Uniracers Review

2.75 / 5 (4 votes)

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Author: jrsupermoore

If you’ve ever been the author of what you thought to be a brilliant, one-of-a-kind concept only to be told “hey, that’s our idea, copycat!”, you know what it was like for DMA, the geniuses behind Uniracers. It turns out that being accused of idea theft was a double blow, because Uniracers was designed for the purpose of keeping in step with the fabled ‘blast processing’ capabilities of Nintendo’s rival, Sega.  Now they were being told their answer to Sonic wasn’t even authentic! Nintendo was forced to cease distribution of Uniracers after the first 300k, making it a title with a unique history. But beyond all that hubbub, is it even fun to play?

Uniracers is one of the most unique racing video games of any time period. Straying from the Mode-7 style in which  vehicles race toward the horizon, or the isometric style used by some SNES games, Uniracers has a 2D design. The game was conceived as a platformer (ala Sonic), but shifted to the racing concept as the vision developed. [1] As a result, the race takes the Uni(cycle) in all cardinal directions for a roller-coaster effect. Like any racing title, track memorization is a premium. While immediate vision is limited, the racer is aided by track color cues: they help anticipate a rise, loop or hazardous patch ahead. There is also an arrow in the screen of the trailing Uni, as well as a frequent readout of how many tenths of seconds your Uni is either trailing or ahead.

While the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series worked perfectly for the era of 3D, DMA was able to capture much of that trick-for-points excitement with far less to work with. In Uniracers, pulling stunts is your Uni’s method of gaining speed bursts. This requires a smart, fluid execution from beginning to end. In short, the tension between risk and reward never stops. Tricks range from spins and flips/rolls on the easy end, to “Z-spins” on the difficult. Wipeouts are to be expected during the learning curve and are sometimes spectacular themselves. The physics is highly consistent and really don’t require much suspension of disbelief. DMA was merciful when they gave the Uni a gravitating pull to the track, meaning you are free of the shame that comes from having a cloud-surfing Lakitu bring you back from the depths.

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The track variation of Uniracers pales in comparison to the SNES’ heavy hitters of the genre. All 32 standard tracks, as well as the 8 trick tracks, use a similar scheme. The races are short enough, however, to keep from becoming boring, and a race can be restarted at any time with no penalty. By design, the incredibly colorful foreground is contrasted by a dull patterned background. But because course memorization is such a premium for advancing against the competition, this straight-forward design works well.

Uniracers is a very tough game to get through in the way that only adds to its replay value. There is a sensible system by which courses are unlocked in stages. One must earn bronze, silver, and finally gold medals in all tracks and tours to advance to the final contender, the anti-Uni. The anti-Uni is a formidable foe who will mess with your sense of direction and test your course memorization mightily. All throughout Uniracers there is a recognizable handicap factor ala the more recent Mario Kart titles, however this is less useful against stiff competition and more for allowing two-player matches coming down to the wire. If one is so inclined, the handicap can also be used to earn incredibly low lap times in circuit mode. [2]

Much of the visuals and sounds that Uniracers is comprised of makes it a flagship title of the SNES’ “Play It Loud” years. There is quite a bit happening onscreen at any given time, as emphasized in the game’s original promotion. [below] Full graphical precedent is given to the Uni, although overall it is a very clean package. The to-be-expected 90s metal soundtrack does not detract from the significant aural triggers which assist you in hunting down your adversary: wipeouts, tricks and checkpoints provide plenty of information for your Uni to decide how many and what tricks are necessary to make up time.

Lastly, stat-tracking offers the gamer another injection of replay factor. There are 16 slots available for racers to save their names and times, each a set paint color. Similar to Mario Kart, top lap and race times are recorded for each track, and the same goes for points on stunt tracks. While most people probably don’t have 15 friends to play with, it can still be a fun way to play the game again from start to finish with a different identity.

With all that said, can you handle the zany? Uniracers is a forward-thinking racer that injects loads of insight to the genre. It is a must-own for collectors, not only for its discontinued status, but its flagship mission for the SNES. I’ve become smitten with the thrill of making my Uni land quadruple twists, and I plan on playing for years to come. I adore the uniqueness of utilizing all four sides of the screen–and that’s how many stars I’ve given this game. While not quite on the tier of the Nintendo’s own Mario Kart or F-Zero, Uniracer is a gem of a racer well worth a fellow’s trick.

Four out of Five Stars

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[1] Andrew Webster, “A Reason to Hate Pixar: Uniracers on the SNES is a Masterpiece”

[2] OrangeStar, “Uniracer” on GameFAQs

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jrsupermoore

jrsupermoore

I am a lover and reviewer of children's literature and retro video games. When I'm not on the retail floor or behind a coffee counter, I am working on becoming the best writer I can be.

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