Retro Profile: Stunt Race FX (SNES)

1994 was an interesting year for 16-bit gamers. It was a time of great releases like Super Metroid, Earthworm Jim, and Final Fantasy III. Sadly, like all time periods in gaming history, there were also a good number of games that were produced on the right console but at the wrong time. Stunt Race FX on the Super Nintendo would fall into the category of the latter. It was the first and [for a while] only racing game on the system to feature a fully realized polygonal environment. And as the game’s name indicates, it utilized the special SuperFX hardware used in only a few games besides Star Fox.  Even so, Stunt Race FX proved to be a game that gave you the bang for your buck, provided that anyone would notice it among the more prominent greats out there.

The game consists of 4 modes’Speed Trax, Stunt Trax, Battle Trax, and Test Run (or Free Trax after completing a Speed Trax class). Speed Trax is split into 3 classes, namely Novice, Expert, and Master. Each class has 4 unique courses to burn rubber on and fight for first place. Actually, the goal is to beat the clock while finishing within the top 3 winning ranks. Each time a checkpoint is crossed, the time you had left before getting there is added to the clock in addition to the default amount. The same is true for any time this is left over from the race itself; it’ll get added to the clock on the next one. Sure, it’s a simple feature, but proves to give the game a challenging dynamic in later portions when racing on the Expert and Master courses.

Stunt Trax makes up the other major part of the game where you must drive through courses made up mostly of off-road terrain and various obstacles. You have to collect as many stars as possible which add more time to the clock once you pass the one-way checkpoint, ending in a huge jump to the finish line. This mode of play is great when if you get tired of the normal race and just want to do something a little different. I found it to be surprisingly entertaining, as I usually tend to ignore game modes like this one.
If you want to get some competition going with a friend, Battle Trax is the way to go. It’s pretty cut and dry racing with no weapons or power ups to collect, but still fun if you can stand the reduced screen ratio for two players. And of course, there’s not much excitement to be gained from Test Run/Free Trax, but it’s nice to know that try a course out before getting into a real race, if you so choose to.

You start out with only 3 cars being available for use. You’ve got 4WD (monster truck), Coup (small sports car), and F-Type (F-1 racer). However, the speedy 2WD (sports motor bike) vehicle can later be unlocked to drive. Each car has its own attributes in speed and durability. 4WD is the slowest, but also holds up well to damage and has stable handling for those sharp turns along the way. F-Type is fastest car, but care must be taken when make hard turns (which is just about all of them) because this speed demon doesn’t corner very well. Not to mention, it’s also the most fragile of the 3 cars. No multi-vehicle racing game would be complete without the “all-round guy”, and that exactly what you get with the Coup car. It’s pretty good at keeping pace with everyone else on the road, corners nicely, and can stand up to a reasonable amount of damage. I found that I like using each of them since their most helpful qualities shine through depending on the class or stunt course I’m driving on at the moment. It would have been nice if Nintendo could have thrown in several more choices to start out with, but I digress.

Every time a game featuring polygons was released on a 16-bit console, there was always a risk of the game being hard to visually understand and play. Let’s face it, not every game with such a graphics engine turned out to be all that great. In the case of this game, all is well. Curves, bumps, and dips are easily discernable and everything runs at a fairly consistent pace. The courses are nicely designed with underwater tunnels, traffic cutting across the road, falling rocks, and other things that are sure to catch your attention. It’s surprising the amount of detail that Nintendo squeeze in here. I’d say that it easily outshines Star Fox by comparison. With all of the detail in the game, you can also expect to see the game chug a little when a lot of moving object are in view at once. With few exceptions to the rule, the Super NES was never good at doing too many things at once thanks to that slow CPU in it. That blemish aside, the visual presentation is rock solid and showed off some things that I once thought was never possible in that particular time period of console gaming.

Anyone familiar with racing games developed by Nintendo knows what to look forward too with this game. Yep, I’m talking about those bubbly banjo tunes and half playful, half dramatic scores that make up the musical painting in this picture. While that’s not a complaint, I will say that I don’t always enjoy hearing it. Maybe my tastes are just getting a little more mature, I don’t know. Anyway, it can be said that the soundtrack is quite original and still listenable. The sound effects are a high point for the game with the attention to detail. Every car has its own realistic motor noise, sounds echo when going under tunnels or in caves, and a difference can be heard when going from the road on to logs or across water. It’s always nice to see games like this one go the extra mile.

It’s too bad that Stunt Race FX mostly got the silent treatment soon after its release. Its colorful characters meaty modes of racing ensure that your time will be well spent. The intricate visual details and awesome sound quality put the proverbial bow on a gift box. While the lack of weaponry may be disappointing for some folks, the game itself is still very fun. This is definitely a title that Nintendo would do well to make available on the Virtual Console. It’s a ride worth spending the points on.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.