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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Enduro Racer (Sega, 1986)


Designed by Yu Suzuki, and developed by Sega Amusement Machine Research and Development Department 2.

Converted for the Commodore 64 by Doug Anderson* for Icon Design, with music by David Whittaker and graphics by Focus. (*officially credited for Nick "Orlando" Pelling)

Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Mevlut Dinc, with graphics by Focus.

Converted for the Atari ST by Ian Morrison for Giga Games, with music by David Whittaker and graphics by Focus.

Converted for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Alan Laird and Ian Morrison for Giga Games, with graphics by Focus.

Published in 1987 for the Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Activision.

Also converted and published for the Thomson MO5 and TO8 computers by France Image Logiciels in 1988, but no further credits are known at this time.

Also converted for the Sharp MZ-computers in 1989, but further credits are currently unconfirmed.

Rewritten for the Sega Master System by Sega Enterprises, and released by Sega of America, Inc. in 1987.

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GAME STATUS


Here's a game, which I'm quite certain most retrogamers out there will consider somewhat of a disappointment in most cases, at least when it comes to any of the home conversions. Enduro Racer was basically developed as the dirt version of Sega's previous motorcycle racing game, Hang-On, and utilised either handle bars or a full-sized dirt bike on the cabinet itself. Missing these embellishments would make any of the home conversions feel and look incomplete, but due to its arcade hit status, it had to be ported on as many home computers as possible. In Sega's own stroke of infinite wisdom, the Master System version was developed as a completely different racing game, but most of us fondly remember Enduro Racer as an awkward Hang-On clone.

I haven't been able to find any reviews or scores for the arcade original, but I guess the scores for the home conversions speak for themselves: at Lemon64, 82 voters have rated it with a score of 4.8; the score at CPC-Power is 10.29 out of 20, and the review at CPC Game Reviews is scored 4 out of 10; the ST version's rating at Atarimania is 6.8 from 14 votes; 87 voters at World of Spectrum have rated their version with a score of 8.10; and finally, 11 voters at MobyGames have given the Sega Master System version a score of 2.9. Because the SMS version is such a different game altogether, I shall be doing a quick review of it at the end of this article, instead of trying to compare it to the other conversions.

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HISTORY, DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Since I'm doing a comparison of Enduro Racer, it's not going to be very probable that I should be doing one on Hang-On, so I should start this section by talking a little bit about Hang-On and its creator, Yu Suzuki. Responsible for such undying Sega classics as Space Harrier, OutRun, After Burner and Virtua Fighter, Suzuki's game programming career started off in 1984 with a relatively simple side-viewed boxing game called Champion Boxing. Soon after that, he got seriously fixated with motorcycles, and developed his new game prototype to be played on a life-sized motorcycle controller. The game engine would put the camera in a first-person-like view, but to follow your biker sprite from a few steps behind, much like in Pole Position or its kin. Eventually in July 1985, the final product was released as Hang-On for the arcades - the first commercially released arcade game with motion-controlled cabinet. The same game engine would later be used for Space Harrier and Enduro Racer. At the time, this was the most powerful game system available.

Enduro Racer does the same checkpoint-based racing against time thing that Hang-On does, changing the sceneries and obstacles as you progress. It doesn't really add much more to the table than just the new environments featuring altitude changes in the roads, and the ability to do wheelies by pulling up the handlebars on the cabinet. On an arcade machine, this couldn't have been more exciting, but I would imagine, getting that excitement translated to home conversions must have been an exercise in futility. Still, there were enough road and/or track-based motorcycling games around at the time, that dirt bikes in games must have been something truly exceptional, which is why the game is still as fondly remembered as it is.

To give a fair review of Enduro Racer, or indeed of any of Yu Suzuki's games, it would be almost necessary to pass either the original or all of the conversions, because the home conversions never compliment Suzuki's original arcade games well enough. In the case of Enduro Racer and Hang-On, the home conversions fall particularly flat in comparison, but in their own right, some of them do have their own sort of charm.


