Review by Donald Love 87
Unicycles? Racing? This IS a strange game.
Unirally, called Uniracers in the US (I'll keep calling it rally since I'm from Sweden, hope you can live with it) is a bit of an oddball racing game, developed by DMA Design, most famous for being the company originally responsible for the Grand Theft Auto games. That might seem pretty far from this, which is an odd little 2D racing game for the SNES. The oddest thing about Unirally though, is that the biggest features of the game are odd backgrounds, seizure-inducing tracks and... unicycles?
The graphics are pretty boring, with just one big exception. The unicycle sprites seems to be taken from 3D models of the unis (that's what I'll call them from now on) turned into regular image sprite files. I don't know that is how it's actually done, but considering how often the uni sprite is updated, some things like spinning and rolling and just "looking" with the saddle at the player are very detailed and really look 3-dimensionalish.
The rest of the game, as I mentioned, isn't as good. I still haven't been able to figure out what the backgrounds are supposed to be; most of them are just differently colored squares and shapes, not supposed to look like anything. I would've preferred something that actually IS something; like skies or fields or anything. For some reason I can't really explain, this also make the unis feel pretty small, like toys, Micro Machines or something. There's just something with the scale of the backgrounds compared to the unis, and I'm not sure if it was intentional or not.
The menus (title screen excepted, it's pretty cool) also feature an irritating flashing/gleaming square-shaped background. The fonts used look pretty weird, and the menus are a strange mixture of different text, cartoon graphics, arrows that look 3D just like the unis. Also, because they're pretty graphics-heavy they actually take a bit longer to load than other SNES games, meaning menu navigation is pretty slow too.
The tracks are a bit hard to judge, since they're more of a part of gameplay than just there to look good. Everything is color-coded, with codes of two different colors indicating normal areas, stunt areas, dangerous areas and some other special areas. This makes it a bit hard to judge, because marking things is a very important strategy factor in the game, and more variation would just mess up things for the gamers. So I'll let it slip that it's getting pretty repetitive, since the gameplay mechanic of it works so well. The changing colors can get tiresome for the eyes after a while, but it isn't as bad as the next thing.
Even if they're only on screen for a few seconds, the countdown timer at the start of a race and the "waving flag" at the end of each race is possibly the most irritating graphic I've ever seen in a 2D game. Both are flat 2D-graphics in a very basic font, but flash in a white-red-blue pattern extremely quickly. Since they take up most of the screen, it's really irritating for the eyes. I know games include a seizure/epilepsy warning, but those things is not a dare nor a license to make such irritating flashing graphics.
Sound effects and music
The music is the same MIDI-sounding format the SNES always is using, which sounds good if used correctly, but this game is trying for a rock-like sound which just doesn't go along with it. MIDI works better to make soft sounds and imitating keyboard instruments than guitars and drums. The music in itself is good and fits with the game, but due to the SNES sound chip it comes out pretty badly.
Sound effects... there are really no notable sound effects in the game. There's a "druh" sound for each down count before a race start, and a "bip" for the arrow, and some really arcade-sounding effects for a completed stunt, but they're nothing that matter. Sure, it's good to be able to hear if your opponent misses a stunt (which slows him down) when he's offscreen and you're second and thinking about pausing and quitting. But the quality; since there's nothing in reality like unis racing on multicolored courses, there's nothing to relate to. Let's just say it sounds very arcadesy and it works.
Normally, I wouldn't think I'd have the need for a story section in a racing game, especially one about unicycles. But before I started playing the game, I found the instruction booklet and read through it, and lo and behold - this game has a story!
Though the story is just as silly as the game itself, and is not referenced much within the game, it's about uni God, racing, ghosts (the computer controlled characters) and ancient legends about an Anti-Uni. It's wacky and really really strange, and a pretty fun read if you manage to get hold of the booklet, but still it's completely unnecessary. Of course, many games just have the story to explain the gameplay, but here nobody would've thought of it if there were no story. So while it really makes no impact in-game, I thought this was just such an odd thing it was worth mentioning. The entire instruction booklet is written in the same way, with a lot of humor and attitude, and some expressions sounding very influenced by Douglas Adams, so if you're going to buy the game try to get it with booklet included.
