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R.C. Pro-Am


Hoskat

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Genre: Racing

Publisher: Rare

Total time played: 25 Hours

Short review: Dodge road hazards and collect upgrades to your remote control car in this fast paced racing game.


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Oh, I Get It!

I played R.C. Pro Am for a long time as a kid before I got the gimmick of the game. The R.C. stands for Remote Control and you use your NES controller as simulacra for the hand held remote controller that would pilot a real life remote control car. So, for accuracy sake, there is no more accurate game on the NES for mimicking a real life activity. At the start of each race you even see little radio waves hitting the antenna sticking out the top of your car to let you know that you are no controlling the car remotely.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 8.43.18 AM

See the radio waves? What attention to detail!

How To

The goal of the game is to finish in 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. There are only 4 racers, so basically, if you don’t come in last you move on to the next race. This is really easy to do in the first several races and then becomes easier said than done as the game progresses.

The game features a top down view that takes a few minutes to get used to. But, once you do, the game is pretty simple (not to be confused with easy) and the controls are perfect. B is used to make your car go forward, you steer with right and left as if you were sitting in the drivers seat of the car. What this means is that if the car is driving towards the bottom of the TV screen you use the right controller button to turn towards the left side of the TV because from the perspective of the drivers seat you would be turning right.

The A button is used to shoot projectiles you pick up at your enemies, kind of like a very early Mario Kart prototype, your enemies don’t get the luxury of projectiles so this gives you an advantage.

How to Beat the Game

I never realized how many NES games don’t have true endings. According to the cover art of the game box there are 32 tracks so one would assume that after the 32nd race the game would end, that is not the case.

From what I’ve read and watched online there are not 32 tracks, there are 24 tracks and after finishing the 24th the tracks loop, so, track 25 looks the same as track 1. But, that also isn’t quite right. Some of the 24 tracks are the same and just feature hazards in different spots. Anyway, most people agree, after track 24 you have beaten the game.

If I was really hardcore I would try to fill up the trophy screen with 48 trophies (the most it can hold). And, if I was REALLY hardcore I’d try to fill the trophy room with 48 gold trophies. I found a tool assisted video online where a guy does this, I’m not sure I would be ever good enough to do this, but, the room looks so good this way…

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 2.40.23 PM

Screenshot from a tool assisted YouTube video. I wish I was good enough to do this.

Powerups

  • Tires – Increasing the stickiness of your tires making steering easier. The more you collect (up to 4) the better your steering gets. Sticky tires follow you from race to race, until your car is upgraded. Each time you pick this item up you get a short speed boost as well.
  • Turbo Acceleration – Increasing the acceleration of your car allowing you to get to your top speed faster. The more you collect (up to 4) the better your acceleration gets. Turbo acceleration follows you from race to race, until your car is upgraded. Each time you pick this item up you get a short speed boost as well.
  • Higher Top Speed – Increasing the top speed of your car. The more you collect (up to 4) the higher your top speed gets. Higher Top Speed follows you from race to race, until your car is upgraded. Each time you pick this item up you get a short speed boost as well.
Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 8.43.48 AM

Collect power-ups to make your car faster.

  • Letter Block – Each level contains a letter that eventually spells out the word Nintendo. If you collect all 8 letters your car is upgraded from a truck to a jeep. If you spell out Nintendo again it is upgraded from a Jeep to a race car. Each car is a little better than the last. To be successful you need to collect these letters in the first 16 levels so you get the fastest car in the game on level 17. This gives you several levels to pick up power-ups you will need to beat the game. The later in the game you get the fastest car the fewer power-ups you will be able to pick up.
  • Missile –  This power-up gives you the ability to shoot missiles at cars in front of you, be careful you only have a limited amount of shots.
  • Bomb – Much like the missile, the bomb allows you to attack other cars, this time the bomb drops behind your car stopping approaching cars before they can pass you.
  • Star – A star adds one shot to your missiles or your bombs.
  • Roll Cage – Picking this up makes your car invincible from wrecking for several seconds. This is also the only power up in the game that the other cars can pick up.
  • Zippers – Red arrows scattered throughout certain courses that act as short turbo boosts for your car. These items aren’t actually picked up, they stay on the track and are necessary to hit on multiple laps in some of the later races if you want to win.

Hazards

Water Puddle – Blue puddles that slow your car down. While annoying, these are the least dangerous hazards in the game.

Oil Slick – Hitting these black patches cause your car to spin in a circle. You don’t lose momentum but you lose the ability to steer for a few moments. If you are on a long straight away these aren’t a big deal, but, if you hit one around a curve you will wreck and it takes a second or two for your car to be fixed. If you have the roll bar power-up your car won’t crash.

