Review: Dirt Trax FX (SNES)

By Drew Wilson

Dirt Trax FX is a 3D racing game released for the Super Nintendo. While it was an impressive developmental accomplishment for it’s time, we look at what it’s like today.

Released in 1995, Dirt Trax FX was one of the very few 3D games that was released on the Super Nintendo. The FX part of the title is in reference to the FX chip that enabled developers to create a limited 3D environment on the console. Cramming a full 3D environment onto a SNES cartridge isn’t exactly easy given the space available, so the end product was quite impressive.

This motocross racing game allows up to two players. Players can select between eight characters who have their strengths and weaknesses. Some have higher top speed, others have better cornering, and some have a good all round balance. Each character had their own theme song that plays whenever they take the lead.

Players also have a number of difficulties. In all, there’s the easiest difficulty which is the 50cc – Kiddies difficulty. The next difficulty is the 100cc – Normal difficulty. There’s the 250cc – Pro difficulty. Finally, there’s the unlockable 500cc Smokin’ difficulty. Each difficulty determines the overall speed of the players and the difficulty of your opponents. In addition, the riders overall size changes between difficulties as well. The harder the difficulty you complete, the more circuits you can unlock. To add to this, the overall number of laps increase with each progressive difficulty, making each race seem like a marathon on the top two difficulties.

the circuits of the game are Motorcross, Radical, Nightmare, Doom, and Forbidden circuits (most of which have to be unlocked. Each circuit has a certain selection of tracks in them. As the player progresses, the circuits will feature older, familiar tracks mixed in with a set of new tracks. Bobsled, for instance, appears in the Doom and Forbidden circuits. Fly or Die only appears on the Forbidden circuit.

The circuits themselves operate on a point-based system. The better the ranking in each race, the more points you earn each race. Winning a race earns you 20 circuit points. At the end, only the overall winner can move on to the next circuit if a circuit can be unlocked. So, while you can get away with a few races of only finishing in the top few rankings, you really need to win a few races as well in order to get that top ranking by the end. I felt that this slight “give” in the circuit mode was a positive thing because, unlike a number of games made before or since, this game doesn’t force you to win every single race just to advance.

The main opponent you’ll encounter, overall, is a rider by the name of T-Rex. This rider can be distinguished from the other riders by his black and orange/yellowish outfit and bike. If you beat him on every race, chances are, you’ll be winning the circuit. In more the more difficult modes, other riders tend to give him a run for his money too, but he’s usually the overall rival in the circuit.

One strategy one can employ is to press and hold down while traversing the multitude of small jumps. This allows the rider to raise their front tire and can allow you to not only take larger jumps, but also simply glide over a number of the smaller bumps. Otherwise, you’ll probably get slowed down by the numerous smaller bumps.

Overall obstacles besides the small triangular bumps include puddles. These puddles cause you to lose a lot of your steering and make acceleration very difficult. Another obstacle is mud which not only makes you lose some of your steering and acceleration, but also tends to slow you down as well. Ice is also an obstacle that is sporadically seen. You won’t lose a whole lot of speed over these areas, but steering is incredibly difficult in these areas.

Most of the hills tend to be hairpin turns, so positioning your rider strategically as you fly down the straightaway’s can help you avoid the headaches of turning your rider around. In the midst of all of this, there are also 180 degree turns throughout. I found that braking and turning is a good strategy to employ.

Other riders can also be a major obstacle. Sometimes, they simply hog the path and force you to slow down as you collide into their back tires. Sometimes, you can be cut off by other riders as you make sharp turns, cutting you off from a rather efficient rout through the course. These situations can be annoying especially when you see other players passing you. Depending on the race, there can be more than a dozen riders on the course at a time. Each rider has their own skill level. On numerous courses, (especially on the Big O track), you’ll find yourself lapping many of these opponents. This presents an interesting challenge for both you and your opponents that are also at the front of the pack with you. Most riders are eliminated by the end of each circuit, so this usually is only a major problem in the first few courses of each circuit.

Music was a major highlight for me. Yes, the music was somewhat limited, but the implementation was very nicely done. If T-Rex is in the lead, you hear his theme song. If you are in the lead, your characters theme song is played. If neither you or T-rex is in the lead, either that other characters song is played or a general song is played. This really adds an interesting, and somewhat unique, dimension to the game which makes the music less repetitive. Some of the mid circuit menu’s even operate in a similar fashion where if your character is showing, the riders theme is playing. If T-rex is showing in any prominent fashion, his theme song is playing. There are few sound effects to note, but the few that are in there are actually really well done.

Graphically, I thought this game provided a rather unique experience. The frame rate may leave a lot to be desired, but the untextured polygons certainly have their own unique aesthetic to it. Polygons can be coloured, but most can’t be textured. So, you simply have coloured polygons created that vary to reflect pseudo-lighting. Even the riders faces go along with this polygon system. I’m not sure what the facial expressions are supposed to mean as they shift back and forth from neutral to happy and back to neutral again, but the animated nature of it was nicely done. When you win, you get to see pseudo-fireworks explode all around your characters face. When you are done watching that, leaving that screen will cause your characters face to explode into hundreds of little pieces (probably a graphics designers way of showing off). Unsurprisingly, there’s a number of 2D sprites like the riders as you go through each race, but the 2D sprites were nicely done too.

Overall, I thought this was a rather enjoyable game that caters to pretty much all skill levels. If you kind of suck at racing, stick to the 50cc difficulties. If you are a player that can handle anything without a problem, try the 250cc races to unlock some of the more advanced circuits. If you are highly skilled (or happen to find the right code online), you’ll be able to see all 22 tracks that are available in this game. The selection is quite impressive. I like the realistic circuit system where computer players are actually eliminated if they don’t earn enough circuit points. I’ve encountered too many racing games where the rules of circuit points only apply to you and not to the other racers. The way this system was set up applies the rules evenly to everyone. The only thing I didn’t like was that the turn radius of these bikes left a lot to be desired. It felt like I was sometimes trying to turn a mini-van around when I was actually turning a bike. Whether standing still or going really fast, the turning seemed to be either similar or the same. The walls were sometimes glitchy too. If I fell off course and I couldn’t get back over the wall fully, sometimes, the mere act of turning would actually get me over that wall. I also found it funny that, on the final track, under the 50cc difficulty, the opponent (all but two players by that point in the final circuit are eliminated) get’s stuck on the last jump, making a win on that race a guarantee for you. Despite a few glitches in this game, this game was quite a worthwhile play.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Finished 4th on the Doom Circuit (250cc – Pro Difficulty). Used a code to see what the last few tracks looked like.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 84%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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