Unirally (AKA Uniracers) is a true (and sadly now effectively “lost”) classic game, one of the best in the entire SNES catalogue.
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.
Before it was the company that made all the money with Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption — mostly through online players — the company now known as Rockstar North was DMA Design.
DMA Design was a wildly creative mob, best known for Lemmings.
Look, don’t get me wrong, Lemmings is great (and it’ll be retro game of the week in its own right at some point, I’ve got it on a couple of different systems, because Lemmings exists for everything), but if you ask me to name DMA’s best pre-GTA game, it’s always going to be Unirally.
Retro Game Of The Week: Lemmings 3D
At which point, I’ve found, a lot of people look quizzically at me, because they’ve not heard of it. Known as Uniracers in the US, on the surface it’s a very simple racing and stunt/trick game built around sentient unicycles.
Stunts make you go faster. That’s just science.
No, really, the world of Unirally has a wildly creative backstory to go with its general sense of chaotic fun. From the manual:
Far in the past, or what passed for the past, some great and powerful Unigod looked across the abstract Universe and realised that his boredom went right off the scale.
He was through with creating a planet here, an asteroid there. What’s more he was trying to impress a young goddess who thought that he lacked a creative imagination.
After all, you can only say kind things about a newly created world so many times without giggling.
This wasn’t a fun situation for the Unigod, as you can well imagine.
So after a timeless interval locked in the celestial equivalent of a cupboard, with an endless supply of Turbo-Strength Coffee, he came up with the idea of a race of Unicycles who would compete in the ultimate games! What’s more, it would really break the ice at parties.
That’s certainly a tad more creative than the official press release for the game, which states that:
The game features 16 different unicycles each with more than 6,000 frames of animation allowing for fluid movement as the unicycles careen down abstractly geometric courses. Players are judged not only on their course time but also on the difficulty of stunts and trick maneuvers they can get the unicycles to perform. This side-scrolling game is for one or two players (split screen), and also features a tournament mode for exciting group play.
Woo. Bring back game manuals with a sense of fun.
Unirally’s manual has a sense of fun; there’s even a page that spends all its time moaning about the quality (or lack thereof) in frozen oven pizzas, just so that there’s not a blank page presented to the reader.
Does this have anything at all to do with Unirally? No, not at all, which is why that page also has “Irrelevant” written on it in big friendly letters. But I digress…
Get stunt right, go faster. Get stunt wrong… ah… yeah… that’s not good.
Unirally is primarily a racing game, either along straight line tracks or looping tracks with a nice variety of hazards and perils to befall your sentient unicycle chum along the way.
If it were a platform game it would (quite rightly) be derided for not showing you lots of where you’re going to be racing or landing, but then this is very much the point; the colour of the track does give you some subtle clues as to whether it’s a good time to be jumping or doing stunts, which make you go faster. But not entirely knowing what’s coming adds to the peril, because when you wipeout, you lose a lot of your speed. Think what happens when you hit the sides of the track in WipeOut, that kind of thing.
In any case, learning each track is the key to beating it, especially on higher difficulty levels.
No time to stop and think; your foe is ALWAYS on your tail. Do unicycles have tails?
Each race or stunt track attempt is only a minute or so long, which keeps it both as a high-tempo affair, but also one that’s excellent for bite-sized gaming.
You’re never bored, because there’s never time to stop, and the simpler presentation keeps you 100% focused on the game at hand.
Levels are also nicely balanced for difficulty, so when you do crash and lose a little momentum, you know why, you learn why, and you do better next time — which means your brain rewards you with a nice dopamine hit. That’s smart game design right there. Or a description of addiction, one of the two…
Did this game come out in the 90s? Why yes. Yes it did.
That being said, my copy — which I’ve had from new — saw more than a few of my friends have “just one go” and remain there for hours, the SNES controller button shapes now indelibly burned into the tips of their fingers. It’s that kind of truly addictive, truly wonderful game.
I mentioned last week when I was writing up Rock N’ Roll Racing that it was a game that did a lot with presentation, both audio and visual.
Unirally’s like that too, only much more so, with a high-energy rock track that drives you along, combined with some very cute visuals for each unicycle. You feel their frustration when they come second and bang their seats (heads?) on the ground, or their elation when they win.
