Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off-Road Racer (phew) is without doubt this month's winner of the longest, most-difficult-to-say name award. (Congratulations.) It's also, like another game reviewed not a million miles from here (see below), basically a modern update of an ancient arcade classic (Supersprint in this case, not Spy Hunter). But that's where the similarity ends, 'cos whereas The Spy Who Loved Me seems only to have earned a cautious thumbs-up, Ironman is an absolute stonker!
Those wise Spec-chums who bought last month's YS should know quite a lot about the game by now anyway. After all, we gave away a rather spanking little playable demo on the cover cassette, as well as splashing the thing all over the front of the magazine. For the others among you (where were you?) what happens is that you, and a pal if you've got one, compete in a series of races around a set of twisty, turny off-road circuits, jumping over ridges, avoiding mud holes and trying not to spin off at the corners (if you can possibly help it).
The tracks are all rather small (small enough to fit into a single screen, so there's no call for any complicated scrolling or anything) meaning the trucks are tiny little things whizzing about the place. Tiny, but very well animated - there are apparently over 100 different little truck sprites which the computer keeps switching between to keep everything looking as it should!
And, erm, that's about it really. I could go on about the shop sequence which appears at the end of each race (allowing you to upgrade your truck with new shock absorbers, nitrous oxide injection and so on), or the eight different circuits you play through at random, or the credit system that can count as extra goes or upgrades for your vehicle but they're just icing on the cake - it's the thrills 'n' spits (lots of spills!) of the actual game that makes ironman so much fun.
And if you think it's fun on your own, just wait until you get your chum involved! This is one of those games that two-player mode was invented for (unfortunately they don't seem to have been able to fit in the three-player option from the arcades). The bouncy, up-and-down nature of the circuits and number of hazards (mud holes, pools, you name it) make for a sufficienty crazy anything-can-happen sort of a race on their own - you just can't help hitting other cars and bouncing about all over the place. But get another guy involved and the temptation to keep ramming him and/or running him off the road is irresistible. You can even (hee hee) decide to zoom off the wrong way round the track (!), ploughing head-first into the racers who are taking it seriously half-way round!
Of course, it's not just the simple, accessible game design that makes Ironman so good - the Codies, for instance, have done hundreds of similar things, albeit with a simpler perspective and none of the interesting bouncy up-and-down bits. It's the skill with which it's been programmed. Graftgold (last responsible for the Speccy Rainbow Islands) are the blokes behind it, and they've managed to incorporate lots of colour, very little clash, and get everything jumping around incredibly quickly. And it all loads in one go as well.
Faults? There aren't any really. I think the fact that there aren't actually all that many circuits could cut down on life expectancy a bit (though you go round each one in both directions, making it seem like there are more). but apart from that it achieves what it sets out to do more or less perfectly. In case you hadn't guessed already, I love Ironman. For my money this is one of the most fun games of the year, and the best Supersprint-type game I've ever played (much better than the original was on our rubber-keyed chum, that's for sure). The business, and no mistake.
Off-road racing, eh? What a dumb idea. Not only do you mess up some perfectly nice fields by driving massive juggernauts all over them at dangerously high speeds, but you also get your truck all manky into the bargain. What's wrong with good old ON-road racing, that's what I want to know.
Anyway, stupid conceptual niggles aside, Super Off-Road is actually a completely spiffy little game. For any of you out there who've spent the last year asleep under a wildebeest, it's a racing game in the Super Sprint style. You view the action from overhead and drive around a selection of eight bumpy, hilly tracks littered with craters and big puddles against three computer-controlled opponents (or two computer-controlled opponents and one human competitor), one of which is always 'Ironman' Ivan himself. Beat Ivan in the race and you get to move onto the next track, as well as winning pots of dosh which you can spend on improving your truck to make it even more of a mad turbo nutter-death machine. Finish behind him and it's all over.
Luckily, this is something you won't have to worry about too much, because the game is really easy to beat. Perhaps a bit too easy, in fact, as even the most average player will almost certainly complete all eight tracks by their second or third game. (And this despite the fact that you don't just get them all in a row, you have to do some of the earlier ones several times in both directions before you get to the eighth.)
This puts a bit of a question mark over it lasting appeal. Even if you don't come first in a race, you'll probably still qualify cos 'Ironman' is so pathetic that more often than not he finishes last. Even if you give him a lap-and-a-half start. But then again, maybe I'm being a bit too picky here. If you're battling against a chum it doesn't really matter about seeing the different tracks. If you're not, the game is such a lot of fun to play that you probably won't mind too much that it never seems to end. But just for the hell of it, let's finish on another whinge. The tiny graphics, extreme speed and largely monochrome nature of things mean that it's sometimes hard to tell which truck you're actually controlling. Although ti's not as hard a you might think, so, er, forget I mentioned it. Just remember this instead: Super Off-Road is the best Super Sprint-type game ever seen on the Speccy, and you'd have to be several candy shrimps short of a pic'n'mix not to rush out and buy it at once. What are you waiting for?
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