The controls are a bit varied; some of them are good and some are not. Basic stuff works fine - you use left and right on the directional pad to go the way you want to go and Y is used for braking (won't happen often, but has some uses). The other buttons are used for stunts, or stuff related to stunts; you jump with the B button, which is useful for setting up stunts and also sometimes to jump for a shortcut. The L and R buttons is used when airborne to do flips and rolls, rotating forwards or backwards with the uni. A is used when airborne to twist, which is doing a "pirouette" with the uni. X is used for doing a Z-axis stunt, which is rotating the uni sideways... or something. Using 3D terms in a 2D game isn't the easiest.
Most of the controls and stunts work good, but the jumping is a bit odd since sometimes I can't seem to be able to do it. I know you're unable to in hills, no matter how small they are, but sometimes I'm unable to jump even on flat ground. It's possible there's some sort of delay between a previous jump and the next, but it's still feeling a bit odd. The X button is my next problem, because it's very picky and has two uses; one (hold) which turns the uni so it ends the move upside down, and another (tap) which just flips it a bit. The game sometimes mix these two up, which often make you end up with the saddle to the ground. For some reason, tapping twice which should be counted as a trick (table top - flipping then flipping back) don't register in many cases.
As you've probably understood by now, this game is about unis, racing and stunts. That's probably a pretty good description. I'll mainly focus on the one player experience, since I haven't been testing multiplayer modes that much, but I'll mention them later. First off, when selecting a mode you have to select a uni to play as. There are 16 available, but with the exception of name (which you can change in the options menu) and color they're all identical. Basically, they act more like 16 save files (probably meant by the developers to be used by different people) since the medals you get from courses are tied to the uni. Your track time/score and wins/losses will also be tied to "your" uni, and is easily available in the options part of the main menu. This game really saves a LOT of info and stats, which is pretty nice to take a look at every now and then.
After that, you have to select a tour. There are nine available, with just four available from the start and the rest unlockable. Each tour consist of five courses; two circuits (a set number of laps on a looping course), two races (A-B racing) and one stunt course for each. That make the total amount of levels in the game 45, which is pretty impressive. To win a tour and get a medal, you have to pass all of the courses, by racing against an opponent for races and circuits, and by getting above a set score for the stunt levels. These five courses must be done in the same gameplay session, since they're not saved when you go back to the tour menu, unlike the medals you win which will stay forever (or at least until the cartridge battery run out). There are three available medals for each tour, going from bronze to gold. You have to play through each tour three times, since even if you would beat the gold opponent ("Goldwyn") with the time you get against the bronze ("Bronsen") opponent, you still have to do it again.
One thing which bothers me a bit is the big difference in difficulty between modes. The bronze challenges are pretty easy, usually you can win everything on your first try if you don't do any big mistakes. The silver challenges steps it up a notch but are still very manageable, but then comes gold. Of course, gold SHOULD be harder than the earlier, but rather than overall increasing the difficulty, one type of course has become extremely hard. While the races and circuits normally can be won pretty easy (usually less than five tries), the stunt courses really need perfect runs. For each gold medal I've got, there are few stunt courses I've spent less than an hour on, while the rest of the courses in a tour I've been able to breeze through in less than 15 minutes. It just feels really strange and frustrating, and I'd like to see the normal levels get a bit harder and the stunt courses being a bit easier, so they're more even.
