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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Final Lap Twin

    Posted on March 16th, 2011 keving 7 comments

    Final Lap Twin

    Maker: Namco
    Release Date: 7/7/89
    Price: 6200 yen
    Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: Racing
    PC Engine FAN Score: 23.04 / 30.00

    Kōgien: “Three game modes are available: a single-player race against the computer, a two-player simultaneous mode, and a role-playing Quest mode.”

    Namco and racing games go a long, long way back. Pole Position (1982) was far from the first behind-the-car racing game, but it was undeniably the most popular racer of the “classic” era, becoming the biggest earner in North American arcades during 1983 and spawning (among other things) a Saturday morning cartoon. 

    Final Lap (1987) was largely a graphical update taking advantage of 16-bit microprocessors, but it did offer one revolutionary feature — while Pole Position was strictly one-player (the first Namco arcade ever to not have a two-player option, in fact), Final Lap allowed filthy rich operators to link up cabinets and allow for up to eight players to course through a single track simultaneously. It was also arguably the first racer to deliberately implement “rubberbanding” to ensure that less talented players were never too far behind the leader — a feature that Mario Kart would later polish to maddening, Saturday night-ruining perfection.

    The game got ported first to the Famicom in August 1988, a pretty remarkable effort that included a built-in sound chip and a 2-player mode that split the screen in half, a pretty impressive feat that must’ve been murder for the programmers to get right on the platform.

    Final Lap Twin on the PCE has the same functionality, as shown above, but the system’s superiority in processing speed gives the proceedings a much greater sense of speed than was possible on the ol’ FC. That, and you get a choice of F1 racers, a skill difficulty function, assorted tuning options, a career mode of sorts, and so on. In other words, it was a bit of a simulator — or, at least, as much of one as the genre was capable of handling on Japanese consoles back then. (Formula One Grand Prix, the first F1 game that we could still recognize as a real “simulator” today, came out in early 1992.)

    That’s not why modern people enjoy this game so much, though. No, all the praise is reserved for the RPG mode, which — like the one in Namco’s last PCE sports game, Pro Tennis World Court — takes the cake for sheer lunacy. “Oh, a racing-themed RPG,” you might think. “Maybe it’s something like Speed Racer, where you have a little racing team with your family and you fight off masked rivals and robot drivers and so on.” Pfft. As if. Instead, it combines the world of mini 4WD cars (on the cusp of a major toy boom in Japan at the time of release) and  Star of the Giants, the most famous overwrought sports anime of all time.

    “I have something important to speak to you about today, [name],” your stern, unshaven father tells you in the in the game’s intro. “I have hammered into you all the mini-4WD techniques I know, but now it is time for you to embark on a training mission of your own. [Name], my child! First you must match wits with the mini-4WD champions dotted around each region and test your skills against them. […] You must keep your races clean, [name]! Never forget the value of friendship as you compete. …If darkness should ever cloud your heart, then you may return to your father’s side at any time. I will punish you with my family lashings, just as I did before! I will give you my 4WD machine, the “Star of the 4WD,” the very same as what I once used. It will serve you well, [name]. Now, go, [name]! Become the star of the 4WD world!”

    And so it goes, really. You travel around the world map, fighting random battles against bratty kids in order to earn the cash to upgrade your little RC car. Six bosses need to be defeated, and the game’s climax takes place in a domed stadium situated on an island shut off from the rest of the world for some reason. The backdrops in this mode, as you can see, are blown up to reflect the small size of the mini-machines you’re racing here, and overall it’s a pretty bizarre world being depicted. At least the world of Pokemon kinda-sorta makes sense if you don’t squint at it that hard. This “RC car” angle was completely removed from the RPG mode of the TurboGrafx-16 version, with “turbo engines” replacing the idea of upgrading your car’s battery. The backdrops are still enormous, though, which must’ve caused some confusion among kids.

    (Interesting side note, by the way: The music for Final Lap Twin is by Katsuhiro Hayashi, a widely under-appreciated composer who I last discussed when I wrote about High School! Kimengumi and Hokuto no Ken.)

    This video (half of a TAS released a year or so ago) should give a basic idea of what the RPG mode’s like. You have to race a lot of “random battles” in this game to scare up the cash you need — I suppose you could call it a classic ’80s JRPG in that respect, eh?


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