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PLAYABILITY


In the likely case that you don't know much about my personal history, let's just say, from where I come from, having played more than one proper arcade game in your youth would have been a miracle. My youth's single arcade experience was Pole Position II, so at least I had some idea on how different an arcade racing game machine would be as an experience, compared to a home conversion with all its shortcomings. Further into my 20's, I became painfully aware, how a racing wheel and pedals doesn't exactly match the feel of a hydraulic enduro bike seat with all its necessary equipment to make a good bike racing arcade game. Sure, Hang-On and Enduro Racer must have been still early examples of such machines, but still, it's stupid to compare the arcade experience to the home conversions, which is why I'm merely focusing on the gameplay within the realm of emulation, because that's the best I can realistically do here.

By default, the arcade game is set to medium difficulty level with medium time limit and medium time control, and all three dip switches have three options: easy, medium and hard. Even on medium levels, it's next to impossible to beat stage 1, because crashing properly even once will drop your chances of passing the stage next to nil. The difficulty level affects the number of other motorists and the speed you may bump into objects before crashing, but changing the time limit and time control only affected the speed of the timer's running, which was very little. In MAME, at least, the bike's movement feels a bit delayed, probably because it's meant to be that way when played on a proper arcade controller, but still, by modern standards it's a fairly awkward game to play. The only saving grace Enduro Racer really has, is the wheelie function, with which you can jump longer (and higher), when riding through jump ramps. Usually, wheelie'ing through the jump ramps is your only chance of making through the jumps alive, because the area immediately ahead of them is filled with rocks or other road debris for quite a long way. In an old-school arcade fashion, the game has no continue feature, so feeding the machine coins will not get you anywhere but broke. Memorizing and determination are the key to success here, with a good dose of luck to go with them - skills have sadly little to do with this game. Unfortunately, I'm lacking all three, so even on easy settings, I have only been able to get to stage 3. But then, arcade games are supposed to be irritatingly difficult.

So, what constitutes a good conversion in these kinds of cases? You would think that a 16-bit processor is required, along with a graphics chip able to splash hundreds of colours on screen at once, if necessary. Well, considering the original game utilises hardware of these very specifications, it certainly would help, so let's first take a look at how the ATARI ST version compares to the original.

For starters, the ST version has a unique sort of a start menu at the top of the screen, which is controlled with a mouse. The menu consists of a credits window, an unhelpful help file, player options, control options, sound options, a demo mode, and a rather peculiar feature: a screenshot saver, and a gallery mode to view your screenshots. Playing with the more familiar choice of a joystick doesn't feel very good, because the bike responds to your controls rather sludgily. Then again, using even the fastest mouse mode doesn't feel as natural and reliable as the joystick option, so using a joystick is more preferable here. The worst part of the controls in the ST version is, that you need to pull down in order to perform a wheelie, and simultaneously your speed will decrease rapidly, because if you're not pushing the joystick/mouse forwards (up), the biker will automatically use the brakes. None of the other versions have this problem - normally you use the brakes with the fire button or any other designated brake key. Happily, the only difficulty level has been made much more humane, and you get a lot less junk on the road, particularly on level 2, which helps the progression quite a bit.


It's entirely possible, that none of the teams responsible for the conversions had no idea, that the original arcade game had different difficulty settings, so none of the home conversions feature optional difficulty levels. Just the ridiculously difficult medium level. Something at least got fixed in the translation - or perhaps not fixed as such, but more altered to make the game fairer: on SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD and MZ-800, when you crash, the timer slows down considerably until you're back on the road, while in the other versions, it keeps running at its regular pace. The ST and C64 versions handle this bit with a more tolerable time consumption, while the ARCADE and THOMSON versions eat up around 5-8 seconds of time while getting back on the road.

The C64 conversion is easily the weirdest of the lot in many ways: although your bike moves around fairly smoothly, all the surrounding solid elements move very slowly and with an unnatural manner of scrolling in relation to your bike's, and the smoothly scrolling road's sidelines movements. This alone would render the C64 the most uncomfortable version to play, but it also has the most unfathomable collision detection (jumps too early from the jump ramps, doesn't hit other bikers and obstacles nearly as surely as in the other versions) and bounces off to the edges of the screen from jump ramps much too easily.


