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Rad Racer

Today, when someone brings up Square-Enix and the sort of games they make, a litany of popular RPGs springs forth. The studio’s early days didn’t have a single RPG in its library, though. Heck, the company was still called Squaresoft and Enix was a competitor. One of Square’s earliest games to gain notoriety in the West was Rad Racer, a very straightforward racing game typical of the period. It was good at what it set out to do, but as the years passed few actually realized that this game shared many of the same developers as the early Final Fantasy games did.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about Rad Racer. It was a simple game with a camera perspective from behind the car players controlled. The goal was to complete eight courses before time ran out, all the while avoiding other cars on the road and not crashing into street lamps and other obstacles. Players would have the choice of driving a Ferrrari F28 or a Formula 1 car with the vehicle chosen dictating how much additional time one would receive upon reaching a checkpoint on a given track. One thing people will quickly notice when hopping into this game is that it looks and plays quite similar to Outrun, which was quite popular at the time of Rad Racer’s release. The only thing Squaresoft’s game lacked was a branching race course.

Early on, Rad Racer can feel quite challenging since mistakes are punished so severely. Bumping into other cars or wiping out due to taking a corner too hard eat up a lot of time as players need to get all the way back up to top speed, or even have their car placed on the track again. Depending on what track a player is on and how well the person is doing, this sort of thing can quickly lead to a game over screen. The time limits between checkpoints can be very strict with every second being important. Of course, like most racing games, players learn and begin to remember when big, difficult turns are coming up, as well as how to moderate their speed while weaving between computer-controlled vehicles. The course designs are all very well done and enjoyable to drive once one gets a handle on the game, so putting in the effort to get good at them is very much encouraged.

One thing about Rad Racer that turned a lot of people’s heads at the time was how well it created a sense of speed on the NES. In the 1980s, a lot of racing games had trouble with this, and players had to rely more on the speedometer to see how fast they were going. Squaresoft managed to create a game here that did a very good job of toggling the speed the track moved and how the backdrop behaved. As such, things would move past the player’s car such that one could tell they were going fast or slow simply by viewing their vehicle’s surroundings. It may not sound like much now, but for the time it was a pretty neat feature to see.

As mentioned earlier, some people who helped to create the Final Fantasy series were also involved with this game. It was initially designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi with the game’s score composed by Nobou Uematsu, which explains all of the catchy tunes on the different tracks. Meanwhile, Nasir Gebelli handled the programming. As such, Rad Racer provides a window into some of the very early work these individuals were involved with, as well as showing what they could do in a game that wasn’t an RPG.

At the time of its release, Rad Racer was fairly well-received. It got decent review scores and good word of mouth. People old enough to remember NES commercials of the era can probably recall the game getting mentioned on TV quite a bit at the time. The game also managed to sell reasonably well. However, it wasn’t enough to get Squaresoft out of the difficult financial situation it found itself in during the late 1980s. As such, we’d see the company shift toward RPGs and hardly ever revisit the racing game genre (with rare exceptions) once Final Fantasy saved the company.

While Square is an RPG juggernaut nowadays, it’s interesting to look back at the sorts of games it was making 30 years ago. Rad Racer is a game worth spending time just as much for its own merits as for it being a piece of history. It’s a well put together racing game on the NES.

- IroIro
November 18, 2019

Other Racing Games and Anime We've Discussed

- Konami Krazy Racers Review (GBA)

- Ex-Driver Review (Anime)

- Future GPX Cyber Formula Review (Anime)

Platform: NES
Genre: Racing
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Squaresoft
Released: 1987

Rad Racer Image 1
NES Box Art

Rad Racer Image 2
Racing in Greece with a Formula 1 Car

Rad Racer Image 3
Dusty desert roads

Rad Racer Image 4
Enjoying the city skyline