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Monday, October 21, 2013

NES Replay: Mach Rider

While Nintendo may currently be shorthand for "bright-colored family-friendly games," that's not entirely fair. They've made their share of games for mature audiences, culminating in the bloody Japan-only Wii game Zangeki no Reginleiv. While Mach Rider isn't by any means a bloody game, it has a surprisingly grown-up premise and could conceivably appeal more to adults than children.

The reason, therefore, that Nintendo doesn't make more violent games isn't because they can't. It's just that their happy-go-lucky games sell better.

Mach Rider has a really cool premise: You're a motorcycle-riding, machine-gun-wielding post-apocalyptic warrior racing wildly through the wasteland while fending off attackers. It's a really fast racing game, and wholly out of character with what Nintendo stands for now. It's gritty. It's got guns and explosions. It's not bad.

Mach Rider has some flaws, for sure. First of all, there are far too many hazards on the tracks. There are oil slicks, water puddles, barrels along the side of the road that you can collide with and sharp turns, as well as enemy racers who are trying to get him killed. This is a game that demands that the player absolutely memorize the tracks in order to master them, but I could see someone getting really good at knowing just when to downshift into a turn and when to open up the throttle.

It's also way too easy to get Mach Rider killed. If you accidentally bump in to one of the rival motorcycle-riding baddies, they can kill you. You can try and shoot them down, but you can only shoot directly in front of you and you have limited bullets. Since there are so few straightaways, that means you're spraying everything with bullets and never really hitting your targets.

There's also a track creation feature, just like in Excitebike. However, just like Excitebike, this also used the Famicom Data Recorder that never made it to Western shores. You can create a track, but you can't save it.

However, Mach Rider is a technically impressive game. The racing is fast. I mean, really fast. It's shockingly fast for an NES launch game, and it shares similar DNA with Nintendo's later F-Zero for that reason. The physics feel the same, but F-Zero's track is wider and there are fewer hazards on the road.

Mach Rider also manages to evoke a feeling of desolation surprisingly well with its limited color pallette. Before I even knew what the premise of Mach Rider was, I immediately felt like I was playing The Road Warrior.

But Mach Rider never really got a chance to connect with audiences. Super Mario Bros. was so good and so popular that it overshadowed almost every other launch game. The success of Super Mario Bros. sealed the fate of lesser, grittier games like Mach Rider. There was no room for a post-apocalyptic motorcyclist in this new, candy-colored future.

So, Mach Rider was forced to forever ride his motorcycle into the sunset, cast aside by the future he no longer belongs to. The dirt cakes on his face, the chrome of his motorcycle glistens in the burnt-orange light of the setting sun. He rides on.

Final Rating: