Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing
by Polly





As a child, there weren't many things I was afraid of. The stories of the creepy crawlies, the bogeyman, or the monster under my bed and in the closet and in the toilet (that ate poops) meant absolutely nothing to me. That might have something to do with the fact that I slept with a .357 under my bed and was given heightened senses and reflexes shortly after my birth after having been adopted into the Social Welfare Agency's "secret program." So, while the likes of schoolyard bullies and the threat of strangers offering me candy and a ride home did very little to shake my normal demeanor, there were two things that, no matter how many times I'd experienced them, scared the ever-loving shit out of me.



Data Fucking East and Acclaim... Oh dear GOD how they haunted me. All my friends, like it was some kind of brain parasite local to the area that made them buy shitty games, seemed to have game collections that were 80-90% comprised of games by these two unfortunate companies. And I knew when these damn companies tried to HIDE their fucking evil too. Ocean? I got your number Data East. LJN? Oh FUCK YOU Acclaim.

I think my worst nightmare was "WHAT IF ACCLAIM AND DATA EAST.....MADE A GAME TOGETHER....FUUUUUUCK!"

For the uninitiated (should there really be any by now) Data East and Acclaim both made a living off of mostly shitty arcade games and even shittier arcade ports to home consoles. There were a few diamonds in the rough here and there like Double Dragon II: The Revenge and Heavy Barrel was... playable..., but for the most part, if I saw either of these two logos on a game box from a purchase or rental, the sigh afterward nearly collapsed my lungs.

So, imagine the look on Little Polly's face one fateful Christmas Eve when she opened a big blue boxed copy of Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing. Not only was the fact that this was a Data Fuck East game hard to swallow, but at the very same time, I couldn't remember any point in my life prior to receiving this gift from my adoring grandmother having ever shown any kind of interest in racing. None. I can't hold it against her though, because she was awesome and got me Crystalis the next year and Chrono Trigger a few years later.

So how 'bout that Turbo Racing then, huh?

I had very little racing experience on my happy dappy lil' NES prior to playing this game. The only ones I can remember playing before this one were Rad Racer and Rad Racer II. I dug them and I really loved that OutRun arcade they had at the local shopping district. So, maybe this wouldn't be so bad, right?

Still...that damn Data East logo continued to burn through my retinas on the car ride home...

Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing is a Formula One racer. That means it's mostly redneck free and way fuckin faster than that NASCAR bullshit. I really didn't know who Al Unser Jr. was at the time, and I'm still not all that sure, but I guess if the guy's awesome enough to have his own name on a videogame, then he must be some pretty big shit, yeah?

NES Racers like this one, where the camera is behind the car, often suffered some weird graphical tearing on the road while you were moving. This one's no different. In fact, it's probably a bit uglier than most, but it makes up for this fault because the game can get so damn fast. It's one of the few early racers where you got a real sense of speed, so while the road's tearing and glitching a bit, you're moving so fast that you likely won't notice it much. The dips and turns of each track are all handled very smoothly (maybe the smoothest on the NES) and look really good as you pass over then. Each track's backdrop, which sits just over the horizon and loops forever like most of these games, is adequately detailed and does a fair job of selling you on the illusion that you're where the track says you're at. One of the game's neater effects is that the time of day changes depending on how far you are into a race. By the time you finish a race, you'll have gone from complete daylight to a nice sunset-type atmosphere. A neat little effect that goes a long way toward making 6-9 lap races feel just a little more epic. The only real gripe I have with the graphics is the shaky effect that's used when you ignite your turbo. I realize it's meant to give a bit of realism, but at times I found it a bit distracting and can make a sometimes ugly graphics package just a big uglier.

Sound is exactly what you may expect from a racer. Mother. Fucking. Annoying. Thank god you're given the option of having music on in races to drown out the ear grating engine sounds, which are EVEN MORE annoying when you fire up your turbo. Holy fuck. The music itself isn't really all that bad, but with races that can last up to 10 minutes, they needed to be longer than 20-30 second loops. Shit gets old QUICK. But keep it on, for the love of god just keep it on or mute everything. Just don't listen to those terrible engine sounds.

Racing itself is fairly straight forward. Use A for gas, and B to brake, with up and down to shift gears. The game's a true arcade racer. Go ahead and fire up that turbo and cruise into curves at a full 230 mph, it'll let you. There are only a few tracks where you'll have to apply the brakes to not completely destroy yourself coming out of a turn. That's what really makes the game so fun. It lets you run the piss out of your car and doesn't really penalize you for it unless you lose control and whack some signs on the side of the track or ass-end one of your opponents. Your competition can prove absolutely fierce. Passing in this game can sometimes involve a full 2-3 laps of trying to get around a guy by applying gas and using the brake so you don't slam into him and crash out. Finally overcoming that bastard in front of you and claiming the number one spot really does feel like an accomplishment when you pull it off, though.

Pit stops and car damage also play an important role in the gameplay. A little too much bumping or using up all your turbo power will require you to drop into the pits to do repairs and refuel. It's as simple as pulling in and selecting what you wanna do, and how fast you get out is dependant on your Pit stat. Yep, an arcade racer through and through.

Now, maybe it's because I "didn't get out much" in terms of racers on the NES, but I'm gonna go ahead and say that Turbo Racing is the neatest racer I've played on the system. It just offers so much I'd never seen in any other racer.

The main feature is that you can run a full season of 16 races, competing for the most points to try and win the championship. You can either do this as Al Unser Jr., who has a fully jacked up and pimped out ride from the get-go, OR create your own driver, your own car colors, and build up your car's stats over the course of the season by placing well in races. It's all saved to the game's internal battery, so you can pick it up and put it down anytime you want!

You start your career with 20 points to distribute between six stats that affect your car's performance and your pit stop times. This was a pretty damn neat feature to me. You raise your driver any way you want to, and if you don't like how your points are distributed, you can adjust them freely both before qualifying and before the race. You're also given the option of practicing a track with your tweaked settings to try and get your car in the right shape for the challenge ahead. The only real difficulty is getting started. Placing well with only 20 distributable points is quite a challenge, but once you get a feel for things and how you need to race, you'll be rolling in points in no time and have a fully pimped out 60 point beast just like Al Unser Jr.

With only some weird graphical faults, bad sound, and occasional relenless competition, Al Under Jr. Turbo Racing is actually quite a dandy little racer and even more of a shock that it's by Data East. If you want some good fast-paced arcade racing action on the ol shoebox, look no further.






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