Guest Article: Shutokou Battle Celebration

Martin Hinson is a man who knows his racers. Specifically Japanese racers you may never have heard of. And when he's not getting stuck into the likes of Racing Lagoon, Touge Max G, Side By Side Special or Battle Gear, he's tinkering with Japanese sports cars in real life. In this latest guest article, Martin takes a look at one of the Dreamcast's best racing series: Shutokou Battle. Western gamers will be more familiar with the title Tokyo Highway Challenge, and a lot of racing game fans may have initially looked at the fairly limited number of circuits and not really given the series a fair crack of the whip. Happily,  Martin is here to tell us all why we should give the series a second chance...
It came to my attention at the recent UK gaming event Play Expo Manchester, how few people still know about the Shutokou Battle series. Although I was aware the series is rather cult, I still found this somewhat surprising, given the age of the series and number of titles it spans.
  
Starting life on the Super Famicom in 1994, the series passed through the 32-bit era, flirting with both the Saturn and PlayStation before rising to prominence, albeit it on a small scale, on the Dreamcast in 1999. Starting as a somewhat standard Mode 7 racer, it had evolved into a fairly unique ‘CaRPG’ by the time it hit Dreamcast. It was also one of the earliest games to utilise tuning with a huge range of performance upgrades in some of the 32-bit games. 
The series focused on drift racing until it hit Dreamcast. It suited the arcade nature of the visuals and wide tracks on display - think Ridge Racer on the PlayStation. However due to the grunt of the Dreamcast, developer Genki put a huge focus on realism, not only visually but also from a gameplay point of view. This is perhaps most obvious in the handling, as it is much harder than before and car control almost feels sloppy. It’s easy to be put off the moment you play and most people probably were, but frankly, that’s a huge mistake. Stick with it and you are left with one of the most rewarding driving games around.

Handling So what is it about the handling that is so weird? Well for a start it feels rather floaty in both Dreamcast games. Players often weave around corners due partly to the poor analogue sticks and partly due to the way steering is designed. Historically in racing games if you are turning too far right, you often immediately steer to the left to counteract that. This is of course, absolutely fine if you are drifting, however you rarely are in Shutokou Battle, so you end up just snaking around looking like our own Tom Charnock after a few too many ales! (about 3 pints if we're counting - Tom). This is where the realism comes in. When entering a bend in real life, if you're coming in too tight you simply steer back to the middle, you do not steer to the left! I always thought the reason for this happening is that the game was really designed to be played with a wheel. I finally confirmed this at Play Expo Manchester using the Junkyard's own wheel. 

The game felt immediately more stable in corners and much easier to play. Seems obvious really! 
You can still grow accustomed to the controller with a little time though. There are also several response settings to assist control. No doubt Shutokou Battle benefited from moving to the PS2 though, simply because the Dreamcast analogue stick is pretty poor. Shutokou Battle 01 on PS2, released in North America as Tokyo Extreme Racer 3 hugely improved the handling, especially with the controller, which continued into the rest of the series which makes it even more of a pity that we haven’t had a new game for years. 

CaRPG?
Why 'CaRPG'? Well, tuning cars started back in the 32-bit versions and the detail it went to was already impressive. Modifications such as turbo, exhaust, air filter and the more standard parts were there in racing games, however Shutokou Battle on PS1 went further into detail with mods like camshafts, ECU and fuel cut defenders, the latter basically allows you to de-restrict the 180kmh limit on Japanese cars. A much needed modification of course, but a cool addition all the same. 
Shutokou Battle for Dreamcast took this even further by making the game somewhat free roam. The first only had one track as such, the C1 Ring of the Shuto expressway (the second adds the now infamous Wangan expressway), but it was large and both directions were totally different. Also the gameplay had changed from straight up 1v1 lapped events to what are almost random encounters. 

You drive around the circuit then pull up behind someone you want to race, flash them with your headlights and race until you empty your rival's life bar. Whilst this does feel somewhat repetitive, the drive to earn money to modify then buy a new car becomes an obsession. One more race becomes one more hour and the next thing you know the cock crows and it's time for work! Each game also has a set number of teams and rivals and you will end up wanting to 'catch them all'! Add in the Wanderers that often require a special scenario before they will race you such as a 4WD car or not having music playing; those are some really clever ideas!
 The RPG element comes in because you are essentially racing a series of smaller battles to earn cash to basically 'level up' your car. After beating the smaller teams you will race a boss with a faster, custom car that you can unlock for purchase. 

Artificial Intelligence
AI is a weak point of the series, especially with Shutokou Battle 2 and 01. Opponents can be rather stupid at times but whilst it does take the edge off a bit, the sheer number of rivals to race makes up for it. If every race was gruelling it could become a bit of a grind. That said, it does weirdly add to the charm of the game when you enter a battle and your stupid opponent gets stuck behind a van before the countdown hits ‘GO’!

Now on to the actual games in the series...

Shutokou Battle
Also known as Tokyo Extreme Racer or Tokyo Highway Challenge, Shutokou Battle is the first game in the series on Dreamcast. It has smooth visuals running at a rock solid 60fps, good music and chunky cars. The car models aren't amazing, much lower quality than Gran Turismo on PlayStation and there are only two tracks, one both ways. It does have some really sharp effects such as light trails, much like Ridge Racer Type 4. It is a very enjoyable game and well worth a play. 

