Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing Review

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Developer: Data East Publisher: Data East
Release Date: 1990 Also On: None

Racing is perhaps the most hackneyed genre in video game history. Nearly every title following the legendary Turbo followed the same format: player is viewing behind the car, car moves forwards, track map on the side of the screen, blah blah blah. The problem reached was that, well, there’s really no way to make a racing game that goes against the behind-the-wheel view because that’s how we drive. Due to this, most games are just the same dang thing. Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing is something of a rarity, it takes the old standard and gives it a little pep. Be warned though, there’s a sinister evil lurking within, as you’ll find out, so proceed with caution.

Graphically, they did a great job on the NES of making this game stand out. Excellent title screen, between-level graphics, color and detail. One thing I enjoyed is that the programmers made each level unique to fit with the particular country you’re driving in; so, for example, you have a nice backdrop for Romania. I’d say this is as much as they could have done for this type of game, a lot of variety is always a good thing.

The music in Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing is equally pleasing. The opening themes and such are perfect and you can even select your in-game music. There are four songs to pick from, or silence. It would have been nice if they programmed country-themed tunes for each track, but because there are so many to go through, it’s clear they were limited in their options, so they chose to have four songs you can select from. Each has a different feel, which I liked, and they’re well programmed. The sound effects overall are fitting as well, no complaints there.

Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing isn’t too different from what you’d find in a typical racing game. You race and control a car, that’s about it. Where this game shines is the details. To start, there are a huge amount of options to play with. As well as the usual, you can select the number of laps to run through, the amount of points, training, get tips from Al Unser Jr. for each track, change your car colors, practice, you name it. In addition, you have a set of statistics you can play with to make your car run/handle better. There’s also a turbo feature, thus the title, that you can use to advance on straightaways and even a pit crew you can use to refuel and repair your car. Pretty jampacked overall, but there are three huge problems with it you’ll likely hear a lot of complaints about.

First, your statistics really, really matter, and I like that. However, the problem is the programmers seemed to forget that when you start out at the bare minimum, it makes the most sense to decrease the statistics of the opposing cars as well, minus perhaps the top three or so. Nope. All the cars start out at generally the same stat level regardless of how much you suck, which makes it totally impossible to advance at first, and even after a number of tracks you’ll find yourself still struggling to get anywhere. There’s a reason for this, and it brings us to the next problem.

Second, you can choose to play as Al Unser Jr. himself or start out with your own car and the bare minimum of stats. What’s the difference? The difference is that Al Unser Jr. starts out maxed. Thus, it’s quite easy to play with him in comparison to the regular car, and it makes playing the latter way annoying. It’s literally impossible to get the statistics you need to really have fun playing the game, and even when you have full stats as Al, it’s quite a difficult game at times for the final, and most important reason of all.

Third, and finally, Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing has the most sinister and sensitive collision detection of any racing game I’ve ever played. Totally unfair. See, what happens typically is this: you’ll be riding along and bump into the car in front of you. Then, suddenly, you totally spin out and somehow find yourself at 12th place when you were in 2nd! I’m not kidding, the major problem with this game is that if you screw up a bit, hit the side a little too long or get hit by another car, even if it came behind you and you couldn’t see the damn thing, you lose at least eight positions. If you’re playing normal and not as Al, this will always ruin your chances of advancing. What makes it more annoying is the opponent cars just keep on going, yep, no problem for them, you totally fly off the track and lose valuable time and a great position, but they just keep going. Also, anyone else notice that you’re the only car on the track that needs to refuel and repair? Seriously, make it fair. This game, because of the above problems, is almost unplayable at first. You’ll find the only way to enjoy it is to play as Al, which takes the fun out of gaining the stats yourself. Give it some time and you’ll get into it, but be warned, you’re really going to want to kill this game at first.

As for creativity, problems aside Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing has a lot of interesting features that made it stand out from the racing games of the era. It has a lot of extras to make it worth your time, much more than anything else I’ve seen from this time period; so high marks in this category.

And to bring itself out of the muck I mentioned earlier, Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing also has excellent replay value and gamelength. You can save your game and come back whenever you want, which is great since the world cicuit is sixteen tracks long. Each track takes about ten minutes to play, so do the math. But they did a great job of adding the save feature, so high marks again. Plus, provided you can deal with the above problems and manage, you may actually find yourself wanting to come back.

Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing is a fun title overall. The only thing that makes it annoying is that there’s no way you can play it the way it was intended to be played; you can only enjoy it when you play with full stats because the collision detection was made so sensitive. Not to mention that your opponents play at full tilt regardless of how pathetic you start out. Still, I have to say I’m still coming back to finish the circuit, and in spite of its flaws, after getting used to how it runs you might enjoy it. Be warned though, I know many a gamer who found a hidden rage from playing this game that they never knew existed. The faults may seem minor, but when you experience them it’s another story.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 4.5
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.4
Written by Stan Review Guide

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