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Virtua Racing Deluxe (Sega 32X) artwork

Virtua Racing Deluxe (Sega 32X) review


"Polygon in Sixty Seconds"


Iím going to spoil the surprise twist ending early today and just tell you now that the best home port of SEGAís ridiculously influential arcade racer, Virtua Racing, is this one. The one on the 32X. Yes, really. I know, I didnít see that coming either.

I guess itís a surprise for me because Virtua Racing was such a game changing title. It was the glorious herald to the Model 1 board SEGA would use to reign iron-fisted dominance over the arcade scene until it collapsed in on itself, and it was the patriarch of the Virtua series that still exists today (even if itís exclusively through Virtua Fighter). Brought about by serial success artists Yu Suzuki and the rest of AM2, it took Outrun-esque arcade racing and updated the bejesus out of it. Though it shared many of the foundation mechanics arcade racers had always relied upon (X amount of time on the clock; race until the timer hits zero with numerous checkpoints granting you precious extra seconds for each you pass), it brought to life many of the features we take for granted today. Things like numerous camera angles and 3D poly-shaded graphics had all been done before, but not to the level SEGA presented. It then housed this in a gloriously chunky arcade cabinet made to look like the back end of an F1 car, linked it in to similar cabinets so you could race against your friends, and revelled in their station as the undisputed crown jewel of any arcade.

Then came the poisoned chalice of all arcade smashes; the obligatory home console port. The irony of the situation there being that arcades were still alive and well at that time because the then 16bit-capped home consoles of the generation had considerably less power. The most advanced games still required you to feed them quarters. Still, SEGA went all out for Virtua Racingís home debut by tricking out the Mega Drive release by inserting a virtual processing chip into each cartridge. On the plus side, this enabled SEGA to get more out of its aging console than anyone would have ever imagined; suddenly, the little black box was able to seriously mimic arcade processing power. But it came at a price. A literal price; these chips werenít cheap, and would never be used again. Copies of Virtua Racing went at a premium of around $100 a pop.



Itís a lot of money, but the things it managed to do was mind blowing. It wasnít arcade perfect Ė letís be reasonable Ė but it managed to keep pace with the original to a startling degree. It wasnít as much to look at, sure, and it lost a lot of the arcade perks like the sexy cabinet and a working gearbox, but it maintained a multiplayer aspect via split screen, kept all the arcadeís tracks and most of its BGM. When it was announced as a launch title for the upcoming 32X, it was assumed the add-on would make for a suitable substitute for the virtual chip, and much of the same was expected. No, said AM2. Screw that.

Virtua Racing Deluxe is an unapologetic powerhouse, making its costly 16bit predecessor look like a fumbling plebe. It runs smoother, controls better, returns all the missing BGM and then plays them at a significantly better quality. The arcade version has better draw, looks sharper and has bigger vehicles, sure, but thereís a much smaller gap between the two than you might expect. But this just wasnít good enough for AM2. They needed more than simply stomping out their home competition, and they set their sights on outdoing their own arcade phenomenon. So two extra tracks were added. Not enough? Fine; the original game had you pelt around said tracks in an F1 car. The 32X strain added in two new vehicles labelled ďStockĒ and ďPrototypeĒ and, not content on them being simple reskins of the F1 racer, they each have completely different driving mechanics.

Normally, this is the time when, after Iíve lauded a 32X home port, I would then go on to say that the console was made obsolete very shortly thereafter and SEGAís redoubled efforts in championing the 32bit Saturn produces a superior port to match their superior hardware. Except, no. Not this time. Because shit gets weird quick; youíd assume the obligatory Saturn port would be handed by AM2, the company that showed masochistic levels of dedication in trying to outdo themselves when no other developer could get near them. Instead, the game gets farmed out to Time Warner Interactive, a fledgling company created after Time Warner purchased both Atari and Tengen, then mashed them all together into one developer blob. Not a single person who worked on any of the three previous iterations of Virtua Racing was involved in the making of the Saturn port. Which wasnít really a port at all; it was a game made from the ground up to slightly resemble that other game that everyone already loved. It was given the hilariously awful name of Time Warner Interactiveís V.R.: Virtua Racing.



