It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of racing games. It’s true that I once despised them (aside from the kart racer), but over the years, that hatred lessened and now I only really dislike the hardcore racing games. I don’t know what happened to induce this change, but, here we are. That’s good, right? And since I have broadened my horizons (not Forza), I was intrigued by a little game called Super Night Riders.
Super Night Riders is a throwback to arcade classics like Hang-On and its sequel Super Hang-On. It’s these kinds of racing games I used to enjoy as a kid, but once I hit my teens and early 20’s, the simulation-style and more in-depth racing games became so big that I stayed away as much as I could. Cars just aren’t my thing, and as such, neither would be car games. This translated into any kind of racing game outside of the previously mentioned kart racers, because in those, racing was only one component to the experience, and realistic game play wasn’t on the table. Besides, who has played a Mario Kart and didn’t love it? If they exist, that person is obviously a psychopath!!*
The story to this game goes like this:
“You are Alice, a beautiful and talented motorcyclist known as the Red Rider.”
And that’s it. That’s the entire story. This isn’t a big deal. This is a retro-style arcade racer after all. Although, it would have been nice to have even a tiny bit of info and introduction to the character the player takes control of, because to find that, you need to do so outside of the game, be it the developer (and publisher) neko.works site or the store page. And the only place you get to see her properly is the main menu. Again, not a huge deal, just a classic Heazie nit pick. The entire set up is so obvious an homage to the old school arcades that no story should be expected. Speaking of clear arcade roots…
Graphically the game is very much in that vein. The low-polygon look (obviously with much higher resolution) is a pretty darn good throwback to yesteryear and arcade racers. It gives it that genuine feeling that this could have been a game you played in a smoke-filled room, surrounded by cabinets and people, coin machines and synthesized beats playing from everywhere you looked. Or, on a home console that tried to recreate the game. Those existed then, too. Of course, that means the roads and backgrounds are pretty sparse, but the colors are vibrant, the 3D models look appropriate, and the entire time playing I felt like I was back in front of a stand up, boxy screen, with a quarter sitting on the glass. A very specific style was tried for, and it succeeded.
Musically, what we get isn’t a whole lot. Again, sticking with the theme, it’s not really something we should be shocked at. The 4 tracks we do get feel and sound like they belong in that era, mixing a couple of rock tracks with a couple uptempo beats to round it out. There’s nothing that will blow your mind, but what matters is that they all fit well with the overall package. I do wish there were at least a couple more, because with the fact there are such a small amount, you hear them all a lot. I enjoyed what I heard, but I’ll explain a bit later why that wasn’t always the case.
Mechanically, Super Night Riders is pretty sound. Now, I know this is coming from a confessed “non-fan” of racing games, but objectively, the mechanics are overall implemented well, and with a game like this, that’s what you hope for. Racing feels just as fast as the 315 KPH top speed you ramp up to. Movement from side to side, which is a major part of the game, also feels fast and smooth. With only 3 inputs used – LT breaks, RT accelerates, and Y brings up the menu – you don’t have a lot to learn in that regard. What you do need to learn is the environment and what populates it.
The main hook of the experience isn’t racing to get 1st place. The goal isn’t to beat the other racers. This is a checkpoint-based racer, so what that entails is getting to the next area within the less than 30 seconds you have on the clock Make it to the next section and you gain some more time, but only as much as you earn. It can be brutal sometimes. There are 6 total courses, spread across 7 races. Each course has 6 laps, all showcasing different times throughout the day to race on, and they cycle in order with each successive race. Forest/City/Desert, day/dusk/night, etc., and each race lasts no more than 3 minutes. The 7th and final race incorporates all 36 variants, and requires you to finish it all in one go. Not for the faint at heart. Or, rather, someone skilled like me. We also have a second mode where we race in a specific location and play through all the times of day for that one course, rather than mixing them up like the base races do.
Adding into the difficulty are the other racers on the tracks. Each colored differently and each having a specific lane of the road to occupy. That’s something I didn’t notice for a pretty long time when I started out. I noticed the colors, but I was much more focused on the track and racing than I was who was around me. See, I feel like this game is just as much a puzzle game as it is a racing game. Once I realized I shouldn’t be playing the track as much as I should be playing the positions of the other racers (and realizing they had set patterns), I started to do much better. So there’s a hint for all so you don’t get frustrated early on. If you aren’t very skilled in these types of games (I’m not), that could come on quickly.
