Presented by Ghegs
The Sony PlayStation was released in Japan on December 1994 and the 32-bit system brought with it much greater processing power than the previous console generation’s Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis could offer. With this, many genres could make the leap from 2D sprite-based games into 3D graphics and environment, better reflecting what the games were trying to portray.
Racing games in particular benefited from the new hardware immensely. While the SNES had titles like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart with a pseudo-3D appearance thanks to the Mode 7 mode and the Genesis had Virtua Racing (and later Virtua Racing Deluxe on the ill-fated 32X), the genre took a huge leap towards looking like the real thing visually at this point. But simply being able to drive a polygon car in a 3D environment wouldn’t have been enough, it was necessary to be able to control the car smoothly as well, and the digital nature of the d-pad simply could not provide it. Analogue controls were required. Sony’s own Dual Analog Controller, precursor to the now iconic DualShock, wasn’t released until April 1997, which means there was a gap of almost two and a half years when there were no first-party controllers suitable for racing games on the system. (There was the Sony PlayStation Analog Joystick that offered analogue controls, but due to its flight stick-like design it wasn’t exactly comfortable for playing racing games with and not many racing titles support the controller.)
Namco was a supporter of the system from the start and released a port of their arcade racing game Ridge Racer as a launch title. They solved the controller issue by also developing and releasing a controller better suited for racing games – the neGcon. At first glance the neGcon can look quite ridiculous. The left and right sides of the controller are connected by a bulging swivel joint, and instead of the X and square buttons there are two red protruding buttons called I and II. L2, R2 and the select buttons have been removed completely.
The swivel joint is what makes the controller so ingenious. You can twist each half of the controller relative to each other, allowing for nearly 360 degrees of rotation. The I and II buttons are analogue and have about 7mm of travel to each of them. The left shoulder button is also analogue, though the right one isn’t. With these buttons steering, acceleration and braking could all be controlled to a degree unseen in home systems before. Even after the introduction of Sony’s own analogue pads, the neGcon was still technically supreme. Thanks to the controller’s shape, it can be gripped and twisted comfortably and it offered far more precise analogue controls compared to the DualShock’s analogue sticks, that had shorter throws and from which the controlling thumb could slip off easily. Also, DualShocks didn’t have analogue buttons to them until the DualShock 2 introduced in 2000 for the Playstation 2, and they have an uncomfortably short travel to them. The neGcon offered the benefits of a more realistic-looking steering wheel controller without the larger price and in a smaller, more portable shape. In fact, many of those wheels for the PS1 actually took advantage and pretended to be neGcons at a protocol level, which also meant they could be used with all the games supporting the controller. While the white neGcon was released in all regions, Japan received an additional, exclusive black neGcon in 1998. It is slightly smaller and the Start button is a triangle instead of a circle, but is otherwise pretty much the same thing. It is, however, considered much rarer.
Due to the neGcon’s special capabilities the games also have additional options for configuring the controls to the user’s liking. Setting the controller’s maximum turning degree and dead zone are featured in nearly every neGcon-compatible title and many also allow to set the analogue buttons’ maximum throw. Not all games are equally flexible about this, though. Some games allow the settings to be set freely to anything to user wanted, others merely provide a few predetermined settings to choose from.
The neGcon is not completely without problems – the I and II buttons have a surprisingly long throw to them, and you really have to push the buttons deep into their sockets to hit 100%. This can be circumvented by setting the buttons’ maximum throw to a more comfortable level and some games seem to do this automatically. And of course some games work just as fine, if not better, with digital acceleration and brake, Namco’s own Ridge Racer titles being good examples of this. It would have been nice if both the shoulder buttons were analogue, but apparently there wasn’t enough space inside the controller for the required hardware. And the crucial twist function will wear down over time, loosening the feel of it and reducing the precision available.
The exact number of neGcon-compatible games is not known, but somewhere around 100 is a rough estimate. As expected, most of these are racing games but there are some examples from other genres as well – most notably Namco’s Ace Combat and World Stadium series, the latter being a then-popular series of baseball games. It really is a testament to the controller’s capabilities that even Sony’s own flagship racing game series Gran Turismo supported it, as well as their Motor Toon Grand Prix games. In fact, to this day the neGcon might be the only specialized third-party controller, outside wheels, that is supported by first-party games.
