A Super Nintendo game you've never heard of; a really generic-sounding name; the promise of Mode-7 racing; and a title screen which is 2/3rds giant text, 1/3rd sprites on a one-color (non-black) background. Any sane gamer would be running for the hills right now, right?
Well, not THIS gamer/car-battler! And I'm glad I didn't! Battle Cars
has turned out to be one of the best games I've gotten in quite a while...though given its recent competition
, that just means its "rather playable, for the most part."
What the hell, are you actually going to REVIEW this game?
To explain a bit more about the tower of middling power that is Battle Cars, I probably have to go into a bit more depth than I usually do.
Basically, imagine Mario Kart in "Race" mode. You now understand about 60% of Battle Cars; transfer that concept to a kind of Mad Max post-apocalyptic racing circuit, and you're definitely getting closer to the gnarly nature of this game.
You get to pick from one of three different vehicle designs, which presumably vary in important ways, like how speedy, stable, or spiky that they are:
Then, the fun part: picking what color to paint your car; you get to select from eight different post-civilization shades of awesomeness!
You may be stuck in a hellish future where races are fought to the death, and you're more likely to find a family sedan equipped with cruise missiles than cruise control, but at least there's still a lot of handsome paint shades to choose from!
Now is probably as good a time as any to talk about the game play: because you've probably played a racing game before, you basically understand the "keep your foot on the gas, maybe easing off during turns, and don't bump into other cars too much as it may impede your steering" kind of thing. Battle Cars goes one better by making sure your vehicle is all kitted out with three (3) different variety of car-to-car attacks!
The Best Racing is a Good Offence!
You can choose to fire any of your three different weapons, but once you've fired one, you have to wait until it collides with an enemy vehicle, or disappears over time, before you can fire again or switch weapons.
Let's see what goofy implements of destruction are available to you!
Your standard "shoots ahead of you, bounces off walls" kind of weapon. Pretty fast (its speed is tacked on to your vehicle's current speed), moderately damaging (I guess), and unlike a certain game's Green Shells, it won't hurt you if it bounces into you!
The main drawbacks of the disk are: if you don't hit anything with it, it'll bounce around for a while (a noticeable number of seconds), preventing you from firing a different weapon until it disappears. Also if you hit someone with it, they spin out in place...so if you're driving too close behind them when you fire you have to swerve away or you'll bash into them and bump them back up to full-speed.
The workhorse of your arsenal, Missiles are a handy-dandy fire-and-forget weapon that basically locks on to the car ahead of you at the time you fire. Their downside is that when you fire them, they spend a bit of time up in the air above the track acquiring a signal...think of them as a stupid, kind of slow-moving Red Shell which needs a big cup of coffee before it can start its day (of blowing stuff up).
They kind of seem like they fly above the track (and its walls) so they may be able to lock on and chase your opponent down even around corners, but sometimes you'll have passed their car by the time the missile catches up.
Like the disks, when you fire a missile, you'll have to wait for it to find its mark (or a few seconds when it gives/blows up) before you can fire any other weapon.
If there's one thing that Battle Cars can teach us, its that futuristic heavily-armored racing automobiles can store hundreds of watermelon-sized deep-sea mines inside them and suffer no ill effects, performance- or handling-wise. Fortunately, there's nothing that Battle Cars can teach us, so ignore this entire paragraph.
Speaking of ignoring, the Grenade is the "Banana Peel" of your Battle Arsenal. You can fling them in front of you; they fly an awkward distance, hurtling over cars that are close enough for you to care about, but not quite reaching cars that are well out-pacing you.
I guess they have a kind of big blast radius, and like missiles, they make their victims "hop" in the air so you won't collide with them, but the best thing you can say about grenades is they go away quickly -- just one fling, a bang, no effect, and then you're ready to attack again! (Preferably with another weapon).
Holy crap, I'm a few dozen paragraphs in; better make with the funny already!
Ok, let's get back to my normal superficial summary of the game, interspersed with pictures and occasional wittiness:
Somehow your goal in Battle Cars is to travel around the battley-battle world of cars, fighting champion drivers in each country/city/whatever. One might wonder how you are able to move your car across giant oceans in a world which seems to have descended into the basest of garbage-punk barbarity, but if you wonder about that, you risk being told to "shaddap."
Anyway, each city-state consists of two stages: the first stage, called a "cross country" stage, has you zipping around, racing the clock and blasting drivers in other "normal" cars of various paint jobs.
If you beat the clock, you earn some "Credits." If you blow up other cars (with a few hits from your weapons), you earn some "Cash."
These are both important, because Battle Cars is one of THOSE racing games: the ones where you can upgrade all your driving systems between levels!
"Cash" is spent to make your car drive faster. "Credits" are spent to power up your weapons. You may recall that you get Cash from driving fast, and Credits from using your weapons. Don't think about it too hard, it will hurt your brain.
Another thing I highly recommend not thinking about is why the purple plate at the top left edge of the screen says "CRAZY GRAMPS." Are YOU Crazy Gramps? Is the store run by Crazy Gramps? Is Crazy Gramps the name of the franchise of stores? This last idea seems to have some merit, as there's a Battle Cars-parts store in every city you visit.
Or maybe Crazy Gramps is just following you around, waiting for you to earn some more precious precious Cash or Credits so you can buy more things for him (I myself favor this theory, and imagine that Crazy Gramps crouches in your trunk like Chim-Chim in Speed Racer, occasionally popping out to get into mischief and shout, "But I'm hungry for cake now!")
You said that there's TWO kinds of levels though, right?
