Continuing on my series of “Gems of the Jaguar”, particularly the often bashed Atari Jaguar game console, is another gem. This time it is an arcade quality racing game by the name of Super Burnout.
Super Burnout was developed by Shen Technologies, which started out as a couple of guys borrowing a dev kit from an official Atari developer on weekends. Super Burnout progressed quickly enough that they impressed Atari enough with their skills to get on-board as an official developer. Unfortunately this ended up being the only game they did, the team when disbanded went onto other things like UbiSoft. But for a one and only effort, they managed to create a great arcade-quality title.
Being a speed bike racing game, the obvious comparison that comes to mind is to Sega’s Hang-On or Super Hang-On, which had blazed the trail for games like it to follow. Given that Super Burnout has hills, that is the game I would use if we were doing direct comparisons.
Before starting the game you can access the options to adjust the drones you race against, number of laps your race and what mode you want to race in. In pointing out any flaws to the game, I would say that the way it handles the options should have been adjusted as you can just start the game with the default options and bike without realizing that there is more to it all. Track, mode and bike selection should have been put into a main menu instead of shoved off into the options. But that is not a major flaw to the game, just an odd design choice.
There are four different modes to play:
Trainer – Pick a track and race against 6 AI players
Versus 2P – Split screen two player. They were going to do a JagLink version where you could connect two Jaguar’s to each other and each play with a full screen but time ran out on getting that done so the final game shipped without the code.
Championship Mode – Take on all tracks around the world while racing against the computer.
Record Mode – Their way of saying Time Attack 😉
There are six default bikes to choose from but IIRC there are two secret bikes you can unlock. Then there are 8 tracks from around the world to choose from, some based on real race tracks.
How the game plays depends in part on the bike you choose, where the bike stats will vary upon top speed, acceleration rate and grip. The best balanced bike is one of the secret code bikes however setting some nice records with the stock bikes is certainly doable and part of the challenge aside from learning the nuances of the tracks. Some customization stuff might have been nice
So how is this a gem?
Despite not exactly trailblazing itself on the gameplay, this is a very fun game to play. The replay value is similar to other racing games – see if you can best your previous records or the computer. Learn the tricks of each track as to when to pull over to a certain side or let up on the gas and so on. Had it been put into an arcade cabinet with a swivel bike I think it would have earned well on location and become better remembered as a racing game.
What this game gets right above everything else is the sense of speed. The frame rate nails the 60FPS you need for a racing game to work, which is one thing games like Checkered Flag or Club Drive got so horribly wrong. The sound engine is also a great example of the Jaguar being handled properly – crisp voices, great music I can still remember even after not playing the game for a while, the engine sound blends into the speed factor so it all creates the right ‘sense’ that is needed.
The control and the way the bikes grip to the road is another piece of how this game feels when you play. Despite there being zero force feedback in the Jaguar controllers, the turns and the grip of your bike is something you can notice as you play. Psychological controller feedback is what it produces I suppose but that is a difficult balance to achieve in any game on an old school console.
The sprites in this game are huge & nicely detailed, the link to the programmer discussing the game above also mentioned how they managed to get 1000+ sprites on the screen while maintaining that frame rate. The game has aged well; with hill effects, parallax scrolling in the background and shaded terrain it still looks great. Some of the special effects in the menus are likewise easy on the eyes, such as the smooth manipulation of the checkered flag or the pixel-shatter of the tracks which morph into the different track designs. Some tracks also have a great transition from night to day (particularly Brazil) which I remember thinking was a striking effect as all the house lights also turned off when things brightened up. All in all, a very impressive effort from a team that had no previous experience on complex hardware like the Jaguar, they managed to set a new standard on the 2D boundaries of the system for others to follow. It is too bad that the code was lost to their scrolling shooter game, StellarX/Nexus, which was supposed to be a rival to games like Raiden but with more parallax scrolling, pre-rendered raytraced sprites and more.
Overall Super Burnout is a fun game that plays well enough that I can pick it up in 2014 and have fun with it, it still looks great, it sounds great and it deserves to be recognized as one of the top games on the Jaguar, not just Tempest 2000 and Alien Vs. Predator.