All the other four conversions seem to be based on the same basic engine used first by either the SPECTRUM or the AMSTRAD version. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on the Spectrum version being the basis. There are some fairly notable differences, though. For one, the SPECTRUM and MZ-800 versions offer optional controls in addition to the optional two-player mode, while the CPC and MO5 versions only have the player options featured, making the C64 and arcade versions the only ones that have no two-player mode. Then again, the two-player mode doesn't make much sense in the context, but the way it works in the versions it is featured on, is that the players take alternating turns, and when the other player crashes, the other player steps in. Anyway, the other notable differences between the arguably Spectrum-based conversions are the enormously varying framerates and some changes in level design, which I can easily reveal when giving the scores. Finally, the THOMSON MO5 version feels like a bad approximation of the game featuring a similar-looking 3D scrolling engine as the SPECTRUM version, only there's less traffic and obstacles bothering you - your worst enemy is really the impossible timer.

And so, the order for this section is fairly easy to determine. None of the versions are easy or comfortable enough to make them really recommendable, but the SPECTRUM version is really the closest to the arcade version in most ways. The ST version would have been good enough otherwise, but the stupid decision for automatic brakes when not accelerating ruins the whole game. The rest of them are pretty clear, if you've read through the article so far.


1. ARCADE
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. ATARI ST
5. COMMODORE 64
6. SHARP MZ-800
7. THOMSON MO5

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GRAPHICS


Oh yes, scaling techniques... pivotal point in early first-person sprite-based 3D racing games. It was also an important part of another game I recently wrote about, and I still know as little about it, so I apologize in advance for offering very little of useful info here. But before we get to that, let's begin with something far simpler.


Title/Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Thomson MO5, Amstrad CPC.


Obviously, the original arcade version has no loading screen, and the title screen features a variety of animations, featuring blackouts, fade-ins, fade-outs, bouncy title logo, that sort of stuff. The obligatory attract mode loop goes to show you about 10 seconds of some stages of the game, alternating with the randomly behaving title screen and the high scores table. What was originally the title screen is kept as just such only on the C64 conversion, but all the other versions have it as the loading screen as well - the C64 version has no proper loading screen. Nor does the SHARP version, for that matter. Only the ST version features something other than just the picture - they've included a nice animated starry background for the otherwise traditional title screen.

Credits, high scores and menus. Click to view in full size.


We might as well go through all the text-based stuff at once, since there's very little of interest regarding in-game graphics here. As you already know, the arcade version has no credits screen, and along with the demo bits of different levels and the variations of the title screen, there's only the high scores table to see, featuring the game's development team in shortened form. Strangely, I came across two graphically different versions for the SHARP MZ-800 - although they could well be for different Sharp computers; I have no idea, really, and the documentation regarding this matter is practically non-existant. Both are based on the SPECTRUM version, though: the other one is horribly yellow in the title/menu section and black-and-white during play, while the other version has a more familiar colour scheme. Naturally, the AMSTRAD version is also based on the Spectrum version, but it features no control options, thus less to see, and it also has less colours used in the menu. The most basic form of the same lot is in the THOMSON version, which doesn't even have a properly customized font, and as usual, everything is in French. The C64 version only has the Top Scores list and key redefinition screen in addition to the title screen, but they look their part well enough. Only the ATARI ST version takes a major leap in menu design, by placing a menu bar on top of the screen, which you can summon by pressing Space bar or mouse button or some other similarly prioritised key, and only the scoreboard is separated from the title screen and the other menu items. To be sure, the ST version looks the most interesting of the lot, if not necessarily the most pleasing. But that's a matter of opinion.

"Go" from the countdown. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST.
Bottom row, left to right: Thomson MO5, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Sharp MZ-800 (two versions).


