Review: RPM (Radical Psycho Machine) Racing (SNES)

By Drew Wilson

Today, we check out a game that is probably not very well known these days, but it’s predecessor, Rock N’ Roll Racing, might ring a few more bells. Yes, we are talking about RPM Racing (Or Radical Psycho Machine Racing). We see if this top down racing game is worth a revisit or not.

This particular video game was released in 1991 and would end up being a sort of prototype game for Rock N’ Roll racing. As one plays through this game, the similarities to Rock N’ Roll Racing will become immediately apparent.

There’s no real storyline that is obvious in this game. You just race against three other racers in a series of levels to ultimately “retire in victory”.

You start the game with nearly $5,000. Unfortunately, each car is worth almost all of your initial cash. So, when you finish picking the body of your car (most of the vehicles have those large monster-truck like tires), you’ll be left with a pitiful $10 to your name. You won’t really be able to afford anything in the shop, so your best bet is to get out there and race for some more cash.

You’ll be placed into the first level. Entry into this level is free and one of the two racetracks available is also free to enter. The payout isn’t great, but you got to start somewhere. If you choose, you can also select the other track. There is a small entry fee, but the payouts are higher if you win.

The goal is to start stockpiling your cash in the early stages of the game. Whether you elect to focus on beefing up your vehicle’s parts or simply advancing to the next level (which also costs money just to gain access to those tracks) is up to you in the beginning. As you progress to higher and higher levels, the payouts become increasingly larger, but the competition gets fiercer and fiercer. In order to earn cash, you must finish either second or third or else you won’t win anything (and on any track that requires an entry fee, that means you are losing money).

What you can buy in the shop depends on which level you are at. You can eventually buy parts that upgrades your tires, engine, armor, and shocks to name a few examples. On the side, you can also enhance your arsenal of weapons (ultimately, nitro’s, oil, and mines). In each race, you get one free mine. However, any weapon you use, that becomes lost and you won’t have that for the next race (so you may have to restock which also costs money).

On the race track, you’ll find a variety of threats. Not only can you lay mines and oil slicks on the road, but so can your opponents. Yes, if you run over your own mines, you will see your car explode. A large portion of the time, opponents will lay mines near the start/finish line, not not always. Mines cause your car to explode. If your car explodes, you’ll essentially have to wait a few seconds before your car pops back up so that you are allowed to continue racing. Oil slicks will cause you to momentarily lose steering. If you run over a second one while your car is sliding from the last one, you car will also turn a little bit. Each oil slick you hit consecutively after that turns your car even more as you slide around. This will likely cause you to slow down, so avoid them if you can. On the plus side, this game is always in split screen mode. You can see whatever player 2 is up to as you race through the track yourself.

The walls of the track can cause damage to your vehicle. In later levels, particularly hard hits on the wall will cause you to die instantly, regardless of how much “health” you have left. So, take care when racing if possible. Opponents crashing into you will not only cause you to lose steering for an even briefer moment than oil, but also deal damage to your vehicle. Both you and your opponent will take damage, so this can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the circumstance. If you die, you will be re-incarnated with a very small amount of “health” regardless of what your armor allows at the beginning of the race. So, more often then not, you have a lot more to lose on the first death than any subsequent death in the race.

Complicating matters is the fact that there are typically not only hills dotting the track, but also dirt and ice sections. Dirt, naturally, makes it more difficult for you to turn. Ice is even worse. So, you have to develop strategies when encountering these areas. Adding some additional challenge is that there are occasional levels where the gravity is lowered as well. So, jumps will send you sailing into the air much more then they would normally.

Unlike a lot of other games out there, you don’t even have to race every track. Just pick a track that allows you to win consistently in each level to get you maximum profit. The only way to advance is to pay the level entry fee to move on to the next, so any method that earns you cash is always a good thing. In all, there is a whopping 23 levels. Some levels even contain a massive 8 different race tracks for you to choose from.

If you end up losing a bunch of races and can’t afford the entry fee at some point, you can always fall back a level or two. Be warned, though, you have to pay the level entry fee again once you build yourself back up again.

In terms of a winning strategy, I find that this game is all about exploiting weaknesses in the opponents AI as well as how the track laps are calculated. The way the tracks work is that the start/finish counts how many times you cross over it before it counts down the number of laps you have taken. This sounds like pretty standard stuff when it comes to lapped racing, however, what rout you take in each lap doesn’t matter. So, if there is an intersection, you could go in an entirely unintended direction, cross over the finish line, and it will still count you as completing a lap. This permits you to gain a huge advantage over other opponents on some tracks – causing some levels that would normally be difficult to become an instant walk in the park as you “cheat” your way through those races.

