I think most of us at one time or another have driven remote-controlled cars. Before we’re old enough to drive, it’s one of the few options for operating a car, and often the car of your dreams is easily within reach. (I had a C5 Corvette until I drove it too close to my feet, tried to step out of the way, mixed up left and right and ended up stepping on the thing.) The other way is to get a video game; Gran Turismo made gearheads out of many. And sometimes, something comes out that’s the best of both worlds – and that brings us to Re-Volt, an RC car video game.
Welcome back to Boter Reviews Something: Retro Edition, where I take the definition of retro as “stuff you played before high school” and talk about a well-known, lesser-known, forgotten about or straight-up unknown game of yesteryear. Today’s target: Acclaim’s 1999 racing game, Re-Volt. I’m Boter. Let’s review something.
Re-Volt’s a combat racer, somewhat in the vein of Mario Kart but with at least passing acknowledgement given to the physics of driving. You start the game out with slow electric cars driving around the neighborhood, dodging bouncing basketballs and jumping plywood ramps over cars. As you progress in the game, you unlock more tracks – toy store, museum, and perhaps the most interesting in terms of setting, the Toytanic (with a bonus version with the ship rolling in a rainstorm) – and more cars, eventually working up to “glow” or nitro powered cars capable of breaking neighborhood speed limits.
Woven into the colorful fabric of the game are various powerups. Firecrackers are your standard aimed missile weapon, water balloons can disrupt someone in a corner, you can drop oil slicks or bowling balls behind you to change and control the track to mess up cars behind you, and a few more fanciful powerups besides. Drop a bomb that looks like the powerup lightning bolt! Or just lose to the random number generator and become a bomb, your antenna now a fuse burning down. Hit another car to transfer it, or just hope it’s not going to send you over the edge of the map.
90s game, 90s bugs
Cars are indestructible, meaning that disrupting your racing line is usually the worst that happens (aside from previously-mentioned map edge shenanigans). Sometimes you’ll get flipped upside down but it’s easy to right yourself again. All of the cars feel nice and bouncy and light, as befits the small RC car aesthetic. Turning is very responsive – almost too responsive, as just holding the turn button or moving the joystick all the way could end up spinning your car with no outside influence. Driving surfaces look level but have ridges in them from low polygon count, so mid-turn you might crest a slight hill that’ll throw you off. Part of learning each track is learning these peculiarities, and to know to straighten out the wheel mid-turn to avoid spinning out. The other big physics hurdle is that if you end up rubbing a curb or other wall, it takes some effort to unstick yourself from it – something in the game code makes it fairly sticky and you have to turn pretty hard away from the wall to get unstuck again.
My last nitpick of the main game is in the powerup selection. I enjoy all of them (some more useful than others), but at times, particularly in higher difficulties, it sorely lacks a way to collapse the playing field. Maro Kart has blue shells; Rollcage has leader missiles. In Re-Volt, if places 2-8 are all fighting each other and keeping clustered but first place pulls away, you pretty much have no chance of catching up except by exceptional driving skill. And if that’s how you like it, then great; but more often than not the joy of a combat racer is diminished when the leader is far ahead of the pack and not interacting with the rest of the field at all.
Aside from the main game – 13 tracks and 34 cars – the game is easily customizable, and a community exists to this day to facilitate it. (Talking PC here; the game was also released on N64, PlayStation and Dreamcast but while they also have a built-in track editor it’s not nearly as fully functioned.) The track editor mentioned in the previous parenthetical takes a bit of time to learn and takes a lot of time to make engaging to race (getting good performances out of the AI is tricky) but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, tracks are a joy to create. They start out with a set of skins that resembles the Toy Store maps, but once saved the textures are saves as .bmps alongside the track files and can be easily modified by anyone with Photoshop and a sense for how the tiles fit together. Modifying cars is trickier, requiring a trip into a text editor and a lot of trial and error, plus a bit more work on reskinning it, but it’s possible as well. (Then there are the people who fully 3D model new cars and tracks and those people are wonderfully crazy people. Way beyond my capabilities but they help keep the game alive.)
2nd Place out of 8
(Not to be confused with a 2/8 score.)
Re-Volt is a fun game from what I consider to be the heyday of combat racers. Great back in the day and still quite good now, it’s got its issues and glitches, but the community support keeps it running on modern systems with only as bit of digging. It’s seen some recent releases on iOS and Android, but at the end of the day the original PC version is where the game lives on.
Platform: Windows (tested), Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, iOS, Android
Price: Not available/varies/seriously an ISO should be pretty easy to find
Developer: Acclaim Studios London, Iguana Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
Release Date: July 31, 1999 (Win/N64/PS), December 17, 1999 (DC), October 4, 2012 (iOS), April 24, 2013 (Android)
Check out my Boter Plays Something video here, as part of the May of Boter 2016 Classic Racing Week: