スーパースピードレーシング - A Super Speed Surprise

Super Speed Racing was never released in the PAL territories, which is a bit of shame. The reasons for this statement I will reveal in due course, but before that here's what you need to know about this oft maligned racer. Based on the now defunct CART racing league, Super Speed Racing was a Japanese launch title for the Dreamcast that also made an appearance in the US as Flag to Flag. Featuring 19 tracks of both traditional oval and street varieties, 27 real drivers and 18 teams there's a lot to interest any fan of the real life motorsport. Well, the real life motorsport of 1999. 

Up until few days ago I'd never played either the Japanese or US iteration - I'd never really had any inclination or desire to investigate due to the overwhelmingly negative reviews Zoom's game garnered on release. So why am I writing this now? Well, it's because I bought it for £3 and was expecting an absolute car crash (excuse the pun), but upon experiencing it I felt that the record needed to be put straight: Super Speed Racing is one of the most enjoyable racers I've played on the Dreamcast. You read that right. 
I walked into this expecting to be totally underwhelmed by shoddy graphics, rubbish controls and hardly anything of any worth, but in actual fact I discovered a highly playable and entertaining racing game with a lot of positives. I'm not an expert by any means when it comes to CART, the history of the sport or the minutiae of the culture, but I do know what makes an enjoyable experience and Super speed Racing just has it.

The first thing I must address is the visuals. They are not stellar by any means, but they are totally acceptable for the era that this came out and compared to contemporary racers of the time Super Speed looks head and shoulders above what was on the PS1 and N64. There are a few odd aspects that you won't find in later Dreamcast racers, such at the strange fogging/draw-in combination and the low-res, blurry road textures. But when you're in the middle of a pack twenty-odd other cars with the scenery screaming past at 200mph, the texture quality is probably the last thing you'll be looking at. 
To be fair, almost half of the complement of courses are basic ovals with different backgrounds and grandstands, but the street courses mix things up by allowing you to (gasp!) turn right on occasion. Another criticism I've seen levelled at Super Speed Racing is the car handling. It isn't perfect, but the key is this: play the game from the cockpit view and the whole thing transforms from a twitchy mess to a game that is a treat for the senses. The sensation of speed is pretty special, and the roaring engines and crowds add to the spectacle. I'm really not making this up - something as simple as a change in perspective transforms what is a pretty basic and run-of-the-mill arcade racer into a fantastically playable and exciting game.

The cars aren't the most responsive beasts when it comes to cornering, but I put this down to the way you can't turn at 90 degree angles in real life either. Stamp on the brakes before entering a turn...and you can get around even the most evil of corners with relative ease. Once you get your car up the top end of the speed, turning isn't really something you can engage in other than nudging left and right...but then what would you expect at that speed with downforce in play. 
Speaking of downforce, there are also extensive vehicle tinkering options available should you wish to engage in that sort of think - even the amount of fuel your car is carrying can be altered to allow for more speed. The reason I'm banging on about these features that are common place in most games is that I really, honestly was not expecting Super Speed Racing to have as many options or be so damn good considering the overwhelmingly negative stuff I'd read elsewhere. There's an arcade mode and a full championship, variable weather, damage, pit stop strategies, pace cars, safety cars, a fitting rock sound track and some nice replays with TV style camera angles. The racing wheel is also compatible, and when combined with the in-car cockpit view makes the game even more thrilling. On that note, I think it's worth mentioning here that the combined total that I paid for both Super Speed Racing and my steering wheel was £4 (£3 for the game, £1 for the wheel). If that isn't thrifty, value-for-money gaming, I don't know what is.

On the subject of the game never seeing a PAL release, there are several reasons I can think of for this. The first is that the CART license just wasn't very well known in those territories - Formula 1 rules the roost here, and US-centric oval racing just wasn't going to attract much interest. Plus, by the time the European launch rolled around, Super Speed Racing/Flag To Flag had already received it's low review scores and the game was (wrongly) considered a bit of a stinker. Furthermore, Racing Simulation Monaco Grand Prix was already filling the hole in the launch line-up where Super Speed would probably have fitted in. I have read that the game underwent some minor improvements when it was re-launched as Flag To Flag, and I suppose there's no reason why the game couldn't have received even more attention to ready it for the European market (maybe using the engine to create another F1 game? Or simply make it an unlicensed open wheel racer?). We'll never know now, but as it is, you still have two variations of the same game to play.
To conclude then, this really isn't the steaming pile of crap you probably think it is and I was wholly surprised by the experience. It isn't a patch on the upper tier racing sims on the system like F1 World Grand Prix 2 and Le Man 24hrs - make no mistake there, but if you've been thinking about giving this a whirl but have been put off by the cloud of shit following the game around I say this: try it. You might just like it.


Simon Early said...

I'm interested in any driving game for the Dreamcast. Is it steering wheel compatible?

Tom Charnock said...

It certainly is - I made a quick edit to reflect my omission!

Robert Jones said...

I think it's always cool when you stumble across something that actually ends up being playable and fun, when it has looked anything but. Cool stuff.

doceggfan said...

Thanks for the tip, I'm gonna add it to my final batch of Dreamcast games I plan to buy before giving up on a full set.