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Wroom, wroom! Get on, start the engine, gear up, ready for the green light, release the brake, start! That’s what a good motorcycle race should look like at the beginning. In Super Cycle by Epyx it’s almost exact. Let’s talk about it more.

What It Is About

The game has been made by the American developer Epyx in 1986 for the Commodore 64 computer, and this version is the best of all the 8-bit versions. The game was released for the 16-bit Atari ST as well, but we’ll focus on the 8-bit stuff here.

The game itself is… well, a regular racing game. With motorbikes. Your aim is to win the race against other bikes, reach the best score and not to run out of time. The main race starts immediately, no qualifying. After every three ordinary racing circuits – every single one in different environment – there’s a bonus round where you pick little flags that someone had put on the road.

The Gameplay

Especially on the C64, the gameplay is very smooth and fast. You can clearly see that a turn is coming, and the opponents are kinda intelligent. They tend to block your way when you’re trying to overtake them. The centrifugal force throws your bike to the side, and you have to stabilize the optimal position. The bike has three gears, and they have to be changed optimally. Therefore there’s a tachometer and the handle should never get to the red area. If everything goes clear and you get the finish line, you get extra points depending on the time you reached or amount of flags you picked up in the bonus round. In the main menu you can choose from one of three difficulties. The highest one is really tough and you really have to study the turn order to drive through. The time limit is tighter as well.

What makes the game good is the fast, yet smooth gameplay. Driving a bike running 140 MPH is really enjoyable. This applies to the original version on the C64. The other 8-bit versions have their, let’s say, disadvantages. Some of them are pretty worrying.

Conversion Differences

I’ll give you an example: on the Amstrad CPC, oppenent bikes can scoot you down from rear, so when you crash and try to speed the bike up again, you must take care of your back not to be kicked down. The game looks good, though. The only superficial difference is in sounds. The game physics is different, too, so if you’ve just switched from the C64 version to test the CPC game, you’ll probably notice huge differences in the gameplay. However, this doesn’t affect the CPC version in its complexity much. The game is just a little different, not in a bad sense, and it’s still an excellent conversion made by U.S. Gold.

The Spectrum

The British U.S. Gold has converted this game to the Spectrum as well. The result is satisfying, but not perfect. It was done in a hurry, as far as I know, the authors had just one day to finish the conversion. But having this in mind, the result is pretty astounding. The gameplay is not as catchy as on the C64 or CPC, though. First, everything is way too slow. Second, there are traffic signs telling the turn is near, but the player doesn’t see the beginning of the turn at all! Simply, you just ride and suddenly there’s a left or right turn. Third, the flags in the bonus round don’t make any sensible path, so you must a) remember their positions or b) be quick and try to pick all of them, which isn’t that easy. But the most unpleasant feature of the Spectrum conversion is that the game never ends. You just play round and round till 99999 points and then the score counter displays random characters and you’re still going on. No victory here.

Conclusion

Super Cycle is a catchy, fast, pacey motorbike racing game that is worth a try mainly on the Commodore 64, but the CPC version also plays well. The Spectrum loses big time here, although it contains quite nicely drawn graphics. To get the most of it, grab the C64 version. Then try comparing. At the end, I think you’ll get back to the Commodore.

 

There are games that have cute graphics. There are games that have great playability. There are games that have a long playtime. And then there are games that have all of that. Mega games. And mega games deserve mega reviews. In terms of pictures (exactly 100 screenshots!), not text–so relax and read on. In case you’re really extremely text-shy, just scroll down to the mega gallery at the end of the article.

A VERY DIFFERENT RACING GAME

Hot Rod was originally a 1988 SEGA top-down racing arcade game. A very different racing game.

Hot Rod is one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market.

 

It starts with that it’s one of just very few overhead games where you don’t race on circuits. Instead, you’re driving across an unspecified country. Every three stages take place in roughly the same kind of landscape. The landscapes range from mountains to deserts to sea shores and from wilderness to cities. You’ll drive not only on good old tarmac, but also on dirt, sand, snow, and ice. So what you’re getting are 30 levels of scrolling awesomeness in ten different environments.

Hot Rod title screens

Title screens from the Spectrum (left) and Commodore 64 (right) version. The CPC one has no title picture.

Another huge difference is that unlike in other car games, Hot Rod isn’t about lightning-quick reactions. The pace of the game is quite relaxed, so it’s all about precision driving, not jerking the wheel in this or that direction as fast as possible. That is supported by a game mechanics that’s only possible in a game world: there are no collisions with other players. Your car can be in the very same place as your opponent’s, so everyone can take the racing line they deem the optimal one. This eliminates the most frequent problem of multiplayer car games, where you often get rid of the other humans as soon as possible through crashing into them and/or driving them off the track and then just cruise to victory. It practically asks for cooperative playing instead: sharing the available bonuses and trying to get both humans through all the levels.

Anytime you have a scrolling multiplayer racer, you have to solve the same problem: what to do with a player who’s lagging behind so much that they’d fall off the screen? Hot Rod bases its logic on one all-important variable: gas. You get extra gas depending on your place in each stage, and you can collect some on the road in the form of extras. You burn it with each second the road, and it’s a currency in which you pay for your blunders. If one of the three cars (up to two human players, the rest is played by the machine), for example, falls into the ocean or gets buried by an avalanche or a landslide, they’re resurrected at the cost of 20 gas units. Same goes for the time when they fall behind–the game puts them back among the competitors, but they lose 20 gas. If their gas tank gets empty–game over.

