Review: “Moto Roader MC“ (PS4)
In gaming eras immemorial, there was a little console known as the TurboGrafx-16 (aka the PC Engine outside of the United States). Despite never gaining much traction in the West, the PC Engine was a strong 16-bit contender in Japan. Among the well-regarded RPGs and shoot ’em ups (or shooters, as we called them back then) that graced the TG-16, there was also a decent selection of racing titles available for the console. These included the three games of the Moto Roader trilogy, all of which were arcade style, overhead racers.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Ratalaika Games* is giving modern gamers a chance to play the final game in the series, Moto Roader MC, on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Does Moto Roader MC still have what it takes to compete, or was the series best left in retirement?
Moto Roader MC simplified the Moto Roader formula quite a bit. Gone were the in-depth vehicle customization and fuel gauges, plus, MC opted to pull the camera back to display the full track on a single screen, similar to the arcade games Super Sprint and Super Off-Road.
Up to four players (five if playing on the Switch) can compete across several courses, each with its own visual theme: Circuit, City, Nature, Märchen, and Special. You collect points depending on in which place you finish, and the player with the most points naturally wins the course. While the first couple of courses aren’t terribly exciting, there are several cool stages in Moto Roader MC, particularly in the Märchen, and Special course sets. These not only include interesting visuals such as a giant insect, a hot anime babe, and a runaway penguin waddling about the track, but there are also some tricky designs here, too. Several stages have shortcuts, and some stages include portal-like doors that teleport you to other areas of the screen. The latter are very difficult to master, and they can be particularly frustrating if you’re playing against a CPU opponent, as they aren’t nearly as confused by them.
In addition to the thematically-consistent courses, there are also several options to mix and match them, including multiple prearranged courses and – most importantly – the ability to choose from all stages and create a full course to your liking, which I found to be the most enjoyable option. Besides, now there’s no excuse not to play the stage with the hot anime babe…
The vehicle controls are very slippery, which takes a little bit of time to get used to. Other than navigating the twists and turns of the tracks more quickly than your opponents, you also have an infinite supply of missiles and landmines that you can use to knock other racers into a spinout. This don’t do any actual “damage”, but this will slow them down and often leave the affected vehicles facing the wrong direction. Be warned – sometimes your landmines take can take a weird bounce off of a wall, and you can accidentally blast yourself, if you’re not careful.
Even when you lose, you will still see the exact same ending, which makes playing the game single-player somewhat unrewarding. Thankfully, there is also a Time Attack mode, which saves your best times. Unlike other racing games, the Time Attack mode is not an “open field”. You are still competing against the other competitors in these time trials, and you have to win the race for your time to be counted. All things considered, I honestly found Time Attack to be the best and most rewarding mode for the single-player experience. Plus, it gives you a chance to play only on your favorite tracks, or to practice on those that are giving you trouble.
Aside from Race and Time Attack, there is also a multiplayer vehicular soccer mode called Omake (decades before Rocket League, too), which can be played either one on one or two on two. The physics on the ball are rather wonky and I found this mode to be more frustrating than fun as a result, but if you have a full house of four friends to play with, I’m sure it has some merit.
There is also a sorta secret mode called Batroader (Battle Roader?), which unlocks once you complete your first full course. In Batroader, you and three opponents can knock each other off of a small, wall-less arena, with the last racer standing being the victor. This battle mode is quite a bit more fun than Omake, but similarly, you can’t play against CPU opponents, making this a four-player-only option, which is weird.
Like many other TurboGrafx-16 games, Moto Roader MC has a bright, eye-catching palette, and the action is fairly easy to follow, even with the smaller cars. I’ve already mentioned above the stage designs that I enjoyed the most, but even the rudimentary Circuit and City courses have some nice touches to them, including animated crowds, flashing lights, and tiny cones to knock around. Nothing too distracting, though. While the car engine pitch was a little high for my taste, the soundtrack features some nice tunes that grew on me over time. I wouldn’t call all of the music tracks “pulse-pounding,” but they all fit the stages rather well and were welcome pieces of the Moto Roader MC experience.
For better or worse, it was rather evident that the developers didn’t do much to update Moto Roader MC for modern consoles. There is no online multiplayer, and if there is a way to play the Omake or Batroader modes in single-player, I couldn’t figure it out. While you can change the shape (but not color) of your car, some more meaningful vehicle customization unlocks would have been nice. They even left the “Push Run” command on the title screen, which will only make sense to the TurboGrafx-16 faithful. The only real update I noticed is a save state and rewind function, and the inclusion of PlayStation trophies and Xbox Live achievements to be snatched up. These are pretty easy to unlock, too, so, if you’re a competitive collector of these digital benchmarks, have at it.
Overall, most will find the single-player experience of Moto Roader MC to be pretty thin. The CPU racers are extremely difficult to defeat, and once you fall behind, you’re likely toast. That said, after quite a bit of practice, I did manage to finish first overall – once. If you get completely fed up, you can turn off vehicle collision in the option screen, which will keep you from being bounced around as much. You can also increase the “slipperiness” of the car controls, but I can’t think of any good reason for doing so. Wait. Masochism. There’s your reason.
Overall, Moto Roader MC is better as a party/multiplayer racing game. Even if you’re a retro gaming aficionado, it’s a bit tough to recommend if you plan to play it solely on your own. It features several fun tracks, is fairly easy to pick up and play, and it’s more frustrating moments will more likely translate into fun when a group of your friends are experiencing them with you.
Moto Roader MC will be available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbone and SeXbox on 25 February via each platform’s digital storefront.
*Disclosure: A PS4 copy of Moto Roader MC was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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