Right off the bat and credit where it is due, Virtua Racing is twice the game Ridge Racer is. It has more interesting and varied tracks, and the physics are also better.
In case the name of the game doesn’t give it away, Virtua Racing is a racing game so you press accelerate and turn as appropriate. However, Virtua Racing is one of *those* checkpoint racer that are a direct port of the coin eating monsters in the arcade. You know, the ones entirely designed to take as much money as possible rather than be a fair enjoyable race?
I’m no fan of checkpoint racers as I usually struggle to finish a race and on Virtua Racing it took me a while to do a race on “easy”, as the checkpoint system present barely allows for 2 crashes. I know you aren’t supposed to crash in a racing game, but let a noob learn dammit! You have exactly 3 minutes 40 seconds to finish the Beginner race which is 5 laps. That doesn’t sound too bad, but a fantastic lap is 41 seconds, and a good lap is 43ish seconds. And those of you that are good at maths will quickly see you need an average of 44 seconds to finish the whole thing. So you really have no leeway, and any mistake is punished. After this is gets even harder, medium and hard tracks are insane, they look nice, but I can’t get passed the 4th lap of medium, or the 3rd on Hard. The handling seems as realistic as 1994 could handle, so no, it isn’t realistic, but you can learn the bumps and turns and eventually beat the other difficulties.
If this was 1994 and Virtua Racing was the 1 or 2 new games I got a year I’d spend the time learning every bump and curve in the road. In the current year of our Lord (Resident Evil 2-20) I can’t be fucked. I have better things to do then be twitch perfect at a game that is as old as some of my towels.
All this means that Virtua Racing isn’t impossible, but the margins are tighter than Scrambles’ wallet on a night out!
The graphics where revolutionary for the time, and benefited from the Sega Virtua Processor chip, which did lead to obnoxious prices at release ($100 or £70), but meant this Genesis boasts impressive visuals. The SVP chip caused the Virtua Racing cartridge to be twice the size of regular carts though, so urrhm, yeah, it looks weird as hell.
Now the graphics have aged poorly, the simplistic blocky 3D models simply don’t look as good as a 2D sprite. That said, the graphics look better than many early 3D games such as Tomb Raider so I can’t be too critical. The other major bonus here is that while Virtua Racing is an exercise in technical cock-waving on SEGAS behalf, they do manage to piss on the MODE7 chip and abominations such as Starwing. Which I stand by my beliefs in that Starwing is a bag of shit. But ultimetly, it does not look good.
The tracks are actually pretty interesting and unique, there isn’t one track that simply gets new corners ala Ridge Racer, instead each track has its own identity with different sights to see.
Alright, I can’t see where to go
The major problem with Virtua Racing is that there is no one view that is good, or even good “enough. The default view is too zoomed in, and the lack of draw distance means corners come out of nowhere. The alternatives are to zoom out as far as possible, but while playing in “Micro Machines super zoomed out” mode means you can’t see corners until it is too late, and when you pass under a bridge the camera doesn’t adjust. Suffice to say, you crash almost every time you pass a tunnel or reach a bend – until you know the tracks well enough.
At its core Virtua Racing is not a bad game, the handling is relatively tight but the game is let down by the fact it is an arcade checkpoint racer and the graphics are pretty fugly to modern eyes.
If you’re a big fan of this style racer then you will find some joy here with increased difficulty and variety in tracks. For a newb the Beginner mode is beatable, but without patience you won’t get passed the 3rd lap of normal difficulty and there probably isn’t enough of a reason to try.
Pros: decent enough handling, decent enough course variety
Cons: graphics barely hold up, draw distance is a pain, a bit difficult
Back in the Day:
Virtua Racing scored very highly with scored averaging out in the high 80s low 90s, it also managed to win a number of Games of the Year Awards for the Genesis.
Also available on Sega 32X (1994) and Sega Saturn (1995)