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Street Racer (Atari 2600) artwork

Street Racer (Atari 2600) review

"Street Racer offers an unusual variation on classic arcade-style racing."

Street Racer is one of two racing games that were available for the Atari 2600 at the system’s launch, the other being Indy 500. Indy 500 was a traditional racing game like its arcade contemporaries, but Street Racer offered an alternative take on the genre. Unlike other racing games of the time, the objective in Street Racer wasn’t to race a certain number of laps, nor was it to be the first to get from Point A to Point B. Instead, while moving left and right on a straight, endless track, players must earn points by avoiding or occasionally destroying obstacles. Does this game hold up today? Let’s find out.

Street Racer is played using the Paddle Controller. The analog dial on the controller is used to move your vehicle left and right on a horizontal plane, and the action button is usually used for acceleration. Some game modes allow you to perform other actions with the button, such as firing missiles. The steering control is more precise in this game than in Indy 500, despite the fact that both games use similar controllers. In Street Racer, the speed of your vehicle’s horizontal movement depends on how quickly you twist the dial on the Paddle Controller. The Driving Controller, which is used exclusively for Indy 500, seems to have a set steering speed, regardless of how fast you turn the dial.

There are six game modes in Street Racer. Each game mode shares the same basic playfield design, which is displayed in an overhead view. The playfield is made up of two vertical lanes, which are separated by a thick barrier. Player 1 drives in the right lane, while Player 2 (human or computer) takes the left lane. The computer player’s AI is extremely primitive; the driver does nothing but accelerate forward, so it has a bad habit of crashing into obstacles. While it is possible for the computer player to get lucky and accumulate a large number of points, you’re far more likely to get a real challenge from another human player. Street Racer supports 1-3 additional players; Player 3 shares the right lane with Player 1, and drives ahead of them. Likewise, Player 4 shares the left lane with Player 2. When two players share the same lane, they form a team and share the same score.

Typically, players earn points by maneuvering past obstacles or destroying them, depending on the rules of the selected game mode. The players’ scores are displayed at the top of the screen, above their respective lanes. A single gameplay session lasts for two minutes and sixteen seconds. The timer is not shown on the screen, but the score numbers will start blinking when there are only sixteen seconds remaining. The player or team with the most points at the end of the round wins. The round will end early if a player or team reaches the limit of 99 points. If you want an extra challenge, you can set the difficulty switches on the console to make players lose points for crashing into obstacles.

The first game mode in Street Racer is also called Street Racer, as it’s meant to be the main game mode. You control a car, and you must make your way through oncoming traffic. You earn one point for every car you pass. Colliding with a car will slow you down. Before starting the game, you can decide whether each lane can have one or two cars to avoid at once. This game mode can be very challenging, and you may find yourself having to press and let go of the button repeatedly just to avoid hitting anything. The traffic has an annoying tendency to swerve right into your path as you try to avoid it, and this only seems to happen when you’re driving at high speeds. It’s almost like the opposing drivers want to die!

In the second game mode, Slalom, you slide down an endless slope on a pair of skis. As you descend the slope, you must weave through narrow gates to earn points while avoiding walls. Holding the action button will make you ski faster, but your speed will make it harder to properly zip through the gates. In addition, the hit detection for the walls is particularly sensitive. Overall, the gameplay is similar to the Street Racer mode, but since the gates remain stationary, Slalom provides a more favorable challenge.

Dodgem, the third game mode, is unusual in that it allows you to leave the horizontal plane that you normally drive in. The action button will make your vehicle advance forward, and you will earn a point every time you drive off the top of the screen. During your uphill journey, you will need to evade boulders that fall in a zig-zag pattern down the track. Hitting one will teleport your car to the bottom of the screen and leave you unable to move for a couple of seconds. Try not to get distracted in this mode.

Jet Shooter, the fourth game mode, almost feels like an early prototype of the popular Activision shooter, River Raid. Piloting a fighter jet, your objective is to shoot down as many enemy planes as you can to earn points. Your jet accelerates automatically, as shooting is done with the action button. You can only fire one shot at a time, and the shots travel across the screen at a snail’s pace, so accuracy is absolutely necessary if you don’t want to give your opponent an advantage. On the default settings, Jet Shooter is pretty easy, but you can give yourself a greater challenge by doubling the frequency of enemy plane appearances. The fast-paced action on this setting makes Jet Shooter one of the better game modes on the Street Racer cartridge.

Number Cruncher, the fifth game mode, takes a page from another Atari 2600 launch title, Basic Math. Single-digit numbers are scattered on the track. The numbers will be added to your score when you run over them with your motorcycle. When you run over the numbers, your positioning has to be perfect; the front wheel of your motorcycle has to be the first thing to touch the number. Otherwise, it counts as a crash, and you lose your speed. The numbers have the same movement patterns as the cars in Street Racer; they will swerve around when you’re accelerating. A round of Number Cruncher tends to be short, since the game offers higher point values than the other game modes.

The sixth and final game mode is called Scoop Ball. In this weird game mode, there are balls lying around the track, and your job is to scoop them up and deposit them into Computer Scoopers to earn points. You can carry up to about three balls at a time. The Computer Scoopers are strange, box-shaped things with a mouth-like opening at the bottom. The game will also attempt to trick you with several fake Computer Scoopers scattered around the track, which don’t have an opening at the bottom. Due to the slightly more complex actions that players must take, Scoop Ball is the only game mode in Street Racer that does not include a single-player option.

Like the rest of the Atari 2600 launch titles, Street Racer has a very dated presentation. Many of the game’s objects barely resemble what they’re meant to be. For example, the boulders in Dodgem look like green diamonds, and the balls in Scoop Ball look like crosses. The sprites have almost no animation, but the vehicles will appear distorted for a second after crashing, so that’s something, at least. Some of the game modes also use questionable color palettes, which can make some objects hard to see on older displays. On the other hand, the audio is great. The vehicles’ engines sound very realistic, with different tones for different speeds. A short sound effect plays whenever a player scores a point, and these sound effects usually have different tones to make it clear which player or team scored a point.

Street Racer was an interesting game for its time. The score-based gameplay allowed it to stand out from other racing games. However, the game modes feel too similar to each other. The game could have been better with more variety in its settings and features. Also, there should have been a way for players to directly interact with each other. Giving the players their own private tracks makes them seem isolated, as if they’re just playing separate games instead of directly competing with each other, and the lack of intelligence in the computer player certainly doesn’t help. Still, for a launch title on the Atari 2600, Street Racer has decent, casual-friendly gameplay and can provide entertainment for an hour or two, just as long as you have other people to play with.


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Community review by Midcore (October 27, 2017)

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