Saturday, 21 January 2017

Snes review 112: Stunt Race FX

OK so this is a game I want to talk quiet a bit about, I wanted to talk about it a long time ago but I figured that I had to hold some things back, I also clearly needed to talk about it after StarWing/Star Fox, I also wanted to talk about Dirt Trax FX. So with those out of the way and quiet a long gap since them here I am talking about Stunt Race FX, or Wild Trax as it was known in Japan. To sum it up quickly Stunt Race FX was a 3D cartoon-style racing game developed by Nintendo EAD with assistance from Argonaut Software, it was of course published by Nintendo themselves

Nintendo originally wanted to make a franchise out of stunt race FX but this idea was dropped, a sequel on the Nintendo 64 called Buggie Boogie was planned and I think work even began on it but it was cancelled, which I honestly think is a crying shame a this game had a flavour which in my opinion made it very different from other racing games this is part of the reason for e being eager to review it.

The story of Stunt race really starts back in 1991, Nintendo began developing a custom 3D cartridge chip called the Super FX chip with Argonaut Software so that it could be used in Super NES games to create polygonal 3D graphics. The first game that used the Super FX was StarWing/Star Fox, which obviously became a big success and birthed a whole franchise that still exists to this day. After the release of Star Fox/Star Wing, Nintendo and Argonaut began experimenting with what else they could do with a Super FX chip. A title began to take shape originally refereed to as FX Trax a polygon based 3D-animated racing game featuring both stunts and racing. This was the title that would go on to become Stunt Race FX.

In Stunt Race FX at first you would think you have a pretty standard racing game, there are a number of circuits there are time trials and there is a selection of vehicles but stick with me and I will talk about the game what it has to other and why I think it is more than just a standard racing game. Ok so lets starts with the vehicles themselves. The vehicle roster is not that big in fact in some ways its more like the selection you'd expect from a walk along beat em up in the way that each choice is strong in one trait while being a little weaker in another. You have the monster truck with massive tires, high acceleration, and the ability to drive through patches of water without it effecting you but with the disadvantage of having a low top speed. Then there is a little yellow coupe which in all honesty can be described as the nice average vehicle, an average rate of acceleration and an average top speed. Last but not least there is a red formula one type of car this car has the highest top speed but has slow acceleration. OK I guess this is a spoiler but its not exactly a big one but there is also an unlockable vehicle, a motorcycle which breaks the above rules in that it is just basically good at everything, it could be criticised for being over powered but it is an absolute blast to play with. There is also a large semi-trailer this is driven from a fixed 3/4 perspective. It is obviously slow to move and turns slowly as this kind of vehicle would but dont worry your not racing with this its used for a sort of bonus level so its kind of a nice bit of something different thrown in to break up proceedings.

One of the problems with early 3D games like this was that they never looked very realistic, sure they tried to look realistic but with very square cars and such built from obvious wire frame style shapes, quiet frankly it was pretty much a waste of time trying to be too realistic back then and thats why I love Stunt Race FX it sods realism and makes itself in to a giant cartoon. Yes the cars are made of basic shapes and its obvious but the game embraces this by putting large eyeballs on all of the cars roughly where the headlights would usually go, and I am not talking about painted on flat lifeless eyes no these are active cartoon eyes which blink and look around, they are so active and full of emotion that they bring the cars to life. I know it might sound silly but this really made me warm to the game, maybe its the fact I grew up on things like Tomas the Tank Engine and Tugs so I have been pre-programmed to like vehicles that have been given eyes and personality who knows.

OK so the game itself consists of three championships which consist of four races and a bonus level each. Now you would think that for each race you get given a certain number of points and then where you come in the championship and if you can progress on to the next one or not is determined by your points total, well this is not how it is done at all nope basically your finishing times are all added together with the quickest/best total time winning.

Now the courses are split up into different areas, there is a mountain area, a city area, etcetera and they are filled with changes in elevation, and the odd hazard things like falling rocks for example. Then you have halfpipes, which if you hit wrongly can send your car flying over the edge of the course, on top of this there are a few which have pieces missing out of them, which make you have to ride along the side of them to stop yourself falling off. You have a damage meter and if you take enough damage from hitting walls or other cars or hazards then your car will explode but don't worry there are red crystals that you can drive over to refill your meter (if you do take to much damage and this happens though you will be forced to restart the level). There is also a boost meter, which works just how it sounds press your boost button and you go faster but the meter drains,if your skilful you use this carefully to maximise its potential. There are also blue crystals which appear on the track and if you manage to collect these you can refill your boost bar.

