Developer: Beam Software
Released: January 1990
US Cartridge ID: NES-VE-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
As port of one of Atari’s bigger arcade hits of the late 80’s, Mindscape’s RoadBlasters brings home the futuristic violence of the 1987 coin-op classic. Combining rally racing with vehicular combat, RoadBlasters provides fifty tracks, replete with explosive obstacles and throngs of erratic drivers that attempt to render your ride a smoldering pile of twisted wreckage on the roadway. Instead of racing for first place, each track only requires that the bright-red armored car reaches the finish line before it runs out of fuel, reminiscent of Rad Racer or Sega’s OutRun. The fuel gauge functions much as the timer does in the aforementioned games, with the fuel tank partially refilling when a checkpoint is passed. Gasoline pickups, represented by hovering green and orange spheres, can be found by destroying a car in possession of one, though they can more easily be found floating aimlessly around the track.
The player’s car comes equipped with the player’s primary means of eradicating marauding road hogs – a hood mounted mini cannon. To further expand the car’s arsenal, a futuristic plane provides aid by lowering temporary upgrades down to the car, and these items are immediately usable upon collection. Upgrades include the Cruise Missile (to wipe out all on-screen enemies), Nitro Inject (for short bursts of turbo speed), the UZ Cannon (a machine gun with limited ammo), and the Electro Shield (providing a short period of invincibility).
Capable of taking out most adversaries in a single shot, the primary gun is tied to the score multiplier. Every time the player kills an enemy combatant or destroys a gun turret, the multiplier will go up by one until it reaches the ceiling value of 10x. Every miss with the primary gun results in a lowering of the multiplier, so accuracy is extremely important. In lieu of promised 1-Ups at certain score thresholds being dangled in front of the player like a carrot, achieving a high score in any stage provides immediate and appreciable rewards. A bonus screen at the end of each race awards points based on the number of obstacles and enemies destroyed. This score is then translated into fuel for the reserve tank, which is an absolute necessity during later races, as it allows the car to keep going after the primary fuel tank has been depleted.
RoadBlasters‘ fifty races take place across twelve different regions, each featuring between three and seven tracks. Each race within a region changes the course layout, but the background graphics will remain the same (save for a palette swap) until the region has been completed. Roadblasters‘ graphics fly by quickly with no slowdown and little flicker, and a lot of color is usually on display. Most of the sprites, however, are quite crudely drawn. Though still recognizable, they have suffered tremendously in their 8-bit downgrade. The sound is horrendous, axing all voice samples while providing ear-splitting beeps whenever road mines appear or the gas tank runs low, buzzing noises for the engine, and an extremely loud “skidding” noise when the car turns sharply. Like the arcade version, there is no music during races, making the game feel strangely empty in spite of the harsh cacophony of effects.
The racing controls have made an admirable transition on this port, replacing the analogue wheel/pedal control scheme with accurate and tight controls on the NES’ digital-only control pad. Since two weapons can be used at once (and as such are mapped to A and B), Up controls the accelerator and Down controls the brake. Thankfully, the brake is rarely necessary (the arcade version only had a gas pedal), keeping the finger gymnastics to a minimum. The combat controls don’t fare as well, with aiming being far harder than it ought to be: in trying to destroy nearby hazards, it is extremely easy to wreck the car, since bullets often won’t travel at the same angle that the car is pointed.
With all of the levels and features from the arcade game still intact, RoadBlasters for the NES packs a lot of content in one cartridge. It is a lot of fun in short bursts, but most players will turn the game off long before reaching the fiftieth rally, bored with the low difficulty level, the unappealing presentation, the inconsistent shooting mechanics, and the excessive number of stages that don’t offer enough variety.