Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Top Five Mode 7 Games

I think we can safely assume the Super Famicom/SNES would've been a big success no matter what it was like - the overwhelming dominance of its predecessor in most territories guaranteed that - but that didn't stop Nintendo from kitting it out with a few bits of special new tech that might end up converting a good few non-believers as well. Undoubtedly the most impressive of these was its 'Mode 7' graphics which even managed to tempt me into a brief foray into Nintendoville from the long-held safety and comfort of my firmly established home in Sega Land.

Many games featured the odd use of Mode 7 here and there, from the new system's launch right up until its demise. Often it was just used for scaley special effects as with Contra 3, Super Aleste, and Super Mario World, while a certain few other games had Mode 7 sections like the vertical stages in Axelay, several stages in the splendid Super Star Wars series, the mine-cart stage of Super Mario RPG, or the overworld areas of various RPG's, and it worked very well, but where I've focused my attention for the purposes of this post is on games that were based around Mode 7 as a whole. There were a few of these and most were racing games. This makes perfect sense of course, as the scaling abilities of Mode 7 were ideally suited to such a genre - simply draw a road in 2D, flip it over, and scroll it really fast! It seemed like a revolutionary step in home racing games but, surprisingly, it wasn't used as much as you might expect. Nonetheless, I've still enjoyed several such games, and have discovered a few previously unknown ones since starting this post as well! Here's a look at the best ones in my view, but which was your fave?

5. Uchuu Race: Astro Go Go! (1994)

I was excited to discover this one a few years back. I'm a big F-Zero fan and it looked like being a less serious, more fun take on pretty much the exact same thing, and it is I suppose. It features some five peculiar characters/craft to race as, either in a championship or time-trial mode. Each tournament consists of five races, you get a boost each lap, the intricately-designed courses have loads of sharp turns and short-cuts, etc. It really is a lot like a sillier, more cartoony F-Zero. That probably sounds wonderful which is exactly what I thought, but sadly there are some sizeable problems. Firstly, your view of the track ahead is hampered by a 'camera' that's angled downward quite a bit more than in F-Zero, and indeed every other racing game I've played. Secondly, the course designs can get quite confusing thanks to some sections which have you racing side-on or even towards the camera. Both of these issues make it hard to prepare for upcoming corners or hazards and they do ruin the game a bit too, which is a shame as it had the potential for must-play status otherwise. Not the best game then, but it makes the list anyway simply for its superb and extensive use of Mode 7... (full review here)

4. Waku Waku Ski Wonder Spur (1995)

This is one that I'd never heard of back in the day - not surprising since it was a late release and only available to Japanese players, but it's one of those games that's a joy to discover later on. As you might've guessed from the title (or indeed screenshot) it's ski-based racer but it actually plays a lot like Super Mario Kart. The menus and everything are in Japanese so it will take a bit of messing around to work out what's what, but there are several play modes including championship, head-to-head, and time-trial, there are eight strange characters to choose (including a rabbit, robot, banana, and star creature), and four areas with three courses in each. They have the basic appearance of ski-slopes but with slightly less realistic twists and turns as well as lots of cracks and holes in the ice which you have to steer around or jump, and there are also random items you can collect like shields, super jumps, and speed boosts. So yeah, basically Mario Kart on snow/ice. It's quite a bit harder than Nintendo's game, with mistakes often proving fatal, but it's also good fun, especially with more than one player involved, and about as crazy as its premise probably makes it sound. It's well worth the effort of tracking down this one...

3. Pilotwings (1990)

Out of all the Mode 7 games, this is probably the one that actually makes the best use of the tricks it offers. It was one of the first launch games we were teased with in magazines hyping the SNES's upcoming release and it did a great job of demonstrating how much more advanced the new system promised to be, even just with a few grainy screenshots which showed some wonderful simulatory tomfoolery. As we soon found out, it was even more impressive to actually play, with Mode 7's unique tricks creating what seemed at the time to be an amazingly realistic (if somewhat arcadey) skydiving and hang gliding simulation as well as offering use of a biplane and rocket pack to floop around in. There wasn't a huge amount of actual game to discover but that didn't make it seem any less amazing. It's actually hard to imagine this particular game running on any other hardware. It has probably dated a little more than the other games on this list now that its wow factor has worn off but it's still good fun to play and it's easy to recognise how much of a milestone it was... (full review here)

2. Super Mario Kart (1992)

This is probably the most popular game on the list and it's not hard to see why. Mario was already a big hit on the SNES thanks to his wonderful Super World and Mode 7 was also held in very high esteem thanks mainly to Pilotwings and F-Zero, so what better way to take advantage than to combine the two? It worked probably better than Nintendo expected too - not only was it a riot to play and a great game in its own right but it proved to be more influential than perhaps any other game on the system, even kick-starting a whole sub-genre of racing game by itself. This original is still my favourite of the series and genre though - sure the AI cheated and could 'drive' you crazy on occasion (chortle!) but the colourful courses based on Super Mario World locations were great fun to drive around - they were simple and short enough that each race was a close call, there was a nice variety of familiar characters, the random power-ups made each lap interesting, the graphics and audio were about as appealing as they come, and importantly (and unlike a certain other Mode 7 racing game, below) it supporting two players at once. Not only that, in fact, but even had play modes specially for them. An all-time great...

1. F-Zero (1990)

Huzzah! Tootle tootle! If you were expecting anything else in the top spot you were expecting too much from this particular blogger! Not only was this wonderful futuristic racer a stonking game anyway but as a launch game it probably sold as many SFC/SNES consoles as the mighty Super Mario World itself. Yes, Pilotwings was also a launch game and was also a great deal of fun - it wouldn't be on this list otherwise - but F-Zero was faster and ten times more exciting, and that kind of thing makes a big difference when you're checking out a new system. Hell, it wowed me enough to finally bring my Sega allegiance to an end, and I didn't regret it for a second. Pilotwings probably made better use of the Mode 7 function (slightly) but F-Zero is a better actual game. It had a decent back-story, a tremendous soundtrack, its courses were the best I'd ever seen at the time - super fast and full of twists, turns, boosts, and jumps - and it has much better replay value as well. It was just enormous fun and very exciting - two things Pilotwings lacks in my view - and was quite unlike any racing game I'd seen before... (full review here)

Honourable Mentions: Exhaust Heat, Hyper Zone, Street Racer, NHL Stanley Cup, and Super Formation Soccer, which all use Mode 7 extensively, and also all the games mentioned at the start of the post for their effective use of it... :)


  1. I agree with these choices! However I suspect there are some JPN titles making better use of M7, than the last two? Maybe there's an amazing RPG or shootemup....

    1. I did do reasonably thorough research into Mode 7 games prior to playing the candidates and compiling the list - #4 and #5 are lesser known Japan-only games, for example - but yes, you could be right, maybe there are even more that I didn't find :)