The game controls well, everything is nice and simple you have one button for acceleration, a button to brake, you steer with the dpad and the shoulder buttons help you to perform tighter turns, then there is the boost button and a button that both toots your horn and makes you hop, used correctly at the right moments this can be used to help you bounce over the opposition.

Now you have probably noticed that for a game called Stunt Race FX I haven't actually made much mention of stunts well as well as the racing there are stunt tracks, there are four of them to be precise. Each of these stunt tracks begins with you in the back of a semi and has you running through segment of the course collecting stars. There are a bunch of obstacles ranging from simple mounds to elevated platforms that you have to deal with. You have to manage to collect every star before the timer counts down in order to unlock the next course. This can be quiet hard as to reach certain stars you will need to be travelling at the right speed and at the right angle to make a jump that will take you to an otherwise unreachable platform which has a star on it. There is also a bit where your in a sort of mini demolition derby with the goal being for you to ram three other cars until they blow up in the quickest time possible

Now I guess I have been going on about the game in quiet an excited manor, this was after all a game I got nice and early I got a US import copy before it was even out here and I played the living heck out of it, but I am not completely blind to its faults, I will admit that it does have some, after all I hate people who deny the faults of any company or product so even though I love this game lets talk about them.

I said that I like the cartoon way the game looks but it has to be noted that it is a bit of a slow game at least as far as frames per second goes the game only floats at around 15 frames per second, I guess this is because the graphics and what's on show actually required a lot of grunt work from the both the Super Nintendo itself and the FX chip, and it is noticeable.

Now when you grew up playing games in the pal region you kind of get used to the idea that your game is not going to fill all of the screen but Stunt Race FX's main viewing area is very small, in fact it only accounts for about half of your full screen, its also important to mention that even though this game has a two player mode but obviously your playing area is stupendously small during this well unless you have a TV big enough not to care, but no matter the size of your screen you are going to notice that the already slow frame rate drops even more in two player mode. Given this I don't think it makes a very good two player game really. I also think this game is a little bit disappointing in the sound department, its not like the music or sound effects are like nails on a chalk board though its more like they are just a bit plain, a bit average, fit for purpose but ultimately forgettable.

OK before I give a rating I want to just talk a little bit more about Nintendo and Argonaut. So with the Team of Nintendo and Argonaut hitting gold again even if not commercially this team must have gone from strength to strength right? In short No. Argonaut and Nintendo had done some good business together true, Star Fox had been huge even if Stunt race was not quiet as big but unfortunately it was not a team which would go the distance. Argonaut pitched a 3D game starring Yoshi to Nintendo even going so far as to mock up a prototype for it. However, Nintendo did not accept the pitch though, one Argonaut employee speculated that this was because the company did not want to let third-parties use its characters, which might have been the case but if it was then this is something that has clearly changed with Nintendo entrusting the likes of Retro with the Metroid series. Rather than accepting defeat though and simply putting there idea to bed Argonaut decided to retool the prototype turning it in to an original game, this game would go on to become Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.

Bad blood seems to have originated between Argonaut and Nintendo over two issues one was Nintendo's refusal to pick up the Yoshi pitch the other was the cancellation of the nearly completed Star Fox 2 which Argonaut had done a lot of work on and were apparently not paid a penny for. Members of Argonaut have claimed that the Yoshi Game prototype influenced Super Mario 64, with claims that Shigeru Miyamoto actually made some form of apology for ripping there idea off, add to this that it has been claimed a bunch of StarFox 2's ideas and even code were implemented in future Nintendo games both StarFox and none StarFox related all without any acknowledgement or payment. Lets just put it this way if even a fraction of this is true Nintendo were basically being dicks, lets remember at this time they had agreed to do business with Sony to then back stab them and run to Philips which I think kind of does make this all sound believable. I think this whole situation is a real shame as I think together they could have done so much more.

OK so I would have to give Stunt Race FX 8 out of 10, yes it is not without its faults, I would have liked to have seen a sequel which addressed some of these but alas it was not to be. The game has its limitations but it is a darn fun game full of charm and this would make me strongly recommend it. One of the best things about it if you own an actual SNES is that if you want to get yourself a copy of the game then it doesn't actually cost very much at all, if you look around you can get Cart only copies for prices starting around £6, heck sometimes you can even find a complete copy for around £15, and the truth is usually games this cheap on the Super Nintendo now days tend to be ones that are either sports titles or just general piss poor. Now I also have to admit that it is good to have a game like this to get my teeth into as yes the SNES has a large library of games but not all of them have stories or facts around them which are worthy of conveying, trying to review a large library of SNES games can be a very hard task especially when there is so little to say about some games and this has really been one of the factors which has held me back in my challenge to review 150 games, lets hope that I can find a few more like this to give me the strength to carry on.

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