[I ♥ The PC Engine] F-1 PilotPosted on November 7th, 2009 4 comments
Release Date: 3/23/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 17.04 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A realistic race game with some RPG elements. The view is presented from the driver’s seat as the game proceeds in nondescript fashion.”
Among the many great things that happened around the time of the PC Engine (Tokyo Disneyland, HDTV, the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds being worth more than all the real estate in California), there was also the so-called “F1 boom.” From 1989 to around 1992, Japan was crazy for Formula 1, falling in love with Ayrton Senna and cursing Alain Prost’s name every time it came up during the prime-time race broadcasts. All kinds of magazines (including Famicom Tsushin) launched F1 columns, and a comic starring Senna even ran in Weekly Shonen Jump for a while. When Senna died on the track in 1994, it was a “where were you when you heard that…” moment for an entire generation of Japanese teens.
F-1 Pilot is the first PC Engine F1 sim out of the block, produced by Pack-In-Video (a division of the Tokyo Broadcasting System I’ll talk more about later) as their maiden PCE effort. It’s also among the worst PCE games ever made. The review response at the time weren’t terrible, as you can tell from the PCE FAN score above (one of Marukatsu PC Engine’s reviewers gave the game a 7/10, even), but I’m willing to believe any goodwill earned was because F1 sims were still a novelty back then.
Simply booting up F-1 Pilot is a saddening experience. Turn on the power, and you’re treated to a blocky F1 car sprite jerking its away across what looks like a desert landscape, a 15-second-long loop of depressing music in the background. There’s no demo or intro or anything; just you staring at this overscaled sprite, listening to depressing calliope music, until death gracefully intervenes. Five seconds in, and you already get the impression that the coders were more interested in getting this thing out before the first-quarter deadline than taking advantage of the PCE’s power.
The basic game system isn’t too far off the standard of the time, with one difference: instead of showing the action behind your car (like in Namco’s comparatively fantastic Final Lap Twin, which hit PCEs later in ’89), you view the race from within the driver’s seat, feeling the cyber-wind against your virtual eyes as you go from zero to 320km/h in a couple of seconds. In a possibly major blow to aerodynamics, your machine sports enormous rear-view mirrors displaying the rival cars behind you. There’s no real car-tuning functionality; instead you choose a racing team at the beginning, each with their own tire, engine and pit-crew ratings.
Start a race, and…well. Your car has only automatic transmission, making acceleration easy, but the problem is you get no warning whatsoever that a curve’s coming — nor do you have any idea where you are on the track at any given time. The game comes with a pretty thick manual outlining all of the courses included in laudable detail, and I guess the idea’s to study this before challenging them in the game, but you’d think they’d at least include some of those large “Right turn coming up”-style billboards you see in every other ’80s racing title. As a result of this omission, you run off the course at pretty much every curve, and you can’t break this habit without essentially memorizing every turn on every course.
Everything about the experience here shouts “I don’t feel like debugging this.” For sound, you have your choice of grating engine sound or one of two depressing, short musical loops — not both. Cars jump in and out behind you, and there’s just a tiny “bonk” sound when you collide with one; forget about any fancy crash handling. Most humorously of all, there’s a bug where, if a rival car is in your rear-view mirror, he’ll almost never try to pass by you, even if you literally stop right in the middle of the racetrack. (This makes me wonder why the ‘ell my car has those school bus-sized mirrors in the first place — it’s not like I have to worry about cars threatening me from the rear.)
The result of all this: F-1 Pilot is the only console title I can think of offhand where more thought was applied to the instruction manual than the game itself. Bravo. Pack-In-Video put out 22 PCE titles and only five of them scored above 20 in the PCE FAN rankings. I think I can tell why already.
that video looks comically unplayable. “realistic” racing games sure did suck shit till the playstation generation.
PCE fans marvel at the 0-3 halfway decent titles that Pack-in-Video managed to put out. Too bad we don’t have any sales figures because, amazingly, they must have been making a decent profit to publish 22 titles over a handful of years.
Many thanks for your in-depth review of the PC-engine library. I look forward for each one.
That you cover even such crude games in context is great, I don’t mind if you take twenty years. 🙂
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