Console: NES Published By: Nintendo of America Developed By: Rare Release Date: February 1988 Genre: Racing Number of Players: 1 Save Feature? No
Along with Rad Racer, R.C. Pro-Am was one of the first racing games that I ever had the pleasure of playing on the NES. While the unique perspective of the game's graphics and fast-paced gameplay stood out, the ferocious challenge level of the game is what I remember most. This game is TOUGH!!
Overview: Racing games. The video game market today is literally overflowing with games designed to give the gamer that rush of going 200+ mph and somehow, someway, just barely missing that brick wall/tree/pothole/car in front of your beautiful racing machine. The genre has been the epitome of consistency since the early 80s with games like Auto Racing and Drag Racing leading the way for the Intellivision and Atari 2600 home consoles respectively.
Back around late 1987-early 1988, however, we didn't have five Twisted Metals, four Gran Turismos, or several Mario Kart games to choose from. No, back then, the racing genre was still in its infancy. Two racing legends for the NES came out around this time, however. Rad Racer was a standard racing game that took you cross-country (and continent!) as you attempted to beat the clock all while managing to dodge countless cars wanting to steal your glory.
R.C. Pro-Am, on the other hand, feels more like your standard auto race. Your remote-controlled car/truck (hence the "R.C." in the game's title) races around in a loop-like fashion against three computer opponents, collecting upgrades like tires (for better traction) and using standard weapons along the way like missiles and bombs (Okay, maybe this isn't normal after all!), and also attempting to snag the hard-to-snag letter boxes that allow you to upgrade your entire vehicle! Naturally, as the game progresses, the race tracks change, the computer opponents become more difficult to beat (impossible in the later races...see below), and, like any typical game made by Rare (see Battletoads, Snake Rattle 'n Roll, Wizards & Warriors III, etc...), everything just gets tricky and then literally insane in terms of the difficulty and gameplay in general.
The main goal, as you might imagine, is to make it through each race unscathed and somewhere in the top three. Yes, you heard me right. You don't have to necessarily win each race to advance deep into the game although it is always better to finish first than to squeak by in the rear. Your trophy room will appreciate your hard work as well. Trust me, it looks a lot more impressive with that golden touch instead of having nothing but blahish bronze trophies lying around. But I digress. On to the meat of the game!
Graphics: For its time, R.C. Pro-Am did some really special things visually. Being developed by Rare was certainly a huge plus because it always seemed like Rare was able to harness and use the full potential of any video game system at will. Believe me, while Donkey Kong Country was the game that truly put Rare on the map, Rare did some very impressive things way before DKC was even a thought.
What stood out to me right away when I first played R.C. Pro-Am with my good friend Jon Pursel way back when was the unique, isometric view of the game's graphics. Now, I wouldn't have had a clue what the term "isometric" meant back in 1988 but I definitely knew that something about this game's graphics was just...different. Basically, the graphics throughout R.C. Pro-Am are at an angle that came as close to 3-D gaming as you could expect on the NES. Unlike many racing games of the day that were straight (or like Rad Racer, the view was behind your vehicle), R.C. Pro-Am bucked the trend and tried something new. You can see the screenshots throughout this review to understand what I mean. This same angle/perspective was used in other NES games like Snake Rattle 'n Roll and Solstice btw.
In any case, everything just looks really nice and crisp throughout R.C. Pro-Am. The color scheme is nice and consistent and you get a great sense of speed in this game, particularly late in the game when you and your computer opponents have juiced-up cars. It wasn't necessarily flashy or revolutionary but it worked very well. Just imagine nice colors, backgrounds, and animation and you know what to expect with R.C. Pro-Am.
Speaking of animation, I thought that Rare really sparkled in this area...with all of their NES releases. For an early 1988 release, R.C. Pro-Am featured some darn impressive animation. Kudos to Rare for creating as much realism as they could in such an old video game.
However, although the game's graphics were very nice and the animation was superb, the lack of variety was a problem with R.C. Pro-Am. While Rad Racer featured tons of variety in terms of the game's graphics, R.C. Pro-Am was pretty vanilla in this regard. It's a nice, tasty vanilla but it's vanilla nonetheless. Thankfully, this problem was corrected in R.C. Pro-Am II.