The racing and circuit courses are fun on any level, though, and the AI is actually quite interesting. Instead of following a set path, never straying from it whatever happens, the AI is varied and sometimes mess up. This can lead to a course being really hard one time around, and the next time you win with a four-second lead. While luck is a pretty boring factor to include in a videogame, it actually make each race a bit more interesting than if it practically was a time trial. The AI is a bit rubberbanded, but since you are too it's probably wiser to call it a handicap - the game really like to keep the players close, and the majority of races will be won with a margin of less than one second.
The stunt system is a pretty important gameplay factor. In stunt levels, it's played pretty straight and you get points for each stunt you do. Tripling or quadrupling the stunts in one jump will result in more points, but you'll get less for each consecutive stunt you do, forcing you to mix it up. Except for the thing with some golds being way too hard (point limit set too high) it's working pretty well. Stunts can also be used in normal courses, where they act as a speed raiser if they end successfully. This make it important to learn the course layouts as good as you can, to know where there are long straights or a safe downhill to jump from. Overall, the stunts system in itself works fine, though in cases where stunt courses don't require it for points, I'd try to stay away from X button stunts since they're not too reliable.
The course layout varies a lot from course to course, but utilizes a few different track parts used in different ways. The green/blue track combination is normal track, which you can make stunts on when it's straight but some sloping is allowed so you need to learn where you're free to do stunts. On red/blue tracks you should keep on the ground, because it means that you're approaching a big hill or a loop where you'll get slowed down or even crash if you're jumping. There's also the red/yellow track which means you're either out of level boundaries or approaching a "color spill", which you have to jump over or be very slowed down. The last kind of track is the yellow/blue, which either can mean that you're coming up to a shortcut if you jump (in that case, the area where you should jump is solid yellow) OR that you're close to the goal line and free to do stunts to your hearts content. It's just something you'll have to learn. Other than that, there are arrow tracks, which works like a speed booster (and you can't stop or jump while on them), usually before a big jump or loop. There are also "wall" tracks, which you can't jump through; on some multilevel courses otherwise you can jump through the normal track to end up on a higher level. Then there are the corkscrew (probably not the name but it works that way) where you drive in it and end up on the flipside of the track. It's a bit tricky to describe. Other than that, the usual track types are just used to build up different types of objects - loops as I've already mentioned, halfpipes, hills and jumps. To be honest, with the exception of a few select levels, seeing the same basic things over and over again, with this little variation, actually get a bit boring after a while.
Other than the 1P modes, there are a few multiplayer modes available. First of all is the VS and 2P modes, where 2P seems to be pretty much the standard two-player mode, while VS actually works a bit different and is meant for a bigger group of friends; the winner gets to continue playing, while the losing player (or, controller) have to pass on the controller to next person waiting. The third multiplayer type is tournament, where you can include a number of unis to race together in, yes, a tournament-like fashion, all stats saved. I haven't been able to extensively test all these types since I play alone, but it looks like the developers wanted to turn this into a party game. If you like the original gameplay, it could probably be fun. The only drawback multiplayer has is that even though it even things up a bit by handicapping the players during a race, the players must be very even in skill to be able to have fun with it.
So... I feel pretty split over this game. On one hand, it's better than I remembered it from when I was young, but it still has some pretty big flaws. The biggest problem is the lack of interesting graphics and music; while the unis look nice the backgrounds are boring and course design gets repetitive fairly quickly. Still, it's good at doing what it's doing - racing, speed; it's what Sonic the Hedgehog wants to portray himself as but never succeeds. Sonic was never really about speed, he could run but it was safer to take it slow - in this game you'd get nowhere without the speed.
Adding to the bad things are the extreme variation in difficulty, and also some control problems when it come to stunts. Another thing, which I really can't explain exactly what it is, makes the game feel a bit... mediocre. I don't know if it's the gameplay, the looks, or what it is, but there's something with this game. I give this game a 5 out of 10 - it's not great, it's not bad, it's in the middle. I wouldn't advice you to really go out of your way to get this game, but if a friend own it and you want to test it I think you should, it can be fun for a few days.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Unirally (EU, 04/27/95)
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