Remember the opening sequence to the anime Akira where the biker gangs are razzling with one another on the streets of Neo-Tokyo? Ever watched that and thought Hey that would make a great game. Well that’s how I have always thought Road Rash was conceived. Road Rash was launched in 1991 and was aimed at the growing Mega Drive market but someone at Electronic Arts knew there was still a market for the Master System and so a “dumbed down” version was produced for the older console. At it’s core Road Rash is a racing game similar to the earlier Hang On series but adds violence in to the mix with the ability to attack other riders either by throwing punches or kicks as well as using weapons such as a club.
Despite this attack ability your primary aim is still to avoid obstacles in your path such as oncoming cars, other riders and the occasional cow! You will spend more time avoiding things rather than scrapping with other riders. The attacks are primarily there to help you get that podium finish rather than be the main focus of the game. Focusing too much on attacking others actually slows you down so it is best to chose carefully when to attack and when to just ride by. Another obstacle to your success in this world of violent illegal street racing is the law in the form of Officer O’Leary who pursues you in an effort to knock you off and arrest you.
California is the setting for these races and as the player you can choose which order you want to do the races on each level. You have to finish at least 4th in all the races to progress to the next level. Each level is the same series of courses but with increased difficulty as the bikers get more aggressive. Gameplay wise the controls are quite sensitive but easy to master. You can hit the throttle button and more or less hold it down the entire race. The attack button selects which direction the attack is launched for you and is aimed at the nearest rider be it on the left or right. One unique feature the game has over similar racing games is that if you come off the bike you have to guide your rider back to the bike rather than you just appear back on it. This can prove a nightmare if another rider decides to run you down sending you even further back making your remount time even longer. It’s all part of the fun.
A great aspect of this game is that each rider gets a name rather than them be just another anonymous sprite on the screen. This makes it all the more personal when someone hits you and you end up targeting that person in every race after. This adds so much depth to the game even though its a rather subtle touch.
This is a hugely fun game and while I know that Mega Drive fans will be screaming that the 16-bit version is better, for the Master System’s 8-bit this is still a brilliant title. Its fun and addictive offering enough of a challenge to keep you hooked.