Music: This might be the most difficult area of R.C. Pro-Am to properly critique due to, well, the lack of music throughout most of the game! While the title theme sets the mood perfectly with a catchy, upbeat ditty and the victory tune is nice and appropriate, the game itself really doesn't have much in the way of music. And this isn't entirely a bad thing either because the sound effects were very good. You have the typical groaning sound of engines blazing, the squeaking sound of hitting oil slicks, and the cool sound of firing missiles at unsuspecting cars ahead. Granted, it's hard to play any game for long without music playing in the background (Xenosaga: Episode One is a rare exception) but the gameplay truly was able to carry R.C. Pro-Am to the finish line.
Play Control: Although there is a bit of a learning curve due to the unique perspective of the game's graphics, I thought that the play control was silky smooth in R.C. Pro-Am. Like many classic NES games of the day, once you get the hang of the controls, there's really no one to blame but yourself if something stupid happens. It's like that with R.C. Pro-Am. You basically use the control pad to turn the corners, the A button to accelerate, and the B button to jam on the brakes. Beyond that, it's the skill of the gamer...just like it should be!
Challenge: Going way back to the first time I played R.C. Pro-Am as a kid, the first thing that I remember thinking is that "This game is HARD!!" Seriously, whether you were an eight-year old upstart or a veteran gamer, R.C. Pro-Am could bring virtually anyone to their knees in no time flat! While the first few races are pretty standard stuff and help get you used to the controls and gameplay, the difficulty really seems to pick up around Stage 10-15 when everyone begins to upgrade their vehicle. The computer opponents get faster, smarter (their uncanny ability to use weapons perfectly to wreck your races can be frustrating), and the margin for error just decreases dramatically.
While a tough challenge isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can be a real problem when the game is blatantly unfair. And R.C. Pro-Am becomes ridiculously unfair once you get deep into the game...if you even manage to make it that far). You will start to notice funny things happening. For example, you'll just be racing along going on your merry way when one of the computer cars just goes crazy and starts going 500mph! Seriously...once you experience this phenomenon yourself and see one of the computer cars (it was the yellow one for me) blitzing through a race at an impossible pace, you'll know what I mean. When this happens, the only thing that can save you is constantly using weapons like bombs and missiles to blast the other cars to oblivion. However, if you run out of ammo (or get destroyed yourself), there's no stopping a computer opponent that is in this state.
If that wasn't bad enough, it eventually gets to where two or even all three computer opponents race like this! No joke! Like I said, I love a good challenge and R.C. Pro-Am does have a decent challenge level for a while. However, when the game gets impossible, it's really no fun for anyone (except the stupid programmer who programmed this trick and laughs at all of us to this day...lol).
Storyline: There is no background story in R.C. Pro-Am. It's hard to have an epic, engaging story when remote-controlled cars are involved you know!
Funfactor: Despite its flaws, R.C. Pro-Am is still a fun, engaging racing game that really set the standard for future auto racing games. The gameplay was very intuitive for its time, the play control was very responsive (especially as you got upgrades/better vehicles), and you really felt a sense of speed in this game unlike many racing games of the day. Just play Super Off-Road then plug in R.C. Pro-Am to see the difference! I remember having to play the game for nearly an hour before I finally got to where I wasn't crashing into the walls incessantly but once you get used to the controls/gameplay, you can easily become addicted to a game like this. It's classic and fun! Granted, a two-player option would have been awesome but still, this game along with Rad Racer truly set the bar high for NES racing games.
Negatives: There are definitely a few flaws but I guess the one that stands out the most to me is the lack of any real variety. While the race tracks themselves are varied enough, the graphics are pretty much the same from start to finish. And the fact that there is no two-player mode really hurts. The racing genre in general was made for two players! At least the sequel allowed 1-4 players to play.
I have elaborated on this already but the challenge level goes from "challenging" to "obscene" by game's end. I don't mind a gritty, tough-as-nails challenge (Rad Racer was really tough as well!) but this is one video game that truly cheats you in every sense of the word. When computer-controlled opponents go 3-4 times as fast as you, tell me how you are supposed to win the race. It's too bad because these flaws probably kept R.C. Pro-Am from realizing its true potential. Still, it's a classic NES game for sure.
Ratings: Graphics: 3.8 Music: 3.4 Play Control: 4.0 Challenge: 3.0 (Crazy!) Storyline: N/A Funfactor: 4.0 Overall Score: 18.2 out of 25.0 (3.64 average) Overall Rating: Unsung Hero
Back to NES NostalgiaLast Updated: October 20, 2009