This weakness is reflected in the opponents AI. The bots will all travel through one specific rout through the various tracks. The only exception is if they are pushed to travel down a different rout. In that case, they’ll follow the alternative rout until they rejoin the main rout. After that, they’ll follow the main rout again for as long as they stay on it throughout the rest of the race. The thing about the main routs that they take is that they are, more often than not, the most inefficient routs in the race tracks (not always, but they are most of the time). Even if they aren’t, it’s typically ideal to follow an alternative path. This is because the bots have a tendency to crash into each other all the time, slowing everyone down. So, if you are on an alternative rout, you won’t have to fight with the other bots as you try and sneak ahead of the pack. Instead, you get a nice open road all to yourself to race on, allowing you to gain some ground on your competition.

Another weakness in the AI of the bots is the fact that if you encounter “swerve areas” (left turn, right turn, left turn, right turn, etc.), the opponents will swerve all over the place as they navigate these areas. You, on the other hand, can simply plot a straight line all the way through without a problem. This often gives you a huge advantage over your opponents on some of the tracks that you might encounter.

An additional weakness is that, one straightaways, opponents in the vast majority of cases, have a tendency to swerve left and right. This may make it very difficult to pass on these straightaways, but this works to their disadvantage as they constantly lose ground when they do this. So, if you are already ahead of your opponents, sticking to a straight line on straightaways will allow you to gain, yet, even more ground.

With exceptions to near end-game levels, your opponents will also have a hard time navigating on ice. Since there are cases where you can avoid these area’s with more efficient paths in the course and navigate on paved area’s. Meanwhile, your opponents will find themselves crashing into corners as they poorly attempt to navigate the slippery sections of the course.

On top of this, when you encounter low gravity levels, you can simply slow down on hilly areas that are followed up by sharp corners. Your opponents will simply floor it, go sky high and smash into the invisible wall at the side of the corner. This is yet another way you can gain ground on the bots.

Having said all of that, there are elements that give your opponents an edge over you. The most immediate thing is the fact that they are often armed to the teeth with weapons. They are not afraid to use these weapons as well. Often, these weapons affect the bots more than you, but refilling your weapons reserves between races, at least in the beginning, is costly and often not worth it if you can make do without.

Another advantage the bots have over you is the fact that, at most, the shop allows you to have access to three levels of car parts. By the time you get to the end of the gain, your opponents will be able to have two levels of upgrades ahead of the maximum upgrade you can get. So, essentially, they’ll have better racing vehicles than you and there will be nothing you can do about it.

To win the game, you have to go all the way up to the last level and spend $30,000,000 to “retire in victory”. Whether that involves stockpiling cash a few levels back on courses that you can exploit dozens of times or simply racing through each level and trying not to go broke in the process is entirely up to you. It is more than possible to skip entire levels if there are levels where you can’t find a track you can consistently win on.

Generally, I found this game kind of fun for a while, but it does get a little tedious after a while. I can see it being possible to quickly get yourself through the game, but I found it more ideal to simply play through several levels, take a break from this game, then go back and play several more levels until you finish the game. If you take breaks from this game for a few weeks, you can easily find yourself refreshed enough to play for another extended period of time.

What I did like about this game is the very gradual difficulty curve. The money levels are nicely stacked in a nice way that reflects the difficulty of most courses. I also liked the fact that you can either “cheat” your way through or challenge yourself by playing some of the harder to beat courses. How you beat this game is entirely up to you. In an abstract way, it’s a sort of “choose your own adventure” kind of game in a way.

Another thing I like about this game is the fact that this game has a track editor. You can build tracks that actually match the quality of the tracks you see throughout the game if you spend enough time tweaking things. So, you can explore your creativity and inner game designer as you toy around with the different ways of building a track. It’s highly customizable right down to adjusting the gravity and what the hills look like. The track editor is a little finicky, but good all around.

Graphically, this game, sadly, was quite dull. While the setting seems decent enough in the races, you eventually realize that there is only one look all of the race tracks have. That is, green grass to represent the are outside of the track, grey pavement, brown dirt, blue ice, and lighter grey cement columns for area’s where the tracks are raised (the edges are frosted over for the ice track portions, but that’s it). If there was more variety in the settings, I’d say this game would be great, but the repetitive scenery kind of grinds at you after a while.

The audio was so/so in this game. While the music was appropriate for this kind of game, I didn’t think the music was all that memorable. The sound effects were decent enough. The dropping of the mine sounds quite realistic and interesting, but there is only one sample that denotes swerving. The other sound effects are somewhat passable though.

Overall, this game is an interesting one to play. If you want an easy game to play, this game can fit the bill. If you want a game that is challenging, this game also fits the bill quite well. It’s a little bit on the long side, but there is always variety as you play along as well. This is one of those games that you don’t necessarily play for great music or graphics, but the gameplay is more than capable of keeping you entertained for several hours. A decent game all around.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Retired in victory.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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