This week, the quest to review every Super FX game brings us to the muddy racing of Motocross, in Dirt Trax FX.
Name: Dirt Trax
Developer: Sculptured Software
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date: 1995
I’ve reviewed quite a few Super FX racing games so far, and unfortunately, they’ve not shown off the Super FX enhancement chip in a particularly great light. But this week, it falls to Acclaim – Yes, that one, to come up with a racing game that takes advantage of the Super FX chip to finally create a playable and fun 3D racing game. Can Dirt Trax FX do better than Stunt Racer FX and achieve what Dirt Racer spectacularly failed to do?
I don’t think I’d be a good motocross racer. I mean, I’ve injured myself or failed miserably at practically every single mode of transport I’ve ever been in control of, and I absolutely hate mud. It’s a good thing that we have video games to help satisfy those desires of controlling a powerful machine between your legs while getting absolutely filthy.
Dirt Trax FX is Acclaim’s attempt at bringing those mucky dreams to life, with the simplest of setups (but you already knew that, didn’t you?). It’s just you, a few other racers and a circuit laden with bumps and jumps – The only difference is that the power of the Super FX allows for most of those elements to be in glorious, blocky 3D. And honestly, it doesn’t look too bad.
I complain a lot about the framerate of these Super FX games, but in Dirt Trax FX’s case, it isn’t too much of an issue, as you tear around these courses trying to keep at the front of the pack. With the racers being sprites, and the Super FX being used to draw the polygonal tracks, the framerate doesn’t suffer too much, truth be told. The visuals are chunky, but they work – And there’s something quite so wonderfully 90’s about seeing a polygonal representation of your chosen racer’s face at various points.
As for how it feels to ride these virtual bikes, it’s possibly a little sluggish at times – After all, you are racing through various consistencies of dirt and water, but it’s about what you would expect from a slightly more quote-unquote “realistic” racer. You can use the shoulder buttons to take corners more sharply, which certainly helps you tackle the trickier segments of courses. The biggest issue is that even though the tracks have a sense of space due to their polygonal nature, at times they have little in the way of verticality and it’s entirely possible to overshoot a bump and end up flying over a nearby barrier, putting you dead last or in some cases the wrong way around.
And unfortunately, unless you’re playing on Easy mode (where the game really is too easy), the slightest mistake will result in the inhalation of one particular racer’s exhaust fumes. This is T-Rex – You can’t play as him, but you will learn to hate his stupid face and everything he stands for. Unless you race a perfect circuit, he will constantly be in front of you – You’ll be lapping the other racers several times over and over again, but T-Rex will be your main frustration with Dirt Trax FX. You’ll be trading first and second place with him throughout, and this results in one of the most annoying aspects of the game.
Each racer has their own theme and this is the basis of Dirt Trax FX’s soundtrack. However, the way it works is that the first placed racer’s theme will play until someone overtakes, so in the likely event that you’re constantly moving into first and second, the background music will keep changing and it’s so bloody annoying. The constant repetition of the first bars of several themes will likely drive you to switch the system off entirely. The difficulty just seems very uneven, which just takes away from the whole experience as you just end up lapping the rest of the xpack except for one AI racer that seems to ride a perfect circuit almost every time.
And continuing with the topic of Dirt Trax FX’s audio, as is the case with so many racing games on the Super Nintendo, the sound effects are a whole heap of terrible, farty engine effects. This is one of those games that you play with the sound off, that’s for sure. The racer themes aren’t completely terrible, that is when you get past the first couple of seconds of each one – Which as mentioned earlier, rarely happens.
But despite how irritating it sounds and how frustrating the AI can be, Dirt Trax FX plays pretty well. In addition, there’s a fair amount of cups and tracks to play through, although some of the tracks are used in multiple cups. You can tackle these cups in a two-player simultaneous mode, but you can also play with up two 8-players, with your party playing the game in multiple heats where two players race at once. Meanwhile, there’s also an amusing two-player Tag mode which is a nice little aside and is simple enough for players of any ability to enjoy. If you’re on your lonesome, you can even play it by yourself against an AI opponent, so there’s that.