Retro Game Of The Week: Rock ‘N Roll Racing
Truly, the animation on Unirally is superb… possibly too good.
Why is there glue in the world? Because it’s funny, that’s why.
See, there’s a tragedy in Unirally’s history, and it’s one that you might not be aware of. It’s also why it’s not that well known a title, really, and why there’s no Unirally 2, or 3 or a course creation version, say, “Unirally Maker” which would be sooooooooo good….
Sorry, I drifted off and started drooling just then. Unirally does that to me.
Which way is up, exactly?
Anyway, you know who else did an animated Unicycle?
Pixar, in a 1987 short film called Red’s Dream.
Red’s Dream can be found on YouTube, not officially, but I won’t link it here just in case Pixar (now part of Disney) feels like being as litigious as it did with DMA Design back in the day.
Pixar took one look at Unirally and decided that Unirally’s sentient unicycle looked a bit too much like theirs.
Because, clearly, having done it once, Pixar clearly owned the rights to the visual appearance of all unicycles, everywhere, all the time forever.
Oh, no, wait, that sounds daft, and the whole thing is stupid anyway given that DMA Design wasn’t pitching Unirally: The Movie, and Pixar wasn’t doing Red’s Dream: The Video Game anyway. Generally speaking you can do creative work around the same concept in different fields without fear of lawsuits.
And yet somehow, Pixar sued AND WON.
Unirally was made by DMA Design for Nintendo specifically — which is why it’s a single format game, I could see this having scope to work on the Megadrive for sure — and as part of the settlement, beyond the initial run of cartridges, it was never re-printed or re-released. No compilations, no Switch online version, no nothing.
Pixar killed it, and what’s more, they killed any future Unirally games as a result.
Here’s a free thought for Rockstar North: Why not include a mini-game stunt racer in GTA 6 built around, oh, I dunno, sentient tricycles with mouse ears under the rules of parody? I’d certainly play it…
How to play Unirally (SNES) today
So, I bought my copy way, way back in the day for… an amount of money.
I genuinely don’t recall, let’s call it $60 because that was the lower end of what games went for at the time, and I certainly didn’t have a big budget for games, so I probably got it on special somehow. Sounds like a me thing from back in the day.
Fun trivial fact: The RBA’s inflation calculator suggests that this would equate to around $117 today. Which is what premium games go for now when they’re new, less so a few months later generally speaking for physical copies. Digital copies are a whole different level of insane. But I digress, again…
(Hat tip to this guy for pointing out the RBA calculator to me. I’ve obviously never heard of him otherwise.)
I’ve had way more than $117 worth of value out of Unirally. Way, way more.
It’s one of my prized SNES possessions, which is why it’s in a protective plastic sleeve — no, not slabbed, never consign your precious games to tombs, this gets PLAYED, and not just a little, but as noted it’s not as though Nintendo or Rockstar North could easily decide to release it again today.
Excuse me, I have to go outside and shake my fist at Disney.
So, it’s a superb game that can never be rereleased, and you’d think in the current overinflated retro market, that would mean Unirally is one seriously pricey title, right?
I mean, considerably lesser pieces of trash can go for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in the current market, so this must be REALLY expensive, yeah?
I suspect it’s just one of those games that’s flown under the radar in that style, because this is absolutely one of those games that you should own. Yes, I know, lots of people will (sigh) simply emulate it, and I’m not your dad and all that. But this is a joyous game that should be celebrated from the rooftops, and it blows my mind how relatively cheap it still is.
But that’s blowing my mind in a good way, because it means you can pick it up for less than I paid for it back in the day. Loose copies on eBay typically seem to go for around $30, and even boxed copies can be had for under $100.
I’m going to say this very simply.
Use that link above (it’s an affiliate one, yes, that does help me, but…) do it, add this game to your collection in a physical way and play it.
Do it BEFORE the asset collecting vultures realise how good and wonderful and worth having it is, so you don’t pay too much.
But above all, buy a copy and enjoy it. I honestly don’t see how you couldn’t enjoy it, unless you’re actually allergic to fun.