Posted on May 16th, 2011 2 comments
Maker: NEC Avenue
Release Date: 8/25/89
Price: 5400 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 19.76 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A game that simulates growth process from street racer to F-1 Driver. The story, which has you saving money as a street racer and going from F-3000 to F-1 races, is interestingly unique.”
As mentioned in previous entries, Japan was in the grip of a massive Formula One obsession at almost precisely the same time the PC Engine was viable in the marketplace. It kicked off in 1987, when the Japanese Grand Prix returned to the Suzuka Circuit, and symbolically ended with the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, just as the PC-FX was released and the last major PCE releases were hitting the market. The flow of F-1 games was pretty constant on the PCE, and it was the same story in arcades, most of them behind-the-car sims housed in enormous sit-down cabinets like Namco’s Final Lap (1988).
Capcom’s F-1 Dream (1988) was a bit different. It was a straight overhead game controlled with a standard eight-direction joystick, and with its chubby little cars tooting around a bouncy, curvy track, it didn’t look much like an F-1 game at all. And it was…sort of popular. Not terribly. Just a little, and then chiefly thanks to how it realistically started players out in F-3000 before promoting them to the big leagues. The cutesy graphics, though, made it a prime candidate for a PCE port — from an audiovisual standard, the arcade and home versions are pretty well identical.
The PCE version goes a bit further than that, however. In addition to the F-3000 bit, the home F-1 Dream starts you out on the street racing route, even having you hire your own mechanics and bet on the results of your own races. You start with nothing but $10,000 and what looks like a souped-up VW bug from overhead, and the odds are frankly against you — the mechanics (each specializing in tires, steering, engines or suspension) are incredibly expensive to hire and suck even more money out of you when upgrading your car, which leaves you eternally poor and scrounging around for cash to bet with. This wouldn’t be a great concern if you could drive your way to victory more often, but your street-race challengers are all incredibly talented. They almost always have better acceleration, and if you make a couple mistakes, they drive right off the screen, turning F-1 Dream into what looks like a rally race across the mountains.
As if all that weren’t enough, the controls in this game take some serious getting used to. Steering is handled with the control pad, but F-1 Dream is the sort of overhead racer where you press up to turn the car upward, right to go toward the right side of the screen, and so forth, instead of the standard behind-the-wheel controls. This means you’re crashing into junk all the time at the start, which is dangerous, because if the G/B meter on the bottom of the screen expires, your car explodes and you’re out of the race. (G/B is short for Gas/Body, which is all rolled into one parameter for the purposes of this game. Odd, I know.)
I suppose the purpose of the street-racing segment is to help introduce all these novel concepts to the player before the “real” racing starts. But things are so difficult from the get-go, I imagine the majority of players ran out of money before making it anywhere near an actual race car. Exhausting your bank account automatically puts you into the F-3000 races, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but if you didn’t have the cash to hire any mechanics during the street bit, there’s no way in hell you’re going to win the first F-3000 race, and it’s Game Over right after that. You need to win on those mountain passes, and win constantly — in fact, I’d say winning all 15 possible street races is far more difficult than making it big in F-3000.
The tacked-on street mode, in other words, was probably a serious mistake on NEC Avenue’s part. Not only is it too frustrating to serve as an effective introduction to the game, it also has adverse effects on the F-3000/F-1 segments, the part of the game that’s actually from Capcom’s original. The visuals and controls are faithful enough to the arcade, yes, but they really ain’t kidding about the title here — F-1’s gonna be nothing but a dream to anyone who plays this.