The Need For Speed
Modojo's Philip Jones takes us through his favorite Nintendo portable racers...
Everybody loves racing games, don't they? It certainly seems that way, what with there being so many of them on home consoles. Handhelds however, haven't had a great tradition in the genre, mainly due to the limitations of the hardware. The PSP though, with its fancy graphical wizardry has found itself home to a vast array of racers in a very short time. But what did we do before shiny mister PSP was on the scene? It was Nintendo all the way, of course! Let's take a brief look at some of their racing highlights.
Multiplayer racing games, be they online or split-screen, are a whole bunch of fun, that's a scientific fact. There's nothing quite better than giving your friends a bowl of loser soup. With this in mind (the racing, not the soup), Nintendo created a Game Boy edition of its 1984 Famicom game F-1 Race. The game is about as simple as a racing game can be, with a simple Grand Prix racing season set over a selection of 14 tracks. On your own, pretty tedious. With friends? Intense racing rivalry ahoy! Most link-up Game Boy games were only 2 player; F-1 Race, on the other hand, was one of the few Game Boy games to take advantage of the DMG-07 four player adapter. This resulted in the never-seen-before sight of four children, in a circle, hunched over their machines, uttering incantations (or possibly swearwords). It was just a bit of a shame that the game on its own wasn't quite as exciting as the multiplayer, as it made it difficult to justify the cost for something you'd only find yourself enjoying to the full every now and then.
RC Pro Am
Way back in the days when Rare was a shadow of its current self, they created a sweet little NES game, R.C. Pro Am. Following the time-honored tradition of popular NES titles getting converted to the Game Boy, R.C. Pro Am hopped on over for some green-screened fun. The game was a progression from the old top-down racing games of the 80's, introducing some nicely detailed little radio controlled cars. You competed with against the other cars not just for first place but for car upgrades, weapons, and letters that spelled out NINTENDO. Collecting those letters gave you newer, faster vehicles. And upon collecting them for the third time, you finished the game. R.C. Pro Am was another of the games to support the four player adapter, which made you glad you invested in it. All you had to do now was persuade your friends to get the game too!
Originally one of the games that kick-started Nintendo's 16-Bit generation on the Super NES, the Game Boy Advance found itself home to three excellent F-Zero games; F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, F-Zero: GP Legend and the Japan only F-Zero Climax. Keeping with the tradition, you could link together up to four Game Boy Advance systems using the link cable. The bonus was that you could actually play a game with your friends using just one cartridge. The only downside was that it was a basic track and you had no rousing music! If you each had a cart, though, you could play full on races with all the tracks and vehicles. The differences between the games, aside from using different tracks are mainly down to the story. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is set in the distant future, even more distant than the original F-Zero, and introduces a whole range of new characters. F-Zero: GP Legend, on the other hand, is a remake of sorts, telling the story of Captain Falcon of the original game. The game tied in with the story of an associated anime show, which only ran for one short season. It promoted its game, then shuffled off into obscurity!
The third and final Game Boy Advance F-Zero was F-Zero Climax. The game's unique feature is a fully featured track edit mode, allowing the creation of tracks more difficult than your little mind can handle. The tracks were either saved direct to the cartridge or outputted in the form of a password, so you could try out other peoples insane creations. Sounds nice, eh? Well unfortunately if you want it, it's import only. Don't be put off by that though, the track edit mode isn't burdened with tons of indecipherable text, it's relatively straightforward.
Part of the NES Classics selection for the Game Boy Advance, Excitebike is quite possibly the best, most popular motocross game of all time. The game's simplicity is the key to its success. You accelerate, control the angle of your jumps and the temperature of your engine. All the game asks of you is that you try to come in first, which is easier said than done. The tracks in the game start off pretty tame, with the occasional small hill and bits of mud to avoid. They end up, however, being a near impossible mass of giant hills, stretches of water and ramps. Trying not to come off your bike while negotiating those hazards? Not gonna happen. Your wee man will go flying, but that's nothing a bit of button mashing can't fix. Just smack them buttons and he'll be riding off again in no time. It's simple but fun, a winning combination and a hallmark of a Nintendo classic.
With the advent of the DS, we've seen an increase in graphical power that's yielded some excellent racing games. We're all well aware of the joys of Mario Kart and the guys at EA are happy to keep the racers flowing. The only issue is, where the hell is our DS F-Zero??? If the DS can handle ports/remakes of other popular N64 franchises, surely a decent homage to the excellent F-Zero X should be on the cards? We can but hope. A fresh visit to Excitebike territory wouldn't be bad either. Give the Pokemons a rest and give us some speeeeeeed!!