System: Sega CD
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: March 1, 1995
Road Rash on the Sega CD was a late release for the system and sums up what most Sega CD games were, a Genesis game wrapped up in a CD soundtrack and full motion video (FMV).
If you've never played a Road Rash game, a series which has been untouched since 2005, it is a motorcycle racing game with an emphasis on combat. The Sega CD version mixes the 2D Genesis style game play with updated music, FMV, and menu system from the 32-bit versions of the game.
The groundbreaking feature of Road Rash for the Sega CD is the soundtrack. Few titles back then featured soundtracks from mainstream artists. Granted, the only artist I had previously heard of in Road Rash is Soundgarden, it was still revolutionary stuff back then. The additional tracks from Paw, Hammerbox, Monster Magnet, Therapy?, and Swervedriver, are decent rock tracks that suite Road Rash's atmosphere well. With the exception of Jessie, a weird song about a dog, none of the tracks are annoying.
Road Rash on the Sega CD also features loads of FMV, 500 megs of content according the front cover. Before and after the start of each race, is a short clip featuring real actors trash talking about racing on the bikes. If you win a race, the clip usually involves you winning a girl, and losing will result in some type of humiliating situation. The quality of the videos, both content and picture wise, is mediocre at best, but can thankfully be skipped. Overall they are a bit cheesy and dated.
The menus are actually beautifully done and feature overdone caricature cartoon style drawings of the characters in a dive bar setting. This is my favorite enhancement over the 3 Genesis games that precede it. It matches the 32-bit versions well, despite the 64 color limit of the hardware. Another feature not available in the Genesis games is a save feature. Welcome to the next level.
The actual game play of Road Rash is pure Genesis, having nothing in common with the 32-bit versions other than track names. The tracks including City, Peninsula, Pacific Highway, Sierra Nevada, and Nappa Valley. The tracks all feel similar, save for slightly different colored grass and background objects.
Graphically speaking, Road Rash has not evolved at all since the original trilogy on the Genesis. None of the additional horsepower offered by the Sega CD is utilized. The results are the usual Road Rash affair featuring a sketchy frame rate and awkward looking road side details. Trucks are the size of skyscrapers, and bushes are the size of trees. What is impressive is are the rolling hills. Few other games of the time offered the sensation of going up and down hills. The landscape is rarely flat. Additionally, the sensation of speed is convincing. Road Rash really zooms along.
The actual game play is where Road Rash shines. You race against 14 other bikers across the above mentioned landscapes. There are 5 levels featuring 5 races each. You progress through to the next level by finishing in the top 3 of each race. Cash is also awarded for completing the race and you get more money the closer you are to the top spot. The tracks are the same in each level of the game, they just get longer and longer as the levels progress.
There are fifteen bikes total which can be bought at any time, presuming you have enough cash. The "rat" bikes are the worst bikes in Road Rash. The next step are the sport bikes, and finally the super bikes. The super bikes also feature nitrous, for a temporary boost in speed. One minor annoyance with the bike selection screen is that it's impossible to compare to bikes. How fast is "hair raising?" Is it faster than "exhilarating?" It is impossible to tell. Your best bet is to just assume the higher price indicates a better bike.
What made Road Rash special was the emphasis on combat. During races you can punch and kick your opponents. Each rider, and yourself, have a life bar. If your life bar depletes, you will fall off your bike. The same foes for your opponents. You can also obtain a chain and a bat, which inflict even more damage on your foes. Your bike also has a life bar of it's own. If you drive full speed straight into oncoming traffic, your bike will take a large chunk of damage. If you fall off by driving into smaller road side objects the bike will sustain less damage.
Putting all of these elements together is what makes Road Rash so fun. If you can't get past an opponent, start beating on them till they fall off their bike, or kick them into oncoming traffic. There are no time limits or checkpoints. You just need to make it from point A to point B, and finish in the top 3 by any means necessary. This suites the Road Rash well and keeps the focus on the things that make the game fun to begin with, speed and combat.
The artificial intelligence in Road Rash is good. Your opponents attack each other and also make mistakes like driving into traffic. It gives a convincing feeling that you are racing against other players, and not just computer drones. Nothing is more satisfying than watching first place get smoked by oncoming traffic in the final couple of turns. However, nothing is more frustrating than running into oncoming traffic at the top of a blind hill with the finish line right ahead of you.
Overall, Road Rash on the Sega CD is a mixed package. It takes the music and user interface from the 32-bit versions of the game, and mixes it with the classic 2D game play. It does nothing to move the series along, but is still a satisfying experience. The original Genesis Road Rash games are some of the finest titles on the time, so there is nothing wrong with leaving well enough alone. This is a worth while purchase for Sega CD owners.
Graphics - 7/10 Choppy but consistent frame rate and snazzy menus and FMV
Sound - 8/10 Excellent soundtrack
Game play - 8/10 smooth controls
Overall - 8/10 Road Rash on the Sega CD is as good as ever