At the start of a new game, you'll get a countdown from three at the start line. Originally, the countdown was shown as big numbers, and the big numbers have managed to translate across to most conversions, even if most of them aren't particularly pretty. But, at least they're effective. Only the cheaper-looking SHARP version is missing the big numbers, and instead the countdown has been handled only with the default countdown beeps and your bike flashing.

Random screens from stage 1. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Sharp MZ (lo-fi).
Bottom row, left to right: Thomson MO5, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Sharp MZ (hi-fi).

Stage 1 is a fair introduction to the game in a not too hostile environment, as it only features hills, other enduro racers, some small rocks and trees and other big things you can crash into by the sides of the road. Apart from the cheaper SHARP version, the common colour is green, but only the ARCADE and ATARI versions have the road in a clearly different colour. While the C64 version is the only one of the 8-bits that uses wide-pixeled multi-colour graphics, the awkward scrolling makes it very unappealing. But it's really about bad scrolling - the THOMSON and SHARP versions don't fare even that well in the contest, they're THAT slow, and the conversion teams for the two SHARP versions have had to leave the background stand still, instead of making them scroll like it does on all the other 8-bits. The SPECTRUM version is really the fastest of the 8-bits, and the info panel at the top of the screen is even more colourful than in the original ARCADE version. It's not much of a consolation, but for once, the lack of colours doesn't really matter that much, as the game runs better. I noticed a curious exclusive little thing about the ATARI ST version, which makes it look a bit cheap: your bike always stays at the bottom of the screen, and the altitude changes don't affect the graphics in the manner they're supposed to.

Random screens from stage 2. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Sharp MZ (lo-fi).
Bottom row, left to right: Thomson MO5, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Sharp MZ (hi-fi).


For stage 2, the race moves on to a more hazardous area with a more sandy/dirt-based road, occasional big rocks and trees on the road, and in addition to all the bikes running alongside of you, all-terrain cars are now added to the race. From what I could tell, the C64 version features no cars, and all the terrain-related obstacles are the same old rocks that we saw in stage 1; also, the area is not as much dirt as it is rock, since the whole place is grey, with some brown rocks. On the ATARI ST, we do see cars, but the big rocks and trees have been kept out for some reason, and only regular small rocks can be seen on the road. The versions based on the SPECTRUM one are actually the closest to the original in this sense. Fun for nitpickers: the backgrounds for ST version's stage 1 and THOMSON's stage 2 are very much different from all the other versions. Not very important, but interesting anomalies.

Random screens from stages 3 and 4. Left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum.

Since certain versions are practically impossible to play further than stage 2, I didn't bother to take screenshots of them. Besides, the versions in question are based on the Spectrum version anyway, so we wouldn't be seeing anything new. So, here are screenshots of stages 3 and 4 from all the necessary versions. The screenshot for stage 4 in the ARCADE version is taken from the attract mode, because I couldn't be bothered to play further than stage 3. And also, I'm sorry to say, I had to use cheat modes to get further than stage 3 in all the non-arcade versions. I have no inclination to learn all versions of this particular game through and through just for the sake of this blog.

Anyway, stage 3 introduces water into the game, and if you veer off too far from the road, you may drown. Stage 4 is basically the same stuff from stage 2 with more vehemency, and stage 5 is the cool level you need to see for yourselves, because it has water on one side and palmtrees on the other. I can't really say much more about the levels, but I can still emphasize that the SPECTRUM version looks surprisingly good, even with its limited colours.

Crash animations from Arcade (top) and Atari ST (bottom).


There's enough of animation in the game to call it lively, but the single biggest effort in animation has to be in your crash. The ARCADE crash is, of course, more spectacular than in even in the best-looking of the home conversions, with a few different poses for the bike and the rider when flying off in a bad way, about four or five bike explosion frames and a few more frames for the bike lying on the ground and smoking. Hence, the ten frames of arcade explosion animation included, even though in action, it looks infinitely more fluent than here with mere screenshots. As expected, only the ST version reaches the amount of frames put into this animation, but it doesn't look nearly as convincing with such a limited use of colour, and the biker isn't included.

