Road Rash: Motocross? Moto-livid, more like..
Unlike most adolescent boys I didn’t go through the whole motorbike phase in my mid-teens. You know saving up your money to buy a moped or scooter that had horsepower barely measured in double figures to try and impress the girls with your provisional driving licence and bikers leathers (read: C&A anorak and squeaky waterproof trousers) I was then as I am now a social misfit come borderline introvert who would rather play videogames than get out and do something for real. The closest I ever came to the motorbike phase was relentlessly playing this 16-bit gem from Electronic Arts made long before their decline into darkness to become the all conquering uber-publisher EA they are today.
Before and sadly since Road Rash motorbike racers where all cast from the same mould of either timed stages or a limited number of laps around a circuit or conventional racing track of some kind in a very dry and technical fashion like Hang-On or The Cycles: International Grand Prix. Road Rash blew this all apart with races down five different two lane highways around southern California all filled with hostile riders all trying to beat you any way they can, over zealous cops and nearsighted civilian drivers who wouldn’t think twice about ramming you off the road and into hospital with a bad case of ‘road rash’.
‘that will actively come at you’
The riders themselves come in many types from the common riders who are easy enough to overtake and aren’t openly hostile through to characters like Biff and Viper that will actively come at you with their weapons given half the chance. Yep that’s right these guys and many more like them are armed during these races, but don’t worry you’re not without your own attacks with a quick punch and a slow but more powerful kick to unseat fellow riders and if they do swing a baseball bat at you just time your counter-punch right and you can steal it away from them for some real vehicular carnage.
It’s not just the other riders who’re out for blood as throughout the game as the po-leese will hassle you given the chance. At first they’re content with following you and if you come off your bike when they’re nearby they’ll bust you and fine you some money but as you rise through the ranks of riders they become more aggressive with cops like O’Shea ramming you and even setting up road blocks to trap you and your fellow rashers.
‘length also increases’
The third biggest risk is the different cars that fill the highways with blind hills and intersections hiding oncoming traffic often proving more of a risk than the other riders. If you take too many slams your bike will break costing you precious money and early races are so brief that one bad crash can often leave it impossible to finish with a precious top three spot.
You’ll progress through the game by completing your current league by coming in the top three for each of the five different stages. Once you do this you’ll join the next higher league and have to get into the top three for each stage again. It sounds simple but with each stage of the league the weaker riders fall away and are replaced by better/stronger riders with improved bikes things are further complicated by the stage length also increasing with the first league one taking place over five mile stages with later leagues increasing up to fifteen miles near the end of the game.
‘only for him to swing’
This makes the races last longer and if you have a bad crash you’ll still have enough time to recover and get a good position but your bike can only take so much punishment before breaking and forcing you to spend money repairing it. Fixing your bike, paying police fines and buying new bikes all costs money and with racing your only income you’ll sometimes have to grind a league before you can afford a better bike to beat the better riders and rise a league whereby you’ll need to upgrade your bike so you’ll have to raise money by racingâ€¦ you can see where
this is going. Thankfully your best position on a given stage is saved so if you have a nightmare race and come 12th you won’t risk losing your vital top three spot you had already achieved.
Now, what really makes Road Rash special apart from the whole racing/combat mechanic is for me the other riders. Before each race you’ll talk to another character and get a small amount of dialogue. These range from Biff telling you he’s a gentleman racer only for him to swing a bat at you during the race or hottie Natasha wishing you good luck or even one of the cops warning you not to try and cross him. Everybody you meet has distinct characteristics from weirdoes like Sergio who ‘loves’ his bike a little to much, yokels like Slater or even borderline psychos like Helldog.
‘EA Trax maybe it wasn’t such a good thing’
Later instalments in the Road Rash series lost the rider interaction section and for me much of the magic went with it. Sure they added the much requested two player mode sadly lacking
from the original but for me getting insulted before a race and then rashing the offender into a pine tree, trumps boring two player races. Props should also be given for later instalments using licensed music from bands like Soundgarden and even unsigned bands but given that that would ultimately evolve into the insipid EA Trax maybe it wasn’t such a good thing after all.
Playing Road Rash today is simple. The original Megadrive/Genesis cartridge is cheap as chips and can be picked up easily from any good second hand games retailer or you can play a perfect conversion on the PSP as part of the EA Replay retro collection that came out last year. The Amiga conversion is abandonware and can be downloaded free of charge from any good retro Amiga site although have an alternate music source nearby as the Amiga soundtrack is truly offensive in its blandness.