Gale Racer: Sega Saturn

Gale Racer: Sega Saturn
Gale Racer: Sega Saturn

Insert Disk collects Gale Racer for the Sega Saturn.

Today’s retro game review is Gale Racer for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic is great outing from Sega’s arcade days. Gale Racer is based on the original arcade hit Rad Mobile. This fast and furious racing game was rebuilt for the Sega Saturn in 1994, after the 1991 arcade original. By this time gamers were ready for newer racing titles and sadly Gale Racer became a game destined for a Japan only release.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I thought I’d take a look at a racing game that for the Sega Saturn that many gamers around the world waited for but never received as it never saw a release outside of Japan. Today we’re taking a look back at Gale Racer for the Sega Saturn. For those of you that were hanging around arcades back in 1991 you’ll best know this title under its original name, Rad Mobile. It was a fast and furious racer that did very well in the arcade, it was vintage Sega. The premise was that as the driver you must race your rivals from the West to East coast of America. The arcade version boasted hi-res graphics a great sense of speed and even had a key chain of Sonic. As a fun fact this is the first time that the sonic character appeared in any official Sega game. Making this the debut of one of the companies best loved mascots. By this point Alex Kidd had failed to appeal to the newer generation of gamer.

Sega had always had form of bringing their arcade successes in to the home. Just think Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Out Run, Space Harrier, After Burner and the list goes on. The snag though was that these all belonged to the 16-bit golden age of Sega. A game like Rad Mobile was far too resource hungry for the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis. The Sega CD really couldn’t handle polygons well and the 32x was a dying platform even upon release.This meant that a home edition of Rad Mobile would have to wait until the true 32-bit generation. As such Gale Racer was born. Now in 1994 many gamers had moved on. Between the PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn you could already pick up a decent range of fast racers that were specifically built for the systems. As such Gale Racer became a game that saw its release limited to Japan. After all, why push Gale Racer when the superior Sega Rally juggernaut was on the way.

From the start Gale Racer feels a bit of a mash-up of styles. The opening sequence is really excellent. It’s got the rock music, fast cars and decent landscapes. So, how about the in game action? Well, this is where I think that everyone is going to have to agree to disagree. On the surface almost everything we loved from the arcade version is here. There are a few elements taken away but if you haven’t played the original you really would never know. What’s here works because the game was rebuilt from the ground up so really this is more of a remake than a direct arcade port.

If I had to give you a sound bite as to what the game is like to play. Think Out Run but on steroids. Everything is bigger and faster but not necessarily to everyone’s taste. A common criticism is that much of the play area is taken up by either the front of the car, the timer, the area and rank and even Sonic himself. To be honest, none of this bothered my play through at all. It was intended to be like this by design so I’ll go with it. In general if you aren’t a fan of cockpit view racers Gale Racer won’t do much to change your mind. The second elements we have to talk about are the graphical tweaks to the game necessary to make Gale Racer viable to run on the Sega Saturn in the first place. The original arcade Rad Mobile was what you could call a true polygonal racer. Each car and other elements were essentially made out of a wireframe and skinned. Gale Racer on the other hand uses a much more 2D solution to create its 3D effect. Almost everything you see going on here is a standard sprite, a 2D image either moved or animated to give the impression on depth. The most noticeable use of this effect is on the road. Right from the off you’ll be questioning if this was the right technique for a racing game. The road is essentially several layers of sprite stacked behind each other. As you move towards them each layer is then scaled to give the impression of moving forward. This is a completely legitimate way of achieving the effect and used widely in gaming. The issue with Gale Racer though is that the sprites are reasonably chunky. So if you’re turning a corner you get to see how the effect is created. In turn the gamer is left to see what looks like a very bumpy surface. After a while this just becomes normal but when you first play the game it does make you question if there was a better way of achieving this effect.

