Separated at Birth: Redline Racer & Suzuki Alstare

Redline Racer was a very early release for the Dreamcast and was little more than a technical showcase for the hardware. Developed by Criterion (yes, the same Criterion behind the Burnout series) the game initially launched for PC where it received average reviews, and a few months later in April 1999 it hit Japanese Dreamcasts to a similarly lukewarm reception. When Redline Racer was released in North America and PAL regions the following year, it came with official branding and a new name: Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing.

Thinking back, Suzuki was one of the first titles I experienced on the Dreamcast and I clearly recall renting it from Blockbuster when the price of a new game of my own was something way out of my price range. I also remember thinking it was a fairly decent, nice looking racer and to this day I still don't think there's anything particularly offensive about it. Sure, the visuals haven't aged well and the handling model is fairly rudimentary when compared to more contemporary motorcycle racers like Moto GP et al, but as a simplistic arcade jaunt there are worse titles out there.
I was aware of the connection to Redline Racer, but never really paid much attention to the Japanese ancestor because I always just assumed it was the same game without the Suzuki license and thought nothing more of it. However, in the recent past I acquired a copy of Redline (£3 well spent!) and gave it a whirl just out of curiosity; and I can honestly say that while many sites simply label Redline Racer as the Japanese version of Suzuki Alstare, in truth they couldn't be more different...

While the basics are quite obvious in both games - the menu systems, the layouts of the select screens and the majority of the tracks are identical in layout and aesthetic design - the visuals are almost unrecognisable when shown side by side. The images below will illustrate this a thousand times better than my limited vocabulary ever could (and the video further down even more so than that), but to say I was shocked at the visual overhaul Criterion gave to Redline Racer before unleashing it on western audiences is a massive understatement.
Redline Racer
Suzuki Alstare
Back in the late 1990s, it was almost a given that any western release (or more specifically a PAL release) would be a pale imitation of a Japanese version of the same game; but in this case the opposite seems to be the case. The extra months of development time were quite evidently spent increasing the level of detail in the riders, the bikes and the tracks. The environments do appear to be the same (so the beach track in Redline is still the beach track in Suzuki, for example), but the level of detail and texturing quality afforded to Suzuki is nothing short of staggering. You can clearly see from the images above and below that the textures of the track and trackside details have been bumped up considerably and the rider and bike models are far more complex in Suzuki.
Redline Racer
Suzuki Alstare
There are other improvements too, such as in the bike handling and incidental sound effects and music. Also, in Redline Racer there are times where the environment is too dark to see where you're going, and this leads to constant crashing in tunnels and in ravines. Thankfully, this has been rectified in Suzuki. Gone too are the random messages that pop up in Redline, alerting you that you're off the track...even though you clearly aren't, and the loading times have been vastly improved in Suzuki. Seriously, the loading times in Redline Racer seem to go on forever as the Dreamcast shakes itself to bits reading the GD, but they're almost nonexistent in Suzuki. Well, not nonexistent but certainly not the 45 second gulfs that they are in the Japanese game. Here's my hastily cobbled together video showing a comparison:

Best viewed in 720p HD for maximum effect

I suppose it's hardly surprising that Criterion thought better than to release Redline Racer in the state it was on a western audience. With competition from newer racing titles that were appearing at the time of the PAL and NTSC-U launches, the game would have been utterly mauled by the press. One thing is clear though - the extra development time was put to good use.


DCGX said...

Wow that's crazy. I'll say this though, 'Redline Racer' is a way better title.

You said the game as a whole is a little dated today, but is 'Suzuki Alstare' still fun/worth playing?

DCeric said...

I think Suzuki Alstare does look a lot better. I know I said Redline Racer looked better on a comment in Facebook but seeing more in the video made me quickly change my mind on that. I don't know much about Redline Racer but I find Suzuki Alstare a truly bad ass title for the Dreamcast and I don't know why there i so much hate for it. I do realize that the physics are one thing that might be bad in the game.

Tom Charnock said...

DCGX - Yes, I think so. It's still a fun racer with nice variation in the tracks. I found it odd that the starting courses are different in each game though. I had to play through the championship in Suzuki to unlock the countryside track but in Redline it's one of the initial three that are open.

Eric - Yes, I agree. I think Suzuki got middling reviews when it launched because there were other more impressive games out by that point.

Unknown said...

I really like this game and still play it every know and again, it doe's take practice to learn the courses but it a graphically smooth game. I also looks amazing through vga, any Dreamcast owner should have it as its usually pretty cheap to pick up.

DCGX said...

Cool. I'll have to keep my eye out for it at local game shops.

Gareth said...

The frame-rate seems to have taken a bit of a hit on Suzuki though. All that extra didn't didn't come for free, and I think the frame-rate is a casualty.