THE BEST OVERHEAD RACER ON THE NES
Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off Road is a name that’s too long to say, so instead, I’ll just call it Off Road. In Super Off Road, you’re behind the wheel of a truck in an overhead single screen arcade racer for up to four players. It’s as enjoyable as ice cream, with simple controls and easy gameplay, but it overstays its welcome in its near endless arcade mode. The game was born in the arcade and allowed for three players at once, complete with three steering wheels and gas pedals to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
‘Ironman’ Ivan Stewart was an American, professional off road racing driver with fifteen years experience winning championships at the time. Beyond the name, and the title screen, Ivan is no where to be found in the game. There’s no reference in the game if you’re playing as him or against him, so that’s another good reason to just call it Super Off Road. Well even the word Super became synonymous with Super NES and there is a version for that console as well.
Super Off Road manages to fit a lot of realism on one NES cartridge. It does an admiral job of trying to recreate people in the pixelized limitations of the console. Between each race you’ll see drivers, trophies and glamorous models. There are even depictions of ‘Ironman’s’ Speed Shop where you’ll be purchasing upgrades. The game looks great, even if a lot of it is red clay or dirt tracks with red and white walls everywhere.
CUSTOMIZATION, NATIONALITY AND MUSIC
The music is enjoyable and diverse. When you first start the game, you’ll select one to four players and enter your names before picking the nation you hail from. Your selection makes no difference in game, instead it plays your national anthem when you come in first place. Beyond that, the game has a good array of music and sound effects that evoke nostalgia, Battle Toads and Ducktales.
EASY TO PLAY FUN
Super Off Road plays simple, left and right to steer accordingly, with the A button for the gas pedal and B for the nitro boost. Depending on the moment, nitro boosts can send you up to three times your speed. There’s a joy in boosting around a corner, because you’re given good controls to do so. The nitro becomes absolutely necessary when the computer controlled competitors release a relentless fury of nitro. The further in the game, I always noticed that the competition will use nitro when you do.
The game is forgiving as when you scrape into a railing it will start to turn your truck into the wall, but you still keep going. Since there is no reverse, even ramming headlong into a wall will let you rotate your vehicle like a tank to easily keep moving. Other games might have you reverse course and then go forward. This makes the entire process approachable and easy to pick up and play.
There will always be four trucks on the track. Ramming or colliding with vehicles will slow you both down. It’s easy to get stuck in a pack when you first begin, but you’ll need to steer around your opponents. If you get caught up with someone, that gives the others the chance to get further ahead.
On the tracks, you’ll see bags of cash and nitro tanks that will spawn one at a time. Collecting one or the other will grant you more cash or nitro. For each one that’s collected on the track, that means the next one will increase the value. So one nitro turns into two, turns into three, and so on. Once you collect a nitro, then a bag of cash will spawn, when that’s collected more intro will spawn. Having some of these collectables in out of the way places means a lot to distract the player with a reward for deviating from the perfect course.
UPGRADES AT THE SPEED SHOP
Coming in first place will net you 150K and fourth place will grant you 100K to keep things competitive for multiplayer. Between each race, you’ll take your fabulous cash prizes to Ironman’s Speed shop where you can purchase Acceleration for 80K, Tires for 40K, T. Spd for Top Speed at 100K and Shocks for 60K. Each can be upgraded six times and you can also purchase a lot of Nitro for the cheap price of 10K a piece. It’s best to load all your money into things less frivolous than nitro, which you can collect during races.
It’s unclear if the computer controlled opponents are purchasing upgrades or just spending tens of thousands of dollars on nitros. They always seem to have zero cash and plenty of nitro. I should mention that the SNES version starts you off in the shop before each race rather than after.
I think it’s the upgrade shop that adds an extra layer of fun to a long game, even if you’ll be fully upgraded a fourth of the way through. Once you have a fully upgraded truck, feel free to purchase as much nitro as you want. That way it turns into a game of skill as you’ll need nitro to keep up with the competition while not messing things up by steering too soon or too late.
THE ARCADE MODE
Now we get to the actual game. There’s only a single mode here and I’ll dub it the near endless arcade mode. This is both a strength and a weakness to the series. You keep racing, race after race all the way up to ninety-nine of these on eight tracks. One could construed it as someone’s personal hell forced to continue racing without a password or battery save with no sign of an end in sight.
Having a few different championships with a few different tracks would have made this home version far more palatable in the long run. Hop into a game, play a few tracks and move on instead of being stuck in an arcade mode, knowing that if I quit now at race forty, I’d need to spend fifty minutes getting back to race forty.
Some tracks are more mundane, while others have real creativity. One course that instead of walls it has barrels and you can’t cut corners. Other tracks force you to cross over traffic, which would normally result in wrecks and truck based carnage, but here, it’s a mere slow down and a push. There’s even a track with a narrow shortcut. Seeing the more creative tracks makes even a long play through turn into a reward to race on them.
ELITE EIGHT TRACKS
Each track has bumps, berms, dips, pits, logs, turns, straightaways and ramps. It makes for a bumpy ride, but that’s why we’re here playing Super Off Road. Each track becomes a lesson in learning when to nitro. The obvious choice is straightaways, but there are bumps, divots and water hazards with ramps to jump them.
There are eight tracks. The game does a good job of diving them out, because I was still finding fresh, new tracks well into thirty races and just when the game becomes stale. The catch being that means you’re playing the same four tracks over and over, but some courses are reversed for the sake of diversity. These tracks go by quick despite having five laps each. After each race you’re given a time and your best time. Once your beast of a truck is fully upgraded and you’re living on nitro, most tracks can be completed in 30 – 40 seconds.
AN ACTUAL ENDING
Contrary to popular belief, Super Off-Road isn’t endless and I’m happy it’s not, but the ending unceremoniously dumps you to the game over screen’s top ten scores. I was done at around twenty races let alone ninety-nine. I completed this game a lot when it first came out and even playing it now the nostalgia wore off well before race forty.
You’re given three trucks (or lives) and sent into competition. Coming in first gets you an extra truck up to three and failing to do so will lose a truck. This is some high stakes action as indestructible trucks don’t come cheap. I may as well call these lives since with the loss of a truck, you still keep your upgrades. Whether you win or lose, you continue pushing on to the next tracks. At the start of the game, you’re given a heads up that you have continues. Then after race fifteen, you’re warned that there are no continues. I’m happy with that.
With each game over, there’s a top ten screen with driver names. This would be a lot better with a battery backup.
The game boast multiplayer and it is one of the few four player NES games out there. What’s interesting here is the fourth player is the grey player, but the catch is during the speed shop, this grey player is green. Perhaps grey was chosen as green on red for some players may result in blending if someone is color blind. It’s a good game that keeps everyone in the race as taking a loss doesn’t mean that much financially.
A LASTING LEGACY
Even on the NES, Super Off Road still manages to be enjoyable, easy and fun to play even twenty-five years after I last played it. The problem is without modes and a single long arcade presence can turn this joy into an endless slog with little reward.