Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road is one of my favourite games on the NES. Released way back in 1989, it’s one of those rare video games of the time that hold up without the need for any sense of associated nostalgia. It might look relatively basic by today’s standards, but the gameplay, thanks to its surprisingly robust physics, hugely entertaining handling model and great set of modifications and power ups, is as fun today as it was 26 years ago.
Like the finest arcade games, Super Off Road has barely aged a day in those 26 years, but heck, it’s stuck on my NES, and I for one would love nothing more than a HD remake of one of the finest local multiplayer races ever created. Luckily (or so I thought), it appeared that developer, EnjoyUp Games thought so too and went about creating something of a spiritual successor in the form of the rather oddly named, Rock ‘N Racing Off-Road DX.
Now, take a look at the screenshots and you could be rather easily led to believe that you were looking at an HD update of the NES classic. But then you see the game in motion and it doesn’t look quite right. Then you play it, and well, that’s when everything turns to sh*t…….and pretty damn quickly too. For a game that is so clearly attempting to recreate the magic of Super Off Road, it’s unbelievable just how wrong they have managed to get it.
In its defence, it actually looks exactly how you would hope. Yes, the vehicles are a bit too simplistic, but the tracks all look relatively nice and manage to successfully capture the spirit of Super Off Road. It has the same fixed camera and isometric view point and the tracks themselves, while a tad samey, look largely how you remember them. They do lack artistic variation, but hey, who cares, as long as it plays well……….
It doesn’t play well. It doesn’t play well at all. Even without a controller in hand, you can see straight away that the physics aren’t right, that the vehicles don’t move or react as they should. Then you pick up the controller and realise it’s even worse than you thought. While it does bear an initial resemblance to the game that it is so clearly attempting to ape, it is immediately apparent that the physics are absolutely all over the place. Somehow managing to feel floaty and heavy at the same time (almost an achievement in itself), each class of vehicle handles terribly with horrible turning circles (especially infuriating considering that the AIs handling model seems to be from a different and decidedly more enjoyable racer), twitchy handling and the slowest reversing I have seen in a game….ever. That might not sound like a big deal, but with spin offs a regular occurrence and an overly aggressive AI eager to see you smashed off the racing line, you’ll find yourself spending a horrifying amount of time reversing away from obstacles in slow motion.
The AI isn’t just overly aggressive either – it’s also as dumb as a bag of hammers. When it’s not taking an apparently impossible racing line, it’s often going the wrong way, mindlessly ramming into other races, or sometimes, simply not moving at all. It’s appallingly bad and made all the worse by the fact that you have to wait nearly 20 seconds after you have finished a race for the other racers to make it over the line. I get that in multiplayer, but Jesus, in single player? Really? The local multiplayer options for up to eight players does inevitably have its moments (if you have the friends or controllers required to make up the numbers), but even here, the physics invariably get in the way of the fun, thus adding to the overriding sense of brutal disappointment.
With no upgrades to speak of (a shocking omission), Rock ‘N Racing Off-Road DX tries to make up for the fact by including additional unlockable vehicles. Not only does this not make up for the lack of the upgrade and power up system that was so integral to Super Off Road’s success, but the vehicles themselves, while handling in slightly unique ways, all share one thing in common – they all handle like crap. Whether it be the standard 4×4 or the more pacey smaller vehicles, turning is consistently horrible and jumps, well, they have a mind (and gravity) of their own. Regardless of what vehicle you are in or what speed you appear to be going, you shoot off ramps like a bullet. There has simply been no attempt made to match the weight or physics of these jumps to that of the rest of the game. It truly is bizarre.
With 5 championships made up of four races, there isn’t exactly a ton of content to be found here. There are time trials, but why anyone would want to race around empty tracks using these physics is quite beyond me. Either way, the relative lack of content is the last of this games’ problems; from the terrible AI and horrible physics to the atrocious announcer and fidgety handling, Rock ‘N Racing Off-Road DX is a terrible racer and an incredibly poor imitation of the wonderful, Super Off Road.
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