Crash animations from Commodore 64 (top) and ZX Spectrum (bottom).


The 8-bits only have two different kinds of crash animations: the C64 version and that of the SPECTRUM and its related versions. If the biker wasn't included in the ST crash animation, then you shouldn't be expecting him to be featured on the 8-bits, as he isn't. Only the bike gets thrown around its head in three different-looking poses for both C64 and the SPECTRUM variant, but the C64 crash also features a cheap explosion animation, alternating yellow- and red-based frames of weird black lumpiness. Pathetic, really, but understandably, it hasn't been much of a priority.

Game Over screens. Left: Arcade. Top middle: Commodore 64. Top right: Atari ST.
Bottom row, 2nd from the left to right: Amstrad CPC, Sharp MZ (cheap) and ZX Spectrum.

Once the time is out, and it very likely will be, your bike will either halt instantly to where it is, or slow down to zero in varying degrees of haste, depending on the version. Instantly after this, you get the time table for each checkpoint, and unless you're playing the original ARCADE version, you will also get a percentage of how far you got in the stage you were in when the time ran out. In the arcade version, a strangely illustrated map of the game gets shown along with a tracking animation of where you got to. Although the time table doesn't offer anything new graphically, the C64 version has the least clunky-looking time table of all the home conversions. As you can see, the THOMSON and the other SHARP versions are missing from this picture, but since the other Sharp version looks too much like the Spectrum version in any case, I didn't feel like it needed to be included, and the THOMSON version has no similar Game Over screen - it just goes straight into the high scores list, which you've already seen in the earlier huge text-related picture.

Despite its lack of altitude changes, the ST version is really the only one that gets even close to the arcade game. From the 8-bits, only the SPECTRUM version is in the range of acceptability in terms of both scrolling and overall graphic quality - the colours are a bit useless on the C64 due to its horrible scrolling method. I'm sorry to say, apart from the title screen, it's not nearly as good as it should have been, and I cannot place it further than just above the THOMSON and the cheaper SHARP versions. The rest of them have been put into an order based on their coloursand speed of scrolling, since the other 8-bits all based on the same version. For a final note here, you might have noticed that I didn't really touch on the subject of screen size, but it's mostly because it doesn't really matter that much in comparing this game's versions in any other way than perhaps a technical point of view, in that squeezing the screen size (e.g. AMSTRAD has a smaller screen than SPECTRUM, and THOMSON has a smaller screen than AMSTRAD) might have affected the scrolling speed... with not very impressive results, I might add.

1. ARCADE
2. ATARI ST
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC
5. SHARP MZ-800 V.2 (the colourful one)
6. COMMODORE 64
7. THOMSON MO5
8. SHARP MZ-800 V.1 (the less colourful one)

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SOUNDS


Like any self-respecting racing game at that point, Enduro Racer featured in-game music in addition to the obligatory engine noises and other sound effects. The original title tune is a fast, riff-based 16-second loop of a slightly quirky rock-tune, but it's the almost 5 minutes long in-game tune, that everybody who has ever played more than a few minutes of Enduro Racer, connects it to. Such a great piece of music it was apparently considered, that it was featured in most home conversions as well, if not always in its entirety. As for the sound effects, there actually aren't that many: the "insert coin" sound, the bike engine sounds, crash noises, thuds from jumping and bumping into things, and splashes whenever water is in your immediate vicinity.

In terms of synthesizer quality and sound styles, the music in the ATARI ST version sounds the closest to the original. However, the title tune is completely new and a bit too heavy and militant to suit the game, and the original title tune has been included within the game, to be played on the second and fourth levels, taking turns with the proper in-game tune, which also has been altered to not be as frantic on the hi-hat part on the drums. Apart from the countdown beeps and crash noises, there are no mentionable sound effects.


The C64 version features the title tune in its proper place, albeit similarly altered as it appears on the ST version, and there's also only one in-game tune, as there's supposed to be. Unfortunately, someone decided that it would be a good idea to add an appalling horn-like noise of the bike on top of the music, which would otherwise fit there surprisingly well, but the sound itself is ghastly, and it cannot even be taken off. Too bad, because the music is pretty good, and faithfully copied from the source to the SID.


