Getting punched going 140mph hurts. That being said, it is also an insane amount of fun. Road Rash on Sega Genesis has both of these in spades. A cross country bike racing game, it does a great job of mixing fast paced action, fast driving, easy to learn controls, and great music.
The main gameplay is made up of sprint races in what seems to be semi-abandoned roads along the western part of the United States. There’s only five different maps, but each increase in length the farther into the game you go. However, the scenery only varies slightly. There’s the grassy forest scene, the beach scene, the mountain scene, and two more forest-y scenes. However, you won’t exactly be looking at the scenery as you drive through at breakneck speeds.
And they really are break neck. One of the interesting things about Road Rash is that you have a health bar for your own body and your bike. This means you can’t just go running into things, and it also means you need to avoid fighting with cops, other bikers, and cars. This adds a definite level of balance to the player against the AI opponents, making it challenging and fun weaving in and out of traffic. Cars pose a huge threat as hitting them even a little throws you into the air like a ragdoll. While it could lose you the race, watching it is a spectacle to behold, and can bring out a chuckle or a scream every time.
There isn’t much of a story, outside of “make sure the cops don’t get ya”. This is because it’s a racing game, which is perfectly fine. The gameplay holds up well enough without a story that just racing is great. If they could have made a good story, it would be great, but at this stage the gameplay is fine. Buying all the bikes is hard without a story, but it is definitely a goal to aim for. Outside of some before race blurbs, interaction with other characters isn’t really there. They usually give you a tip or word of encouragement before each race.
The main problem with the gameplay seems to be the difficulty curve (or maybe I suck). After the first level, it seems like everything wants to kill you. The bikers and cops probably do, but the normal pedestrians in their yellow cars shouldn’t be! It also causes some problems, because when two cars block the road at the same time after a blind turn, you have no where to go. Go as usual, smash into the cars. Go off the road, you hit a sign. It can easily screw up your win, but at least you get to see the hilarious animations of being thrown into the air and running back to his bike.
The graphics for the game have a really nice appeal to them. Cars in the distance are easily identifiable so you don’t immediately smash into them. Each new bike changes the color of your rider and the bike itself, as well as increasing your speed and bike health. One major flaw with the graphics is the camera. If there were a way to place it at a different angle it would greatly improve how you play the game. The visuals are still overall appealing, except there is a little too much brown.
The controls are spot on, mainly cause of the ease of use. Go with one button, slow down with the other, attack with the third. Turning with the d-pad is great, and coming out of turns requires countering the lean to get straight as soon as possible. Using the up and down directions change up the type of attack. Pressing down kicks opponents away, pressing up makes your punch a hard swing. This makes it easy to pick up and play, but the timings for hitting and turning are tricky to master.
Finally, we’ve got the music. Oh, the music. A mix of hard rock and some cool rockabilly help make racing exciting, and really get lodged in your head. The fun of the tunes is great, and wizzing around on the open road to them is wonderfully fun too. They’ve all got a catchy midi feel to them. One down side of the sound however is the lack of an engine motor, but you could argue this is also for the better. No one wants to listen to the sound of a rather annoying midi engine over the music, but if it were quiet underneath the music, it could add a lot to the atmosphere of the game.
It’s not all great, though. Some of the AI in the computer is a little stupid, or even slow to the point that passing them becomes really easy. The cops also seem to be very hard to push away, so defending yourself against them means having to outrun them or ease them into another car. Cars are another problem, taking up almost the entire road, making it hard to get around them if two come at once.
There are a few things that could be improved on. A little more variety in road width would be a welcome addition, as well as scenery. A snow level would be great, and probably compliment the game well if done right. Some added sound effects, more bike variety, and a less steep difficulty curve would be perfect.
Road Rash is a game of great challenge and fun. Punching and kicking people on the open road feels great, and racing around on break neck speeds is great, even if the roads all look the same. Great music to keep you banging your head, tons of bikes to keep you motivated, and trying to keep the cops off your tail.
If you’ve got a Sega Genesis, this game is a great pick. If you like racing games, definitely buy it.
Disclosure: This review was done on a Sega Genesis emulator with a ROM taken from a friend’s copy of the game. The reason for this was to make getting screen shots simple as well as getting as close to the original thing as possible. I played in the native Genesis resolution on an Xbox One controller using strictly the D-pad.
With a few nitpicking issues, Road Rash is nonetheless fun, entertaining, and a great racing game. A good choice for racing fans and people who like punching others at high speeds.