Game of the Week (9/24/17) – Auto Racing

Auto Racing for the Intellivision, the game where you drive a formula one race car at dangerously high speeds in a residential neighborhood and hope that you can keep your car on the “track” and avoid crashing into homes, trees and ponds. The game that forces you to play as if you were in first person mode even though the view is top down. No matter which direction your car is facing, up, down, left or right, you always need to press the controller pad to the right to make a right hand turn. So if your car is traveling down the screen and you want to turn your car towards the left, you have to press right on the disc because from the driver’s perspective, it would be a right hand turn. Got it? Now master that for dozens of turns each race, some right after the other. You’ll also need to master the use of the brake (controller buttons) and letting your car skid just a little bit out of control on sharp turns and then quickly regaining control in time to correct your car and go straight again. This choice of gameplay mechanics was meant to provide the player with a realistic driving experience and I think Mattel did a good job with the end result. The controller disc is the perfect mechanism to mimic a steering wheel so good on them for challenging the game player with this technique. The controls will routinely frustrate you but they are oh so satisfying once you get the hang of them.

Auto Racing wasn’t an Intellivision launch title but it’s still one of the console’s earlier releases from 1980. In two player mode, your goal is to race around the tracks against an opponent, but you don’t beat them by getting to the finish line first. Instead you have to score 50 points against them by either getting far enough ahead or if your opponent crashes. I think a straightforward race to the finish line would have been better, but the game doesn’t offer a split screen option so the developers made do with the technology they had. If you play a one player game, you’re only racing the clock attempting to finish in the best time possible. There is no computer AI to compete against but that’s not unusual for sports games of the era. A one player race ends when you complete 5 laps. That doesn’t seem like a lot but these courses are long as hell and a single race could take you up anywhere from 10-20 minutes depending on how often you crash. These races began to get so monotonous that I started to intentionally drift off into the grass to find hidden pathways and shortcuts. On track #1 I found a small disjointed strip of asphalt that wasn’t connected to the main track at all! It’s all about the little things in a game like Auto Racing. 

Before starting a game, you choose from 1 of 5 different colored race cars. Each car has its own unique acceleration and control characteristics. There are also 5 different tracks to choose from ranging from the simplest track for beginners (fewer and easier turns), #1, to insanely difficult, #5. I tried all 5 and even though I had gotten the hang of the controls somewhat, the 5th track has an insane amount of sharp 45 degree turns. This track isn’t for anyone that isn’t into crashing every few seconds.

While playing, only the sound of your racing car can be heard unless you crash or drive into a shallow body of water. The racing car noise is a bit grating but it eventually turns into white noise. I really wish there was some sort of indication of how many laps you’ve completed while you’re racing, however. The game shows you this number after you’ve crashed so I’m guessing the developers knew they made a hard-ass game and people would be crashing enough so it wouldn’t matter. There are checkpoints throughout each course and these are where you continue on with your race after each crash. Once again, there is no indication as to where these checkpoints are and that is missed.

In all, I like Auto Racing for the Intellivision but that’s only because I have somewhat mastered the controls. I still occasionally over correct during sharp turns and find myself spinning out of control, or I still turn the direction I think my car needs to go only to realize I’m pressing the disc in the exact opposite direction. I still haven’t had the patience to finish course #5 either, so I guess there’s replay value there for me in 1 player mode. It’s hard for me to recommend Auto Racing to the casual Intellivision fan but I think it’s worth owning and playing enough times to get a feel for what Mattel was trying to do before ripping it out of your console in disgust.

Rating: C+

Currently in my collection: 2 games, 2 manuals, 1 box, 4 overlays

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