This week, you are going to see the second instalment of my quest to cover every single Super FX game ever released – Yes, you and I are about to take the wheel in Stunt Race FX.
Name: Stunt Race FX
Developer: Nintendo EAD/Argonaut Software
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date: October 1994
After the successful release of Starfox, Nintendo and Argonaut continued their fruitful relationship, developing various experimental ideas that would take advantage of the jointly-developed Super FX hardware. Eventually, they settled on a racing game that would be another chance to show the world what the Super FX chip was capable of, rendering fully polygonal 3D tracks, with polygonal vehicles to race on them. Stunt Race FX, also known as Wild Trax in Japan, is a much more advanced racing game than Nintendo had previously released at the time.
Racers like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart were fantastical approximations of motorsport, taking place on flat, 2D tracks with little depth or realism. While Stunt Race FX is far from a simulation, it stands out due to its attempt at being more of a technical racer than Nintendo’s previous attempts at rubber on tarmac. The polygonal visuals give a physicality to Stunt Race FX’s action, as vehicles collide with each other and the environment around them. Let’s get the obvious criticism out of the way – The framerate is pretty terrible in general, with very sluggish controls where it sometimes feels like you have to preemptively make your steering choices before you actually have to. Even with Nintendo’s choice of bulky vehicles like coupe’s and monster trucks in an attempt to explain the snail’s pace of the game, it just feels like the SNES is biting off more than it can chew.
So rather than focus on the Super FX and indeed, the Super Nintendo’s shortcomings within Stunt FX, maybe it’s better to look at what the chip does for the game itself. The shift to 3D allows the opportunity for track design to be a lot more intricate than what came before, and this is where Stunt Race excels at, with tracks that start with fairly simple circuits, but soon become hazardous off-road courses with elements that are just designed to give you a bad day. Falling boulders, shallow water and half-pipe segments are just a few elements that can easily take you by surprise, and they aren’t even your worst enemies.
It’s rarely the other racers you’ll need to worry about, for so long as you finish each race in third or better out of a pack of four, you’ll progress. It’s every other mechanic you need to worry about – An arcade style timer that can be extended through checkpoints or laps, which spells a lost life if it reaches zero. A health bar that will deplete upon any collision with a vehicle, track barrier or hazard, which will also take a life if depleted. Guess what happens if you fall off a track into the water? You guessed it – Goodbye life. Run out of lives and you’re tackling the current Class way back to the beginning. It can all end in a heartbeat if you aren’t careful, and there’s probably a sense of danger that you don’t get in too many racing games outside of the arcades.
Three different cars are drivable from the offset, an average Coupe, the nippy F-Type with twitchy steering and no power, and a hulking 4 Wheel Drive monster truck with excellent grip and power. Each one is designed to cater for players of particular ability, and there’s a certain sense of progression in mastering the nuances of each vehicle. The Four Wheel Drive is a decent starter vehicle for beginners before they feel confident enough to move up to the faster Coupe and the even faster F-Type. Twelve tracks are split over three classes, with a fairly decent learning curve leading up the tough Master Class. Even with that lenient Top 3 place required for progression, the later courses are incredibly tough and ask the player to really up their game to avoid running out of time or health. Each class consists of a very odd bonus game to extend the timer further, by driving a very slow moving trailer through a special track, driving through as many mini checkpoints as possible for more seconds on the clock. It also helps that any time remaining at the end of the race is added to the timer or the next racer, up to a limit of 100 seconds, and if you do happen to run out of time – It isn’t necessarily over as it is possible to roll your car over to a checkpoint before you grind to a complete spot and keep racing. Sure, Stunt Race FX is a little tougher, but for the most part, there’s a decent balance of difficulty.
Stepping away from the main Speed Trax mode, there’s a Stunt Trax mode where players are given four new tracks in which to collect forty stars and reach the end of the circuit before time runs out, which upon completion will unlock a special Radio Control course that switches gears to a Demolition Derby style elimination event and it certainly gives some justification to the “Stunt” part of the game’s title, taking players over ramps and jumps in order to get every star in the fastest time possible.
Surprisingly, there’s a two player mode – Battle Trax, where two players can challenge each other to a race. While this mode does feature a set of tracks specially designed to be less graphically demanding, as you’d expect, the frame-rate becomes unbearably jerky and slow at times. Interestingly, if you load this mode up and don’t actually press any button on either or both pads when the race starts, the computer will race for you.
As a side note, you may not be surprised to know that there is a presence here from the other Super FX game, Starfox. In the Master class track, Sky Ramp you may see a few Arwings flying over as you race, or some tracks even have Starfox advertisements on the side of the track that can be collided with, prompting an Arwing to drop a handy power-up for you.
HIGHLIGHTS: The difficulty is balanced well and the game as a whole makes full use of Super FX’s polygon shifting ability, allowing for a level of track design that was never possible before.
LOWPOINTS: Stunt Race FX’s ambitious graphics are ultimately its eventual downfall, as the jerky framerate and finicky steering become frustrating.
VERDICT: There’s a lot to like about Stunt Race FX, but unfortunately, it’s crippled by incredibly unresponsive controls that sadly turns this promising racer into a distinctly underwhelming one.