Retro Recon – Virtua Racing (SAT)


I remember when Sega’s Virtua Racing came to arcades. There was almost always somebody watching the game in amazement. Sure, we’d seen 3D driving games before, like Atari’s Hard Drivin’, but we’d never seen a game this “smooth” and “realistic”. This was the future. This was Max Headroom, TRON, and Hill Valley 2015 all coming true.

It’s kind of a laugh now, if any of us kids had had a brain back then, we might’ve realized there was plenty of room for improvement, and there DEFINITELY was, seeing as how in twenty years, we’ve gone from this:

1992 – You can literally count the polygons by hand.


2012 – You would be forgiven for thinking this was real.

And most of us haven’t really looked back. I still have some fond memories of driving my red Formula 1 car at blinding speeds over roads with randomly placed black marks on them, so when I strolled through my retro game store and spied a Saturn title marked with a bland sticker saying “VIRTUA RACING” on it, I instantly knew I had to have it.

Then I brought it home and finally got a look at the front cover and – oh, what the balls?!

This doesn’t look right at all – and what’s that name above Virtua Racing?

Time Warner Interactive’s Virtua Racing? Not Sega’s Virtua Racing? Oh, what kind of miserable ripoff shit is this? Did I come home with a bad clone of the real game or what?

At least the back looks promising. Still bad early 90’s 3D graphics. The screenshots look kind of familiar, but that doesn’t mean this couldn’t still be some horrendous clone. Well, time to put the disc in and find out.

The title screen isn’t easing my worries any. At least the main menu is creatively made out of engine parts, and the polygonal models I can see kind of look like the ones I remember. I’m starting to get my hopes up now – maybe this really is the game I remember.

Not wasting any time now, I quickly start up an arcade game – Big Forest sounds familiar, so I pick that – and after a short loading screen, the game starts. And the instant I see the little people putting tires on my red Formula 1 racer, I completely relax. This is Sega’s Virtua Racing in a Time Warner Interactive shell, but why Sega didn’t develop and publish it themselves is a complete mystery to me.

Everything is familiar and comforting, the crappy, extremely-low-polygon-count graphics, the speed, the awesomely cheesy music, the guy (or gal, was never sure) shouting “Time bonus!” every time you cross a checkpoint, that group of people singing “Let’s goooooo” once you’ve finished your final lap, and that second bunch singing “Gaaaaame….Overrrrr”….now that I think about it, it seems like the sound designer was so excited at being able to use digital sound recordings, he thought “More voices! MOOOOOOORE!”

Well, the arcade mode seems pretty much exactly as I remember it, so now I’ll check out the Grand Prix mode, which I’m hoping is some sort of campaign mode. And what’s this? Over TEN courses to choose from?! Oh, Time Warner Interactive, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

As per usual, I pick the easiest race to start with, and – wait a minute. I’m driving a go-kart? Oooookay, but I was hoping for something with a little more speed. And we’re off!

Well, that was easy. Had a few troublesome spots on the first lap, but I am now WELL in the lead at the end of the second lap, and I just have to hold first place until the race ends. I wonder how many laps to go?

Fifteen minutes and eight more laps later, I’ve decided that’s probably enough Virtua Racing for now. I imagine this was done so players could get the lay of the land in Grand Prix mode, and yes, it’s probably supposed to be more of a simulation, but good lord, that race went on forever. It would’ve been smarter to have fewer laps for the easier races, and more laps for the trickier ones.

This is not a review, Retro Recons never are, this is more of a first impression. Now that the disclaimer’s out of the way, I’ll say that while the game is not as smooth as I remember the arcade game being, I did still enjoy it. It’s a passable racer with ridiculously bad graphics, but hey, 3D had to start SOMEWHERE, didn’t it? The music is cheesy, and tends to only last a few seconds, but that was part and parcel of the original arcade game, so I can’t complain too much about that. And I look forward to checking out some more of the new courses and cars in Grand Prix mode, though I do NOT look forward to 6 or 7 laps of just holding the lead and waiting for the race to end. But the game does lose some of its charm without the force feedback steering wheel and pedals of the arcade original, I have to say.

Still, not bad. Thumbs up.