System: NES
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Designer: Squaresoft
Release Date: October 1987
Genre: Racing
Players: 1
Save Feature? No

Rad Racer was one of the first truly enjoyable racing games that I can remember playing. Back in an era when tight, clunky controls and boring gameplay often doomed games of this nature, Rad Racer was like a breath of fresh air with its simple-yet-exciting gameplay. The "revolutionary" 3-D option was probably a mistake in hindsight but thankfully, Squaresoft was able to produce a very fun (and nostalgic!) game nonetheless.

Overview: Seemingly a lifetime ago (it was actually the year 1988), my parents finally gave in and allowed me to purchase my very own NES with my hard-earned $100 that I had spent months accumulating. In addition to owning the coolest video game system out there and jamming to my beloved Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cart, my wonderful grandparents spoiled me a little with some extra cash so that I could buy a couple of additional games for my young NES library. After a little deliberation, I decided to go after a couple of the early racing gems on the NES: Excitebike and Rad Racer. I'll save the details on Excitebike for another review (that game is a classic in its own right) but as for Rad Racer, I can state that it was not only a great choice but it is also the oldest NES game in my personal collection (I stupidly sold the other two games forever ago.) As you can imagine, Rad Racer is an immensely nostalgic game to me and whenever I fire the game up again, it is as if I get to transport to the glory days of my youth if only for a short while.

Enough talk about old times though...we have a video game to discuss! In terms of actual gameplay, Rad Racer is a pretty standard arcade-like racing experience. Your viewpoint is directly behind your car (you can choose between a standard red Ferrari or the F-1 Machine) and you simply race into the distance ala Outrun/Ridge Racer style. There are eight unique stages in Rad Racer ranging from beautiful seaside coasts and bustling cities in their nighttime glory to ancient ruins and stormy valleys. Regarding the controls, A lets you accelerate, B is your brake, the directional pad allows you to manuever left or right, and up gives you a nice turbo boost once your speed is above 100km/h. And on a minor note, like with many classic racing games of the day, kilometers were used instead of miles.

Another classic staple of your typical retro racing game was the fact that the main goal of the game, more often than not, was not to simply outrace the competition and finish 1st in said race but to beat the clock to advance. And Rad Racer is exactly like that in fact. You are given a time limit at the beginning of each stage with additional time being allocated as you cross checkpoints scattered throughout the various levels. And in addition to the always ticking-away clock, you have computer-controlled civilian cars of a cantankerous complexion (There's my alliteration of the day!) and difficult turns/dangerous obstacles to deal with as well. Trust me; the random palm trees and street signs littered by the road's edge want nothing more than to make your beautiful new Ferrari look more like a Yugo that time forgot so pay attention to where you are going!

Last but not least, any discussion of Rad Racer has to at least touch on the use of 3-D elements in this game. Yes, you heard me right. 3-D elements in video games existed long before the Nintendo 3DS was release. I still remember that at the time of its release, a lot of hype surrounded Rad Racer's use of "state-of-the-art" 3-D graphics. Like with 3-D Worldrunner (another Squaresoft offering released earlier in 1987), Rad Racer came with a pair of the classic red and blue 3-D glasses (I still have mine actually!). The only problem with this was that the red and blue hues actually kept you from enjoying the multi-colored visuals strewn throughout the game. And not just that but overall, it just wasn't all that impressive of an effect. Granted, the 3-D option was actually kind of cool in small doses and was by no means a complete disaster. At the same time, it certainly was not as groundbreaking as it could have been. Still, it was an attempt at something original (the 3-D video game experience) and is definitely worth mentioning.


Graphics: One of the high points of Rad Racer has to be in the visual department. Particularly for an early release NES game, Rad Racer features an impressive amount of diversity throughout the game's eight stages. Each level looks unique and that's one of the major draws of a game like this. I remember as a kid playing through one of the game's early stages and just dying to see what the next stage would be! It could be the streets of San Francisco at night, the Grand Canyon; heck, even the Ruins of Athens make a surprising "What the heck?!" appearance in this game!

As far as color schemes, detail, and just overall presentation go, I thought that Square performed very well. The cars look great, there are a variety of objects on the side of the road in each stage such as palm trees or street lights and the backgrounds, although using one color scheme in several instances, are still above average for such an old game. I think it's cool that the enemy cars are unique to each stage (e.g. There are civilian VW Bugs in Stage 1, flashy Lamborghinis in Stage 5, etc...) and speaking of background graphics, Stage 1 was particularly pleasant with its clouds gracing the sky while the ocean in the distance teases the player. What really impressed me, however, was that about halfway through the initial stage, the sky gradually turns dark and you get to drive one leg of the race at night! The last little stretch of Stage 1 takes place during early morning as the colors become all bright and cheerful again. For its time and especially for an 8-bit game, the whole day-to-night-to-day thing was really, really cool.

Lastly, I thought that the animation was very smooth and seamless. The cars manuever well and look good doing it, there is a lot of parallax-scrolling in this game (visual effect where the background graphics move at a different rate than the foreground graphics), and the way the road winds and turns is simple yet effective. You can see cars coming into view from a great distance which is a major plus in terms of being prepared to collide with them or stealthily weaving between them. Granted, there is some noticeable image breakup that occurs when 3-4 cars are on the screen at once but for a game of this nature, it is at least somewhat forgiveable.