This method technically led to the second issue which is perhaps more of an issue for the gamer and that’s the draw distance. With driving games its useful to be able to see where you’re going in the distance. Gale Racer naturally sits you low in the cockpit automatically reducing the viewing distance. However, the number of layered sprites used to create the road which all need to be scaled led to limitations on how much depth could be realistically achieved. I believe that the game designers did balance this depth vs processing power issue. Somehow, I just can’t help but feel that other 32-bit games achieved this better. There’s a lot of racing goodness in Gale Racer as well though. Small touches such as having to switch on your headlights or wiper blades give this that original feel of the arcade. On top of this the rain effects are simple yet very effective and the night stages also seem to punch above their weight in places. So, graphically you’re going to make your own mind up. I go back and forth on this one but I can say that I still enjoy playing this one.

The actual racing is reasonably average. The car is a little twitchy and the super-fast acceleration to 301kmph will require some getting used to. You’ll want to go full throttle but you will be punished on some of the tighter corners. The game has appearances from the police, rivals to overtake and some really diverse scenery. Some really great looking, others a little bland. The overall impression though is of a decent racer with its own style. Personally I felt that the game never outstayed its welcome. The levels are short and fast and if it’s a quick hit of action you’re after then Gale Racer gets the job done. Once you’ve made your way from Los Angeles to New York and taken down your rival you’ll be treated to a ridiculously long end sequence of the statue of Liberty. The developers really wanted to get their value for money out of that wireframe.

As Gale Racer never did see the light of day outside of Japan you will have to import this one. As with many Japanese Sega Saturn titles you will only have a CD case sized physical copy but the full colour manual and CD make this a solid package. Pricing is very unstable for this game. I picked my copy up for just a few British pounds in a bulk shipment. In the UK up to around £10 is about right, for the US up to $15 is reasonable but I’d dare say that you could pick this one up for as little as $5 on a good day. For those that did a little deeper in to the game you’ll find some unlockables and a long standing mystery.

For some time gamers have argued over which hidden Easter eggs are in the Sega Saturn game. As you play through the game you’ll be rewarded Sonic key chains at the end of each stage depending on your performance. Once you collect 100 mascots your Sonic keychain will turn in to Tails. I can confirm that this is 100% true and the unlock level is at 100 mascots. I’ve also seen other sources where the gamer has unlocked Knuckles. My assumption is that this is at 200 mascots. However, the mystery comes from which other characters are in the game to unlock. To try and get an answer I delved in to the CD to see if there were any clues to try and get a definitive answer. I found something quite interesting. If you arrange the files by name you can clearly see a .BIN file labelled Sonic and Superso. Which we can assume means Super Sonic. It stands to reason that if these two files are a similar size (which they are) then they are likely to be the binary files for the in game swinging keychain.

So, just for fun I sorted the files by size and found a very interesting result. There were several files around the 2kb size but 12 were similar .BIN files. Most of them had reasonably easy to decipher Sonic characters:
Emy (which I assume is Amy)
Metal Sonic
Super Sonic

There are 2 files in here called MekaS01 and MekaS02. Now these may not be Sonic characters. I had assumed that these were the abbreviation for Mecha Sonic (Metal Sonics alternate title). However, for fans of the Wonderboy series you may be familiar with Meka Dragon boss. I’m not 100% certain but it’s a theory worth investigating. After all, with a clearly abbreviated Metalso to Metal Sonic it makes logical sense that this is in fact another Sega character. The other names file is Lei. At present I’m not aware of what this character would be. Perhaps some of the hard-core Sonic fans could enlighten me on this one. Remember though that this game was published in 1994 so many of the new generation characters did not exist at this time. All of these characters may or may not be in the game. We’ll only know for sure if someone out there takes the time to earn all of them. Will we ever know for sure? Well so far I’ve not seen all of the unlockables but the internet is a wonderful thing so I’m sure that someone will pop up in the comments with the definitive answer on this.

So, is Gale Racer a game that you should play? Gale Racer is one of those games that isn’t outstanding but fans of the original will feel the need to at least try out its home console version. Although Gale Racer definitely has its quirks and graphical limitations I do feel that it was worth Sega’s time in developing this one. The music throughout really lifts the game. It’s that classic clock and electric guitar combination that make this feel so 90’s. The good news is that you can put this one in your CD player for the somewhat short but exciting soundtrack. I highly suggest checking out the “Flushing Beat” track. It just screams 90’s racing game montage.

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