Al Unser Jr's Road to the Top
At a Glance: I have no idea who Al Unser Jr is, nor do I know what it is he's on top of, but thanks to this game I now know that the road to wherever Al Unser Jr went is a shapeshifting frictionless blob littered with landmarks that warp and slide around for no apparent reason. I guess he's supposed to be famous in the world of auto racing, but making an awful game like this to commemorate his legacy is like honoring the memory of Raul Julia by bragging about his role in Street Fighter.
Platform: SNES (Download Emulator here - 395k)
Download: Download ROM here - 574k
Game Plot: Before leaping into the game, I decided to do some research on Al Unser Jr so I could pass along the knowledge to you, the reader. Unfortunately I had a little trouble finding a good source of information on this enigmatic driver of fast logo-covered cars, so I asked a friend if he knew anything about Al Unser Jr, and he helpfully provided the following information:
"Once there was a 1/3 T-Rex, 1/3 dog mix. It's name was It. One day, It decided to blow up some skyscrapers, but this blob named Thing tried to stop It by cutting one of his dog legs, but it didn't work. Then It got really mad, put on the sawed off leg, had a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea, then stepped on Thing. Thing got stuck in the ground and couldn't get out of the ground for five minutes. When he got out It had blown up 50 skyscrapers with his tail. Thing went into the city and saw It going into a building which he hadn't blown up. Thing followed It into the elevator to a castle on the top floor, where there was an ugly witch eating two kids who ran away at the sight of the two monsters, leaving the kids alive. Then It & Thing stuffed eachother with doughnuts.
And the rest of the world lived happily ever after."
Upon closer inspection, this doesn't appear to be "information" so much as a story he wrote when he was nine, but it's still far more coherent and informative than anything I have to say on the subject.
I was one step closer to the edge after the hours and hours of exhaustive research I clearly did, so five minutes of playtime broke me and reduced me to a quivering mass of blubbering misery, like when I was ten and my parents told me that Earthworm Jim wasn't real. After playing through every single course I can say that this is probably the ugliest racing game I've ever played, even counting SmartDriver. It was supposed to be a racer that creates the illusion of 3D with sprite scaling and rotation, a la Mario Kart, but the effect is more along the lines of swimming through a gooey pixel pudding while half-recognizable shapes scroll by in the background at ten frames per second. Initially recognizable landmarks by the side of the road begin to deform and slide around once your viewing angle changes, and the illusion of elevation changes in the course is accomplished by simply moving the horizon - and sometimes the entire background - up and down at seemingly random intervals. Other vehicles are invisible until they get to within a certain distance of you. Naturally there's no distance fog since it's a SNES game, so the other vehicles will simply appear out of thin air once they come within the sphere of visibility radiating from your driver's big sweaty head.
There are four separate vehicles you get to race. The sprite used for each vehicle is different, but they are very similar in the important categories of "handling" and "just about everything else."
Go-Karts: This is the most obnoxious of the four vehicles, simply because each go-kart engine sounds like a teenage nerd with a high-pitched nasal voice attempting to gargle a beehive. Each go-kart track is littered with tiny puddles of water, and touching any of these puddles will make your kart instantly whip a U-turn and skid backwards to a stop, where you will undoubtedly be hit head-on by at least three CPU racers in the process of working through their complicated AI instruction sets. ("go forward")
Al Unser Jr's tip for Go-Kart racing: "Use your skill."
Snowmobiles: You'd think a snowmobile would handle a little differently on ice than a go-kart on a paved track, but to a professional race car driver like Al Unser Jr that concept is as foreign as turning right. The only real difference is that whenever you turn a splotch of white pixels appears next to your snowmobile to represent a spray of snow, but since the pixels always stay in the same position relative to you it ends up looking like they just weren't able to get the sprite transparency working. Now that I think about it, they probably weren't able to get the sprite transparency working and they just threw in the snow at the last second to cover it up.
Al Unser Jr's tip for Snowmobile racing: "Snowmobiles are a totally different beast than a go-kart."
IROC: I had never before heard of "IROC", which I guess stands for International Race of Champions, but it appears that people win this race by driving around stylized plastic-looking sports cars that you'd expect to see in a toy commercial. These cars are pretty fast, and as a result you can expect to spend 70% of the race careening off the walls.
Al Unser Jr's tip for IROC racing: "These Daytonas get up to 185 mph and will test your skills."
Indy Car: You can tell this is the baddest and most extreme form of racing because the cars are built two inches off the ground. It's exactly like IROC racing, but quite a bit faster. The only problem is that if anything ever touches your car, including dirt, your speed will instantly drop to the single digits.
Al Unser Jr's tip for Indy Car racing: "Practice passing and turning at high speeds because it only gets harder."
Enemies: Every enemy looks exactly like you with a palette swap, but you won't have to worry about them that much due to their complete lack of AI. But if you're using a go-kart be very careful not to hit any puddles, or you will spin around and spend the next minute getting bounced around the road by oblivious drivers who don't know how to hit the brakes. Fortunately I've gotten used to that sight after living in Seattle for three years.
Number of Levels: There are a whopping three levels per vehicle, plus a final one in Vancouver you can go to if you feel like racing the Unsermeister himself.
Number of Bosses: The mighty Unser awaits at the end of the game, but he's fairly easy to beat and I don't think he really qualifies as a boss. Somehow I don't think a redneck in a big floppy red hat is quite as intimidating as a cursed water puddle that can make all four tires instantly lose traction after barely being brushed by one corner of the kart.
Defining Moment: Even though this is the worst racing game I've ever seen, Al Unser Jr's insightful advice always encourages me to race my go-kart, snowmobile, IROC car and/or indy car to the best of my ability. USE YOUR SKILL!
Each category in the rating system is based out of a possible -10 score (-10 being the worst). The overall score is based out of a possible -50 score (-50 being the worst).