Uniracers / Unirally SNES Review

Come and see a review of the game that Pixar Studios doesn’t want you to play!

Name: Uniracers/Unirally
Developer: DMA Design
Publisher: Nintendo
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date:

Before the massive success of the 3D Grand Theft Auto games, Rockstar North was known as DMA Design, and the Scottish studio was just so excellent at coming up with unique genres and premises for their game, such as the massively popular and critically acclaimed Lemmings series. Another example of their creativity was a long-forgotten SNES game named Uniracers, also known as Unirally in PAL regions.

It’s not strictly a racer, and the parts where racing takes place are so unique. For some reason, you are a beautifully pre-rendered and anthropomorphized unicycle, that has no rider yet can still stand up straight, travel, jump and perform stunts and tricks.

You can pick from many different coloured unicycles, all are identical in abilities, and you can even rename them to your liking (although you can’t use any naughty words, like *BLEEPED*, or *BLEEPED*, or “SEGA”. Then you can pick a league and go through a series of different challenges, beat a single opponent or reach a required score to pass each one and earn a medal in the circuit. Each circuit has bronze, silver and gold medals to achieve, so it’s all about improving your uniracing skills, perfecting each challenge and being the best little unicycle you can be.

As for the in-game action, it’s about racing or performing stunts on circuits made of different coloured tubes that signify what you’re meant to do. Green means go at it, full pelt, red means you need to take notice of the track changing, and orange and yellow means a nasty goo hazard is coming your way. As you’re hopefully moving very fast, you’ll need to be super quick to react to these track hazards or at least commit each track to memory.

Moving in the right direction only gets you so far, as you’ll also need to perform various tricks using different combinations of buttons to travel faster, and also pay attention to get safest places to perform these feats of vehicular gymnastics. Jumping in the air before twisting, flipping and rotating can be dangerous is done at the wrong point, so there’s a lot of trial and error involved in mastering the abilities and limitations of your unicycle – And that’s a lot of the fun. The more daring and complex your stunts, the faster you’ll go.

And you’ll need to be fast, as the competition gets tougher, able to pull off stunts of their own with ease, racing ahead of you unless you’re well-prepared and know exactly when to pull out your big moves and when to avoid hazards. Truth be told, it’s like a proto-Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in terms of its reliance on performing tricks as perfectly as possible to gain an advantage.

Tracks can vary between basic sprints to complex multi-lap circuits, while some events involve performing stunts on a dedicated track in an attempt to reach a certain score, which breaks up the racing quite well and also act as a good opportunity to practice tricks. Although there’s a nice learning curve involved, you can be assured that you will be playing these relatively quick events over and over again, and you likely will get frustrated, before knuckling down and retrying over and over again. You might get mad, but it’ll never be for long.

That’s all there is to Uniracers, to be honest, and that might be the very best and worst of the game. In some ways, Uniracer’s simplicity works to its advantage – From the very start, so long as you’ve read the manual, you have all the abilities and the knowledge you need to bypass practically any obstacle.

On the flip side, it’s Uniracer’s simplicity in the presentation that does underwhelm slightly. Clearly, the most effort put into the game visually, is into the pre-rendered sprites for the various unicycles seen in the game, and it’s these one-wheeled vehicles that single-handedly scuppered the entire game and it’s ability to be re-released, for as well-animated they were, they had more than a little resemblance to the titular star of the 1987 Pixar short, Red’ Dream. Pixar ended up successfully suing DMA Design, and the game ceased production after its initial run.

As for the remainder of the visuals, they’re functional but not too much to look at. The side on tracks themselves give you just enough information about what’s coming up next, but the backgrounds are very drab and unimpressive, and that tends to make you feel like you’re in a cycle of repetition.

The music is pretty decent, with the sort of rocking tracks you’d expect to hear from the Super Nintendo, but sound effects are almost non-existent and it really does take away from the overall experience. The unicycles are given life through great animation, but a little use of sound effects could have gone a long way into giving them some real individuality, especially given the humorous premise.