R.C. Pro-Am
by Polly

Ahhh, racing games. The burning rubber, the revving engines, the scenery screaming by and becoming a blur as the pedal scrapes the floor, the roar of the crowd, the glory of the win, the controller hucked through the back of the TV as obscenities are screamed at the top of one's lungs because catch-up AI is the GREATEST FUCKING THING EVER AND SHOULD BE IN EVERY COMPETITIVE GAME CREATED FOR AS LONG AS HUMANITY CONTINUES TO BE! Yep, racing games. R.C. Pro-AM is a racing game and of all the wonderful things about racing mentioned above, this game only has one of them. Do you know which one it was?

Perhaps you've heard of a little company called Rare. They made quite a few high-profile NES games back in the day and to this day still manage to linger about doing god knows what. They better not be trying to horn in on my postcard writing simulator idea though... R.C. Pro-Am was one of their higher profile NES titles (probably only out-famoused by Battletoads) and it sold a staggering 2.3 million copies, which when I think about it seems almost unheard of back then unless your game had the name "Mario" in it somewhere. What makes R.C. Pro-Am stand out is that you're actually racing little radio remote controlled toys rather than real cars and it's one of the earliest titles I can remember that fell into the vehicular combat mould. So, I can give it its due for at least being creative...

I'm not one to try and take away anyones' achievements or anything, but I guess my whole point in writing this review might be to ask "FUCKING WHY?" Now, I guess I'm not one to talk, since oddly enough, I was one of the 2.3 million people who owned the game (thanks Grandma....you really did like buying me racing games didn't you?) and even at nine years old, I just knew something was wrong with people liking this... Not because it's an all-over bad game, but it contains one game-breaking flaw that literally makes it one of the most un-fun and "FUCK YOU"-worthy experiences of my NES glory days. I honestly don't know how it escaped the Ten Fuck You Moments article. Maybe I just put a mental block on it...

But first, let's get to some of the good stuff that I actually liked about the game. Yes, as you've guessed by now, I hate it, but I can at least respect it for a few things. For an early NES game, R.C. Pro-Am did one or two graphical things that were kinda neat. I mean...have you ever seen an 8-bit truck with THIS MANY FUCKING SPRITES?

Because the game is presented in a faux-3D isometric view, they had to make sure that each vehicle had as many rotation frames as possible, because if it didn't, turning would be a son of a bitch. This and the fact that the game experiences no slowdown whatsoever give it that slick and fast look and feel that you'd want in a racing game. In keeping the game as fast as they could, though, the overall graphical presentation is pretty damn boring. Grey roads, green grass, and black and yellow barriers make up most of what you'll be looking at spending time playing this game. So, hopefully it won't be too long.

The audio department is in a word, FUCKINGSTOP. There are only a few musical cues in the game and they're not all that impressive. The big problem is the only sound you hear 70% of the time is that annoying NES revving engine sound and the other is the annoying sound of the screeching of tires as you take corners. You know the kinda sounds I'm talking about. And if you don't, click the following flash movie and leave it on for the remainder of this review, alright?

Moving onto gameplay, if you can actually believe it, given how cynical I already seem about this game, R.C. Pro-Am does some things right from the get-go. For one, it's quite easy to pick up and play and there's no real complications with the controls once you orient yourself with the perspective and how turning works. It's really drifty and hugging curves to make quick passes is the order of the day and you likely won't just slip easily into it for a couple races. Other than that, you have a button for gas and one for weapons and that's pretty much it. My only real gripe with the weapons, which come in the form of missiles and back-firing bombs, is that the only real way you're gonna hit someone with one is if you either ride their backside and shove a missile up their ass or let them ride your ass and take a big bomby shit all over them.

The game also features a pretty neat little upgrade system where you can collect tire, engine, and turbo acceleration icons scattered around the track to up your vehicle's performance. Each upgradeable part can be upgraded four times and you do start to notice a difference. Also strewn all willy-nilly on tracks are lettered icons which you can use to spell out "NINTENDO." When you successfully collect all 8, you and your opponents will be bumped up from a little toy trucks to little toy vans. Collecting the letters once again turns everyone into little toy race cars. Moving to new vehicles also restarts your upgrade progress, so you'll have to grab all of them again to make the new vehicles even faster. I found this to be a genuinely interesting way to keep the player engaged and wanting to go for the better stuff.

There's a pretty decent variety of tracks in the game too. The game boasts "32 tracks of racing thrills" right on the front of the box, but actually there are only 12 layouts and game starts repeating tracks after 24 races but changes up the conditions a bit. Each track has various conditions and obstacles such as oil slicks, puddles, and brick walls to crash into along with helpful speed strips to zip you ahead of the competition (though they can use them too) and invincible roll-cages that help protect you a bit from the hazardous conditions. It's pretty much common perception that the game never ends. Legitimately, I've personally completed 29 races before finally tapping out and with a Game Genie I got to 72 races, but others online have reported going as high as 200 races with no end in sight. So, if you can stick with it, you'll certainly be at it for a long time. Though I honestly can't imagine how or why you'd want to.

And then, R.C. Pro-Am shits its pants and just sits there laughing about it like you should be proud or something...

While the game wants to deliver a nice and quickly-paced arcade racing experience, the problem is that it kinda forgets that it's not an arcade game and has no reason whatsoever to try and drive you away after a few minutes or make you want to pump it full of quarters. It's a console game that thinks it's an arcade game. This is evidenced by that one gigantic flaw that I mentioned earlier in this review: The game just plain fucking cheats and cheats and cheats all day long.

You don't have to win every race to continue onto the next. So long as you place at least third place (out of fourth) you'll always continue. If you're in fourth place and the first place car crosses the finish line, then you lose. The first eight or nine races may go by without too much much cheating. However, once you reach race ten all bets are fucking off and you're gonna be asking yourself if you unknowingly insulted the cartridge's mother along the way or raped its dog with the intense display of revenge the game begins to take on you and your nerves.

When I say the game cheats, I mean it literally cheats. You can be ahead of the pack for an entire race and then suddenly out of nowhere on the final lap with only 1/4 of the race remaining it's not uncommon to look at your mini-map and see the opponent in last place quickly zoom around, enter your screen, and race off with the win. It's complete and utter bullshit. There doesn't even have to be any speed strips around for this to happen. The opponents gain speed that is simply unattainable for the player controlled vehicle (127mph to be exact, the player's fastest speed can never break 103mph.) There's just no excuse for this. The worst part is, once you reach a certain number of completed races, opponents' speed NEVER DROPS BELOW 127mph and even touching them can often be enough to spin you out so bad you crash on the side of the track losing ANY hope at all for a comeback. It's still not impossible to win, but the only way to keep playing is to take out the vehicle in front of you at the last second and settle for nothing but third place. The catch-up AI just makes this game needlessly frustrating.

What started with a lot of really good ideas simply devolves into a game that's not fun because it's too hard. Yeah, I said it. The game is too hard to be fun. You can extract a bit of enjoyment out of it in the early stages, but only frustration and annoyance follow if you continue onward.

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