Sunday, 1 October 2017

Wild Riders (Arcade)

Like usual with arcade racing games, I'll start with the disclaimer that I was playing this on a PC emulator with a regualr game controller, not a real, motorcycle-shaped sit-down arcade cabinet. I'll also add the extra caveat that the emulation of this game is somewhat less than perfect, so the real thing is even more preferred than usual. But I guess that most people reading this, were they to play Wild Riders, would be doing so via emulation anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter that much.

Anyway, Wild Riders is a very SEGA racing game, in which you play as one of two motorbike gang members on the run from the cops in a place called Massive City, which looks like a perfect blue-skied version of Beverly Hills from an 80s cartoon. Of course, you go smashing through parks, pool parties, fancy restaurants and hotels, and so on, all while any pedestrians jump out of the way without fail, ala Crazy Taxi. It all looks incredible too, with a cel-shaded style, incredibly bold colours on everything, and cool little stylistic things like character close-ups appearing in little comic panels.

It also plays pretty great: fast and smooth, just like you'd expect from a SEGA racing game. There's a few unique gimmicks too! Firstly, instead of a traditional time limit, since you're on the run, the counter at the top of the screen shows how many metres away they are from catching you. The number goes up and down depending on how well you're doing, and you can get bigger boosts by exploiting the game's other main gimmick. That other gimmick is that there are various obstacles that you can either jump off of or slide underneath. On a real cabinet, this is done by pulling up or pushing down on the bike's handlebars, while in emulation, you can just map these functions to buttons on your controller, they don't need to be analogue.

The only downside, and probably the reason it never got any ports to home consoles is the length: obviously an arcade game isn't going to be long, but I finished Wild Riders on my second attempt, and there's no Outrun-style branching paths or Crazy Taxi-style free roaming to add variety to repeated playthroughs, leaving you with a game that's beautiful and exciting, but essentially only for five minutes. I guess if a particular arcade had a lot of players all competing for the top score, that'd cause a lot of repeat play, but even in 2001 that'd be a very big if. Any console port would need a lot of additional stuff added, and at a time where SEGA were leaking money all over the place, doing all that for a game with no name recognition probably wasn't a priority.

So yeah, Wild Riders is a (condensed) ton of fun, and looks amazing. It's also, however, probably the most demanding game that runs on Naomi 2 hardware, so if you have a computer that can handle the emulation, it's definitely worth a look.

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