ZX Spectrum Retro Review - Stunt Car Racer

Stunt Car Racer is a 3D racing game by Micro Style, released in 1989 on all the main platforms of the time, and as a budget title three years later on the Kixx label. The action takes place on a raised roller-coaster style track, such that had this come attached to a Hot Wheels licence no-one would have been surprised. Your car is delivered by crane to the start line, and your task is to race one on one against a series of competitors - preferably without coming off the track.

Full disclosure: I remember enjoying the Amiga version but until recently hadn't tried any of the 8-bit ports, so there was a possibility that I had forever ruined this as a Spectrum gaming experience.

Luckily, the game plays quite well; the car isn't unnecessarily difficult to control (as long as you remember that accelerate and boost serve different purposes and use them both correctly), and the Division 4 circuits are easy enough to get you used to the mechanics and visual style of the game before it starts getting tricky.

As you progress through the game the combination of bends and jumps becomes sufficiently complex that the accelerate-and-hope approach to driving games will have you overshooting somewhere along the line and crashing to the floor, which will often cause an insurmountable delay - at least against a computer controlled opponent - as you wait for the marshals to summon a crane and get you back in the race.

Of course if you come off the track, say, near one of the many gaps in the Stepping Stones circuit, you'll face the additional challenge of backing up far enough to get a run up again without inadvertently reversing off the corner because your race engineer decided a rear view mirror added unnecessary grams.

Annoyingly, your computer controlled opponents face no such difficulties; despite them driving what look like wooden block cars that came out of Santa's workshop some time in the 1960s, I was soundly thrashed every race, and that can get annoying after a while (#soreloser).

Thankfully there's still a lot of fun to be had leaping off a ramp at full pelt and nose-diving onto the other side in the vague hope you won't just bounce right off the track; unfortunately there are no extra points for massive air, but you can end up wrecking your car by being too enthusiastic.

Visually, well, I'm sure the vector graphics are technically sophisticated for the time and everything, but sometimes trying to stay on a yellow track which disappears into a yellow sky over a yellow ground to avoiding becoming a yellow wreck can get just a bit confusing.

On the other hand you do get the option to change the colour of your car (or at least, that section of the rollcage through which you view your surroundings), and the damage meter appearing as a crack on said rollcage is a nicely unobtrusive touch I thought.

The game screen does lack the modern refinement of a satnav-style course overview, with the effect that corners and jumps can spring nasty surprises on you; you do get a rather impressive 3D overview of the course before you start though, and I suppose remembering the course is just part of the gaming experience that the kids today might not appreciate...

As for sound, well... just don't bother, frankly. The beeper rendition of a fire breathing methanol fuelled stunt car is, well... inaccurate, I think would be the politically correct way of putting it; while the 128k version brings a (presumably) enhanced engine noise which sounds like R2-D2 being tortured in a second-rate seaside amusement arcade. Seriously, just find the soundtrack to Gran Turismo on Spotify and turn it up to 11.

The 128k version of the game comes with the option of a multiplayer championship, and given how difficult it is to overtake the computer opponents without accidentally performing a spectacular barrel roll off the next corner, this game is probably best played against one or more friends who are just as bad at the game and don't mind mocking the hideous sound choices while you get winched back onto the Ski Jump for the 97th time.

Stunts and big jumps can be fun for a while, and the high altitude twist certainly sets Stunt Car Racer apart from its contemporaries, but for my taste it's just that bit too difficult, and too yellow, to have any lasting appeal as a single player game.

Review by Steve Trower

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