Rocking you every night!
I‘m first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of driving and racing games. Need for Speed? There’s simply no need. Gran Turismo? I don’t think so. I just don’t get a kick out of driving a virtual car around in circles trying to best others with my cornering skills.
There are exceptions of course. The Mario Kart games never failed to amuse me with the entertaining array of kid-friendly weapons and I enjoyed the suped-up crash mechanics of Burnout; but the more realistic driving games (some able to be classified as ‘simulators’) just never struck the chord that so many of my gaming peers have always raved about. The GTA series, which I love, has always revolved around driving, but ultimately they are action games, not driving games. But recalling the years of my youth, there was one racing game that I couldn’t stop playing, and certainly couldn’t stop rocking out to.
It was in the early 90s when Super NES was riding its wave of success, outclassing SEGA in all areas of the market. The revolutionary PlayStation and the revolution of 3D graphic engines was still a few years away and during that time a little studio formed in Irvine, California known as Silicon and Synapse (going on to become the gaming juggernaut known as Blizzard Entertainment). Rock n’ Roll Racing (RnRR) was their second original game development, the first being the side scrolling puzzle platformer The Lost Vikings. There was actually one game that proceeded both of these called RPM Racing (standing for Radical Psycho Machine – if you can believe it), a remake of an earlier Commodore 64 game. RPM was a visual eyesore, its use of the ‘High Definition Graphics Mode’ on Super NES allowed finer detail but a dismal selection of colours. The team at Silicon and Synapse smartly abandoned the idea of RPM II and renamed the title to be more, well, Rock n Roll. Interestingly, RPM is not listed on Blizzard’s website as one of their legacy games.
Rock ‘N Roll Rental
I was looking for a game that was a little more badass, at least for an eleven year old.
Almost every Saturday I would visit the local video store to to rent yet another title to fill my weekend with gaming goodness. I had already played through hours of Mario Kart with my brother and invested similar hours progressing the career of that goodie-two-shoes Captain Falcon in F-Zero. I was looking for a game that was a little more badass, at least for an eleven year old. On the shelf was a dark cover with a winding, elevated track, the explosive propulsion of some futuristic hover vehicle and three ghastly characters grinning at me. The middle was a bare-chested human wearing what resembled Gene Simmons makeup on his face, pointing at me with his index finger, daring me to play the game. You want me to race? Challenge accepted.
Let The Carnage Begin
After loading the cartridge the first thing I hear is the opening riff to George Thorogood and The Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone”. This iconic twang of classic rock was something I would hear my father play on his old vinyl records, never before had I heard it in a video game. Immediately I was wearing a big grin and impatiently flicking through the character and vehicle selection screens. Superhero-type figures were nowhere to be seen, in their place was a ragtag bunch of human and humanoid derelicts sporting mohawks, headbands and all manner of punk rock accessories. The vehicle dealer was a bowtie-donning canine creature with rabid eyes and a sickly grin. The screen darkened as the race track loads and I heard another classic riff – this time it’s “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. Yes! Loudmouth Larry, the official race announcer, gives the signal for the flag to drop. It’s on!
The isometric view of the racetrack had a follow style camera as you careen around a track filled with the usual jumps, oil slicks, caltrops and various weapon and armour power ups. Your vehicle has three green health dots which, when expired, will respawn on the track after a short time penalty. You are encouraged to shoot up your competition rather than beat them fair and square, allowing Loudmouth Larry to shout awesome one-liners like “Holy Toledo!”
The Blizzard style was evident even back in 1993 – not content to re-hash just another driving game, vehicles in RnRR were equipped with rocket propulsion, and an arsenal of machine guns and lasers. The environments were polished and attractive, the latter worlds in the game featured tracks with slippery blue-ice surfaces with snowflakes falling in the foreground. Most importantly, gameplay was fluid and and fun and RnRR picked up the award for Best Driving Game by Electronic Gaming Monthly that year.
Even 20 years ago, the core crew at Blizzard knew how to make an appealing title with style.
But what really set RnRR apart from other racers was just that – Rock n Roll. And not just the music, the characters were modelled after heavy metal front men such as David Cloverdale from Whitesnake and the helmet worn by Cyberhawk is a spitting image of the album cover for Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance”. The combat vehicles and race tracks take a page from Madmax with oversized spikes everywhere with everyone trying to kill each other. Other notable classic rock anthems on the soundtrack included “The Peter Gunn Theme” by Henry Mancini and “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf. What better music to compliment a futuristic combat car race?
Even 20 years ago, the core crew at Blizzard knew how to make an appealing title with style. With such acclaimed works under their belts like Diablo III and World of Warcraft, it’s encouraging to see that even the super powers of the gaming world had such humble beginnings. Rock n’ Roll Racing was an ingenious take on a saturated genre at the time and came out all guns blazing.
A Russian group that call themselves Yard Team have been reportedly developing a remake called Rock n Roll Racing 3D. Sadly no release date has been confirmed.