Sadly, official support for the neGcon mostly ended with the PS1, even though the PS2 is fully compatible with it. The PS2 came bundled with the DualShock 2 and though the neGcon was still more precise of an analogue controller out of the two, its time was over. Steering wheel controllers were the more common and popular choice for racing games players, and Sony would not support the neGcon in their Gran Turismo games for the PS2. Namco’s PS2 launch title Ridge Racer V naturally supported the controller as did WipeOut Fusion two years later. In the end, the controller came a full circle – the last known game to officially support the neGcon is Namco’s namCollection for PS2, a collection of five of their PS1 games, published in 2005 exclusively in Japan. In that collection the original PS1 Ridge Racer plays just as smoothly with the neGcon as it did 11 years before.
The controller still enjoys the appreciation of fans of PS1 racing games. For some of them the neGcon is the only controller that can provide analogue controls, making it the choice for players wanting to experience the game at its best and be able to do time attack to their fullest potential. And thanks to PlayStation-to-USB adapters it’s actually possible to connect the neGcon to a computer and play many PC racing games with it. The game just has to support the remapping of axes, and games like Live For Speed, GTR, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010), the DiRT games, GRID, as well as many others, do. Some of them also have very extensive configuration options allowing the neGcon to be used very comfortably, like it was designed for these games from the start.
Here are some PS1 and PS2 titles that work great with the neGcon. Even though these are older games, they are still very playable and fun today and are usually fairly cheap to acquire on the used market. The neGcon itself can often be found for around $10-$35 USD so the controller isn’t that expensive an investment either.
The Ridge Racer Series
It’s only proper to start with the series that begat the neGcon. Originally an arcade game, the series found great popularity on the PS1 due to it’s characteristic fast pace and drift-happy racing. The gameplay is easy to grasp and starting a drift is, most of the time, as simple as letting go of the accelerator for a moment. Still, there are some nuances to the handling that keep it interesting enough and getting the best times is not an easy task. Considering the series did not get DualShock support until the fourth game the neGcon is naturally the best controller of choice here.
The first game may seem light in content nowadays as there are only two tracks to choose from, with the second track being merely an extended version of the first one. It’s very pure in its arcadey-ness, just boot up the console, play a quick game of Galaxian and after a few button presses the car is already revving up the engine on the track. It’s all very immediate and makes it easy to just start the game even if there isn’t time for an extended play session. There are a handful of cars to choose from, with drifting being easier on some than others, and a few more to unlock. As a fun curiosity, after the game has started the game CD can be replaced with any music CD to play the tracks there.
Ridge Racer Revolution is a very traditional sequel, in that it’s very similar to the first game but just has new and more content. The amount of tracks has been upped to three and though they still use some of the same sections, the differences between them are more pronounced this time. The game uses an improved version of the first game’s engine, most notably races now have a day/night cycle and having to do a lap at night really changes the feel of the track.
Rage Racer, however, changes things up quite a bit. For the first time in the series there’s a career mode and instead of just unlocking cars by winning races, they have to be bought with the prize money. The cars’ settings can be slightly tweaked as well, another first for the series. The whole game has a very different vibe compared to the previous games to it, thanks to the more detailed and realistic graphics and handling that places more emphasizes shift control. The track count is up to four, and other than the oval track they are much more complex compared to those found in the first two games.
R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, the last of the PS1 Ridge Racers is said by many to be their favorite in the series and it’s easy to see why. The Grand Prix mode, where you can select between four different racing teams, each corresponding to one of the four difficulty levels, takes you through the game’s eight tracks and that’s where you can spend hundreds of hours unlocking the game’s 321 vehicles. Most of those are just variants of each other with slightly different stats, however. The gameplay is classic Ridge Racer. The cars are split into Drift and Grip types and with the former drifting through a corner is as simple letting go of the accelerator for a moment before putting the pedal to the metal again. It’s easy to get started on, but taking corners with the best line and time still takes some practice.
With the Grand Prix, single race, time attack and multiplayer modes there’s plenty to play and do in RR4. But as an extra bonus, Namco was kind of enough to include a remake of the very first Ridge Racer game on a separate disc. This Ridge Racer Turbo has improved graphics over the original and it runs at buttery-smooth 60 FPS, something very few PS1 games can do. So if you go looking for the game, make sure the bonus disc is included in the deal.
