Step back in time to 1994. The racing game genre was entering a new era. Top-down games were about to be replaced by the world of polygons and, though Virtua Racing wasn’t the first racing game to embrace the third dimension, it was the first racing game to really understand it and get it right. If there’s one shining light on the 32X, it’s this.
Virtua Racing Deluxe (also known as V.R. Deluxe) came forth thanks to another classic port of an arcade game. As SEGA had done time and again, they brought their success of the arcade into the homes around the world. As Outrun did for the SEGA Master System and SEGA Mega Drive, Virtua Racing was going to do for the 32X. Unlike the SEGA Mega Drive version of Virtua Racing, the 32X port was as close as the game got to the arcade version. In fact, it was a better game that came with extras for users at home to use it for extended periods. The original arcade version was based on a Formula One-like title. Only the F1 car was available for use in arcades, but with the 32X version, it brought an additional two vehicles, which tripled the time you would spend with the game.
When you consider that this was the very early stages of level design using polygons, it must be said that the track designs were quite impressive.
Three times the fun
The F1 car was still there, but alongside it, players had access to Stock and Prototype cars. While the F1 car would stick around corners, it was not the case for the other two. The Stock car, resembling a Nascar vehicle, could drift around corners and the Prototype could reach extremely high speeds, but could not turn very well. It’s suggested that players would begin with the F1 vehicle and later move on to the other two tougher entries. In total there were now five tracks to race on, adding two additional tracks – Highland and Sand Park. When you consider that this was the very early stages of level design using polygons, it must be said that the track designs were quite impressive. Even by standards today it plays incredibly well. More so are all the additional bells and whistles, which back in 1994 made your Mega Drive and 32X look like a piece of tech from beyond 2000.
The big deal with Virtua Racing was the fact that everything consisted of polygons. It changed everything we knew about the genre up to that point. Thanks to it there were four viewpoints on offer. The default third-person view, followed by the birds-eye viewpoint (a camera lodged high up in the clouds – nothing more than showing off the tech of the time, as you really should not permanently use that camera to race), a view closer behind the car and another that put you right in the cockpit of whatever vehicle you were driving. Back then this was unheard of and was a big step for the racing genre. Thanks to the beautiful polygons it also gave players the opportunity to watch a replay of any race. Not quite Gran Turismo in terms of presentation, but it was a start. Unfortunately, these replays could not be saved as there was no form of saving function, which also means that your record times you might have built up over one racing session would disappear next time you switched the console on. Those early days in modern gaming sucked.
Where Virtua Racing Deluxe is at its strongest is in the gameplay department. The cars are exceptionally responsive to your inputs, especially when you consider that there was no analogue sticks or triggers in sight at that time. How on earth SEGA gets it right to make a game feel so playable while furiously tapping away at a D-Pad is beyond me, but everything about it feels exceptionally precise. Touch the grass and your car will spin out or, misjudge the speed on a slow corner, and your car will roll a few times in a messy crash. As it’s an early game the polygons are made up of basic colours and no textures. It’s that trademark ‘SEGA blue skies’ that results in it being something of beauty to both look at and play. As it’s more of an arcade racer you’re always up against time and the only time you’ll get to hear the traditional Japanese Rock jingle kicking in is when you pass a checkpoint in time – other than that you’ll just hear the engine droning.
It, unfortunately, does suffer a bit when it comes to the modes on offer as it launched without the Grand Prix mode that would later be included for the SEGA Saturn release. Once you’ve driven the three cars on the five available tracks, and came first, there isn’t much else to keep you coming back… unless you have a player two nearby. As with most games of the time, it includes a split-screen mode that allowed both players to adjust the viewpoint as they pleased, but it came at the price of a frame rate drop. In single player, the frame rate and draw distance aren’t the best, but it’s good enough to enjoy the game with the tech of the time in mind. In fact, for a 32X title, it’s quite the achievement.
Virtua Racing Deluxe isn’t going to blow your mind 24 years later, but it’s a stark reminder of where the racing game genre you enjoy and love today really got going. If you’re a 32X owner it’s definitely a must-own title – it’s virtually the best racing game on the platform.