Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Zusar Vasar (Dreamcast)

Zusar Vasar is the kind of game that just doesn't get made anymore: it's a racing game that isn't about driving either go-karts round theme park-looking tracks or realistic cars around realistic tracks. Instead, it's a futuristic (possibly post-apocalyptic) chariot racing game, in which the chariots are pulled by robotic animals of various kinds. And they race around a variety of locations: mountains, jungles, ruined cities, and so on.

The whole chariot deal isn't just a gimmick, either: it significantly affects how you drive around. The main controls have you steering with the analogue stick, and both triggers are accelerate, one assigned to each of your robots. The X button is also used for your boost, that takes a few seconds recharge after use. Obviously, the weight distribution of a chariot is different to a car or motorbike, too. Mainly, there's a joint between your "engine" and the back of your vehicle, which has no power of its own and just rocks about as it's pulled along. So those are the first few quirks to which you have to get used, but there's more.

The "more" comes in the form of the fact that there are three different kinds of race: one the ground, in the air, and in the water. And they all feel totally different. My recommendation is to play a few air races first, as they're the easiest way to get used to the whole "dual acceleration" thing, and getting a handle on that makes all the races a lot easier. The water races are a lot harder to get a handle on, though, as your craft sways and bobs around on the water and swings like crazy on corners. The ground races are somewhere in the middle, of course, and after you've played a few they're not much more difficult to get through than a normal arcade-style racing game.

As for structure, there's the obvious modes for single races, time trials and a season mode, plus there's the "single battle race" mode. When I saw this mode on the menu, I wondered why there wasn't any battle race season mode. Once I actually played it, the answer was obvious: this mode is an enjoyable, but somewhat unfair, little slice of organised anarchy. Before you start a race in this mode, you choose your animal and chariot, and you choose a normal and special weapon too. The normal weapon can be used as much as you like, and the special weapon has a cooldown time even shorter than your boost. The result is six chariots all trundling around, constantly shooting each other, there's explosions all over the place, and it's just generally anarchic. It's a ton of fun, but it'd be infuriating if you were actually trying to consistently win to try and progress through a season.

Zusar Vasar is a game I'd place alongside the likes of Speed Power Gunbike: it's a game that initially seems unforgiving to the point of being no fun at all. But like Speed Power Gunbike, play it a bit more, get used to it's idiosyncracies, and you'll be hurtling along and having a ton of fun. The Dreamcast is such a widely-loved and thoroughly talked-about console that there aren't many hidden gems on there that everyone doesn't know about, but I think Zusar Vasar can be considered one of them.

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