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Gale Racer (Saturn) artwork

Gale Racer (Saturn) review

"Gull Racer"

The first racing game published for the Japanese Sega Saturn in 1994, Gale Racer is a port of the 1990 arcade game Rad Mobile. A very easily-overlooked title due to its placement in history, Rad Mobile is a Super Scaler game released prior to Sega's 3D arcade boom. Taking place within a first-person view inside a car, you're tasked with racing against 14 other opponents across the United States, reaching each checkpoint and eventually the New York City finish line before time runs out. And like other Sega racing titles of its time, the game gives the illusion of driving with its use of 2D sprites rapidly scaling towards the screen, hence the term Super Scaler.

Rad Mobile is most notable for its car-shaped deluxe cabinet, which consistently moves as you turn with the wheel. To set itself apart from its racing predecessors, the game also does several other gimmicks that just come off... odd. Doubling down on the "interactive" aspect of the experience, the cabinet has two conspicuous buttons to the right side of the wheel. A turbo boost? Projectiles? Nah. Nah, one turns on your windshield wipers and the other turns on your headlights. B... because that's what was truly missing from OutRun. Not stopping there, you also have a cute in-game keychain of a blue hedgehog swinging around in the upper left corner. Interestingly, this "cameo" is the very first appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog in a video game, predating his own first game release by eight months.

Sans the cabinet, Gale Racer made an effort to bring over all these quirks and oddities to the Sega Saturn. You'll have your racing, your headlights, your windshield wipers, and your swinging hedgehog, but along with them comes several modifications and additions. When the game boots up, the first thing you'll see is perhaps one of the most melodramatic cutscenes on the console. You know those car commercials where you watch a vehicle driving from different angles? Now imagine this with early-1990s CGI, while listening to what sounds like a fusion of jazz and glam rock. This is preceded by a text crawl telling the tale of the Gale Racer, and here is an excerpt to showcase its... "unique" choice of words:

Once, there was a man

who was the personification of speed itself.

His ability to challenge the limits of

machine and man astounded all.

He was revered, admired, and yes,

envied by many.

Being one of the first games on the Saturn, it's obvious Sega wanted to flex the system's muscles any way possible. Another way they did this was with the race itself; the devs replaced all the 2D vehicle sprites with 3D cars. It's not apparent at first because they do such a good job blending in with the 2D scaling environments, but it becomes evident when you get closer and notice polygon movement. In terms of the race itself, you're still going through the same environments, whether it's Las Vegas at night, through a rainy forest, or driving past farms with mooing cows. However, opponents have now increased from 14 to 23, which sounds like it could make the race more daunting.

However, the thing about the gameplay, in both the original and here, is that it's not even that tough to begin with. The game clearly prides itself on being an interactive amusement ride more than something that challenges your skills. In the original, you'll drive by several rivals and normal traffic without much hassle due to being able to see vehicles coming from a distance. If anything, the biggest nuisance is the hit detection in first-person, making it difficult to tell if you're going to collide with a corner or when you squeeze between two cars. The game can't even make up its mind what constitutes running into something; you'll drive through or beside objects without a problem in one stage, but in another stage with the same scenario, you're hitting everything.

Sadly, the Saturn port takes a by-the-numbers racing experience and turns it into an annoying chore. That helpful draw distance in the original? It's now cut in half. This being a racing title, such a cutback poses huge issues during moments when the game is intentionally throwing a bunch of cars your way. The majority of crashes in Gale Racer will likely be contributed to the fact that you couldn't move out of the way in time on a condensed road, because a car literally popped out of nowhere while you're going 300 km/h. This in turn exacerbates the already iffy hit detection issue, as hitting another vehicle at its rear center will force a full stop for a few seconds, seconds needed to help complete the race.

While you're wrestling with diminished vision and a clunky hit box, another irritation crops up: scripted events. In certain stages, you'll encounter "special" opponents that are meant to be a burden, such as a green sports car zig-zagging across the pavement. What makes these moments frustrating is that, no matter how well you're doing or how fast you're going, these vehicles are designed to overtake you. One example includes a truck hauling a huge trailer; don't know how or why this is considered part of the race, but the game counts it as one of your 23 opponents. Here, the truck infuriates due to its bulky size, which takes up about 90% of the road... on a cliff. Now imagine driving at top speeds and you see this monster materialize in your rear view mirror. Seconds later, it "bumps" into your vehicle and likely slams you into the mountain side or off the cliff.

Wonderful, right?

As if all those drawbacks don't make for an already cumbersome trek across the United States, there's one more awkward mishap. In Rad Mobile, you cross into each new stage without zero interruption, just as its predecessors did in OutRun and Super Hang-On. In Gale Racer, whenever you cross a checkpoint, the screen literally fades to black with the music coming to an abrupt stop, and then it shows your "lap time" for that completed stage. After a few seconds of dead silence in purgatory, the screen fades back into the race as you cross another checkpoint that signifies that the next stage has started. Of course, this is a "ploy" used to mask loading times, but the execution just looks and feels bizarre. All it does is make you feel like you're playing a censored, toned-down ver...

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (March 11, 2024)

My earliest exposure to Dragon Ball Z was when the original Japanese broadcast was still airing, right in the middle of the Androids storyline. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard the English VAs and music for the first time.

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