Why were so many things edgy and stereotypically “dangerous” in the 90s? The music of Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine were pumping in our CD players (or at least my brother’s). Movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Heat were all action, all the time, and a sense of grittiness that to me defined the era. Video games had for a long time been children’s toys. That perspective started to change in the 90s, and we started to see more mainstream games adopt a meaner, aggressive tone. Being someone that appreciated games for making me laugh and for being fun to play, a game like Road Rash was ideal.
If you haven’t heard of the Road Rash series, I cannot fully blame you. The series saw mild success in the 90s, and by the early-2000’s had faded from public consciousnesses. Each game was a street racing motorcycle game, centered around earning enough money and street cred to advance in the rankings and take on bigger, badder racers and longer, harder tracks. The series was hardly known for it’s realism: one of the main draws I can remember from Road Rash was the ability to bring weapons like bats and metal chains with you on the race, and then use said weapons to thrash your opponents mid-race, causing them to fly off their motorcycle and lose precious ground. It was fun, it was simple, and it was the 90s.
One of the main reasons I can recall this game, aside from the gameplay, was its … let’s just call it interesting visual aesthetic. Races themselves would be what you’d expect from the early 90s: pixilated racers moving through fast-scrolling backgrounds as objects enlarge and shrink on your screen to simulate forward movement. What stands out are the things that happen between races. The original Road Rash incorporated live action sequences to show your racer’s progress out outcomes. Did you win a race in first place? You were treated to a video of your racer getting to pick up the trophy and cliche hot women. Did you come in last? You still crossed the line, but your looked like a loser doing so and no one respected you. It was that kind of awful that borders on genius. The kind of thing you’d expect from a game like Night Trap, but here we are racing motorcycles and joining fake gangs.
In stark contrast to the humorous live cutscenes (or perhaps directly inspired by it), exaggerated portraits and animations of important NPCs make Road Rash unlike any other racing game out there. Seriously though: they’re wild. Fish eye lenses, disproportionately shaped heads, mohawks, missing teeth, it’s all here. The style really made the game memorable: it truly didn’t look like anything else out there. It’s a shame as the series went on that sense of visual uniqueness was lost: later entries in the series dropped the quirky art style and live action videos, and replaced them with boring and bland “been there, done that” looks you’d see in other racers at the time. I directly associate this choice with the downfall of the series.
Speaking of the series, I think Road Rash has one of the most oddly titled entries out there. First off, the initial Road Rash game was originally a Sega Genesis exclusive. A direct sequel released a year later in 1992 aptly titled Road Rash II, also for the Sega Genesis. Then, in 1994, we got a 3DO exclusive (of all things) simply titled Road Rash. This is the game I’m referencing here, as it was the version that was ported to the Playstation and later Sega Saturn, and it’s easily the best in the series. However, it didn’t stop there, as a fourth game released in 1996, again for the Sega Genesis, and named, you guessed it, Road Rash 3. Yeah. Afterward some awful 3D games were made for the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation and then the series died.
While it could be cool to see this series make a comeback, I think the ship has sailed. Racing games these days need something to make them stand out from the crowd, and unless Road Rash brings back that wild animation style of the third game (remember, just called Road Rash, and not to be confused with the fourth game called Road Rash 3 or for the first game also simply called Road Rash) I predict any chance of resurrection to be impossible. We’ve also yet to see any recent ports of any of these games. I think all the Sega Genesis games for example are still stuck on those consoles. That’s a shame really, as I think including maybe Road Rash 3 on one of the Sega Genesis collection games would be a fine addition. Alas, we’ll have to stick with our memories on this one.