As you might have expected, there are two variations of the SPECTRUM version: a 48k version, which doesn't include music, and a 128k version, which does. Both feature sound effects played by the beeper, which include crash noises, bike motor droning and countdown beeps. The music featured in the 128k version is the in-game tune, which barely features two similar sounds played on top of each other, but in the light of what else is happening in the game, it's an acceptable compromise. It just doesn't really bring the AY-chip into a particularly good light. Then again, the AMSTRAD version features only sound effects, but they're better than any of the sound effects on the other 8-bits so far.

Then we go down the rabbit hole. Here we have some sort of evidence, which would point out towards the SHARP versions being unofficial conversions - the more colourful version has Genesis' song "Land of Confusion" in the menu screen, which actually sounds rather good. But, I cannot imagine it having been authorized by either Genesis or Sega, because the arcade music is so iconic on its own right. The sound effects in the same version are pretty good, but there's no in-game music to go with them. Perhaps all for the better, because the scrolling is already horrid. The cheaper Sharp version has no sounds whatsoever.

Finally, the very French THOMSON MO5 version has no music at all, and the little it features of sound effects, are rather preliminary. We get no bike engine droning, and all the other sounds - countdown beeps and crashes - are quite abrupt and a bit too noisy, if the emulated version is to be believed. I guess the order is clear here.


1. ARCADE
2. ATARI ST
3. ZX SPECTRUM 128k
4. COMMODORE 64
5. SHARP MZ-800 V.2 (the one with sounds)
6. AMSTRAD CPC
7. ZX SPECTRUM 48k
8. THOMSON MO5
9. SHARP MZ-800 V.1 (the one with no sounds)

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VIDEO LINK


For a change, this is one of those comparisons that have some sort of a video accompaniment from one of the YouTube channels that have given permission to link their videos on this blog. Thanks again to Gaming History Source, you can take a look at the most commonly known versions of the game, along with the more common version of the game released for Sega Master System. Since the THOMSON and SHARP versions aren't included in the video, they could easily be described as slow (and partly uglier) versions of the Spectrum one.



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OVERALL


Okay, that went a bit overboard. Trying to deal with all these different versions for machines that less than 0.1% of the world's population has ever heard of feels a bit silly, to be honest, and with all the extra work caused by these mostly hidden conversions, the overall results may look a bit weird in the end. But as always, you should definitely base your decisions upon playability, rather than graphics or sounds. Here are the unfortunately mathematical final scores:

1. ARCADE: Playability 7, Graphics 8, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 24
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 19
2. ATARI ST: Playability 4, Graphics 7, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 19
3. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 15
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 14
5. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 12
6. SHARP MZ-800 V.2: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11
7. THOMSON MO5: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
8. SHARP MZ-800 V.1: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4


That's pretty much how I expected it to go before starting the process, although I didn't expect to find those two Sharp versions and the Thomson version to be part of the comparison. Speaking of the two Sharp versions, if anyone has any better knowledge about if they were made for different Sharp models, and if they were actually officially released products, do leave a comment.

UPDATE! 15.04.2016 -- Thanks to Disco'ncentrato for the reminder. I forgot to mention that there was a second version of Enduro Racer supposed to come out from Electric Dreams, now actually being made by Orlando instead of Doug Anderson, who didn't (want to?) get credited for his officially released work.

Screenshots of the unreleased C64 remake of Enduro Racer by Nick Pelling.
In 2011, Games That Weren't was informed by none other than Kevin Tilley, the editor and designer for RESET magazine, of an unfinished remake of Enduro Racer having been found on Beau-Jolly's Big Box 30 compilation in Australia, instead of an edited version of Wonderboy, as it is in other countries. Well at least, the level design is very much like Enduro Racer, but the game is very much unfinished, with collision detection not yet fully implemented, missing elements from the tracks, the scrolling still very much in need of optimization, and there aren't even any sounds or a title screen. But, it shows some promise that the official C64 conversion lacked, and would have been interesting to see fully in action.