Lastly, there’s Ridge Racer V. Namco wasn’t nearly as prolific with the series on the PS2 as they were on the PS1, but RRV is still a worthy addition to the series. And like Ridge Racer was for PS1, Ridge Racer V was a launch title for PS2 which can be seen in the infamous PS2 jaggies. But the gameplay is incredibly smooth and playing the game with the neGcon is absolutely recommended. Straightening the car after a drift has never before felt quite so fluid and natural in a Ridge Racer title.
As usual, the cars are split into Drift and Grip types and drifting works as it always has. But though it’s easy to do, doing it most efficiently takes quite a bit of practice. This time around there isn’t nearly as sizeable a selection of cars, but the dozen or so vehicles handle very differently from each other. The Grand Prix mode has been split into several smaller ones, and some gameplay modes need to be unlocked. Beating certain times in the Time Attack mode allows the player to challenge the driver in Duel Mode, and after beating all the drivers they can be all challenged together in a Battle Royal. And clearing that unlocks yet another mode. Ridge Racer V is one of the best in the series and a recommended entry to any arcade racing game fan.
The series spinoff R: Racing Revolution does not support the neGcon.
Before Sega started their successful twin-stick robot fighting game series Virtual On in Japanese arcades back in 1995, Namco did something similar two years earlier. Their game was called Cyber Sled and it had a similar setup of two sticks with two buttons on each. Only the combatants aren’t robots, they are tanks or “sleds” capable of sliding sideways and turning on a dime. The fights take places in arenas littered with obstacles that can either help or hinder, depending on the player’s familiarity with the stage.
The tanks deal damage through machine guns and missiles, the former being limited by the heat generated which dissipates quickly and the latter by ammo. Sprinkled throughout the arena are pick-ups that refill the sled’s shields and ammo stock, so keeping on the move is essential. The radar on top of the screen helps in locating the pick-ups and the enemy sled, but it doesn’t show the arena’s obstacles. There are several playable characters to choose from and they have cheesy dialogue before and after a match, bringing some campy humor to the game. The sleds differ from each other in their speed, shield and weapon strengths, but the basic weaponry of machine gun and missiles stays the same. There’s only one round per fight, and they can be over very fast with aggressive, accurate missile attacks.
The game was ported to the PlayStation and being a Namco title it takes advantage of the neGcon. The twist function turns the sled left and right, and the d-pad moves it forward, backward and allows strafing sideways. After a bit of practice it feels quite nice, even if the tank’s turning still isn’t analogue. The port also has the option to play with improved graphics where texture mapping is applied to the original polygons. A two-player mode was also included, and it’s even possible to connect two PS1’s together with a link cable so that players wouldn’t have to deal with split-screen. It’s a fun game for quick, short burts and it’s a small piece of gaming history, being one of the originators of the “3D Arena Robot Battle” -genre.
The game has been called “Ridge Racer with bikes” and that is not an entirely inaccurate description. It’s a fast-paced arcade racer, only instead of drifts you can do wheelies and tricks in the air. The game actually covers two different styles of bike racing. There are motocross bikes and speedy superbikes but they are restricted to the tracks designated for them, which is kind of a bummer. But at least you can take that motocross bike and speed along the Great Wall of China, so that’s always a plus. In the Championship mode you go through both types of tracks and there’s also the standard single race, time attack and two player -modes.
The game has a good sense of speed to it which makes it fun to play. Finishing the Championship mode in different difficulties unlocks Reverse and Pocket Bike modes, the latter of which enables racing on tiny bikes that insanely fast. Funnily enough, the game displays an image of a PS1 Mad Catz racing wheel when the neGcon is plugged in. The series continued on the PS1 with Moto Racer 2 and Moto Racer World Tour, but the sequels dropped the neGcon support in favor of DualShock. For the first game, the neGcon is the only choice if analogue controls are wanted.
Side By Side Special 2000
Side By Side is an racing game series from Taito that originated in the arcades. The series started in 1996 and was followed next year by a sequel. Also in 1997 a PS1 port was released, called Side By Side Special. This release is basically a remix that combined the two arcade games into one.
In 1999 Side By Side Special 2000 was released which is exactly the same as the first game except for one crucial added feature: analogue controls via the neGcon. Many sites online say that the game supports the DualShock, but it only supports the controller’s rumble function, not the analogue sticks. To play Side By Side with analogue controls, the Special 2000 release and a neGcon are required. And it is absolutely recommend as the game is very fun and fast-paced. The tracks start off simple, but soon they introduce driving on gravel and snow which makes a huge difference in the handling. The last track is a long point-to-point downhill race on a mountain road with tricky corners to navigate. The course is in fact the infamous Mt. Akina made famous by Initial D, though it’s actually known as Mount Haruna in real life.
