Because Blizzard did a lot more than just Warcraft in its early years.
In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.
Back before Blizzard was… well, Blizzard, they were known as Silicon & Synapse, initially developing titles for 16 bit console systems, including this week’s retro game of the week, Rock N’ Roll Racing.
Indeed, it’s widely noted online that Rock N’ Roll Racing was Silicon & Synapse’s last game before changing names (a few times) until it finally settled on Blizzard Entertainment and started getting interested in the conflict issues between Orcs and Humans… but that’s a game for another day.
It’s pretty clear to see where Rock N’ Roll Racing gets it inspiration, via classics like Rare’s RC Pro AM titles, though it’s a style of racing game we really don’t see all that often any more.
It’s a racing game with RC-style controls presented isometrically, and even when it came out, that was a slightly retro style.
Far more popular and played were different racing game types, be it Super Mario Kart or Top Gear. No, not the BBC show, but the viewed-from-the-back-OutRun style game.
Which doesn’t mean that Rock N’ Roll Racing doesn’t present well. Indeed, the presentation does a lot of heavy lifting in this game, from the nicely presented vehicles and sci-fi tracks to the soundtracks, both spoken and musical.
On the musical side, you can’t have a game called “Rock N’ Roll Racing” without a little rock, now can you? Rock N’ Roll Racing has a surprising quality of licensed music, including Born To Be Wild, Paranoid, Highway Star and… erm… The Peter Gunn Theme.
Not quite sure the last one there quite fits the “rock” definition, but it’s actually quite a good tune to race along to. You will hear it quite a lot during gameplay.
It’s also one of only a handful of SNES games I can recall that use a lot (by SNES standards) of voice commentary samples.
NBA Jam is the obvious comparison, and while it doesn’t have quite the same variety as Midway’s superlative basketball title (which I really ought to include here one week), the quips by “Loudmouth Larry” Huffman work quite well at setting the scene.
Like RC Pro AM before it, the accent isn’t 100% on just the racing, with a small selection of powerups and weapons at your disposal to give you the edge over your foes. In single player this is played out over a series of 8 tracks with your typical progression through buying better car parts and vehicles as you go.
But is it still worth playing?
The reality of racing games is that, rather like sports games, they don’t always age all that gracefully. Rock N’ Roll Racing does have a small learning curve, and in some ways it does feel a little clunky these days, especially given its progression mechanic does mean that you do end up running through many of the same races over and over again.
It’s definitely one of those games that has nostalgic appeal if you played it back in the day or like the format of these kinds of racing games — especially as they really don’t seem to make them like this any more.
I like Rock N’ Roll Racing, and I’m quite happy to own a copy, but I can totally see where the flaws are now in ways that I didn’t quite appreciate at the time it was new. That’s down to the presentation, and it’s really why I’ve chosen it as this week’s game.
Rock N’ Roll Racing isn’t the finest SNES racer, but it is a very good example of how good presentation can enhance a game.
How can I play Rock N’ Roll Racing now?
Back in the day, Rock N’ Roll Racing was released for the Super Nintendo and Megadrive, although it did see a Gameboy Advance port as well. There’s also a sequel for the PSOne, which I’ve actually never played. Must get around to that some day.
I’d wanted an actual copy for some years, and lucked out on a recent trip to Japan, scoring a copy in a junk bin for just over 2,000 yen. $20 for a copy is not bad going — and it does rather reinforce a point I made a few weeks back that while utter bargains in the 100 yen range don’t really fly any more, a little persistent searching can sometimes reveal good value finds.
There is a much easier way to play Rock N’ Roll Racing if you’re keen, however, because it was released as part of the Blizzard Arcade Collection, alongside RPM Racing, Lost Vikings, Lost Vikings 2 and Blackthorne for PC, PS4/5, Xbox One/S/X and Nintendo Switch. It’s even apparently the “Definitive” edition, with more split screen options and a slightly more friendly presentation for modern audiences, though I do wonder if that code would actually run on a real SNES.
But what if you wanted a cart version, as I did?
Copies typically sell for around $50 for cart and $100+ complete on eBay. Though predictably, you can spend quite a bit more.