Rad Racer, originally released in Japan as Highway Star[a], is a racing game developed and published by Square for the Family Computer in 1987. In this game, players drive a Ferrari 328 or a generic Formula One racing machine through a race course. The game was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe months after its debut on Family Computer. The title became well known for being one of two titles from Square that made use of stereoscopic 3D, which was made possible by wearing a pair of anaglyph glasses.
The game was originally conceived by Square president Masafumi Miyamoto as an opportunity for developer Nasir Gebelli to demonstrate his 3D programming skills. The games 3D mode was primarily developed by Gebelli and often hand drawn by him. Techniques to simulate three dimensional roads were later used in Final Fantasy III.
The game sold half a million copies and is considered one of the best racing games on the NES, but was also criticized as being derivative of other racing games from the period. Many comparisons to arcade game Out Run, were made, though critics cited some differences including a greater sense of speed in Rad Racer. The game appeared in the 1989 film The Wizard, and was one of three games to feature a special competition course in the 1990 Nintendo World Championship.
Gameplay is sprite-based and the player controls the car from a behind the vehicle perspective. Players can choose between two types of car to race; either a 328 Twin Turbo or an F1 machine, and then tries to complete eight driving stages. Competitors vehicles get faster as the levels progress, and include VB Bugs to Ferrari Testarossas. Players can accelerate their car up to 255 km/h as well as break and steer to attempt to pass their opponents and not be knocked off the road. Hitting any obstacles or other cars can cause the players vehicle to flip and crash. Players also choose between several songs, simulating a cars radio.  Levels vary in location from Los Angeles, San Francisco, as well as the Greek Parthenon. Players have a simulated dashboard that indicates how far through the race they have gone, and a small checkered flag indicates when they have completed the race. The players vehicle coasts as it decelerates for five to ten seconds upon reaching races end, and then points are calculated to see how long the player has successfully driven.
Rad Racer players can activate a 3D mode during play by pressing the "Select" button and wearing 3D glasses. Players could also use the Power Glove to control their vehicle. The game was also compatible with the Famicom 3D, an accessory to the original Famicom released on in Japan that utilized LCD "shutter glasses" to simulate 3D.
The main reason for the development of the game was that Square owner Masafumi Miyamoto wanted to demonstrate Nasir Gebelli's 3D programming techniques. The game was the second game by Square the used anaglyph-based 3D. Game developer Takashi Tokita worked on Rad Racer along with Gebelli who was able to simulate the moving road in a “tricky” bit of programming. Normally programmers of the time worked on games individually, and Tokita described having someone to work with as an asset. Tokita designed and wrote the program for the billboards that appear in the game. Tokita also made all four levels “by hand”, and during the process he learned that the middle two levels shared assets, which saved time and memory. Developer Hiromichi Tanaka also worked on ‘’Rad Racer’’, and had worked on The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner with Gebelli previously. Akitoshi Kawazu’s first game at Square was Rad Racer, and designed the games ending that indicated with dots how far the player had gotten in the game. To make the roads in ‘’Rad Racer’’ look like they were turning in 3D on a typical television, most of which at the time used cathode ray tubes, the developers integrated scrolling by individual scanlines. This method was later utilized for game effects on the enemy Odin in Final Fantasy III.’’ Hironobu Sakaguchi and Akitoshi Kawazu were both working on ‘’Rad Racer’’, and as a result developer Koichi Ishii ended up working on the planning for the original Final Fantasy by himself for a time. Artist Kazuko Shibuya also worked on Rad Racer, and since the game was not programmed to display single sprites, but was drawn line by line, So Gebelli came several times a week to walk through exactly memorized schematics of how many pixels and what color the lines had to be to create roads. Ishii stayed that the sprites of 3-D Battles of WorldRunner and Rad Racer are very representative of Kazuko Shibuya’s pixel art style. To accommodate the different 3D viewing systems that were needed if players were using either a normal television or the Famicom 3D System, as well as a different version required for the PAL region, six different versions of the game had to be produced for different regions.
Rad Racer is considered one of the NES's premier racers. The game was met with favorable reviews and enjoyed commercial success, and sold over half a million copies. It also ranked 8th on Nintendo Powers player's poll Top 30. Famitsu scored the game 32 out of 40, praising the sense of speed, but felt the game was a bit monotonous. Japanese publication Family Computer Magazine rated the game 20.89 of 30, and praised the variety of different game landscapes found in different levels.
In their article The History of Square, GameSpot conceded that "Rad Racer bears more than a passing resemblance to Out Run," but went on to say that "it's more than just a clone" and credited the game with "effectively convey[ing] the proper sense of speed." Though the 3D effect created some sense of depth to the gameplay, it was hindered by a pronounced screen flickering. The article concluded that the game "stands on its own as a fine racing game." According to Sakaguchi, Rad Racer and The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner sold "about 500,000 copies, which was fairly good." IGN notes in their retrospective that the games simplicity and “race or die” focus make it one of the best racing games of its time. They also mentioned how the power glove does not improve player control, though the experience was still fun. Hardcore Gaming 101’s retrospective noted that the game has a great sense of speed and arcade levels of difficulty, but does suffer from a lack of personality and incorrect collision physics.
Despite the efforts of Square Co. to make unique games with 3D features such as Rad Racer and 3-D Worldrunner, and high sales, the company was in financial trouble. These events are what led to a final attempt at a breakout hit, Final Fantasy. Rad Racer was ranked number 57 on IGNs Top 100 Nintendo Entertainment System games, and was called "iconic" and one of the NES's premier racing games . Maxim Magazine named the title as the number four 8-bit title of all time.
Rad Racer appeared in a scene in the movie The Wizard. Rad Racer was also one of three games, including Super Mario Bros and Tetris, that were featured at the 1990 Nintendo World Championship with a special racing level to complete as one of the rounds of competition. The limited edition release of the games cartridge used in the tournament are now the rarest and most valuable Nintendo games available.
Because a majority of Rad Racer sales were in the United States, Rad Racer II was made, released only for America for the NES and in arcades. The sequel featured eight new tracks and new music but similar gameplay. Hardcore Gamer 101 said that steering was looser than the first game and rival cars more aggressive, leading to a less enjoyable playing experience.
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