After hitting up an arcade for the first time in ages recently, and enjoying the heck out of their racing games, I became nostalgic for an old Sega arcade from when I was a kid called Rad Mobile. I haven't come across the game since the early 90s, but I loved it back then and it has stayed with me in my gaming memories over the years. Well, after doing a little research, I discovered that the game was ported to the Saturn as a Japan exclusive release called Gale Racer. Well, spit! I quickly hit the ebays and found a Japanese seller who seemed reputable and had a good looking copy with plenty of pics, and I ordered it, along with another game to help make the transcontinental trip worth the wait.
So while I ordered it in early February, it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that the package finally arrived via Japanese Post, and with all of the craziness in the world nowadays, I decided to scrub down the contents with Clorox wipes and allow the games sit for a few days. Overly cautious I suppose, but rather be safe, yadda yadda. Anyway, I finally got the chance to fire up Gale Racer in my trusty Saturn, and I had nearly as much fun with it as I recall having at the arcade as a kid. What a fun game. The Saturn port seems to be a faithful reputation of the arcade original as well.
The gist of the game is that you have to race a bunch of cars across the United States. About 20ish different cities are represented, each with its own track that sometimes resembles it (and sometimes not so much, hahahaha, as in the Chicago skyline is in the distance, but you drive along a palm tree dotted shoreline for instance). The tracks are challenging, and aside from your fellow racers, there are also many random cars that inhabit each one, that making quick reflexes with the steering wheel and brake are a must. Furthermore, some tracks are in the night requiring you to turn on the headlights, while some are in the rain requiring you to turn on the wipers. Not that you couldn't drive without the aid of these tools, but it would certainly be much more difficult without them.
And the game is chock full of character. For example, in one stage, a semi truck was jack-knifed on the road in front of me, so I careened to the left to avoid crashing into it, and ended up on a set of train tracks. Lo and behold, a train showed up in my rearview mirror and I had to drive like heck before finding an opening to get back on the road and avoid being squashed. In another stage, a fleet of police cars attempt to chase you down and force you to crash, which really gets your heart thumping. It all makes for one heck of a ride. The racing gameplay maintains an Outrun-esque feel at its core, but with a solid helping of Mad Max dumped on top to give the game a unique ambiance. And the graphics are fabulous for the time; it was a super-scaler game developed by Sega's fabled AM3 team.
Gale Racer was released to arcades in February 1991 according to the interwebs, and this is notable because dangling from the rearview mirror of your car is not a pair of fuzzy dice or even a pine tree air freshener, but a little blue Sonic the Hedgehog doodad. This may actually be his first appearance in a video game, because the first Sonic the Hedgehog game wasn't released on the Genesis/Mega Drive until the summer of '91, but not having done the serious research, I would leave it to a Sega scholar to determine whether this is actually the case.
Anyway, while the Saturn port seems to have mixed reviews across the internet, I effing loved the game and had a lot of fun with it. I'll certainly be playing much more of it in the future, that's for sure. Sad that this one only got a Japan release and had the name changed to Gale Racer, as had it come out in the US as Rad Mobile, I would have bought a copy many many years ago. But as it is, I'm happy to have made this discovery. After all, better late than never.
Side note: I still remember being excited as a kid to see the arcade cabinet in the movie Encino Man....