Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Top-Down Racers: Super Sprint, Super Off-Road, Indy Heat

Alright, I remember fooling around on MAME years ago and playing these games.  Now these racing games are different than your usual arcade racers.  You gather around the standard arcade cabinet which has three steering wheels and pedals.  Yes, you can play three players at once.  Racing is done from an aerial view, kind of like Super RC Pro-Am but you can see the whole track at once.  Whip that steering wheel all around--it can rotate infinitely!  You get to keep playing until you lose to the AI.

I was fascinated with these games when I first saw them.  I mean, this was WAY BACK, before I even knew about Daytona USA.  This was back during my Cruis'n USA days.

There was a Super Off-Road cabinet at an old skating rink nearby.  I assume it's gone now.  My mom would chastise me for playing it because we went there to skate, not play games.  Mothers don't understand anything.

Also, I remember playing Super Sprint in an arcade a long time ago at this huge "amusement park" with carnival rides, go-karts, putt-putt, bumper boats, and a train ride.  It was called "Fun Time USA" and it was in Biloxi or Gulfport, Mississippi.  It wasn't a five-star establishment, but whatever.  The place was obviously killed in Hurricane Katrina.

But anyway, here's five games.  This is me playing on a computer.  Again, this is on a MAME emulator (I think ver. 0.62, I was behind at the time) and you can probably download these games too if you so feel like it (not giving out links but here's a good start).  Because these are recorded on an emulator, the game speed may be a bit off from the actual game.  I don't expect you to sit through the whole thing since each video is quite long, but I just want you to check it out:

Super Sprint (1986) : By Atari Games (Midway).  You can drive the red, yellow, or blue car.  Now I really like these Micro Machines-esque Indy cars.  You pick up wrenches on the track (2 per race) which allow you to buy upgrades (default: 2wrenches = 1 upgrade).  When you crash and burn, a helicopter drops you back on track.  Lol, Burnout!  I always found this game intriguing...

This game saw a home port which was nowhere near as good as the arcade version.  This one's for the NES.  I always thought the graphics of the arcade Super Sprint were damn good back in 1986...

Believe it or not, there was a prequel for this game called Sprint, back in 1976.  Oh man, you can only imagine what it looked like...

Championship Sprint (1986): Also by Atari.  It's identical to Super Sprint but with only two players instead of three (red & blue cars).  The tracks are different and you can also choose to upgrade the chopper speed (which sucks), ha.

Recently, this game got a Playstation Network port so go ahead and download it if you want.

Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off-Road (1989): This and Indy Heat are made by Leland Corporation, not Atari.  Whether any ex-Atari employees were involved with this game, I'm not sure.  Drive on dirt and catch big air!

There's some differences from Super Sprint:  1. You can't explode.  2. You have a turbo button adjacent to the steering wheel which will give you a boost of speed.  3. Instead of picking up wrenches for upgrades, you win races to earn cash.  Cash is spent in between races on upgrades and stuff.  This includes turbos--run out of turbos and you obviously can't turbo no more...

Fun fact: If you put in extra credits, you get more money to upgrade your truck with.  Doesn't really change the fact that the AI can always keep up with you :)

The women make this game a little rugged if you know what I mean...however, you can change the dipswitches to go from bikinis to dresses.  I didn't know that at the time of this recording, I swear.

Like Super Sprint, this game got home ports (many more in fact).  Like this one for the SNES.  Later, Midway would hijack the namesake and make their own Cruis'n-esque game called Off-Road Challenge.  What happened to Leland by then--I don't know.  They fell off the map around 1993.

Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off-Road Track Pak (1989): Basically, the same thing as the original Super Off-Road but with different tracks and the ability to select a dune buggy instead of a truck.  Oh man, I loved that dune buggy.

Danny Sullivan's Indy Heat (1991): This is a spiritual sequel to Super Off-Road, also by Leland.  The gameplay is the same but instead of trucks, you get Indy cars.  Not bad, not bad...kind of like the original Super Sprint, but radically different.  You buy items, use turbo boosts, and run tracks in a specific order (unlike the random selection of previous games).  I find the tracks incredibly detailed--take a real life track and condense it into a cartoonized image, very clever.

This game has one unique feature not in Super Off-Road...the mandatory pit stop feature.  At least once a race, you have to pit or else your car will run out of gas and you'll putter along.  Also, you can crash and catch on fire which is the same as running out of gas--pit or else.  You can use turbos while wrecked which can bail you out in a pinch.  A funny feature--you can ram into someone while pitting and force them to leave early with less fuel.  You see a cartoony figure of a flattened man when this happened (see 2:26 in Part 1 below).

This game also has stripped-down ports for the NES and the Amiga.  Surprisingly, the NES version was capable of up to four players which was kind of cool.

In this video, sometimes the music glitches up and goes away occasionally.  Not sure why it does that.  Also I put in extra quarters before the race and buff my car to the max...who cares, this is to speed things up a little.

Part 1 Tracks: Phoenix, Vancouver, Indianapolis, Long Beach, Detroit, Pocono, Cleveland

Part 2 Tracks: Meadowlands, Toronto, Michigan, Lexington, Elkhart Lake (Road America), Monterey (Laguna Seca), Denver, Indianapolis (12 laps instead of 8)


There's one more top-down game worth mentioning that's made by the creators of Super Sprint.  It's called Badlands.  It's three players driving around in minivans shooting guns at each other in a dreary backdrop.  I don't find it appealing in the slightest, but I guess it's worth taking a look at if you're interested.

Conclusion: These are unique little games but with one flaw...the AI is so damn cheap, it ruins the game.  You can't go four, maybe five or six races, until the AI goes into God Mode and you can't win.  Period.  No really, in Indy Heat, look at Michigan (2:00 Part 2).  Danny does not pit ONCE and you can see him going into "Juice Mode" around the 5th lap.  So screw it.

...speaking of which, you notice how EVERY game that offers you a free race for coming in first always has rubber band AI?  Yes, I'm looking at you Cruis'n/FnF games.  Makes the game feel gimmicky and cheap.  I mean, take Daytona USA.  No free races, but if you win, you know you did something right, not exploit the system.  Anyway, just a casual observation.

NOTE: These games still aren't as good as Sega racers, sorry. 

 It's ok, Ivan's still cool with it!

If you like informative posts like this, check out my writeups of California Speed and Midway Corporation (in general).


  1. I remember playing Super Sprint way back on the Atari ST...good times!

    PS The line "Believe it or not, there was a sequel for this game called Sprint, back in 1976"...shouldn't that be 'prequel'?

  2. Oops, you caught me there :o

    Anyway, Atari ST version doesn't look so bad: