R.C. Pro-Am II (NES) review
"Now instead of finding a few simple upgrade icons littering the track, you can snag money bags. These allow you to outfit your vehicle as you see fit, whether that be in the form of improved tires that let you take tighter corners or more powerful engines that render your opponents irrelevant. There's more strategy involved, both as you struggle to secure the most cash on each lap (since your opponents can pick them up before you if you get careless) and as you invest in the perfect vehicular modifications."
R.C. Pro-Am II is the victim of a great injustice that, while not earth-shattering, really ought to be addressed. Specifically, it is one of the finest video game sequels ever created but almost no one knows about it. People often shout about good sequels from the rooftops. If that sort of treatment is appropriate for a Castlevania III, a Super Metroid or an El Viento, maybe someone should erect a shrine for R.C. Pro-Am II. In every possible way, it's bigger and better than its predecessor, a game that already stood proud as a gem in the NES library.
Most who played the original R.C. Pro-Am remember it as that fun little game where you drove R.C. trucks around a track, grabbing upgrades to your vehicle and spelling 'Nintendo' to earn a new set of wheels. The design was pretty simplistic, like a zoomed-in version of Super Sprint with a few minor twists, but it worked because the racing was fast and frantic. By the time you factored in hazards like oil slicks and threw in missiles and bombs that could be used against computer-controlled opponents, you had a memorable experience.
R.C. Pro-Am II takes all of that and improves it.
Consider the track selection. One course in the original game looked much like the next. You had different layouts, but basically you were cruising past the same few trees and bushes. There weren't really any aesthetic rewards, since your surroundings didn't change. Tracks merely grew more hazardous.
In R.C. Pro-Am II, there's variety. The first eight races look a lot like those in the first game, only now there are ramps to drive over and streams of water trickling over the track. Tires are stacked around sharp corners to form walls. Foliage is denser and the visual design is such that even a few races in, you're thinking to yourself "Wow, this looks pretty good!" Then the ninth track changes things up and suddenly you're racing through a cityscape. Street lamps line sidewalks on the side of the course and you'll drive under overpasses, then loop back across later in the lap. This second environment is distinct, and it comes with new hazards like explosive charges. Then, just when you've finally adapted to that, a third theme introduces itself. Now you're racing in the desert and riding up dunes of sand, then blasting out across rough ruts that will slow you down something fierce if you didn't take that last turn just right.
Some developers might have stopped worrying about improvements then and there, but Rare went the extra mile. Now instead of finding a few simple upgrade icons littering the track, you can snag money bags. These allow you to outfit your vehicle as you see fit, whether that be in the form of improved tires that let you take tighter corners or more powerful engines that render your opponents irrelevant. There's more strategy involved, both as you struggle to secure the most cash on each lap (since your opponents can pick them up before you if you get careless) and as you invest in the perfect vehicular modifications.
Missiles and bombs, formerly no more than a slight consideration, now play a more significant role. You can utilize several projectile types, as can your rivals. The familiar rockets are still there, with reasonably priced ammo so that you can afford to stock up if necessary. More powerful weapons include freeze beams that will slow other drivers to a halt and ensure that you cross the finish line first, even if they have a better engine. Perhaps the most enjoyable ammunition, however, is the buckshot. It lets you target your opponents and knock cash out of them, which you can then pick up for yourself. It's an absolute must when playing against your friends.
Yes, R.C. Pro-Am II is multi-player. That's something that was definitely missing in the original, but here you can go the distance with as many as three other human drivers (if you have the multitap adapter, of course). Anyone who falls behind is dragged back into the screen, flashing and moving at a good clip. This mechanic keeps races amongst friends extremely close as you all battle it out for the biggest cash prize.
When going it alone, of course, you don't have that same benefit. The courses you'll find in R.C. Pro-Am II can get every bit as difficult as those in the first game, so it's entirely possible that you'll fall behind one time too many and never see the later courses, even if you purchase a handful of 'continue' tokens. The difference here is that none of it feels cheap. The challenge is genuine, the result of clever course design and computer-controlled racers that drive well but not impossibly so. Rubber band AI is gone, meaning that you can leave your rivals behind if you're an expert racer, or fall out of the running if you're not. Best of all, the annoying moments from the first game where a different car zipped around the track at twice your top speed for no reason other than to screw you out of a victory are absent.
When sequels are released, they tend to be admired most by those who enjoyed the first installment in the series. That's true of this game as well, but at the same time it's such a solid title that it could win over new fans who never imagined they'd like it. Taken on its own merits, R.C. Pro-Am II is a solid release that belongs in any racing fan's library. Considered as a sequel, it's just plain remarkable. Too many people have missed playing it, but you can reduce that number by one if you really want to. Do it!
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 16, 2007)
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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