AM2 were probably pretty pleased about how it actively tried to distance itself from their coeval racer, because, though ambitious, Time Warner Interactiveís V.R.: Virtua Racing was a dud. It played a big hype game, promising a lot of cool extras never seen before; more tracks, more cars, more modes! Not outright lies, all those things exist, but they only manage to cumulate into a detriment. The F1 racer and the 32X vehicles all make an appreciated return, and do so alongside others, such as karts, and there are a number of new tracks included. But you can only use them in the laborious Grand Prix mode which forces you into endless-feeling races consisting of ten overlong laps the drag on until the end of days. An arcade mode was included, but itís insulting bare bones and feels unfinished and untested. Also, you canít use any of the new vehicles Ė not even the 32X ones. Just the F1 car for you. Also, you canít race on any of the new tracks. Just the original three.

It handles poorly, it looks noticeably worse than the Mega Drive version at times, let alone the 32X strain, and its very existence makes no sense to anyone. Why farm it out to another developer? Why let those developers make their own significantly lacking game? In hindsight, a functional straight port from the 32X would have been a significant improvement. Itís baffling; instant success and critical acclaim where just an open goal away, but SEGA blasts it over the bar and out of the stadium.

None of that nonsense for Virtua Racing Deluxe, a game that honoured its virtual foundations, but wasnít afraid to build upon them. Itís precisely the kind of game you might show someone to challenge their thinking that the 32X was just a dumb failure. Itís precisely the kind of game you might play and wonder why the system will go down in history as exactly that.

4/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 27, 2019)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Feedback

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EmP posted July 27, 2019:

ADDEM: Because my work is never done, itís worth pointing out (and I was planning to point out in the body of this review before I sailed over 1,000 words with no end in sight - yikes) that there were two more attempts at Virtua Racing made some generations later. Oneís on the PS2, made under the SEGA AGES brand which remade old classics as budget games that never often made it outside of Japan. Virtua Racer: Flatout did by way of a compilation disk, and it was pretty okay. Pretty okay indeed! It took a lot of the good ideas of Time Warner Interactiveís V.R.: Virtua Racing, but was truer to the original foundations (probably because Yu Suzuki was made use of), and more flexible in their execution. No ten lap marathons here! Thereís also a very recent Switch version thatís come out which seems to be Flatout v2, but focused hard on the multiplayer aspects, which is a very good place to focus on. I have zero experience with that strain. A Switch is far too mainstream for me!

To get to this point, Iíve spent considerable time with four (arcade, Mega Drive, 32X, Saturn) different releases of the same game (I played Flatout years back, and am working off memory there). Iím not sure when I became so invested in this neverending 32X project.
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Masters posted July 27, 2019:

Feedback for oneself? Poor form, even for you, Gary.

But you redeem yourself with possibly the best tagline of the year.
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EmP posted July 27, 2019:

I'm more than half way through the year, and I've not dropped a pun yet. One day, I'll hit a pun wall and, on that day, I shall be forever grey.
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jerec posted July 28, 2019:

You've really been killing it with these taglines, EmP.
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pickhut posted July 28, 2019:

Played the Sega Saturn version a few years back (actually planned on reviewing it), and it was as horrid as EmP claims it to be. Almost felt like Virtua Racing in name only.

Since I don't own a Switch, I didn't know there was a version on that console. I did a little snooping to see what it's like and the biggest surprise I found was that there's an 8-player offline option! Eight player split screen on a single monitor is a ridiculous sight to behold, but it's there. Also, from a screenshot I saw, Virt McPolygon makes a glorious return. Edit: With the 32X replay music!

Nice review, EmP. Certainly loaded with history.
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honestgamer posted July 28, 2019:

I saw EmP's tagline for this review and wanted to cry, because it is so perfect and also a bit demoralizing. If that's my tagline competition, why even try?

Edit: Get a Switch, pickhut. You'll love it. And you too, EmP!
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jerec posted July 28, 2019:

Jason, when it comes to food puns, you're a master chef.
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CptRetroBlue posted August 02, 2019:

I agree, this is the best port of SEGA's awesome racer in an otherwise unfortunate console add-on.

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