Crashing into the riders causes you to all but come to a complete stop. On earlier courses, this isn’t a huge killer, but over time, even a single slip up, be it crashing into someone else, or skirting the sides too closely is an instant loss, so you may as well restart. The difficulty ramps up the further along you get (naturally), so paying close attention to your surroundings is much more vital here, due to the nature of the game of timed checkpoints over coming in 1st place.
So while there are very pleasing things about this title, there are some unpleasing things, too. As mentioned, the daytime cycle is present, and it’s actually kind of cool, but when it starts to get darker and you have to rely on your headlights and the other racers’ tail lights, the game can get really frustrating and out of hand quickly. It’s tough to see and navigate going as quickly as you do. You’ll get lucky at times being able to pass by, and unlucky at others, and because crashing or riding on the side of the track slows you down considerably, having the visual terrain be an obstacle, while likely on purpose, is more frustrating than challenging. That goes double for the Hinami level. Visually the best looking one, this comes with a downside: the floating leaves make things tough to see. Even worse here at night. I feel like it was created as “the boss level” and if that’s true, it’s earned that.
While most of the racing is smooth sailing (driving?), rounding corners, especially if there are others around, can cause slowdown from time to time. Not always, and not a huge amount of the time, but enough to notice and get frustrated. The worst offender of the slowdown, though, is in the transitions from one course/day time to another. All too often the slowdown here was really bad, sometimes entering complete halt territory, and once you hit that slowdown, unless you get lucky, your race is probably over, because you’ll end up crashing once you regain control. It’s not good. It doesn’t happen every time, but it does happen a lot. I don’t know why, I just know it’s maddening when it happens on the final lap and you’re finally feeling like you’ll get the win.
Because you can essentially be out of the race early on, driving the rest of the way to the end only to let time run out well before you get to the gate is a complete waste of your own. I wish there were a quick restart button included. You can hit the menu button (or Y) to bring up a menu and scroll down to restart, but with the amount of times you may be doing this, it can get tiresome. That same thing goes for the music. Initially good, it may wear on you should you be in the camp I was in after having to restart 8 billion times. Sometimes my fault, sure, but a restart all the same. And if you enjoy the music? You can download the soundtrack here. I know, that may seem odd after just saying the music can grate on you, but understand it in context. Even your favorite song will become annoying if you’re forced to listen to it a hundred times in a row while failing something. The final thing I’ll point out is that the leader board is very lacking. There’s nothing special about it and not much is there to showcase.
For you Achievement hunters out there, the game features 20 to unlock, varying difficult, as explained. The bulk of them are beating each course and stage, and one for beating the 36 lap marathon. I haven’t been able to unlock everything yet, but after 26 hours of losing added to about a half hour of winning (3 minute races, remember?), my skill level may have topped out on the final stretch. I have 3 remaining, and I may try for in those in the future, I just don’t know if my lack of skill will defeat me further. If you’re halfway decent, his may be an easy completion for you. Right now, I fear I may be stuck at 17/20 and 650 points for the foreseeable future. I do have to mention something I don’t like when it comes to Achievements, though. The final one is for unlocking every other Achievement. That’s a PlayStation Platinum Trophy thing, and I hate when Xbox has those lumped in. So, in reality, I have 2 left to get, and one that will be gifted to me for 150 points once I do. I don’t know the ins and outs of this system and how to program these things, but it just feels lazy to me.
The bottom line with Super Night Riders is that this is a fun experience. Faults aside, if you go into this game understanding what it is and what it set out to do, you can absolutely find your enjoyment. For a sequel to Night Riders (the first game and homage to old school racers), this is the next logical step, and a worthy one. This is a pure arcade experience, lovingly recreated by someone who is fond of the old days. If you are in the same boat, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Super Night Riders is available on Xbox One and Steam for $9.99. A code was provided by neko.works for the purpose of this review.
*There is no evidence to support this claim and The Vertical Slice and TheVerticalSlice.com do not endorse this line of thinking. Oh, wait… New info has just become available. Yes, they are to be considered a form of psycho. Carry on.