April 26th, 2009
Here’s the next couple of titles I’m discussing in this series. Ironically both games have different titles in the US, I will refer to the PAL names.
Although never billed as one, Sonic the Hedgehog is effectively a side-scrolling racing game. You have a mammal which can move at fast speeds, sprinting down a multi-tiered track in order to reach the goal before a fixed time limit runs out. There may be no strong indication of it, but the fundamentals of a side-scrolling time trial racer are present, arguably just as much so as a platformer.
Unirally is a realization of this design; a fast moving stunt racer involving unicycles pelting down and around a side-scrolling, candy-cane roller coaster. It’s a strange concept, embedded in outfashioned, early 90s coolness, screaming words like ‘radical’ while being all the more proud of itself. The vibe is very much of the era, reminds me of TMNT and other such staples.
Developed by DMA Designs (now known as RockStar North) Unirally sees you select a personified unicycle to partake in a series of race and stunt challenges making up a tour. Each tour has five tracks, one of those is a stunt track where you must reach X score, the others are all races against another cycle.
Unirally is undeniably slick, particularly so when you warm yourself firmly into the game’s half trick, half racing groove. The fast moving unicycles are firmly grounded to the track thanks to the sheer velocity at which they travel. The track design complements the tight momentum by providing roller coaster like ramps and loop de loops. The level design operates on macro and micro levels with big jumps which give you enough air time for multi-task spinning, flipping and tricking on all three axes, while tighter hooks provide enough room for the quick twirl or spin to be exploited. The minute opportunities for slipping in a quick trick require greater risk, banking on your own skills as a racer. To begin with you won’t need to step out of your comfort zone to exploit every possible hook, but the more you play, the more the game leans you in that direction. Landing tricks influence speed, which ultimately affect the out come of each race, so both the tricking and racing mechanics are equally important to race strategies.
It’s a bit like a 16-bit Tony Hawk or SSX, squeezing style out of every nuance in the environment. It’s when the game hits the tertiary-like levels of difficulty that Unirally really comes into it’s own. The intensity of the tougher races demand consistent risk and mastery of the environment. The difficult is wholly fair, and there are enough gaps in the competitor’s play style to exploit, and really that’s what the difficulty amounts to; copious amounts of cheap exploitation of the environment. When they’re not busting flips, you ought to be if you want to stay in the game. Unirally illustrates this point clearly as the game is sure to keep the opposition in frame, always nudging you to step it up.
Definitely one of the more inspired SNES games I’ve enjoyed, making it difficult not to recommend. A real oddball, that makes use of its unconventional context. I’m glad I could return to this title for a thorough play through.
Like Unirally, Lylat Wars (having some trouble with PAL-NTSC name disparities today) was a title I played in my youth, but never owned my own copy until recently. EDGE’s The 100 Best Videogames print magazine among others have likened this title to a Saturday morning cartoon, an analogy that I want to work on a little.
The overall thematic package presents itself in such a way. The anthropomorphic characters and space combat premise feel like familiar staples to the kids entertainment genre. Besides the obvious presentational similarities, the branching play routes connecting the varied set piece events foster excitement and surprise. The levels themselves aid in the game’s diversity by providing their own crossroads at the same time variables are ticking away in the background, judging your performance, deciding which level to send you next. It’s this constant switching between modes of operation that makes Fox McCloud’s romp such an exciting ride.
The implementation of the Starfox team during gameplay is also one of the tricks that Nintendo use to mix up the gameplay composition. Neglecting a fellow pilot in need (and man, aren’t they always in need of some assistance?) will result in a lack of assistance later in the game.
Lylat Wars is an intelligently designed game, Nintendo pull out many clever design tricks which all strengthen the overall package in different ways. Presentation wise, Lylat Wars is historically one of their best, strong voice acting, cinematic camera angles and good use of hardware (including the rumble pak).