There are 16 cars and 10 tracks to choose from, and though the gameplay modes are limited to single race and time attack, the superb graphics and handling make the most of those. You can even save the replay file to the memory card for later viewing. This is a great title that was unfortunately never released outside Japan, but it is extremely import-friendly and pretty much everything in the game is in English.
The series continued as Battle Gear in the arcades and in 2001 Battle Gear 2 was released for PS2. It even saw a European release as Tokyo Road Race. The game does work with the neGcon but it seems to have been an afterthought, as there are no configuration options for it whatsoever.
Touge Max G
The developer Cave is far better known for their shoot’em-ups like Dodonpachi, Death Smiles and Ketsui, but they have occasionally branched out to other genres with titles like Steep Slope Sliders, Uo Poko and Touge. Touge is, as its name suggests, a mountain pass racing game with narrow roads and plenty of corners to attack. Touge Max G is the series’ third and last PS1 entry and the best of the bunch. There are plenty of licensed vehicles to unlock as well as some very unexpected surprises. In addition to the usual single race, two player and time attack modes, the game also has a story mode where you follow a character through a series of races and events, occasionally having to choose between a few options to further the story. This is of course completely in Japanese but outside the story mode the game is extremely import friendly and even tuning the car’s settings is done in English.
The gameplay is geared towards drifting but it isn’t quite as easy as it is in Ridge Racer for example. Here the drifts are more difficult to control and it’s easy to keep hitting the sides of the road. But after a bit of practice it’s possible to pull off very long and impressive-looking drifts. The race replays can be saved to the memory card so the best displays of skill will not be lost to time. As a hint of the developer’s heritage, the game also has “drift points” where pulling off drifts gives you score, but hitting a wall resets the current counter. The drift points are somewhat underutilized, but in some story races you have to reach a certain drift point quota to proceed.
It should be noted that the first game in the series, simply called Touge Max, was actually released in US with the completely unrelated name (and box art) Peak Performance. The Story mode was left out, but otherwise the game is intact, including neGcon support. The series continued to PS2 with Touge 3 (released in Europe as Road Rage, continuing the nonsensical naming scheme for localization) but sadly, it does not support the neGcon.
The famous manga and anime series about drifting on mountain roads has naturally been into games many times. The PS1 version come with the expected single race, simultaneous two player and time attack modes, as well as a story mode where you go through Takumi’s races on Mt. Akina and elsewhere as he takes his first steps towards the bigger racing world. The story is told through static CGI images and FMV videos, and the game’s age really shows there, they don’t even have any voice acting. And even though the game was released after the anime started, the iconic music designed to get your blood pumping is nowhere to be heard. It has been replaced by fairly generic guitar rock, which is an odd combination at first if you’re used to the Eurobeat soundtrack associated with the series. For increased enjoyment, blast the authentic music from another source instead.
Luckily the gameplay is solid and very much drift-based, as can be expected. It’s very easy to hit the walls over and over again, but with some practice the drifting starts looking and feeling good. Even the “gutter-run” technique Takumi used many times can be done here. Though at first there’s only one car to drive in, many others featured in the series are unlockable, even the rarely seen Mercedes-Benz driven by Mogi’s “Papa” is there to be raced in. This is another title that never left Japan, but it is very import-friendly.
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit
Need for Speed is one of the most prolific racing game series ever created. The series started in 1994 and still goes on today, with the latest entry in the series being released in 2012 and overall there are more than 20 titles bearing the name. The first game was originally published for the 3DO system, but was released for PlayStation in 1996. Sony’s console would end up hosting five NFS titles (seven if you count the two V-Rally games re-branded as NFS games for the USA market) but only the first three games – Road & Tracks Presents: The Need for Speed, Need for Speed II and Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – would support the neGcon, the latter games dropping the controller support in favor of the DualShock. But for the first three games, the neGcon is the only way to play them with analogue controls.
The series’ first installations are all similar thematically and are about racing expensive, licensed cars in expansive environments. The tracks are big and showy with impressive set pieces, often having little shortcuts and alternative routes which can be used to cut down on track times or just to avoid the other racers. Starting from II the games also lean more towards an arcade-like racing experience, though they also allow tuning the car’s settings to better fit the player’s driving style.
