In 1991, Rad Mobile was a big deal. It was Sega’s first 32-bit arcade game — the first 32-bit arcade game — and I remember drooling over screenshots in magazines. The game itself was no disappointment, featuring twenty cross-country stages that fed into the next without interruption. Rad Mobile was an impressive racer with many memorable moments, such as that first intersection where players pass by crossing traffic, a tense race against a speeding train, and the police car barricade . . . where cruisers actually pass the player and spin horizontally in an effort to bring the runaway radmobile to a halt.
In 1994, Sega of Japan needed impressive software for their new 32-bit Saturn. Rad Mobile seemed to be a no-brainer — the game was the visual pinnacle of sprite-based racers and had a devoted following that knew its name.
Sega replaced the sprites with polygon models and retitled it Gale Racer.
Taken as an arcade port, Sega’s approach was so misguided that it’s laughable. On top of that, Gale Racer‘s draw-in distance is significantly shorter than Rad Mobile, banked curves are distractingly jagged in appearance, visual glitches abound (especially during crashes), and the arcade’s amusing ending has been ditched in favor of dull FMV. It’s so poorly converted that I suspect someone set out to intentionally sabotage the project.
As horrible as the above sounds, Gale Racer isn’t a bad game. This cross-country race is energetic and insane; travel through the caves of Indianapolis, admire the palm trees of Chicago, and duke it out against an armored sportscar in a New York street showdown. The Japanese developers clearly had no idea what the United States is really like, but they apparently thought it must be a pretty damn cool place. Even though the game suffers from visual defects, the CD music is catchy and the controls are responsive enough to support incremental improvement. Repeated play leads to predictably better results — so there’s some degree of fair challenge here.
That being said, it’s not a challenge that will help anyone prepare for other, better racing games. Gale Racer‘s vehicle is always on automatic transmission, with a consistent top speed of 301 km/h on all roads, whether dry or slick. Victory is based on memorizing when to switch lanes; other vehicles always appear in the same place every time, so driving skill takes a backseat to good memory. The only vehicles that behave unpredictably are the “rivals”, cruel drivers who also seek the trophy. They’ll hurl objects out the window while they’re in front; they’ll rubberband into the player’s rear when they’re behind. And stage six’s rival truck will run aspiring Gale Racers off the Rocky Mountain cliffs.
In that picture up above, you may have noticed a small Sonic toy dangling from the rear-view mirror — Rad Mobile was actually the very first appearance of Sega’s mascot. This port lets players earn “mascot points” to unlock other characters, such as Tails or even Ray the Squirrel. Someone at Sega wanted this game to be cool. Pity that a devious saboteur foiled those ambitions.
Gale Racer never made it to the West, and this is not a game that is well-remembered by the Japanese, as they ranked it #832 out of all Saturn games. It’s a shame things turned out this way, because Rad Mobile was a cool game. Sega did redeem themselves shortly after Gale Racer, but that’s a story for another day.