Review by Donald Love 87
Interesting idea, but extremely poor execution
Multi Racing Championship is a odd little racing/rally game released for the N64 early in it's life span. Now, as most of us know, games released early tend to be a bit worse than games released later, since the developers has had less time to learn the developing tools and can't utilize the full power of the hardware. Still, there is a big difference between not being able to do something great, and doing something the lazy way.
Sadly, this is probably the best thing with this game, and that's saying a lot, considering they're pretty bad. The game uses very lo-fi textures, which means they are very rough and pixelated, that also includes the 3D models for the cars and their paint jobs. Of course, partly it is limitations of the hardware, but some anti-aliasing would be nice to smooth it out a bit.
What's good is that they tried to outweigh the bad quality of the graphics with variation and a few extra details. In all three levels, you can see some special events like in one where an airplane (a big 747, not the typical racing Cessna!) flying by close overhead, or dolphins jumping out of the sea. Also, there are many unique objects and textures used in levels instead of just reusing things. So there's really not much to complain about when it comes to graphics - sure it's low resolution and jagged, but it's watchable and keeps fresh with the different environments and details you drive by. The intro movie also deserves a special mention because it's probably one of the coolest racing intros I've seen that isn't pre-rendered.
Sound effects and music
While videogame music most of the time just stay in the background, fitting in with the theme of the levels and never really stand out, there's usually not much to say about it. Here, on the other hand, I can say right out that it's the most annoying thing I've ever heard, at least in a console game (portables are otherwise famous for bad sound). With the exception of the credits theme, all music is bad and sound pretty much like the same thing - some strange buzzing noises from an electrical instrument. Kinda like my synth sounds sometimes when it short circuits when shutting it off. It's just some random tones too, and no real memorable melodies either. The credits theme is decent, which is good considering that you'll hear it a few times if you want to complete the game.
Sound effects are equally bad. I can't tell if it's meant to be a commentator or co-driver doing the talking, but he is really annoying, especially because of his fast mood swings - sometimes he sounds all excited like it's the best thing he's ever done ("Keep this up and we're gonna win!!") to just a few seconds sound like he's really bored to be wherever he is. If you hire somebody to do voice "acting" like this, it's probably a good idea if he want to do it. The effects are bad too - the engines make it sound more like it's the RC Car Championship than anything else, and in one level where you make a leap, the sound made from landing sounds more like something that should be used for an explosion than anything else. So it's not only bad - it doesn't even sound like it should!
Of all the nails in the coffin for this game, the controls are probably the 6-inch, final one to make sure it stays shut. While there's no real problem with controlling the game, the way cars handle on the road is a mess.
The method of controlling is the usual for a N64 racing game - control stick to steer, A and B to accelerate and brake, and the C buttons to change camera angles. Gearing is done with R and Z if you chose manual gearbox. So you'll just hold the controller in the usual position. It also works pretty good; the controls inputs are responsive, there are three different camera angles (inside car, behind, further behind) and while I prefer "further behind" they all have their use. The problems come when the mechanics of the game comes into play. No matter what car you're driving or what settings you're using; you'll never use the brakes. Sure, it's the way to go in many racing games, but then you can always use it to lessen an impact if going too fast into a corner. Here, if you slam the brakes it'll, without a doubt, slow you down way more than sliding into a wall would. Which is a bit odd.
Another strange thing is just this with sliding into walls and other objects. Of course, you don't want to hit walls, since when you do you slow down. The car won't take any damage, but it's ok since it's that way in many videogames. However, if you hit the wall from straight on, instead of kinda sliding with it, the car will just bounce back a few meters exactly the way you came. This not only slows you down, it also look very odd. I know Newtons law mention something about forces and equal opposite forces, and it's been a while since I read any physics but I'm pretty sure that's not how it works. Another thing that's even worse is that when in a race with opponents, of course you'll bump into them every now and then. This wouldn't be so irritating if not for the fact that while their car stays glued on the track like a brick, just keeping on following it's predetermined path, you will go into a skid. This becomes even more annoying when you bump into other cars on a straight road, just by a degree and then off them again (or getting hit from behind to get a speed boost), and you drive to the next bend and notices THEN that the game put you in "skid mode" when you hit the other car, so you won't be able to turn. If the car were wobbling or anything when driving on the straight road I'd get it, but there's just no way to tell it. Now, it's been a while since I took my license, but I'm pretty sure that skids doesn't work like that.
Now this is another annoying aspect of the game, but let me set you up with the basics first. After starting up the game, you are greeted with a main menu where you press start, so far so good. Then you enter the menu system where you get some choices of race types - championship, time trial, free ride, vs race and match race. Time trial is exactly what it sounds like, you ride around the courses trying to beat your best time. Free ride is the practice mode where you can get to know the courses without worrying about other cars or time limits. Vs race is the 2-player mode. Championship might sound like a string of races put together, but it's just that you get to drive on the courses with 9 other cars, trying to end up in first place. Match race is pretty unique for this game, and is how you unlock secret cars - by going head on against them in a race.
Now I haven't really tested out free ride or time trial, since you still can beat your best time in other modes, and versus needs a friend willing to play and I don't want to torture any of my friends by making them play this game. So I've mostly focused on match race and championship. After selecting the type of race, you get to the next menu screen where you can go into car selection, course selection, options and such. The menu system is a bit slow but it works. When selecting a car you can go either for the off-road approach with slower trucks that are able to drive on dirt roads, or racing cars that are faster but should stick to the asphalt. Each car is also highly customizable; you can choose if your tires should be mostly off-road or on-road, the hardness of the suspension, brakes, manual or automatic gearbox (including a choice for acceleration or high speed) and aerodynamics. It's nice to have the choices, but sadly they won't make a big impact enough to get around the control problems with it.
