Friday, 25 August 2017

Arcade Racing Games #6

Big Run (1989)
By: Jaleco Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 580,300
Also Available For: SNES, Amiga, Atari ST


Not the most inspiring of title screens...
During the years driving games first became popular in arcades (i.e. following OutRun's release), it seems like developers felt they needed little more than a gimmick to make their mark in the genre. Jaleco's effort was the somewhat ambiguously-named Big Run but the gimmick they opted for was to base it on the Dakar-Paris Rally. It may well have been the first such game to be based on the gruelling event in fact (although a similar claim has been made of Victory Run for the PC Engine which came out a couple of years earlier), but was it enough to earn it a spot at the head table, so to speak? Well, I think I recall being reasonably impressed with it back then on the only occasion I briefly encountered it, but how does it fare after a proper play-through thirty years later? It doesn't make the best of first impressions with possibly the drabbest title screen of all time, but things could only get better from there, surely? I was certainly pretty hopeful at least.

Near the start of the first stage...
For our convenience, the race is divided into six stages here, each of which features one checkpoint halfway through, and runs from Paris, down through France, Spain, and into Africa ending in Dakar. Your ride throughout is a Porsche 959 in distinctive Rothman's livery which predictably starts at the back of eight total racers. Progress to the next stage is dependent simply on reaching the checkpoint or goal before your time runs out. I guess your race position may also play a part technically, but you'll have to be in a decent position to reach the checkpoints anyway as you don't receive a particularly generous allocation, even on the very first stage. If you can reach the end of the sixth stage in time, that's yer lot and it'll all be over within ten minutes - not an especially lengthy sojourn I'm sure you'll agree, even for an arcade game. I suppose quality is more important than quantity though.

The route that lies before you...
It's certainly a little trickier than most of the similar games around at the time. Not only do you barely get enough time to finish a stage even without crashing, but the many sharp turns and crowded roads do their best to ensure you do crash, and crash often. Indeed, despite having only eight ranked positions, the twisty roads are increasingly filled with other cars, most of which move too slowly to avoid overtaking. There are splits in the road occasionally which can help with this but you'll still get jostled around a lot or end up clipping some of the plentiful road-side bits and pieces which range from small bushes right up to huge billboards and entire buildings. The courses are also raised at certain points which can be cool, but also annoying. In some places, for example, one side of a split road is much higher than the other and you can drop off the higher road and continue on the lower one - you'll just bounce around a bit. However, if there is no split road you can't even fall six inches without having a full-on crash!

This downhill section is a bit crowded!
Something else that makes things rather tricky is the graphics. The cars and scenery are great, if lacking in variety a bit, and the scaling is mostly okay, but the sensation of speed is mostly poor and the undulating track is even see-through! If there are any large roadside objects approaching, they sometimes show through the road surface, especially if you're about to head uphill. Not only does this look ugly but it can also be pretty confusing when you're trying to navigate a chicane or something. I suspect, however, that this is an emulation problem rather than a problem with the game itself. I would need to try and track down an original machine to confirm this but, whatever the cause, it does prove somewhat irritating in certain sections of the game, and since a vast majority of players today would need to play the game via MAME or something similar, it still has to be considered, sadly.

Careful not to fall off the edge...
Aside from these things, Big Run looks like it might've been a decent enough racer. There are some interesting stage designs/features including different track surfaces, water splashes, an open, obstacle strewn section, treacherous mountainside roads, and broken-down vehicles to dodge, but this is about the only aspect of the game that impresses. It's already a bit of a chore to play through thanks to its unforgiving nature and glitchy graphics, but add to that some rather imprecise car control and uninspiring audio and you've got a game that just isn't much fun to play. Finding a real arcade cab would still hold an appeal, admittedly, particularly the rare hydraulic sit-down machine, but that's all. It has its own gimmick, that's true, but other games from the era such as OutRun and Chase HQ are so much more enjoyable that it's really hard to recommend Jaleco's effort.

RKS Score: 4/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by a talented fellow known as 'piquetFW11'. Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!


 

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