Rad Racer

Rad Racer USA Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Square

 October 1987
US Cartridge ID: NES-RC-USA

Players:  1
Genre: Racing
Supported Peripherals: Controller, 3D Glasses

ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG)

Requires Flash10

Long before building their reputation as an indomitable RPG juggernaut, developer Square produced a sleeper hit with their 1987 arcade style racing title, Rad Racer. Though it bore a striking resemblance to Sega’s 1986 arcade smash Outrun, the sheer spectacle of a comparable game running on the NES’ 8-bit architecture was Rad Racer USA 001 256x224 Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review Screenshotenough to excuse its lack of innovation in the eyes of most players.

Jumping behind the wheel of either a cherry red Ferrari 328 Twin Turbo or a yellow Formula 1 car (looking suspiciously like a Lotus 99T), Rad Racer takes place over the course of an eight-legged rally race. Racing before the nighttime neon-lit skylines of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, ancient crumbling Athenian ruins and more, the player’s successes and failures are measured by a strict time limit: the ultimate goal of each race is to finish before the timer runs out. Hitting one of the four checkpoints located on each track will reset the timer, but little leeway is provided for playing bumper cars or taking in the sights on a leisurely Sunday drive. The two car options are identical in terms of performance, but each selection will afford different sights on the road. The Ferrari will go flying by and crashing into VW bugs, Corvettes, Citroëns, Mercedes, Lamborghinis, Lotuses, Porsches, and Ferraris during the course of the series; drivers of the F1 car, however, will only see multi-colored F1 cars on the road.

The wide variety of foreign cars sharing the road with the player’s hot rod have some dirty tricks to hinder progress. Though they serve as mere distractions in the beginning, the computer controlled cars in later races will actively cut off, box in, or ram the player-controlled car off the road, requiring study their moves and patterns in order to be able to react accordingly. The tracks are lined with obstacles like trees, signs, and rock formations that, when hit, will send the car flying through the air, forcing the loss valuable time. This fact, of course, is not lost on the computer Rad Racer USA 065 256x224 Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review Screenshotopponents, as they will take full advantage of the slightest mistakes being made.

Rad Racer looks amazing considering its age and its host hardware. As one of the few NES racing games to effectively place the player’s view behind the car (similar to Mach Rider  on the NES or Top Gear on the SNES), the sense of speed is impressive, and the scaling of sprites allows the player to accurately judge the closing distance between their car and worrisome hazards.  The detailed backgrounds feature parallax scrolling to good effect. Raceways aren’t merely flat stretches of road, as many tracks are full of dips and hills. While graphically impressive, these features also serve to force the player to consider the terrain, as upcoming cars can easily be obscured by the crest of a hill, making them easy to rear end. Rounding out the graphics is a feature seen in only two other US NES releases: stereoscopic 3D. Highway Star, the Japanese version of Rad Racer, used the Famicom 3D System (a Famicom attachment with LCD shutter glasses) to display its 3D visuals, where its American counterpart used more traditional anaglyph glasses. With Rad Racer‘s included red/blue glasses, the player could hit Select at any time in a race and the graphics would shift to 3D, providing an effect similar to that of Orb-3D and 3-D WorldRunner, both on the Rad Racer USA 124 256x224 Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotNES.

The music (composed by famed Final Fantasy composer Uematsu Nobuo) provides a fitting accompaniment, providing three selectable background music tracks that are switchable at any time. The sound effects are good; though the squealing brake effect can grow tiresome, the constant revving of the engine is convincing. The controls are smooth and perform well, as long as the player remembers that judicious use of the brake is a necessity.

A top-tier NES game, Rad Racer is a must for any old-school racing game fan, or fans of outdated 1980’s slang.

screenshot icon w text Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review Screenshot45 Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review Screenshot

flag us Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotRad Racer
Nintendo, 10/1987
flag uk Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotRad Racer
Nintendo, 1/1988
ハイウェイスター (Haiwei Sutaa)flag jpn Rad Racer NES Nintendo Review Screenshot
Highway Star
Square, 8/1987