After (or before) customizing (if you want) and picking your car, you can choose a track. This will lead to another letdown - since there are only three levels to choose from, plus mirrored versions, there really isn't that much to do in the game. It's also in the course select screen you can view your track records. For some modes, you can also do some adjustments here. First of all is the roadblocking feature. One of the main points with the game is the combination of racing and offroad cars, and therefore both normal and dirt roads are present. While this sound like a really fun idea, the problem is that the normal roads are always so much longer than the dirt road, it's almost impossible to win if you use a racing car - it's so unbalanced it's not believable. Of course, the feature to block off roads so you only can pick one eliminates this problem, but it also cuts out one of the main points of the game - the multi part of Multi Racing Championship. There's also a setting labeled as weather, which might sound like a nice feature but is a disappointment considering you won't get to set the weather yourself, as it only acts like a weather forecast where you can see what it'll be like. My guess is that it was planned to be adjustable, but then cut from the game but they kept it in the menus. Once you're done with the stage settings, you're ready to race.
Now, before going on I'd like to point out a thing which will explain the rest of the review. I've owned this game since it was released, and I kinda beat it when I was young. Now I started playing it again for this review, and I found out something very strange - there's no way to delete saved data. I've looked everywhere; in options, by pressing start on startup, even consulted the instruction booklet. NOWHERE is there any information about how to delete data. This could be a problem, especially if you're considering getting this used. Sure, there aren't a lot of things that are saved - only unlocked cars, the mirror courses unlock and the best times (you can save car settings to a memory card if you'd like), but it's still pretty irritating that you just can't nuke the entire cartridge and start over again fresh.
Anyways, back to the race types, I'll start off with match race. Here, you'll race against the car you can unlock. If you win over it in all three courses, it's yours (I've read up on this part, since I already had unlocked it in my game and didn't remember how). This can be pretty fun and it seems to me like the AI opponent kind of adjusts his speed to yours so you'll be pretty close all the time. With a normal car, it's quite hard but that's probably as it should be with an unlockable. If you use the same car as your opponent after you've unlocked it, these races are pretty easy but also quite fun. Overall, I think this is my favorite race type in the game.
Championship is a decent mode. Unlike Match race, where you and your opponent start right beside you at the starting line, here you are still at the starting line while your opponents are starting way further on. So the entire race is about first catching up with and then passing the 9 AI controlled cars. Interestingly enough, the game picks a copy of your car to be the first-place holder - so if you're driving with a normal car these races can be easy, but with one of the unlockables the opponent has a heavy lead that's hard to catch up with before you finish all three laps. It makes it a bit unbalanced, since with a unlockable car it'll just turn into another match race because you usually pass the 8 first opponents during the first lap. Still, it's nice to see that makes the original cars still worth using after getting the unlockables.
When winning all the three courses, either in match race or championship, you are treated to the credits (after watching a pretty cool prize ceremony which differs depending on what course you just raced on), which irritatingly enough are unskippable. After that, your winning progress is resetted, which means that you'll never be able to have the spinning trophy symbol over all three courses. Another thing which is a bit odd is that while there are mirror stages available (an unlockable I think, don't ask me how I got them 13 years ago though), but they're still considered by the game as normal stages - if you get a gold trophy in a championship on the normal version of a stage, you also get it for the mirror version. It's the same thing with the records, which is strange because the mirror version of a course is usually harder than the normal version. The overall records are otherwise pretty nice, with the game saving your top 5 course records, in what mode you got the record (and a note if you were mirrored, but I'd still like to see it as a separate course), and also one lap record. Like in old-school arcade games, you get three letters to show who you are with.
One thing which is irritating that might take some time to notice, but when you do it's extremely annoying, is that your 1:45 time for the Seaside level isn't really 1:45. For some reason, probably when converting from NTSC to PAL (I play the EU version), the running speed was changed but the clock never adjusted to it. Of course, it's like that in many games, but I've never seen it as obvious as here - one second in-game is somewhere between one and a half to two seconds in real time.
Overall, this is not a good game. Which is a shame considering the idea of combining on-road and off-road racing is really interesting and sound very fun. Now, I might would have attributed a lot of the problems to hardware limitations and that the N64 was recently released when this came out, but since I very recently played Top Gear Rally (which was released just a month after this) I can see that's not the case - Top Gear Rally manages to cram in 5 courses with mirror versions (which are also much longer than the ones in this game), smoother graphics, a bit better sound, an interesting championship mode, selectable weather and even a feature to delete your game data. Games didn't evolve that much over just a month, it's just that the developers for this game didn't do a very good job. So if you want to buy a rally game for the N64, get Top Gear Rally instead. If you own a Playstation, Colin McRae Rally are good games I've heard, or if you're not interested in the rally aspect, just get a Gran Turismo game.
The only reason I can give you for getting this game is that it's got some detail to graphics - which still are outdated. Negative aspects are that the game has worthless both music and sound effects, a real lack of anything to do, problems and inconsistency with how the car handles, a very apparent conversion problem with the time, not giving you a chance to revert the game to the original state.
I give this game a score of 3 out of 10. It might sound high compared to my complaining, but I want to save my 1 or 2 for games that are truly unbeatable because of glitches and has absolutely NO good points at all. Here, at least they tried with the details in the courses, and you can have some fun with the game when it's not acting up with the controls. But overall, it's just a lazy effort.
Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Product Release: MRC: Multi-Racing Championship (EU, 10/31/97)
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