F-1 Dream (TurboGrafx-16) review
"If you like racing games on retro consoles, this one's worth your money."
My experience with this game goes way back before the PC Engine/TurboGrafx HuCard, to a department store close to my high school where many a lunch hour was used feeding the beast that was the arcade cabinet housing F1 Dream. That version mainly featured a top-down racing game, trying to progress through the F3000 farm-league racing circuit to make it to the vaunted F1 circuit and it's more powerful cars.
The arcade version had limited options, restricting you to choosing between a Turbo or Non-Turbo version of your car to race with, and it's joystick-and-two-standard-button interface (sound familiar, TG16/PCE fans?) was perfect for the overhead perspective for the racing. You could even make pit stops if you were low enough on tires or gas, and the three lap races were just long enough that you had to choose wisely; whether you really needed to sacrifice track position to come in or chance staying out and run out of fuel. Finishing on the podium (top three) meant that you could keep playing, and finishing any lower than that in a race meant you had to feed another quarter into the machine to continue. There was a Standings Board for the season so you could measure yourself against the competition, but once you were promoted from F3000 to F1, it didn't mean much. It was a wonderful arcade game that I only saw at that department store, and when they swapped out the cabinet for another game, I haven't seen it since.
What luck that I came across a version of this game for the PC Engine (I have a kisado for my TurboDuo, so Japanese cards aren't a problem) recently, and picked it up for nostalgia purposes. Is it the same as I remember? Does it live up to my memories? Yes and no, mainly for the good.
The graphics are identical to the arcade game, even down to the pit crew and lane and fans in the stands. The controls are the same as well: The d-pad controls all eight ways, and the two buttons work as both gas-and-brake and as the transmission. Press the II button to launch the car, and once first gear tops out, quick switch to the I button. If your car is Turbo-equipped, once second gear tops out, hold down both buttons to kick in the afterburner. Letting go of the top gear button will brake the car, and hitting the button again will resume acceleration. The game includes back-markers as well. If you're leading the race or you and an opponent are well ahead of the pack, slower white cars will appear on the track to make things interesting for you, usually just as you're coming up to a particularly tough corner, or drifting across your lane on a straight and forcing you to make a course correction. They're a minor annoyance, but one to keep you on your toes when you've left everyone else in your dust.
The console game designers must have thought that the game needed to be expanded upon, because everything else about the game, outside of the actual racing, is totally different. Instead of jumping right into the F3000 circuit, they've turned it more into a career-mode. You start with street racing your Porsche 911 in races for cash, matching up head to head with another racer and betting on the result. Money that you win in these races can be used to hire yourself a pit crew that comes with you no matter where you're racing. Once you've proven yourself on the street (or you blow all your money, strangely), you get the call: F3000 wants you!
The original arcade game featured four selectable tracks, but those got stale pretty quickly, and was the only downside of the game. The PCE version does not give you the option of selecting tracks, but instead increases the number of tracks that you advance through as you progress in your career. Weather also plays a role as, if the forecast is rainy or cloudy, you'll be asked if you want to use Dry or Rain tires for the race.
Visually, the game's graphics are a direct port from the arcade cabinet, which is a good thing. The graphics themselves aren't hyper-realistic, but they are well drawn and look like Formula cars. Bridges, walls, advertising hording, pits and crowds all look good as well for the perspective and the height from which the camera hangs. The part I don't like are the courses that move through city streets. Those graphics just look thrown together, like someone said "Y'know, we ought to include this" 30 minutes before the game was to be released. The street racing courses also feel like a last second inclusion. The first course is colored all brown, road and background, which is fine. Other courses, though, are colored black, blue and gray. The blue course is puzzling in it's choice, like "Am I supposed to be racing on water or something?"
The sound is functional, with music playing through out. The songs are standard synthesizer fare, and while they're not memorable, they won't grate on you during play. The sound effects are simple racecar sounds, nothing out of the ordinary and the Engine sounds and squealing tires are appropriate. Maybe a little better than average for it's time.
Gameplay is very good as well. The controls are responsive, neither twitchy or sluggish, and the added step to controlling the turbo car over the non-turbo car is appropriate consequence for using a more powerful vehicle. Two things bother me about the gameplay. 1) Your's is the only car affected by physics. All the CPU cars can ghost in and out from between each other, or through the back-markers, but any contact between you and anything else results in a crash. 2)There is a password system in the game for continuing the game (no option for on-board saving), and you'll need to use it as this is not a "half-hour-and-your-done" experience. However, the only way to get to the password screen is by either finishing last or needing to retire from the race. Which means if you're playing and find you've got other things you need to do, the only way to access your password to save your progress is to start a race and intentionally lose before you'll have the opportunity to scrawl down your cypher. Someone didn't think that through. Outsides of that, it is a PCE game, so a majority of the text is in Japanese. All the stuff you really need is helpfully in English, but for those wanting to know about the story, I hope you have a Japanese neighbor that can translate for you.
Every rose has it's thorns, though, and this game is a lot of fun and well worth the small negatives. It gets an eight from me as a reviewer, as some people will not be enamored by the top down perspective, that only your car can crash and the need-a-password system and the above listed gripe, but personally, it gets a 10. If you like racing games on retro consoles, this one's worth your money.
Community review by Brockleigh (October 11, 2014)
When not gaming-on with his retro consoles, Brockleigh can usually be found playing (Gridiron) football, watching football, playing football games, reading about football, administering to his fantasy football team, and cooking.
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