RoadBlasters
by Polly





Hey, lookie! It's another NES racing game! And if you've been following the site for a while now (or if you simply read Tuesday's review) you probably know exactly where I got this one too. Yep, my awesome game-buying Grandma, rest her soul, for some reason just absolutely loved buying me racing games for a period of about three years. I've thought about it a lot and I never got the chance to ask her, but I honestly can't figure out how she always ended up tieing me to racing. I won't complain though, because NES games as presents beat the pants off anything else my friends got for Christmas from their elders. Hey, I know, it sounds superficial, but fuckin' NES was great shit man and we were happy with any kinda game we could get for free back then.

RoadBlasters is an 8-bit port of a 1987 Atari arcade combat racing game. The premise is quite simple. Your little sports car has a limited amount of fuel to clear each route and along the way you can dispose of the various vehicles and obstacles that get in your way by blowing the shit out of them. The earliest game to use this formula that I can remember playing was Nintendo's Mach Rider, and I don't remember ever being terribly good at that one... Or maybe it just wasn't terribly good.

I've only had experience playing the arcade game through MAME emulation and it was quite fun, if a bit difficult (but what arcade game isn't?) The only other port I remember playing of the game was on the Genny and for the most part it looked, sounded, and played exactly like the arcade game. The NES version is slimmed down quite a bit as you'd expect, but in no way does that mean it's a bad game or that it's lacking anything substantial from the arcade original.

Obviously, the visuals had to take a hit. The road is slimmed down considerably, areas outside of the road are that typical light and dark pattern we're all used to, and the horizon background art is rather simple and uninteresting. Every new course at least changes the colors of the current theme or time of day, so even if it's just a palette color change, it keeps things from getting too boring. The simple designs carry over into the player's car as well as enemies, though I have to admit, the car's explosion animation is one of the smoothest and coolest looking I've seen. At times your enemies zoom by so fast they might as well be orange, blue, and red blobs and sometimes it's hard to tell if what you're shooting at is an enemy or an obstacle you need to get the hell out of the way of. As I mentioned in my Turbo Racing review, a lot of behind-the-car racers like this one ended up having a lot of graphical tearing and glitching especially while cornering, and RoadBlasters is no exception. At times this tearing can make a lot of crashes seem unfair, but to its credit the game never loses one iota of speed.

Even the arcade game didn't have much of a sound package, so I can't slam the slimmed down home port for lacking a bit in this area too. There are only a few musical jingles here and there for the title screen, completing races, and and getting a game over. The rest of the time you'll be listening to that familiar NES engine vroom and some puny gunfire and powering-up sound effects. Nothing all that impressive, but at least the engine sound in this game doesn't grate too much on the nerves like other games could.

As mentioned before, RoadBlasters' gameplay couldn't really be any simpler. It may seem a bit odd at first, but you hold up on the d-pad to accelerate and move your thumb to the up-left and up-right directions to turn. Your car's got some awesome traction, so you rarely ever have to worry about losing your shit on a hard turn. The A button fires your primary gun which has unlimited ammo and you aim by simply shifting your car left or right a bit. B fires off special weapons that you can collect such as the Uzi Cannon which sprays a constant burst of fire helping you cut through swaths of irritating enemies, a Cruise Missile which annihilates everything on the screen, and a three-use Turbo boost. It's easy to pick up, play, and enjoy in almost no time and that's always a plus if you ask me.

RoadBlasters features fifty courses for you to complete. When you start the game, it's kind enough to give you a bit of headway into the game by letting you start the game off at stages 1, 4, or 11. This also determines the difficulty of the game, so jumping right into 11 may not be the best idea. You'll also be given a choice of progression a few more times throughout the game to help ease the monotony a bit.

Every race is a simple dash to the finish line against the clock, or rather your fuel tank. Apparently someone shot a hole in your gas tank or some shit along the way and you lose fuel faster than a sliced jugular loses precious, precious lifeblood. That or some smarmy fuck sold you the WORST fuel-economic car EVER and the actual story of the game is that you're chasing them down to give them a nice dose of hot lead flavored customer satisfaction! Hmm...I think that actually works better than any story the game may have.

As you race to the end of each course against dwindling fuel supply, you'll be forced to deal with traffic all over the place, mines, oil slicks, and gun turrets around damn near every corner on the side of the road just waiting to melt your poor little car down to bits of scrap metal. Most enemies can be taken down with one shot from your car's default gun, however blue cars and mines can only be destroyed with the Cruise Missile upgrade and any contact with them blows you up instantly and takes a small chunk out of your remaining fuel supply. Each course throws these hazards at you in different patterns and the level designers did a great job working with the few tools they had to make the next race even more treacherous than the last.

Your starting fuel for each course seems pre-determined, so no matter how much fuel you saved in the previous race, only your reserve tank will carry over. While most courses start you with a somewhat adequate fuel supply, some are vicious and intense challenges that sometimes start you out with only a few drops of fuel in your main gauge before starting to eat into your reserves. On a brighter note, destroying certain orange cars can net you Fuel Globes which replenish a significant portion of your main fuel gauge and you'll run into a few green Fuel Globes scattered around each area that'll replenish a tiny sliver. So, even though the game can quickly become challenging, it plays fair and does a nice job of balancing out the difficulty of the enemies in any given stage while throwing you just enough fuel to skirt by sometimes.

Though it can become a bit monotonous over the course of one play session due to the large number of stages and the graphical tearing can screw you really bad in the later stages, RoadBlasters is a solid and fun racing shooter. Just a smidge more variety is really the only thing the game needed, but as it stands, you'll still have a good time with this one if you're craving some shooty action, but the initial feeling won't likely be enough to see you through all 50 stages unless you're 10 years old and live in 1990.






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