night sky, but the thought of having to endure a drive home with this guy was too much. She snapped. I’m sure it was meant to be cute, but it does kind of make you feel guilty for contributing to their relationship problems just by playing the game. Game endings are tense moments- I’m waiting for my heart rate to normalize and the circle-shaped indention on my thumb to go away, and there’s this added stress of relationship issues I didn’t even know I had? It’s still pretty entertaining, though.