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit added the titular Hot Pursuit mode where police chases are introduced to mix up the races. The feature was in the first Need for Speed as well (and absent from Need for Speed II) but here it is greatly expanded upon. No longer a single police offer is on the case, this time the racers are chased by multiple police cars at once. And they are not content in just overtaking the player, they will ram their cars, set up road blocks and drop spike strips. The player can listen to the police radio at all times to gain valuable information on where they are planning to stage their traps. Many of these features are still present in the more modern Need for Speed titles.
Aside from Hot Pursuit mode, the gameplay includes tournament, single race, time attack and multiplayer modes, making for a very well-rounded package. And car lovers are treated especially well, as each vehicle has a showcase covering their history and specifications, with real-life photographs and videos included. And even if the player doesn’t find that kind of coverage interesting, they can be safely ignored and the games simply played as the great racing games they are.
Rush Hour is a slightly off-beat racing game in that all the action takes place from overhead perspective, even though the game engine is completely 3D. And while the camera always stays above the player’s vehicle, it’s possible to zoom it in or out to the point to making the car look little more than an ant somewhere far down away. The title is also something of a misnomer, as the game doesn’t have civilian traffic on the tracks at all.
The game has the standard championship, single race and time attack modes, with the cars split into “High Performance” and “Heavy Metal” classes, the former being unlicensed but suspiciously familiar looking sports cars and the latter buggies, pickups and the like. More cars can be unlocked through the championship mode. The game has three difficulty settings – Novice, Intermediate and Professional – which alter the vehicles’ top speed as well as the AI’s proficiency. And while the first difficulty is fairly easy to beat the computer in, it puts up one hell of a fight starting from the second one and perfect lines must be taken if a podium finish is to be achieved. On the final difficulty setting the sense of speed is unexpectedly intense for a game where the viewpoint doesn’t show what’s directly ahead. Helping with that are rally-style signs telling the next corner’s direction and tightness.
Altough the gameplay is fairly simple at first glance, it takes a good amount of technique and practice to beat the AI racers. With the time attack mode the game has a lot of replay value to it, so this is something of a hidden gem that doesn’t seem to get much recognition. Special mention must be made for the game’s music which is surprisingly good. It’s mostly riffing guitars, but somehow it suits the game nicely and pumps the player up for racing. The game was released in all territories but was called BattleRound USA in Japan and Speedster in Europe.
Rally De Europe
The rally racing discipline has never been that popular in the US, which may have been one reason why this title was never released there. But then, it wasn’t released in Europe either. In any case, Rally De Europe (as well as its prequel Rally De Africa) are great rally racing games that have been called “PlayStation’s answer to Sega Rally” by some. The games might not quite reach the excellence and iconic status of Sega’s classic series, but they are great games nonetheless.
The racing happens mostly on dirt and gravel, making powersliding through corners easy and even expected. With the faster cars there’s quite the thrill to it. The game offers the expected single race and championship modes, though as the game leans more towards arcade racing, there is no repairing vehicle damage between races as in the more realistic rally games. The championship mode is a lenghty one, as each car class has its own set of races to conquer before the next class unlocks with faster vehicles.
A notable inclusion is the Memory Battle mode. In this mode, quite unique for the time, a single lap of time attack is played on one of the tracks and the game keeps the replay. Then, up to four other replays can be either played or loaded from the memory card, and the game disc itself holds a large number of replays for all the different classes of cars. The resulting replay can then be viewed with all five cars, basically acting like ghost cars, on the track at once. It’s a very cool feature and nowadays racing against other people’s ghost cars is practically an expected feature in racing games, but back in 1998 when Rally De Africa was released it easily could have been considered new and special.
Rally De Europe has all the tracks from its prequel as an added unlockable extra, so the second game is the recommended one to get. The games never left Japan, but both titles are very import-friendly with most of the text in English.
There were two V-Rally games released on the PS1 and both offer a similar feature list with an Arcade mode, a Championship mode, Time Attack and simultaneous multiplayer modes, with two-player mode in the first game and a four-player mode in the sequel, using the multitap. V-Rally 2 also has a “Trophy Mode” which is in-between the Arcade mode and the full-blown Championship mode where you also have to dedicate time to your car’s repairs between the stages.
