Rock N’ Roll Racing

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 29th

Publisher: Interplay

Year: 1994

Genre: Radar Love

On paper, Rock N’ Roll Racing looks like the kind of thing we would have made fun of mercilessly back in the elimination rounds before unceremoniously revoking its Seal of Quality and never speaking of it again. It’s an overhead racing game who’s main selling point is that it features a handful of mediocre licensed songs that have been Genesynthesized into something that sounds like a ring tone from 2003. Rather than a straight up racer, this is “combat racing”, with wacky characters, “rock n’ roll attitude”, and tricked out cars firing weapons at each other.  Oh, and it takes place in space, obviously.

Let’s come back to the last point for a second – Rock ‘n Roll Racing takes place in a world where interstellar travel is commonplace, the galaxy is inhabited by all sorts of intelligent creatures, and… they all enjoy auto racing, apparently. Not racing in rocket ships, or planes, or futuristic hover-vehicles. Just regular-looking automobiles. Trucks mostly. And they do this while listening to George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”.

It’s certainly an interesting future we live in.

Of course, just because the idea behind a game sounds stupid doesn’t mean the game will be bad. In fact, some of our favorite games are based around unlikely-sounding premises. Pac-Man is about a ravenous yellow creature who lives in a haunted maze. Final Fight is the story of a mayor who cleans up the crime in his city by wandering around and punching people (presumably criminals) in the stomach. And one of our personal favorites, EA’s NHL series, is based around the far-fetched notion that people actually give a shit about the National Hockey League. So a weak concept doesn’t necessarily mean a weak game.

Rock N’ Roll Racing started out as the sequel to the SNES game RPM Racing, a game which, aside from the fact that RPM stands for “Radical Psycho Machine”, was a fairly conventional racer, set on earth, without any weapons or licensed music. It’s conceivable that those things were added after fans had complained that it wasn’t nearly radical or psycho enough. If that was the case (and it almost certainly wasn’t), you still have to think the game’s publisher would have gotten a little nervous about making such drastic changes for the sequel. Not Interplay, though. They must have had a lot of faith in the developers, a small, up and coming studio nobody had ever heard of, who had just changed their name to Blizzard Entertainment.

Yeah, that’s right – long before they drew their first orc, the company behind World of Warcraft and Diablo was making games about auto racing in space.

And considering their tendency to make drastic changes to their “sequels” and even rename them, that kind of makes Rock n’ Roll Racing a prequel to Starcraft.

So that probably explains how such a terrible-sounding game could actually turn out to be pretty fun. After all, Blizzard has never made a bad game, have they? Well, actually, they made a couple of pretty lousy superhero games, back in their early days before they stumbled upon the winning Warcraft/Diablo/Starcraft trifecta. In fact, going by their track record, I’d say pretty much every Blizzard game ever made is exactly one Superman appearance away from being awful. Which just proves my long-held belief that Blizzard is actually a shell company run by the Legion of Doom.

He’s on fire!

I suppose it would be inappropriate to discuss a game called Rock n’ Roll Racing without talking about the game’s soundtrack. RnR Racing features six real-life songs, dutifully translated onto your Genesis to sound vaguely like the song they originally were. It’s hard to get excited about this now, when video games not only allow you to listen to the real version of “Radar Love”, but also pretend to play it on a tiny plastic guitar, but this was a pretty big deal back in 1994. Then again, so was Urge Overkill. Anyway, here is the songlist for Rock N’ Roll Racing, with our own brief overview of each song:

  • “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath – Ozzy’s fairly accurate-sounding depiction of mental illness works surprising well as a driving song.
  • “The Peter Gunn Theme” by Henry Mancini – You probably know this one as “The Spy Hunter Music”, which raises an important point. If you’re going to use real songs in your video game, try not to use ones that were already prominently used in one of the greatest video games ever made. Especially if that other game was also about cars.
  • “Highway Star” by Deep Purple – Sadly, because of the technical limitations of the Genesis, all of the songs are instrumentals. It takes something away from most of them, but none more so than “Highway Star”, where you end up missing deep, meaningful lyrics like “Nobody gonna steal my head”.
  • “Radar Love” by Golden Earring – Originally, I thought this was a song about a guy who was trying to hook up with a policewoman, and he would drive really fast so she’d pull him over. Upon closer inspection of the lyrics, it’s actually about a guy who I guess can communicate telepathically with his girlfriend, but only while he’s driving. Pretty sure my version would have been better.
  • “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf – This is another one that loses a bit in the process of being Genesynthesized. The exaggerated “wiiiiiiiiild” in the song’s chorus ended up sounding like someone accidentally held down one of the buttons on their phone.
  • “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood – Surprisingly, this one sounds so natural as video game music, that you almost wonder if Thorogood originally wrote it to be background music in an shitty NES game, and then hastily added lyrics later on. Let’s face it, it probably didn’t take him all night to come up with “Ba-ba-ba-ba-bad.”

Anyway, Rock N’ Roll Racing doesn’t do much to revolutionize the racing genre, other than adding a small bit of combat into the mix, but it’s good at what it does. Yes, like almost every racing game, you’re still trying to drive in a circle faster than other cars, but this game really has some pretty enjoyable circle-driving, plus the ability to occasionally shoot missiles at your opponents is extremely satisfying, even if it rarely affects the outcome of the race. Given the changes in technology since the game came out, it’s hard to get excited about the soundtrack, but then again, there’s a good chance people weren’t all excited about being able to hear Genesis versions of mediocre songs in even back when the game first came out, so it’s difficult to say whether that aspect of the game has truly aged poorly or not.

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