Right you are, authorial voice! After each "cross country" level, you get down to the nitty gritty of the "Boss Battle" level! Here you have to out-race the city-state's boss-est driver in a one-on-one showdown. Make it across the finish line first and you win, fail to beat the boss at his or her own game, and you have to try again (in an odd note, you're allowed to choose between trying again from the Boss Battle, or from the Cross Country level...it is sometimes useful to try the Cross Country level again, because you can upgrade your gear more if you score better).
However, because your opponent has the home-court advantage, all his or her henchmen will hop in normal useless vehicles and clutter up the track (just like in the Cross Country levels), so you'll have them to contend with, too.
But for some reason, you're the only car allowed to use weapons, which gives you a significant advantage: the boss's car has to try to edge around you like any other vehicle, while you're able to blast away with your diverse (but kind of wimpy) battle accoutrements!
Yeah, yeah, let's see some scenery!
Each of the levels have some pretty nice background imagery...somewhere between 3-D Worldrunner and rock album cover art. Here we see a selection of backgrounds from the first four levels, Newtroit, Katmandu, Meltdown, and Fiji.
You'll also notice that each of those pictures features a NEW vehicle! If you were going to guess that those were the aforementioned "boss's vehicles," give yourself a good pat on the back, or fire a giant metal disk out of the front of your car, or whatever.
"But wait," you must be thinking, "my actual car in real life has no giant metal disk launcher!" You are right, again, but quite off-topic: I wanted you to ask, "don't the bosses have some kind of personality to go with their wacked-out vehicle design?"
Yes, The Bosses Have Some Kind Of Personality To Go With Their Wacked-Out Vehicle Design
This is really the nitrous-oxide-injector on the engine of insanity that is the Battle Cars: in true Mike Tyson's Punch-Out style, each Boss Level begins with a disturbing glimpse of your opponent, where they also deliver 1.3 screens-worth of Menacing Quote!
It's important [sic] to note that you have to press the "R" button on top of your Super Nintendo controller to see all of their Menacing Quote; when it says "PRESS R" at the bottom of that screen, it's NOT kidding...any other button jumps straight into the race, and you'll miss the vitally important last few words of their taunt!
Well, enough of this equivocating jibba-jabba! Let's let these testaments to really really odd game design speak for themselves...without further ado, the bosses of levels 1 through 4, including a COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT of each of their menacing quotes (as well as some editorialized notable-totables for each driver!)
Menacing Quote: "Better bring your band aids... And remember to take the training wheels off that heap of junk you're driving."
So he's... a welder with a bionic arm modeled after the Technodrome.
And he drives... a blue soap-box racer with metal re-enforced hinder (just like him!)
Dirty Knuckle Ned
Menacing Quote: "Heard you whomped Ol' Bucket Head. Well I can stomp the likes of you before breakfast. Heck, my Pappy couldn't take me in his '99 Stinger. Let's quit jawing and get on with it!"
So he's... a greaser with a virtually illiterate tattoo artist.
And he drives... a mint green Edsel
Menacing Quote: "Indeed. I'd be quite pleased to race with you. My car is rather lovely, don't you think? It's really a pity you'll only be able to appreciate the tail pipes as I fade into the distance."
So she's... a mad scientist/leather bondage/punk rocker type.
And she drives... three rocket with wheels scotch-taped between them.
Menacing Quote: "Bushido is the Way of the Warrior...the Code of the Samuri. Feet first is the way they'll take you off the track... Code red. Prepare to be crushed."
So she's... a motocross fan with a kendo sword.
And she drives... a Battle Tricycle inspired by Cy-Kill from The Go-Bots.
There may be more levels and bosses, but this is as far as I got. It's really not a bad racing game; the graphics are pretty cool, you have a decent range of blasty-weapons, and it has the "upgradeable equipment" thing going on.
When I think about how many poor Mode-7-ers there are out there which were satisfied to include some kind of "punch or nudge to your fellow racers" as their tribute to Mario Kart's fighting-n-driving mechanics, it's nice to have someone like Battle Cars out there gluing spikes onto their armament-loaded vehicles' hulls, and painting them bright shades of teal or purple.
And then you can factor in the terrifying vein-y boss illustrations, I definitely think I got my $4-worth! Battle Cars gets the CRAZY GRAMPS seal of approval!
Special Bonus Update! 3/11/12: the Next Boss!
So I played some more, wanting to see if there were any more freaked-out weirdos to face in this goofy racing game. With a lot of practice and/or save-states, I finally got through Maniacal Mariko's race without blowing up from bouncing off the walls too much, and found myself in...Neuvo Vega's! [sic]
One short cross-country race later, I was face-to-face with the hulking tower of misshapen meat that is...
From: Nuevo Vega's
Menacing Quote: "Check this hard body. If you think I'm buffed I.D., my ride. Get ready for some serious humiliation! When I'm done with you you'll wish I only kicked sand in your face!"
So he's... a Charles Atlas type; or his arms have mutated into a gnarled heap of spheres, terminating in horn-like elbows.
And he drives... a monster truck with full battle armor (which can still accelerate faster than you).
Having toppled this titan of tight abs, (it was actually quite a bit easier to beat him than Maniacal Mariko), what did I see?
Yeah, I was playing it on "easy" mode to take these screenprints. I suck.
After playing my cartridge copy of the game on "Medium" difficulty, I ran up against 2 more bosses and STILL haven't seen the end of the game...so on Medium mode, it's at least 7 pairs of levels long!
— carlmarksguy, 2012-03-09