Now, let's move on to the missing part...

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THE SEGA MASTER SYSTEM VERSION


Whoever decided to make the SMS version of Enduro Racer into an almost completely different game, should be given an award. Although perhaps not because of the drastic change in difficulty - it's almost laughably easy to complete. The game looks and plays more like Paperboy than Hang-On, although instead of throwing newspapers into mailboxes, you need to time your wheelies very carefully to make the ramp-jumps as effective as possible; a perfect jump will not decrease your velocity once you land your bike. Otherwise, it's just slightly altering your fairly straight line accordingly to the terrain changes and obstacles, whether they're cars, other bikes, chasms, rocks or whatnot. The SMS game has a bit more depth to it than the arcade game, though: passing other racers will give you one point per pass, and the points collected can be used for purchasing tune-ups for your bike. Also, in addition to the time limit, your bike can only take a finite amount of damage, so when the damage indicator goes to 100, it's game over. Happily, the bike can be fixed at the tune-up shop.

Screenshots from the Japanese 2Mb Sega Master System version.
So, while it's a very different beast than the arcade version, on the long run, the SMS game is a lot more enjoyable than the original, or any of its other home conversions. The major change in difficulty makes it lack a proper challenge, but the challenge could be considered in being able to complete the game in a better time against your previous one, which is plenty enough in the context. I have to say, this is my favourite Enduro Racer, but I don't think it's a very popular opinion, because it's not faithful to the original. But it's Sega's decision, and I do think the game would have a better reputation, if this version had been the basis for at least some of the other conversions. As it is, we have to make the best of what we've got, and if Enduro Racer doesn't suit your three-dimensional motorcycle racing game requirements, there are always more modern games to dig up. For those of you, who enjoy the SMS version as much as I do, you will be happy (or angry) to know that there was a Japan-only 2Mb version of the SMS Enduro Racer, featuring 10 completely different stages, instead of five stages repeated twice, as well as other additional graphics, getting the complete package closer to the original arcade game.   

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After all that, I still have to say, Enduro Racer definitely has its firm place in the history of racing games, and arcade games in particular. My personal experience with the game was originally with the 48k Spectrum, and I'm frankly surprised at how well it holds up to the original, and how much better it actually is from its 8-bit rivals. Of course, the 128k version is the way to go, and quite possibly the easiest way to get to play it on real hardware, since ST's are a bit more difficult to come by. Still, if you ever come across an original arcade machine, with the seat and all, do yourself a favour and have a go, because at the moment, it seems to be somewhat of a once-in-a-lifetime sort of an experience. MAME just doesn't cut it.

That's it for today, thanks for reading! I'm still not quite sure what's coming up next, since I'm working on three different articles at the moment, but whatever is coming up, it won't be a Finnish Retro Game Review, because I'll be skipping that one this month. Anyway, until next time, keep on keeping on.

4 comments:

  1. http://www.gamesthatwerent.com/gtw64/enduro-racer-v2/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, drat. Forgot about that one - thanks for the reminder! I'll fix the info asap. =)

      Delete
  2. I really enjoyed the game but never made it to stage 3 and above without cheatmode. All you had to do on the ATARI ST-version, was to type in "CHEAT" during the race - that was highly creative ;-).

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  3. I think that C64 is much more better then it looks here. Graphics is awkward, scrolling is weird, and game is ridiculously hard. However:
    We have party sessions, and guys choose it because of - music. And bikes, probably. But after few hours spent with Enduro, we forgot about party and girls around us! All we were focused at was to pass stage 3. And then 4... and for few weeks, it was like drug. Actually, we played 2 games in alternates, Enduro and Leaderboard Golf. Which is also awkward, but in a good company, it becomes great.
    I played Spectrum version, it is much faster, but it lucks adrenaline music, colors and... it is just a little game.
    My conclusion is that C64 version, at a big screen and with loud sound, with good company, armed with a good joystick, could be a fun even today.

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