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Mach Rider (NES) artwork

Mach Rider (NES) review


"As we in the States sit down this coming Thanksgiving to realize the convenience of our bountiful possessions and remind ourselves what terminally insane relatives we have, my mind turns first to video games. I am thankful for the sweet escape they provide from the pressures of reality, and that I have a wide array of genres to choose from when I am bored. I may want to beat the tar out of a few of my enemies with a little Street Fighter or save the world with my awe-inspiring platforming skills..."



As we in the States sit down this coming Thanksgiving to realize the convenience of our bountiful possessions and remind ourselves what terminally insane relatives we have, my mind turns first to video games. I am thankful for the sweet escape they provide from the pressures of reality, and that I have a wide array of genres to choose from when I am bored. I may want to beat the tar out of a few of my enemies with a little Street Fighter or save the world with my awe-inspiring platforming skills in one of the many action games I own. However, I don't think anything will drive me to take my Herculean sword of patience to the Gordian knot that is Mach Rider, one of the NES's earliest biking games. It's a piece of trash that even the flies refuse to buzz haphazardly around, and given the chaotic nature of this silicon mess, you should be thankful this holiday season that I am here to give you the lowdown on rubbish such as this so that your eyes and brain don't have to endure the irreparable scarring that mine have.

Now I've played my share of futuristic motorcycle games that are set in garish deserts, and as such, I suppose I could qualify as a self-professing ''biker liker.'' Some of these games do a very good job of toeing the thin line between controlled insanity and absolute miscellany, and the result is a game that makes the tips of your fingers sweat in a workout that is the phalangeal equivalent of running five miles in the sweltering heat of summer after eating a jar of mayonnaise. Mach Rider does not know the delicate balances this line entails, and merrily dances the harsh downbeats of its torturous jig on the latter side of the line. Picture Excitebike without the sheer sense of fun and obstacles that seriously hamper your ability to enjoy the game, and you have Mach Rider, in a sense. As with all truly bad games though, there is no proven way to quantify how bad it truly is. If this verbal laceration doesn't keep you from playing one of the worst first-gen games released, then may the Lord have mercy on your sadistic soul.

Perhaps in a subtle nod to Rush, the game is set in the year 2112, and at the outset of the game, the eponymous hero's hometown has been swiftly decimated by the ruthless Quadrunners - that is, according to a short history lesson courtesy of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Boldly reminding you at the start of each course that YOU ARE MACH RIDER!, you will attempt to ride on slick roads in various modes of slipshod play, all the while enduring the infamous condition a magazine reviewer once dubbed ''Pole Position syndrome'' (wherein it appears that the road is moving while your rider is posing for a still life). Mach Rider is admittedly a rather cool character, what with having machine guns mounted on his transportation of choice, but as we've seen in the past with lesbians, ninjas, monkeys, and lesbian ninja monkeys, this does not automatically add to MR's cool factor. As Mach Rider speeds toward the horizon in search of a new place to call home, he must evade or blast through an endless squadron of Quadrunners, stray oil drums, and boulders planted fiendishly in the middle of the road.

This quickly turns into more of a chore than an exercising in focusing on several pivotal points at once. The action is all over the screen, forcing you to concentrate not only on the road and any litter that is strewn about it, but also on a rear-view mirror placed in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to optimize frustration. Looking in it allows you to see any Quadrunners headed on a beeline path toward you, but it's anyone's guess as to what the hooligans will do in the small temporal rift in time when they're not visible on the mirror or the screen. Sure, you can try moving over to get out of the way and get hit, or in you can stay in your own lane and get hit, OR better yet, the enemy can swerve while you can't see it and hit you just when you think you're home free! Oh, the joys of being on the highway without a license! Fear not, however - when a Quadrunner rams into our hero and his molecules scatter, they simply gravitate back towards each other, and he's intact and ready to burn rubber again! (Sadly, the game does not address the all-too-common issue of a misplaced spleen.)

The theme of disorder and constantly being rear-ended by bad guys who don't know how to drive is a universal concept within this dire vision of the future, one that is inevitable no matter which mode of the game you play in. It's at its worst in the Fighting and Endurance modes, where the rest of the world catches up to you the moment you start running and allows no mercy in its devastating wake. Dealing with the many factors the game throws at you in these modes is enough to turn the hardiest intellect into quivering jelly, and apparently Nintendo knows this, so they offer the slightly more relaxing but paradoxically just as difficult Solo mode. In it, the Quadrunners have been taken out, allowing Mach Rider to let his machine guns cool for a while. Leaving the hero to his own devices is mighty nice of those ruffians, but the true evil is exhibited by the rocks and oil drums, which STILL refuse to clear the lanes for the demon on wheels! No matter where your travels take you in Mach Rider, they will always lead you into the bone-crushing grip of oblivion, and if you don't have the mental stamina for even one or two tracks, you won't want to ride through the 10 that each mode of play provides.

Like Excitebike, another game in Nintendo's original Programmable Series that features rip-roaring motorcycle action, Mach Rider comes complete with a track editor that doesn't allow for the luxury of saving and loading your masterful creations. By the time you get around to futzing with it, however, there will be a void in your life that is so black and drab that you will be actually able to partially satisfy it with atrocious, angsty adolescent goth poetry. Mach Rider is like dime-store rock candy, offering initial pleasure but rapidly eroding into the sucrose and corn syrup that can only keep a person happy for so long (about 20 minutes) before they start craving the real treats like a hearty New York porterhouse and a baked potato drenched in chili, cheese, butter, sour cream, and chives. While it's no skin off my nose for only spending three dollars on it, I can't say the same for the young NES collector with a limited allowance and unlimited wants.

As amazing as it sounds, Mach Rider isn't the worst NES game I've played - that dubious honor goes to Swedish developer Sachen's chum bucket known as Taggin' Dragon - but is the worst effort I've ever seen put out by a company as established as Nintendo. We've all got to take our gravy with some lumps, and it's somewhat of a relief to say that for a company with as many games under its belt as Nintendo, Mach Rider is the biggest lump in its gravy boat. So as you sit down at the dinner table this Thanksgiving to plates full of candied yams, cranberries, cornbread, and of course that luscious store-bought turkey, indulge yourself with joy and gladness in your heart and realize that no matter how much vodka your great-uncle Gus drinks and no matter how many times Cousin Bernie hits on you, whether by mistake or not, playing Mach Rider is an experience twenty times as disgusting and offensive as your family could ever be.

Rating: 2/10

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Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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