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Virtua Racing (Genesis) artwork

Virtua Racing (Genesis) review


"What would Virt McPolygon think?"


Back in 1992, Virtua Racing turned heads in the arcades with its snazzy polygonal graphics, fast-paced races, and an attractive cabinet, easily drawing in consumers. And while it doesn't hold the honor of being the first 3D polygon-based racer, with Namco's nearly-forgotten Winning Run and others preceding it by a few years, Virtua Racing also brought in crowds with a distinct feature: multiplayer. Simply connecting cabinets, side by side, allowed anywhere from four to eight people to compete in the same Formula 1-inspired races, giving the game a fun, competitive edge against real opponents. But due to its complicated specs, hoping to see a tolerable home conversion of the game within years of the original arcade release seemed nothing but a fantasy, especially since the Genesis was still profitable for Sega at the time.

Yet, somehow, we live in a timeline where a Sega Genesis port of Virtua Racing exists... and it's competent.

This isn't some bastardized version where the devs compensated by using 2D sprites to give the illusion of 3D, either; the game has actual polygons in 3D environments. All three courses are instantly recognizable from their arcade counterpart, and though there are small differences in how objects look, the overall presentation is very true to the original. Trees, orange bridges, and a now-inoperable Ferris wheel blanket the guitar-esque Beginner track, a non-functioning windmill and narrow paths are still a thing on the Medium course, and boats littering a lake, wide roads, and the humongous U-turn greet you in Expert. Detailed little things are kept intact, as well: sparks flying from your car, tiny grass polygons when driving off course, the ditties after every checkpoint, and the silly crash animations.

A typical cartridge obviously wouldn't be able to pull off these feats, so Sega went out of their way to create a special processor chip, in turn making for a larger cartridge than the norm. Now, Virtua Racing doesn't hold the prestige of being the first game on the Genesis to use 3D objects, as a conversion of Hard Drivin', its sequel, and several other games beat it in that department. However, another thing that makes this port impressive is its ability to house so many polygons at once while maintaining a solid framerate. The game's not as blissfully smooth as in the arcades, but it's still running at a decent framerate that prevents it from chugging when so much activity is happening on screen. Add to the fact that the four camera angles are still included, you can view replays after every race, and that there's even a functioning two-player split screen mode, and this is quite remarkable.

Despite being an admirable demonstration of what can be done with a port on the 16-bit console, it was also one of the most arbitrary releases to grace the Genesis. With advanced tech crammed inside the cartridge, the cost of Virtua Racing was ridiculously steep, making it hard for consumers to justify its purchase when they could just buy two normal games for the same price. The timing of the release was an awkward one, too, as the Sega 32X launch was close, which was also having a version of Virtua Racing with better graphics, extra tracks, and vehicles. And it cost less! Then there was the looming release of the Sega Saturn the following year... "Should I get the 32X, instead?" "Should I save up for the expensive Saturn console?" "Should I just pay my bills?" Suffice it to say, Sega's home market "tactics" were all over the map during the mid 90s, in a bad way, making the Genesis port downright trivial in the grand scheme.

Still, if you're wanting to try Virtua Racing, and this is your first exposure to the game, it won't be easy dominating its three courses. Even once you practice and learn the layouts in Free Run mode, hitting that coveted first place position is a battle, because the top five racers are hellbent on keeping their spots. And even though there's the option to play on automatic transmission, the devs clearly intend for you to use the tricky, 7-speed manual transmission, since doing your very best on auto usually lands a fourth or fifth place finishing position. The game's also really picky about losing speed through crashes or driving off road, as doing this at least more than twice can easily screw your chances at getting the top spot. Virtua Racing can be surprisingly strict and challenging, and if you go in not knowing you have to work to earn your victory, it will be frustrating.

If that's what you want, then have at it; as long as you know it's incompatible with the Genesis 3, how there's versions on the 32X, Saturn, and PlayStation 2 (on the Sega Classics Collection) with improved performance and content, and that this is more of a novelty product than something you need to play. It really does feel like a tech demo that some executive saw one day, and decided it needed to be completed and given a legit release for some reason. Because Genesis does... I guess?

3/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 09, 2016)

Thus concludes "I Didn't Expect to Give Every Suda51 Game a 2/5 Rating" Month.

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