As popular as Super Mario Kart was, it’s strange that there were very few attempted to replicate that formula on 16-bit systems. But there was one attempt that few people remember if they were even aware of in the first place – A kart racer that not only borrows elements from Nintendo’s ever-popular racer but a few parts of other racers and non-racing games.
Name: Street Racer
Developer: Vivid Image
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date: August 1994
Take a look at that title screen logo. Read it out to yourself a few times. Street Racer….Street Racer….Street…..Racer. Does it make you think of any other popular video games, maybe a popular Capcom fighting franchise which also takes place on the streets? You can see where the developers’ train of thought went with Street Racer.
It’s core mechanics are a pure 16-bit kart racer, sprite karts speeding around a flat Mode 7 track, but that’s where the similarities to Super Mario Kart end and the comparisons to Street Fighter begin, as Street Racer is more focused on vehicular combat that racing alone. In fact, the basic melee combat is more than a little reminiscent of Road Rash, with the player able to engage in some close-range hand-to-hand combat.
Without the power-ups of the Mario Kart series, racers have offensive and defensive capabilities in the form of two special moves in addition to being able to melee attack to the left and right with the L & R buttons. In true Street Fighter style, each racer is truly unique with not only their own stats, but their own unique moves – And the cast themselves are a motley bunch of weirdos, featuring a German bi-plane pilot, Frankenstein’s monster, an Italian sports car driving narcissist and others. It’s above and beyond the generic racers of other 16-bit racers, and even today it’s rare to see this level of imagination put into the racers themselves.
Not only that, but each racer has several tracks based on their home turf, with each of the 24 circuits matching the character’s theme – Frank’s takes place in a spooky castle, while African chief Suzulu calls the African wildlands his home. The backing tracks that accompany each of these areas is also pretty damn good and come together to ensure that every aspect of Street Racer is dripping with character.
The base racing mechanics are pure Mario Kart, and all of you have probably played that game before, so you will know what to expect and feel right at home with driving each vehicle. However, things are made a little deeper with the aforementioned focus on violence, with the melee and special moves being a very fun addition – There’s nothing more satisfying than slapping an enemy with a well-timed baseball bat or punch and seeing them fly into a nearby barrier, while you smugly drive away. Each single player Cup is a straight league with points awarded for placement, and you can even earn bonus points for collecting the stars on the track, for lapping opponents and even by being particularly violent to the other racers. Lead the pack at the end of the Cup, and you win.
Sadly though, you don’t really win much – You get the same screens at the end of each Cup when you’re top of the podium, and then, you just get taken back to the title screen. There’s no sense of progression at all, and it’s incredibly jarring for a game that does so well with character and presentation, to just feel unfinished in this way. It leaves the single-player portion of the game lacking in depth and purpose.
Outside of the Single Player mode, you’d expect some form of multiplayer, and Street Racer certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with support for up to four players – Something that not even Mario Kart can boast. Each of the game’s modes is available in multiplayer, and if you have a Multitap and three friends, you’ll definitely have a good time.
And on the subject of modes, racing isn’t all there is to Street Racer, as it’s additional modes are very unusual indeed. The one that catches your eye from the start, is Soccer. Before Rocket League garnered the love of gamers worldwide, here’s a came that innovated with the football in a car idea. Eight racers take part in a free for all where the aim is to find the soccer ball, touch the ball to pick it up, before firing it past the Pong paddle-like goalkeeper to score as many goals as possible, either within a time limit or to reach a goal limit.
It’s an interesting idea that’s amusing for a little while but becomes quickly frustrating and a little shallow, becoming very repetitive in a very short time. Once you’ve played one match, you pretty much know what to expect – And unless you have a group of friends that really like to play this mode, then there’s little to no reason to return to it.
The same is also true of Street Racer’s second mode – Rumble. Akin to a sumo wrestling match, it’s about using any means necessary to rid a square arena of the other racers. Melee moves and special weapons are all valid methods to achieve that goal, and depending on the difficulty level, the match will start with a destructible barrier that you may need to break down yourself before you can get to decimating the competition – Although, on Easy mode it takes so long to break down the barrier that it makes the match harder than it is on Normal and Hard difficulties.
Again, like the soccer mode there just isn’t enough depth to play it more than a few times. These extra modes are interesting ideas, but they’re just missing that hook to keep you playing, in the same way, Mario Kart’s battle modes always did. If you have friends round, you’ll likely have more fun playing the racing portion of the game, as nature intended.