"If you race long enough to build up a good supply of nitro, races can take on quite the frantic pace. You'll zip along the roads, weaving between plants, around four-wheelers, and through groups of other trucks. There are plenty of small hills and streams to rush over, so it's great fun to see how long you can zip along the rough terrain before hitting so many obstacles that your truck is ruined."
Every once in a while, there comes the sort of game that you can play through in fifteen or twenty minutes. Super Off-Road 2: The Baja is one such title. Like its immediate predecessor, the game is really quite short without a lot of variety to offer. However, unlike Super Off-Road, the sequel wears short very quickly and is likely to leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
In Super Off-Road, the perspective was quite a bit different. There was a single screen that indicated the course you should race through, similar to Super Sprint or perhaps a compressed version of R.C. Pro-Am. Players would keep racing, collecting cash and nitro, upgrading their vehicles and moving onto the next race. When the game ran out of courses, it threw the same ones right back at the player with slight modifications. There was something quite appealing about the whole experience, even if it was simplistic.
This time around, the game looks more like Super Mario Kart. The view is from behind the vehicle and the courses are wide open. Basically, they are a set of muddy roads leading off into the wild blue yonder, and the player is mostly just heading in a straight line. The only deviations necessary are those that lead around trees, cactus plants, animals, people, and people riding four-wheelers throughout the area. As you race, you'll be bumped by the other racers, who will be doing their best to cause you to run over the four-wheeler riders so that you lose your cash.
Speaking of cash, it's one of the main reasons to keep playing. A first-place finish on a course leads to a $100,000 pot, except that if you've hit too many pedestrians along the way, you don't get quite the booty. Failing to reap such rewards will make your wallet too thin to upgrade the vehicle appropriately, which will lead to poor race performance in the next leg of a given race. Conversely, a first-rate finish with few collisions will make you wealthy and allow you to invest in the all-important nitro boosts. Once you have upgraded your vehicle to its maximum and have enough nitros to consistently place in first place, it can be fun to challenge yourself and see how much cash you have when the race is over.
Of course, the race will be over quite quickly, regardless of how poorly you perform, or how well. There are basically three courses to play, with four, six, or eight legs. Even the longest race, the Baja, is rather short compared to other Super Nintendo offerings from the period.
However, the game's greatest weakness isn't necessarily its diminutive size. Rather, it's the afore-mentioned lack of variety. Half the races are so similar to one another that the sense of accomplishment when moving from one leg of a race to the next is severely diminished. About the most noticeable difference between segments is the skyline, which changes from morning to evening to nightfall. The effect is subtle, and really shouldn't serve as the highlight it is.
Along the same lines, the visuals in general aren't all that great. The whole time you're racing, you'll be looking at a cheesy mode 7 effect that may have looked great in Super Mario Kart but just doesn't do the job here. It's quite obvious that the system is straining hard to refresh frames at a rapid rate, and the effect certainly could be worse, but it still shows its age. As you race along, you'll see people standing in place, and animals here and there, but they all just look like cardboard signs that would blow over in a slight breeze. Then there are the trucks themselves. I didn't count the frames of animation, but it seems there are only about seven or eight. They correspond roughly to the vehicle's elevation or to the direction it is turning, but the transition from one frame to the next is so choppy that all you have to do to steer is tap left or right a few times and you'll be perfectly lined up with the destination.
At least the sound department fares better. There are only around four different songs in the game, but they have a fair amount of personality and do a good job reflecting the flavor of the atmosphere. The races all take place down in the Mexico area, and the Super Nintendo has perhaps never done a better job of pumping out tunes of that nature. Sound effects also are competently done. Nothing here sounds truly fantastic, but the idling engines are among the best on the system, and there are really satisfying sounds when nitro is used to launch a vehicle over a short hill and into the air.
Hills and nitro are another thing I enjoy about the game. If you race long enough to build up a good supply of nitro, races can take on quite the frantic pace. You'll zip along the roads, weaving between plants, around four-wheelers, and through groups of other trucks. There are plenty of small hills and streams to rush over, so it's great fun to see how long you can zip along the rough terrain before hitting so many obstacles that your truck is ruined.
If you're having too easy a time with the races, you can also adjust the difficulty. The default level is pretty nice, but the easier mode can also be enjoyable. The third difficulty level is quite a doozy, perhaps too hard for its own good. And of course, there are passwords to save your progress regardless of the difficulty level. Once you've played a few times, though, you won't even want to bother with them. They take forever to write down, and the game is simple enough that they're not really necessary.
In the end, what Tradewest brought us this time around is a series of short races that isn't memorable but for the fact that if you work hard enough, they're good for a bit of frantic fun. If that sounds like your thing, it might be worth a quick rental. Or maybe you'll find it in a bargain bin and make a purchase. Just make sure the price is right. Oh, and one other thing: this game does have a two-player mode so you can race a friend. Just make sure you have a lot of friends. After all, there are better racers out there, both on the Super Nintendo and elsewhere. They'll probably want to play those instead. And more likely than not, so will you.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 26, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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