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Hard to believe anyone could live through a mangled wreck like this.

Skull and Crossbones – Slows you down and takes away one missile or bomb

Pop Up Barriers – On long straight aways a small barrier will go up and down in the middle of the track, sometimes you get lucky and it is lowered when you pass, other times you crash into it.

Rain Clouds – Moves back and forth across the track, if you hit them you slow down.

That Orange Car!!!

Every once in a while the Orange Car gets an insane speed boost that lasts the rest of the race. There is literally no way to catch the car and many times he will lap the other racers and finish the race a lot earlier than you expect. The game is a little different from most racers in that when the first car crosses the finish line the race ends for everyone. So, if the Orange Car is going H.A.M. you have to be conscious of what place you are in the entire time. You may be on lap 3 of 5 when the Orange Car finishes and if you are in 4th place it is game over for you.

It took me a long time to realize that I had control over when the car speeds up. Every 10 times you shoot a missile or bomb (or maybe hit the other cars, I’m not positive) the car takes off. The count continues between races so sometimes the car explodes with speed the first time you hit another racer with a missile or bomb.

Some players use this to their advantage by getting the car to go fast from the start of a difficult race so the race is shorter for everyone. Since the Orange Car will finish at least one lap ahead of you that means you have one lap less to race and less racing means less obstacles to avoid. I never used this strategy because I liked saving my projectiles for the last few races.

Game Genie

In the 4th grade I stayed the night with my friend Brandon who owned this game. This was the first time I played the game and Brandon told me it never ended. I didn’t believe him so we spent hours trying to see how far we could get and prove there was an ending. Of course we were only 9 so probably didn’t even get to race 10.

Brandon had a trick up his sleeve to prove it to me. He had a game genie and he knew the code to make the other cars go crazy. So, we popped in the game genie and put in the code and just as he said the computer racers just drove in circles once the race started meaning there was no competition for us. We played for a long time getting to level 50 and we just couldn’t play anymore. So, we hooked up the NES Advantage controller, leaned a heavy jar of pennies on the controller and on the B button and just let the game play all night. It wasn’t pretty but the car scraping along the walls eventually made it to the finish line in first place.

The next morning when we awoke we found the game was still going and the level count in the bottom left of the screen showed some gibberish. It was either a letter/number or number/symbol combo, it was almost 30 years ago so I don’t remember exactly. But, I do remember that Brandon was right, the game does indeed go on forever.

My Biggest Struggles

Level 22

There are a few tough levels in the game but I found this to be the toughest. The track is one you have seen before (Level 17 maybe??) and features 4 oil slicks on the first turn. The race is 5 laps and you must play perfectly to win. The other cars are much faster than you so if you hit those oil slicks one time or miss the zippers on the straight away you don’t stand much of a chance. It is possible to overcome a couple of minor mistakes but you have to hit all the curves perfectly. Most of my good runs ended here.

Level 24

The final level is the longest, both in course length and number of laps (9). It may just be me, but I felt all the turns to be backwards on this race. I felt like I was writing with my left hand, riding goofy foot on a skateboard or hitting a backhand in tennis. It just didn’t feel natural to me and took a lot of failed attempts to get the hang of it. On top of this there are no power-ups or stars (ammo for your projectiles) on this course. So, if you don’t have a maxed out car and a lot of projectiles to spare this race is going to be tough. All of the cars drive nearly perfectly and are just a little faster than you are. Since you only get two continues before starting over it takes a lot of time to practice this race enough to beat it.

NES Limitations

Without going into specifics (both because I don’t fully understand and don’t feel like typing it all out) the NES is limited to a specific number of sprites (car, road hazards, power-ups) on screen at once. To get around this, the programmers coded in sprite flickering that allows more than the NES limit of sprites on screen at once. What happens is the sprites flicker at different intervals very quickly so that no more than the limit are on screen at the same time. Because they flicker so quickly the human eye doesn’t really notice, or notice enough to hinder gameplay.

The problem with this is that R.C. Pro Am moves really fast so the sprites are only on screen for a split second before you have driven past them. Even with the fast flicker you sometimes just don’t see items. This is a problem if you don’t see a water puddle or oil slick which can slow you down and is also a problem if you can’t see a letter or power-up that you need to progress in the game. It isn’t hindering by any means but you really need to know the courses like the back of your hand so you know where the power-ups are even if you can’t see them.

Conclusion

After 25 hours of playing over 3 months I’m still not sick of this game. There are not many games that remain fun after that many hours. If you are looking for a fun game to kill 15-20 minutes you will be hard pressed to find one better than this. But, if you want to beat all 24 levels you are in for an uphill battle. Even with the difficulty though the game isn’t unfair and the difficulty curve feels perfect.

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