Retro Gaming! Road Rash (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Electronic Arts, 1991)

Many years ago it was my cousins birthday. I remember him telling me in school some of the things he’d received as birthday presents, a Lego Pirate/Islanders set, a skateboard and a few other things. One of those other things was Road Rash for the Sega Mega Drive, which was as he put it “a motorbike racing game where you can punch other racers off their bikes”. Now I wasn’t the hugest fan of racing games back then, they are definitely something I have come to appreciate more over time. But I couldn’t deny the sound of a racing game with added violence appealed to me on a massive scale.

At the weekend we visited his house for a bit of a birthday dinner, and I got my first chance to try out this awesome sounding new game, and it really did not disappoint. It was so good in fact that we ended up bickering over whose turn it was to play next, which was quite rare for us as we usually got on pretty well.

Twenty-something years later I decided to give the game the acknowledgement it deserves on this site as it still is a tremendously fun game to play.

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Booting the game up, you are treated to a nice piece of pixel art depicting a rider getting shoved off his bike, and straight away you are given a blast of  bass and drum heavy 16-Bit music. It’s awesome, making you feel like you are in the zone already, waiting to crack some skulls on the back of a bike.

Opting for single player mode, you get to choose which stage you would like to race at, then another racer gives you a little bit of helpful info or gossip and boom, it’s on!

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As soon as you start to race, it’s evident that your bike handles really well making it fairly easy to weave around oncoming traffic and handle tight turns which feels like a refreshing change to other 16-bit racing games which often feel like you are driving on ice. Even though driving is fluid though, there is still a whole heap of hazards that are there to try and hinder you completing each stage.

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Getting knocked off your bike can happen if you are hit by oncoming traffic or your health bar is depleted after getting hit by other racers too many times. You will also encounter police (also on motorcycles) who will do their best to knock your bike off the road into signs and trees. Once you have been physically knocked off your bike, you’ll be arrested, (pulled from the race), and fined some of your winnings from previous races.

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I was pretty terrible at this game as a kid, mainly because I used to try and punch or kick everybody off their bikes. I loved the novelty of it, as I had never played a racing game where you could do anything like that before. What did impress me about this game was that in-between races the other racers would interact with you differently depending on how you had treated them during the previous race.

Take Natasha for example. Here is a screenshot of her giving you advice just before the first race.

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Then during the first race I accidentally knocked her off her bike by kicking her in front of a car. Judging by the advice she gives me just before the second race, she clearly wasn’t too chuffed.

nat2
Gone is the warm smile and friendly advice. Now she is just telling me how great Biff is, probably because he doesn’t kick her in front of oncoming traffic.

After you clear the first stages (securing an adequate winning place in each race) you can proceed to the second level, which features the same stages but they are longer and all of the other racers have upgraded their bikes. You can also upgrade your bike as well, or hold off and save your money to get an even better bike later on in the game.

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Overall, you can definitely have a lot of fun with this game. The graphics are  good, the gameplay is slick and with the combination of the money system and the racers talking to you differently depending on how you interact with them during the race is enough to make things interesting and adds replayability. I also just realised that your bike can take damage as well, and after its ‘health’ bar has depleted you are pulled from the race and must pay for repairs. Also Biff makes a sarcastic comment. Fuck you Biff, Natasha deserves more than you and your smug face.

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The second game in the series introduced a few more features and I may take a look at it in the future. There were a whole bunch of later Road Rash titles for the Playstation, N64 and GBA; some of them good, some a load of crap. The first game will always be the one I like the most as I have a ton of memories playing it on the Sega Game Gear in my Dads car.

I would love to see a Road Rash game for modern day platforms as punching people off their bikes and into traffic would look awesome in HD. In the age of reboots and remakes, I’m surprised that this series has been somewhat lost to time, the last game being released back in 2000. I can but hope that one day some company will make a new game in the series. Until then I’m happy enough with 16-Bit, smashing Biff with a club on the Sierra Nevada highways whilst riding my Panda (Panda is a brand of motorcycle in Road Rash).

If you like racing games with beat ’em up elements, give Road Rash a try. It holds up pretty well even 26 years after its release.

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