LOOKS LIKE A CLASSIC
By the modern day arcade look alone, I had to have this single screen overhead racing game that is Rock ‘N Racing Off Road DX. Those looks suckered me into what is a hollow and disappointing experience. If you go in expecting something that met the lofty standards of something from 30 years ago, you’ll be just as disappointed as I was.
BARE BONES GAMEPLAY
The driving performs well, you have left and right to steer with the directional buttons along with several buttons for forward and backward. That’s it. Your driving will need to be the best to beat the competition. At least you can interact with the other vehicles such as ramming them, side swiping them and spinning them out.
Without cash to buy upgrades or nitro to boost faster, the focus becomes strict racing across simple tracks devoid of hazards. These tracks are a good recreation of closed circuit courses from thirty years ago. The most enjoyment were the tracks that interlaced such as the giant figure eight and two tracks that had a path through three other paths. There are plenty of jumps and berms to catch some sweet air, but some ramps launch you laughably high and it turns into a detriment, even when mildly driving over them.
Rock ‘N Racing Off Road DX has great presentation, at least during the game. The trucks have lights, you can see dust when you’re backing up, you can ram walls of tires to send them flying. The sun can shine on dirt, which only happens in video games. There’s even an arcade announcer voice to tell you things or throw in a line here and there. It’s not overdone, but I did catch him saying the same line twice, back to back.
Outside of the game, the title screen has a lot to be desired as it’s just a single, static image, which never bodes well for any game within.
DIFFERENT VEHICLES BUT NO STATS
You start out with a single vehicle, the Walker jeep, but as you complete championships you’ll unlock four other vehicles. Eventually you’ll earn the Highlander truck, the dune buggy named Buggy, the monster truck named Monster and the speedy car named Speedy. Wow they gave up on these names. The stats are never specified, so I’ll have to assume they’re either all the same or the game doesn’t think it would batter.
In the grand scheme of things, vehicle selection doesn’t matter when the vehicle you select will set the competitors to drive the same vehicle. So if you select Speedy, you’ll be in a race with eight other Speedy models. At least you can tell them apart by the color and what’s the color of your vehicle? Black. Always black. Since the game is zoomed out to fit each track in a single screen, you’ll have to pay attention to what speck on the screen you are. When you start the race and for each lap you cover, there is a ring around your vehicle to let you know which one you are.
If anything these vehicles feel like difficulties, as I think I do far better as a Walker competing against other Walkers than I do when I’m a Buggy up against other Buggy. Should that have been plural? It is a name. Monster’s giant wheels can get tangled up in the wheels of your competition.
Throughout playing I saw some dumb drivers. They can get stuck in the middle of the track or they bump into walls causing them to respawn. Others have driven backward or in circles. It’s usually one or two drivers per race that do this, but sometimes it’s been four out of the seven other competitors. They will get stuck on a wall, respawn and then drive straight into the wall they were stuck at when they shouldn’t even be turning. As for you respawning, there’s no way that I found to respawn. Sure there are literally three buttons for forward and three buttons for backward, but that’s it.
STUCK BEHIND FLAGS AND ANNOYANCES
With this game being a disappointment despite what could be considered solid, realistic driving devoid of nitro and upgrades, I fell into a sour attitude. With that sour attitude, all the annoyances were magnified. I’d get stuck behind signs or flags. It’s easy enough to spin out during certain turns, but getting stuck behind things, unknowingly driving forward into a wall when I should have been backing up made the experience worse.
Another issue is that one track, I was able to drive through the southern most rail and leave the course. It was amazing. Even trying to use ramps to get airborne enough to get over railings had not worked prior to this.
When a competitor drives over the finish line, the other competitors have a period of time to cross it themselves. This results in what feels like down time if you’re in first and there’s no one else playing. I’m first, I shouldn’t have to wait. Once you finish, the game will auto pilot you so you don’t have to keep your focus and this is probably a good method to prevent players from messing with their competition.
I also managed to come in first place three of the four races of a championship, but just as I was about to cross the finish line to complete the final track in first, I hit a railing and got stuck. Everyone crossed before me and I was just in awe of it all.
WINNER TAKE ALL CHAMPIONSHIP
That brings me to my next point, you need to be in first place at the end of a championship to unlock the next. I managed to score second place of the championship with that utter failure. There was a similar experience when I rammed into a wall on the final lap of the last track. Turning around can be a nightmare. To make it easy for the player, the game has a system that when backing up and top speed, pressing left or right will swing your vehicle around in a half circle. Which is great for any time that you didn’t run head long into a wall.
There are five championships, each on one of five continents: North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and I hope that Antarctica would be a secret, final set of courses. The early championships go quick with such small tracks that let you go three or so laps. Each course takes around two minutes or less. The higher the championship, the more laps they add. You’ll be at five laps and around three minutes for each track by the Asian championship, which is the third out of five in the series.
Several courses look similar, even if your direction or speed bumps have changed. Modifying the time of day and the colors would have gone a long way to making a track in Canada feel different from a track in German.
TRAINING WITHOUT MUCH TRAINING
Training mode lets you select any vehicle, including those that are still locked. Then you’re dumped into a wide and vacant arena with nothing going on. It’s more of a testing ground rather than training. I would expect training to tell you something, to make you do something. This is just another setup for a disappointment that Rock ‘N Racing Off Road DX brings to your Switch.
TYPICAL TIME TRIALS
Time Trials lets you select a vehicle and a championship. Instead of driving on a single track to get your time, you’ll be racing through the entire championship with a final time at the end. It’s a little dull racing alone and I’d prefer each track’s time to be kept rather than the best time for the championship, but this is what we have. After each track, you’ll get to see how you’re doing with times by track followed by a total time and a best time. If you’re into competition, you can see the global top ten, friends ranking and your position. It’s interesting that the borders for the tracks change between time trials and the championship.
If you’d like to show the game to your friends and why they shouldn’t buy it, there is offline multiplayer for up to four players. You can select from any of the unlocked vehicles which feels like a missed opportunity, because then your friends need to see you complete the championships to unlock each of the vehicles. From there, the first player selects from twenty-four tracks that you’ve unlcoked. A nice touch is they let you pick your rivals and laps from three to five.
A SHALLOW EXPERIENCE
I did have fun with this game in the early championships, but the later ones felt a bit too annoying with hairpin turns and not enough track diversity to keep the nostalgic high going. Even though I bought the game on a discount, it still felt like too much. Were my expectations to blame? Partially, but Rock ‘N Racing drapes itself in that thirty year old game by recreating the same tracks, but none of the substance or frills that came with the game it’s paying tribute to.