Music: Even way back in 1987, you could just tell that Squaresoft was going to be proficient in the music department. For one of the earlier NES games and a racing game to boot, the music in Rad Racer is pretty good! By pressing down on the control pad during a race, you can toggle between three musical tracks or simply play the game with no music at all (not a bad choice either as the sound effects in this game were pretty solid). The first track which we will simply call "Tune A" is a great fit for the game's opening stage with its classic melody and nice beat. I can't even begin to tell you how nostalgic that track is; it just fits the Rad Racer mood like a glove! Tune B is a great piece as well and is a great choice when maybe you aren't doing too well and need a boost. It is a very encouraging, uplifting piece that makes you believe that you can get the job done...no matter the odds! Lastly, Tune C is kind of the down and dirty tune of the game. I suppose you could say that it is a really well done soft rock/poppy sort of track. Just make sure you don't crash so that you can hear the whole melody because it's pretty good!

As I briefly mentioned above, the sound effects in Rad Racer were actually surprisingly good for such an oldie. The engine sounds worked really well and I like how when computer-controlled cars are near your car, you can hear their engines humming in addition to yours. The brake and turbo sounds are just okay although they aren't necessarily bad. And the repeating sound that chimes when your time expires is something that any Rad Racer player will remember until the end of time. Nothing can beat that nice little ditty that plays when you beat a stage though. I love hearing that one!

Play Control: One of the major draws of Rad Racer is the simplicity of its gameplay. This isn't a game that requires you to read the manual cover to cover or play a tutorial to get the hang of things. Just press start and race to your heart's content! Seriously, as long as you can accelerate, brake, and manuever your car, you'll be just fine. Everything feels really smooth and simple in Rad Racer...which is one reason why I still come back to this game if I feel like throwing in a simple game for a little while.


Challenge: If you're looking for a simplistic yet challenging old-school gameplay experience, look no further than Rad Racer. Although the gameplay is deceptively simple, the actual game itself can get pretty challenging! Since you have a time limit, nasty computer-controlled cars (that can literally flip over your car by simply touching them in Stages 4 and beyond), and an incessant amount of difficult twists and turns to worry about, this game is anything but cake. The important thing is to try to memorize the layout of each stage and to know when the truly taxing turns are about to rear their ugly heads. Stay sharp and be prepared to make slight adjustments throughout each race. A good strategy is to plow through the straightaways while being more cautious when navigating the "Pee Wee's Big Adventure"-like turns found in some of the game's later stages (Yes, you read that right. I just used a "Pee Wee" reference in a Rad Racer review.) Also, whatever you do, make sure that when you come into contact with enemy cars, you hit them square and not on their side. That's when you can really get into trouble.

Overall though, I think that the challenge level is just about right. There is a simple continue code along with a stage select option if the game is really beating you over the head and although Rad Racer is a fairly challenging game, it is probably in the middle of the pack as far as games from this era go. The good thing is that the play control and simple gameplay were executed really well so it's not like this game is difficult because of poor controls or faulty game mechanics. There is a chasm-like difference between the two for sure.

Storyline: Although you could maybe argue that a coast-to-coast race is at the heart of this game's story (which it sort of is), for the purpose of this review, I'm going to give the game a simple N/A. There's not really enough meat to say that this game has a real background story. It is definitely in that grey area though.

Funfactor: It isn't the best NES game out there nor is it the worst, but Rad Racer certainly has a place amongst the best racing games released for the NES. I would probably argue that the two best racing games for the NES are likely the Rad Racer 1 & 2 combo (since both games are nearly identical in every way) along with R.C. Pro-Am II. For its time, I thought that Rad Racer was a very good video game. Not exceptional or earth-shattering but really fun and enjoyable nonetheless. It boldly entered the NES fray and didn't shy away from trying something different like the unique 3-D graphics (for better or for worse anyway). In addition to Rad Racer 2, it was also probably Squaresoft's best pre-Final Fantasy video game. Who would have thought that the great Squaresoft, involved in epic projects ranging from Final Fantasy to Chrono Trigger would have made a classic racing game? Pretty cool, huh? Even some 23 years after initially playing the game, I still find myself coming back time and time again. Nostalgia and some pretty "rad" gameplay will do that!

Negatives: Other than there being no two-player/customization options of any kind, I can't really think of anything that I would have done differently with Rad Racer. If they could have maybe mixed up the gameplay a little more and added some random elements like a slick track or nails on the road or something surprising, it could have helped the overall experience. The background graphics in some of the game's middle stages where you would have just a simple blue or black sky could have been a little better as well. Although Rad Racer is a fun, enjoyable experience, it just isn't one of those games that really reached for the stars or tried to achieve greatness. It is the classic 7.5/8.0 out of 10 game in my book. This game certainly needed a little more oomph to be truly great, but I suppose "very good" isn't too shabby either...especially when you consider the quality of most of the 1987 NES library.


Ratings: Graphics: 3.9 Music: 4.2 Play Control: 4.0 Challenge: 3.8 Storyline: N/A Funfactor: 4.2 Overall Score: 20.1 out of 25.0 (4.02 average) Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo


Last Updated: August 17, 2011
WebMaster: Matt Hull tigmo55@yahoo.com
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