Racing? Check. Wicked cars with giant guns mounted on them? Check. Rock ‘n Roll jams blasting through the speakers that only the power of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System can provide? Check.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing, developed by Silicon & Synapse (now known as Blizzard Entertainment. You know the guys behind World of Warcraft? Yeah, those guys), was initially designed to be a sequel to RPM Racing. An isometric racing game much in the vain of Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road, RC Pro Am, or Galaxy 5000: Racing in the 51st Century. You get in, you get out, you knock some people off the road and take first place. It’s an absolutely wonderful genre that hasn’t seen the proper light of day in some years. But no need for that. Let’s talk Racing!
From the start, Rock ‘n Roll Racing fades from black with the blaring 16-bit tune of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”. As a child growing up in the late 80s, my Dad was a huge metal head with everything ranging from Black Sabbath to Megadeth. This initial track of the opening sequence caught my attention of hearing it before while in my Dad’s truck on the way to school. The characters Grinder X19, Roadkill Kelly, and Ragewortt cover the main screen with destruction behind them as two cars go head to head. Then nothing. The game pauses at this scene, with the track bouncing in the background before any title or menu options. You are just in the moment. For a first timer, this was an impressive scene. It felt mature (something at the time I wasn’t), it was edgy, it was raw. It was Rock ‘n Roll Racing and it would soon become one of my favorite games.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing (RRR) takes place in a distant future complete with strange alien worlds to explore, race on, and ultimately kill the owners of their respective tracks in competitive street racing. With this type of space travel it would only make sense to have odd characters to choose as your main driver. These range from Snake Sanders from Terra, Jake Badlands from Xeno Prime, even Olaf fairing from Valhalla (which is a secret character formerly of the video game the Lost Vikings which is also a great game if you haven’t played it.) Each of these characters has certain pluses. Now these pluses will vary from character to character. It’s not like in a typical RPG where one character has a +2 in strength when another has a +3 in strength. No, these abilities tie into how you will race as a driver and which vehicle you’ll choose (more on that later). These characters seem to have a deep history. Not one of them is fresh or pristine. They’re rugged, hard pressed, have seen some shit. This is not their first time through the gauntlet of RRR and they know what to expect. But do you? Oh, you will. You will.
Much like many of the racing games at the time, it’s all about upgrading your car to be the biggest, baddest, four wheels and engine on the track. RRR takes it just a step further and separates the racers with different types of vehicles. Now not just ones that look different but are actually the same. No, these have different attributes, specials, and overall feel. There really isn’t one better than another (until you get farther in the game then there’s really an obvious winner), so you have to choose what’s right for you. For instance, you’ll be dealing with some environmental hazards such as oil slicks and ice patches (yes, typically racing stuff ha ha). Selecting the Dirt Devil (yes, I know) has the upgrade of the Locust Jump Jets that give you the ability to actually jump over things on the track. Sounds great right? Unless you miss judge the jump and fly off the side of the road to your death.
Then there’s the Air Blade (I know, I know they don’t get much better in naming things) which, doesn’t have any Jumping Jets, has some Lighting Nitros giving you a boost. If your thought process is if you spin out on a spot, having that boost could put you back in the position you had lost, then you’d be right. You lose the chance to save your skin with a skilled jump but make up for it with a killer boost and a sweet rocket shot. Don’t forget about the awesome paint jobs too. All free. No need to collect on a killer yellow Marauder racing down the track.
Racing will take the course on six different planets each having their own track designs and requirements. You and three other racers will complete four laps each with their own winnings depending on how you place. Including the world’s main racer who always drives a purple clad car, you’ll face off against Rip and Slash every race. As the game progresses, your opponents become better and better both with their driving styles and the upgrades they have. Moving through the worlds, you’ll unlock other vehicles that can be purchased at a premium such as the Battle Trak (my personal favorite) and the Havac (which is basically an ass kicking hovercraft). All of this, the car, your racer, the upgrades, will adjust and manipulate how you drive on screen.
What would football be without Madden? What would wrestling be without the charming voices of Jerry “the King” Lawler and Jim “JR” Ross? In that same spotlight, what would RRR be without Larry “SuperMouth” Huffman?
A legend in his own right amongst popular television stations such as ABC, NBC, FOX, TNN, ESPN, and Speedvision, Huffman was the lead announcer for much of motor sports. His unique voice coupled with the ability to speak 300 words a minute, landed him national fame in TV and radio announcing. Who else would be a perfect announcer for the blood bath, space racer than SuperMouth? Although his lines are short and few, Huffman takes the lead role in keeping you informed about the on goings of the race. He jokes when you come in last, he applaudes killing your foes, and announces the racers that take the first spot. He even gives some helpful advice as to avoiding mines on the track is typically a good idea. Along with the rocking tunes, Huffman’s voice has a way to stick in your brain even months after playing the game. There’s times in my day still that the only realistic response is a quote from SuperMouth. I mean, who doesn’t like scoring a first place knockout? (Protip: Larry’s complete workout is in the sound test options menu so you can hear everything he says in the game. It’s glorious.)
Like most games of the era that stretch longer than a typically one time play through, RRR has a password system. And I know what you’re thinking: password systems are the worst. Unless it’s Rock ‘n Roll Racing’s password system. The one key feature that RRR has over many games is that the passwords are hackable. That’s right. The entire system can be designed and deconstructed to give you wonders beyond your imagination than ever before. It’s not your simple “put this password in to push you back to the world you were in” because those passwords typically don’t remember common gameplay elements such as number of lives, current leveling progress, or similar small details. So robust, in fact, that there is a password generator you can download for free to make whatever game you prefer.
By hacking this system, you can do things in the game that were never intended by the development team (or were they?). Things like custom paint jobs of multiple colors rather than the simple shades currently present. Or, perhaps, you think Olaf who is the best racer in the game, just isn’t good enough and you’d like to race as the Shadow. A character that appears to have been released yet never finished is playable through this hacking. Want a Havac that has the Locust Jump Jets? Got it. It’s amazing that something so small in a typical video game that traditionally causes headaches can unlock wonderful and strange elements in the game. Not the pre-programmed narcissism you get from games like Golden Sun or those that have no hope in helping like Boogerman other than to get you back to the level you were on. RRR, either by mistake or carefully planned programming, gives you a chance to create a game by your own rules.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing has fallen out of the mainstream eye. At worst, the game received many positive reviews from fellow gaming mags and continues to rank high amongst newcomers. Interplay even tried recreating the joy of RRR by releasing a sequel on the Playstation console known as “Rock & Roll Racing 2: Red Asphalt” simply known as “Red Asphalt” here in the States. A 3D, from behind racer with similar concepts and character designs as its predecessor. Let’s just say that the next gen didn’t fair well for our beloved racing title.
It even called attention in the indie gaming community. Developer Yard Team released “Motor Rock” on Steam drawing huge inspiration from the SNES title. Even so to include in an interview that they were are unable to reach an agreement with Blizzard and would not be returning to Steam. Also claiming that Steam was withholding $60,000 in revenue for player purchases. I don’t know about you, but they should have seen that coming. They in turn released the game as a free download on their site, but the link is no longer available.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing is a game of simple pleasures. Before the killing and destruction of Twisted Metal or the Need for Speed franchise, RRR took a common game genre, blended it with heavy metal music, and weird aliens to create something that was just a leg up from the others. At the time it seemed revolutionary. Today, it would probably come off as a boring racer with little to no substance and replay value. To me, it was the perfect time in my life to get lost in unknown worlds, maxing out stats, and heavy pounding guitar riffs. This is truly a title that will always stand true in my nostalgic heart as a triumph in video games that will stand the test of time.