Perhaps the only traditional element of Hot Rod are the upgrades, which you exchange for the second most important indicator in the game: money. You receive money for your performane in the races, and in the CPC and ZX version also for collecting bonuses. Between the races, you can visit a parts shop and buy one of the 20 possible thingies that change the behavior of your car. These are engines, wings, bumpers, and tires for different surfaces. Yet even here, Hot Rod inserts its own little twist. Every shop has only select upgrades and you can always buy only one; therefore, you have to plan your upgrade strategy very carefully.

CPC Parts Shop

In Parts Shops, you can buy upgrades for your car. This one is from the CPC version.

In most stages, the roads and/or streets are closed for the race, but occasionally, Hot Rod gets a Gumballish touch, and you have to navigate among other cars, dozers, and rollers, and avoid being caught by the police or hit by a train. And sometimes you can take a shortcut that, in turn, is more difficult navigate – so if you’re good, you gain, if you make a mistake, you lose time (and possibly gas).

THREE DIFFERENTLY BEAUTIFUL VERSIONS

All of the above says how much creativity and effort went into the game, but what I’ve always loved about Hot Rod the most is how it all clicks together. You get a polished, immensely entertaining, variable, highly replayable eye candy monster of a game. Hot Rod is simply one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market (and my No. 1 personally). And its versions are a perfect example of that each 8-bit platform has its strengths.

Hot Rod found its way to the C=64, CPC, and ZX.

Podium ceremony

Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: C=64. Bottom right: CPC. This layout will be the same for all the pictures in the mega gallery below.

The best-presented version is the C=64 one. It has a neat intro, great music by Jeroen Tel, and makes the most of the Commodore’s hardware sprites and hardware scrolling. Everything is smooth and sleek. However, typically for C=64 versions of arcade games, there’s one big dent in all that beauty: the game lacks nine out of the original 30 levels (19-24, 28-30). Sadly, they are some of the best levels. As they are all from the final parts of the game, it looks as if there was a hard deadline and the publisher said, “We’ll just put out whatever we’ll have by then.” Back on the positive side, the C=64 is the only 8-bit version that has an end sequence – on the CPC and the ZX, the game just wraps (which I have always hated–I play games to win them, not to play them until I lose).

The C=64 version is also the best balanced of them all. It’s got to do with the brave, but ultimately bad, decision of the CPC and ZX converters to be fair to the human players and implement actual AI. On the C=64, you have your typical computer droids. They follow a predetermined path no matter what. It’s a little dull, very predictable–but it works. On the Z80-based machines, the computer tries to find the best way through the level on the fly, reacting to what’s currently happening on the screen. The problem is that the AI is too weak. Once you throw it off balance, it usually fails to get back on track and your victory in that level is guaranteed. Yet, when the AI works well, the racing is more fun than on the C=64, as the computer also upgrades its cars, and if you let it grow, it becomes a tough opponent. When a computer car gets a game over, a new car is pitted against you, starting from scratch without any upgrades.

The Z80 versions have somewhat broken economy

Another bit of balancing that the C=64 version got right is the economy. On the Speccy, and esp. on the CPC, near the end, you have a lot of money and not much to buy for it (with most upgrades priced between $600 and $5000, the $48000 from the picture above is ridiculously much). While on the C=64, an engine will last you only 6 races, so you have to make sure to win enough money to keep replacing it–and remember the right levels in which the Parts Shops have the engines you want.

The CPC version of the game has all of the glorious 30 levels but pays the price for the hardware it runs on. Compared to the C=64 and ZX version, it feels kind of sluggish. There’s a delay between the time you change the steering and the time the car actually reacts. Which means that especially on snow and ice, where your car is already difficult to control by default, you have to do a lot of very anticipative driving. Apart from the jerky scrolling, there’s also a smaller game window, into which the creators tried to put all the necessary graphics, resulting in not much detail. On the other hand, compared to Speccy, the graphics are much more colorful. And the slower pace of the game can be an advantage for weaker gamers.

The ZX version has the least colors, but that’s the nature of the platform. The only serious problem with the graphics is that while on the C=64 and the CPC, there’s a red, green, and blue car, on the Spectrum, all the cars are black. And as they can all be in one place at one time, sometimes it happens that you’re happy with how brilliantly you’ve steered through a curve, to notice only five seconds later that your car actually is the one that ended in the barrier and that you’re mistaking it for one of your computer opponents. On the other hand, the hires graphics allow for a solid level of detail, and the game is as fast as it needs to be and very playable.

A MUST-PLAY GAME

Having had a Commodore 64 for almost 30 years now, I’ve completed Hot Rod on the C=64 countless times already, but I loved playing through it on the CPC as well as on the Spectrum. And I heartily recommend you to do the same, because each of the versions has nice bits that the others lack. You can see it in the mega gallery that follows. And then? Stop reading, start playing!

HOT ROD MEGA GALLERY

In this gallery, you’ll find a screenshot from every level on each platform. What we’re not showing you is the end sequence. After all, this is a teaser. Enjoy it, drool, and then play through the game on your own. Have fun!

Level 01

Level 02

Level 03

Level 04

Level 05

Level 06

Level 07

Level 08

Level 09

Level 10

Level 11

Level 12

Level 13

Level 14

Level 15

Level 16

Level 17

Level 18

Level 19

Level 20

Level 21

Level 22

Level 23

Level 24

Level 25

Level 26

Level 27

Level 28

Level 29

Level 30

Parts Shops