Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Old Racing Series: R.C. Pro-Am

Since I'm in a Super Sprinty mood, I want to evaluate a few old-school racing games and take in the positives and negatives of each.  For all our sakes since it's fun and educational!

There were a couple of "Pro-Am" games released back in the day. They were made by Rare...same people who brought you Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, all the good stuff.  

This is the original NES version (1987).  Surely most of you have heard about this.  You drive a red RC truck (or jeep or coupe when you get upgrades) around an isometric track against 3 bot cars.  Races last about 2-5 laps each.  Strangely enough, there are a lot of similarities with Super Sprint: the oil slicks, the water puddles, the crashes, the speed/accel/grip powerups, the tracks that are set in a vacant grass field, race ends when first player crosses the finish line, etc.  But originality was at a premium in the past (and probably still is today) so I'll let it slide.

Unlike in Super Sprint, there are two weapons you can pick up--rockets and mines.  Rockets shoot forward, mines shoot backwards.  Those mines look like whoopie cushions but whatever.  You can also pick up roll cages which act like stars in Super Mario--you can't explode and touching other cars spins them out.  It doesn't give you a speed boost or wedge you free should you get stuck on the wall.  There's also speed boosts to get ahead on the straightaways.  Also, when the race ends, you only lose a life if you were dead last.  Therefore, finish at least 3rd each race to survive.  Come in last and you get a Game Over although you get some continues which is nice.

Now, I know this game is a classic and I'm enamored with it but some flaws come to mind.  My biggest one--the isometric view doesn't do you many favors in terms of gameplay.  You can hardly see things that are coming up.  Sure, you have the HUD track overview but it doesn't tell you where upgrades (engine, clutch, and tire), letters (collect 8 to change into a faster car), weapons, oil, water, and gates are.  It's like running a foot race but you were looking down the entire time, only getting a vague idea of where to go by looking at your feet.

You need to memorize where everything on the track is.  See an item on the first lap you want to pick up the second time around?  Better remember.  It would be nice to see further down the road but this is a funky old NES game so that's a bit of a stretch.  If you need it, there's detailed maps of all 24 tracks here.  Speaking of which, once you beat Level 24, the game loops the same levels over and over again.  Bummer...

Another thing is the car handling.  Steering the car feels slippery.  It's usually common to bounce off the walls--err, invisible barriers, a lot.  Unlike in Super Sprint, you can "rub" off the walls without any real repercussions.  Even with the upgrades you collect over time, the car never feels significantly better.  But maybe I wasn't paying as much attention as I should've. Game handles differently than most racing games set on a 2D plane.

Also something to note is that the AI cheats.  Well duh, there's rubber-band AI in every game so why am I complaining.  CPUs can slow down and zip by like that.  Later in the game, the AI usually forgoes any normal car physics and just flies to the finish, only to be taken down by a few random oil slicks.  As a matter of fact, the game technically has a "kill screen" on Level 70 where the computer flies through the track at LUDICROUS SPEED and you run out of lives.

One more nitpick I suppose, and this is ALWAYS a pet peeve of mind in every single sprite racing game.  You can't change the color of your car.  You're stuck with red.  For once, I'd like to be the blue car.  Or the green car.  Or even the yellow.  I must be the only one who complains about this since none of the programmers implemented this in the sequel...

Championship Pro-Am (1992)on the Sega Genesis.  It's basically the same game but with better graphics, six cars instead of four (added purple & grey cars), and screechier SFX (MY POOR EARS).  I've never played this one.  I could download the ROM for it, not enough time.

Then there's Super R.C. Pro-Am (1991).  This was the Pro-Am game I played the most.  While all the features from the original are intact, there are a few changes that are better in my opinion.

The game runs at a slower pace than the NES version.  Don't get me wrong--I like my sense of speed but at a slower pace, I get a better feel of what's in front of me, thus limited vision becomes less of a problem.  The game also has sand pits, splits in the road, bridges, overpasses, and a better track variety.  Yes, even stupid things like the shape of a track can make me happy/sad.  Also, every car is in greyscale so no boohooing from me because I couldn't be another colored car!!

I did not make this.

Another thing--whenever you finish a race, a fax machine prints out the results for you.  Because getting a fax is so much better than getting a trophy from a Cruis'n game babe.

Anyway, as you collect letters, your car changes.  The first car you get is some generic RC car, like the car from Toy Story (I love RC Car). Second car is the "Speed Demon" which looks hella tight.  Third car is the "Spiker" which looks like a behemoth of a monster truck.  Seriously?  If we're going from "slow to fast," I don't think the phase after a sports car would be a blocky monster truck/car hybrid.  Those spiky tires don't do anything anyway--can't use them to poke the other cars.  If I got that Spiker as a birthday/Christmas present, I would cry.  Thanks, Nintendo.  Thanks.

In case you missed the memo, they replaced the clutch wheel with a battery.  Cause no one f***in knows what that pinwheel thing was in the NES version.  Not the 6-year-old kids sitting 6 inches from the family TV screen, no way...

Oh yeah, and there's one more Pro-Am, this one back on the NES.  This is R.C. Pro-Am TWO (1992).  It's probably the most unique Pro-Am for good reasons.  Check it out.

As you can see, this game has MULTIPLAYER.  Up to four people, in fact.  Though as usual, P1 is red, P2 is blue, P3 is green, P4 is yellow.  The game also has elevation changes (ramps to catch sweet air!), new weapons like bomber jets (wtf?) that blow up the other cars, a few different backdrops than the same damn green field, and a currency system for buying your own upgrades.  Can't say I've played this one before but it looks okay.

In the multiplayer footage, any human player car that drops behind off the screen gets boosted ahead to remain on screen.  Remember Micro Machines how a player was eliminated when he fell too far behind the leader?  It's sort of the same deal except you're stayin' alive.  The dynamic camera can become irritating after a while.

True story.  In Pro-Am II, you start with a cute little trophy truck.  In the second stage, your car becomes the Speed Demon from Super R.C. Pro-Am.  In the third stage, your car becomes the initial RCcar from Super R.C. Pro-Am.  So wait.  This game is working in reverse!  In Pro-Am II, it's Truck->Sports Car->RC Car.  In Super R.C. Pro-Am, it's RC Car->Sports Car->Ugly Ass Tank Car.  Ha, okay Rare, whatever you say.

Should I take anything away from this game, it's to make more games where you catch big air and bounce like a ball upon landing!  And I like some of the art and sounds--nice clean sprites & stuff.


And...that's it.  There were only four Pro-Am games ever made.  I know this isn't the greatest of reviews but at least it serves to educate the population.  Some good things came out of these games but they ain't got s*** on Sega racers, sorry.  It's late so if this post is not the best, then I can go back and edit it later...

If I had to review one game, it would be Super R.C. Pro-Am.  Give it a 6.75 since it's fun but it can get redundant after a while.  Still wish they could've improved the isometric view and made the game faster.  Instead you cruise slowly all over the place.  Still got that Nostalgia factor.

If you like informative game posts like this, check out posts on California Speed, Initial D, Rad Racer, RoadBlasters, and Super Sprint/Super-Off Road/Indy Heat.


  1. Dude, the first R.C. Pro-Am takes me WAY back. This was one of the first real racing games I've ever played. And believe it or not- I was SCARED of video games back in the early '90s! But dang it- I HATED that yellow machine in the later stages. I haven't really played R.C. Pro-Am II to really gauge too many memories of it.

  2. Good video games are scary cause they blow away your expectations :)