Shutouku Battle 2
The second Dreamcast game felt like a massive step forward in many ways. The car models are amazing, the best of their time until Gran Turismo 3 hit the PlayStation 2. The replays are also stunning with an unsteady camera effect with cars shooting past it for a very realistic look. Visually there is so much more detail too, much more varied colour schemes and effects such as glowing brake discs. The amount of rivals is increased dramatically and the highway length is much larger with several new areas. AI is a little more suspect and there is lots of slowdown, but this is one of the best games in the series. I strongly urge people to play Shutokou Battle 2 on Dreamcast. You have to spend some time with it to fully appreciate it but once it gets you, it will not let go until you have beaten that last rival! 
Other games in the series
As mentioned earlier, the series started in 1994 on Super Famicom. It also spun off in various directions with games such as Kaido Battle and Racing Battle. The full list is at the end of this article and taken from Wikipedia. There are several games outside of the Dreamcast that I want to highlight for fans to check out. 

Shutokou Battle
Known as Tokyo Highway Battle in the west, this PS1 game was later ported to Saturn for Japan only. It is more like Ridge Racer with tuning and only an approximate likeness of the expressway. It is superbly playable and visually impressive although it does start off rather sluggish. Like the later games, you need to stick with it. It scored an impressive 7/10 in the Official UK PlayStation Magazine and features a sneaky remix of a Prodigy track!

Shutokou Battle Zero
Released for PS2 in 2001, it is basically a port of the second Dreamcast game with improvements all over. The AI is much better and there is no slowdown. However it does lack anti-aliasing so does look a little rough at times and has a pretty shoddy PAL port. It is probably the best overall game in the series. 

Racing Battle C1 Grand Prix
A fantastic RPG racer from the now fully formed, Genki Racing Project. It mixes both the Shutokou Battle and Kaido Battle (drift spin off) series into one huge game. Tuning is taken further still with many more dress up options and paying for licenced parts and the number of courses is larger. It features both the C1 expressway and closed circuit driving but sadly no mountain touge battles. It also allows for racing on the expressway during the day. Sadly it is a Japan only PS2 release but well worth checking out, despite the terrible engine sounds.

Shutokou Battle X
Officially the tenth game in the series was released as Import Tuner Challenge on the Xbox 360 in 2006. A decent jump visually but sadly a drop to 30fps took the edge off a little. However the roads and evening times were expanded and tuning was taken to its most detailed yet. You can actually see the parts being changed under the bonnets of the cars, although a trade-off here was a huge drop in the number of customisable cars. A really enjoyable racer that is still easy to play for a low price. 

And finally...
Sadly the series is now dormant and the Genki Racing Project was shut down. There was a rumour that the series might be revived last year. This was discussed on GT Planet here.

One can only hope the series will return, as it's a series that deserves the cult status it has acheived among fans of the genre. It also makes you wonder what could have been achieved with a bigger budget. As it is, we'll have to wait to see if and when Genki is prepared to continue the legacy, but we shouldn't be too downhearted as we have the whole back catalogue to enjoy first!
The entire series and similar games...

1994
Shutokō Battle '94 Keichii Tsuchiya Drift King

1995
Shutokō Battle 2: Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya & Masaaki Bandoh
Wangan Dead Heat
Highway 2000

1996
Tōge Densetsu: Saisoku Battle
Shutokō Battle: Drift King Keichii Tsuchiya & Masaaki Bandoh
Tokyo Highway Battle (Jaleco)
Wangan Dead Heat Plus Real Arrange
Shutokō Battle Gaiden: Super Technic Challenge - Road To Drift King

1997
Shutokō Battle '97: Drift King Keichii Tsuchiya & Masaaki Bandoh - New Limited Ver.97
Shutokō Battle R

1998
Kattobi Tune

1999
Shutokō Battle
Tokyo Xtreme Racer
Tokyo Highway Challenge

2000
Shutokō Battle 2
Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2
Tokyo Highway Challenge 2

2001
Shutokō Battle 0
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero
Tokyo Xtreme Racer
Shutokō Battle H"

2002
Shutokō Battle I 
Shutokō Battle EZ
Shutokō Battle
Wangan Midnight

2003
Shutokō Battle Online
Kaidō Battle: Nikko, Haruna, Rokko, Hakone
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift
Shutokō Battle 01
Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3
Shutokō Battle Online Special Pack "SpeedMaster"

2004
Kaidō Battle 2: Chain Reaction
Kaido Racer

2005
Shutokō Battle Evolution
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Advance
Shutokō Battle
Street Supremacy
Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix
Kaidō Battle: Tōge no Densetsu
Kaido Racer 2
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Drift 2
Shutokō Battle Evolution Plus

2006
Shutokō Battle Evolution
Shutokō Battle Ten
Import Tuner Challenge

2007
Wangan Midnight
Wangan Midnight Portable

2011
Shutokō Battle
Thanks to Martin for that comprehensive look at the Shutokou Battle series, not just for the Dreamcast but across all of the platforms it graced. You can find Martin on Twitter here, and you can read his previous guest articles by following the links below:

Why I Hate The Dreamcast
Dreamcast Vs Wii U: Which Failed Harder?

1 comment:

Wilson Guerrero said...

I used to have a place of videogame rentals back in the playstation and N64 days, when we brought the Dreamcast many people lost their minds but it was this game the one with the highest ammount of players/followers, it's so good even the stupid AI makes it good **man you have to defeat him before an intersection or he will exit the race with a draw** such good memories.