Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Racing Aces (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1994
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.45 (used), $9.35 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

Racing Aces is another in a long line of games that came out before their time.  It’s not that the concept is particularly unique – a bunch of different planes involved in a race with occasional weapon combat – but rather that it’s a fully polygonal game trying to operate on a system that just doesn’t have the power.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sega CD, but I acknowledge that it did nothing more than add some graphical maps and sound channels to the Sega Genesis.  This isn’t very conducive to a fully rendered 3D environment for racing.  As a result it looks and acts much like the Genesis ports of games like Virtua Racing or Hard Drivin’, with large bare environments that are boring to look at and staggered, slow vehicles that don’t make for an exciting battle.  Racing Aces moves sluggishly, the enemies have an unfair advantage, bare bones world, and is a racing game – all negative things in my book – so why do I like it so much?

The game starts off with a training arena that gets you used to using the easiest of the four classes of airplanes, the basic bi-plane.  It allows you to learn navigation, pointing the plane where you want it, and how to navigate the air before throwing competition your way.  It’s during this tutorial level that I learned I had a long way to go and for some reason remained a blocked part of my fond memory of this game.  Racing Aces controls like a computer that has too many processes (which may very well be what’s happening) because all of your inputs have drastic changes to the movement of your plane and come a few seconds after you press them, so it’s difficult to re-adjust yourself after an overshoot.  You eventually get the hang of it but that really means you get used to tapping directions to slowly adjust your direction to just the right spot.  Well until you hit a turn, that is, when everything gets thrown drastically off course and you’re again fighting to fly in a straight line.  Since I’ve never flown a plane before, I guess it’s possible that this is a normal experience for pilots but for those of us just trying to play a game it was a bit specific.  This speaks nothing for the other planes in each class, there are usually 2-4 different ones, which will force you to readjust to even more picky controls.  It’s all worth it once you grind through the hour or so of practice to get your skills up because then you feel like this laughably sluggish race moving at stuttering speeds is actually intense.  By the end of it onlookers couldn’t help but crack up as I inched my way toward a finish line.

Contextually you have to understand that this was the only option in town if you liked Super Mario Kart and titles like it but only had a Sega console.  Granted, it would be cheaper to purchase an SNES and the game rather than chance it on Sega CD, but we didn’t have that kind of hindsight and we were fanboys to the bone.  Racing Aces provided similar racing, especially with the intelligently integrated weapon balloons, that seemed to fuse the graphics of Starfox with the racing of a kart racer.  Unfortunately the barrier to entry is so large, even back then and these days for sure, that I have to determine this game is more work than its worth to get started.  On that same token, though, Racing Aces can be a fun and rewarding plane racer if you put the time and patience into it and you happen to be burned out on the competition.  I just dig it because it has everything against it from programming to framerate to aesthetics, and yet it overcomes that obstacle with gameplay and makes for an intriguing experience and addition to the Sega CD library.  On a final note, I’m quite surprised that Sega, the king of re-releasing titles at any opportunity, didn’t attempt to update this title for future consoles (although the poor handling of 3D on the Saturn may be resonsible).

Written by Fred Rojas

November 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

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