The biggest new feature in V-Rally 2 is the track editor. For its time it’s a fairly powerful editor, being able to create both looped and point-to-point tracks, set bumps, alter road elevations, change weather, and even create totally random tracks at the touch of a button. These tracks can then be saved to the memory card and played in the time trial mode, effectively giving the game endless replayability.
For some reason the first game doesn’t seem to work quite right with the neGcon. Turning has this odd jumpy and imprecise feel to it. This was tested on multiple neGcons. The sequel, however, has no such problems and it controls just as smoothly as expected. Naturally V-Rally 2 also has better audiovisual quality, more pre-made tracks and is generally more refined, so there’s little reason to pick up the first game.
Both games were released in all regions, but for the US release EA, the publisher, decided to brand them with the Need for Speed name, even though V-Rally’s developer Infogrames had nothing to do with the Need for Speed series, which were developed by EA Canada at the time. Presumably this was due to rally sports not being as popular in the region and the association was supposed to help the sales. They weren’t even entirely consistent about the names, since the first game became Need for Speed: V-Rally and the sequel V-Rally 2: Need for Speed.
Colin McRae Rally 2.0
The series bearing the name of the famous Scottish rally driver still continues today under the DiRT moniker but it got its start back in 1998 on the PS1 and PC with the sequel arriving at 2000. As can be expected the games lean heavily on the simulation side of racing games, forcing you to deal with car repairs like a real rally driver as you drive around the globe in mud, dirt, gravel and snow. Damaging the car can have dire consequences and driving with a busted drive shaft can make things very interesting indeed, so it does no good to drive like a maniac here. Proper adherence to the rally discipline is required. Luckily the manual covers some of the basic points and even comes with a handy guide to understanding co-driver lingo. The first game also had a useful Rally School which the sequel sadly lacks.
The game’s championship mode is like the one in real rally sports, with events taking place in different countries. The countries included are Australia, Japan, Kenya, United Kingdom, France, Greece and Italy, Finland and Sweden. Each country has their own feel and style to them and driving on loose gravel feels very different to driving in tarmac or mud. This requires not only the driver’s attention but also setting the car up properly beforehand. In addition to the championship there are single race, two player, arcade and time trial modes so there’s plenty for players to do. Graphically the game is very impressive. The cars look great, they get visibly damaged as the player clips a rock or tree and soon that initially squeaky-clean Mitsubishi Lancer’s rear bumper will be hanging on a thread, with mud covering all of the car’s bottom half.
An arcade classic in the truest sense of the word, the original Tempest was released way back in 1981 by Atari. Dave Theurer, the game’s developer, has said that the idea for the game came from a nightmare of his, where monsters would crawl out of a hole in the ground. Looking at the final product, it’s easy to see the connection.
The player looks down through a blue tube with his yellow claw-like character travelling around a blue tube’s top edge while shooting down at enemies making their way up. The playing area does changes shape as the game progresses, turning into other geometric shapes as well. As was the style back in those days the game continues infinitely, it only ends when the player succumbs to the enemies’ onslaught.
The abstract graphics, neon colors, fast pace and the old-school arcade sound effects can make for a very intense and trippy experience. So it’s not that big a surprise that Jeff Minter, famous for many old home computer games as well as fascination with llamas, would end up remaking the game for the Atari Jaguar, as Tempest 2000. The formula was tweaked by adding power-ups that allow the player to jump, warp stages, or shoot a more powerful laser as well as adding enemy types and more varying designs for the stages. There was even a two-player mode included. This version was then ported to the PS1 as Tempest X3, though with some gameplay differences.
However, the overall experience is intact and the nightmare of blasting enemies crawling up a neon web would again haunt many a player. The original arcade cabinet had a spinner controller for analogue controls and the neGcon works nicely as a replacement.
Motor Toon Grand Prix
First, let’s get the record straight. The original Motor Toon Grand Prix was released in 1994 shortly after the release of the PlayStation and it never left Japan. It was, by most accounts, not a very good game. But it was developed by Polyphony Digital, who later become famous for a little racing game series called Gran Turismo.
Two years later the game received a sequel, Motor Toon Grand Prix 2. It would get released worldwide, only it was called “Motor Toon Grand Prix” in USA because the first one never made it there and Sony didn’t want to confuse the buyers. It was still released under its original title in Europe, even though it was the first in the series to come out there as well. But the important thing is that the game did come out in all regions, because it is an excellent title. The developers clearly learned their lessons from the first game and the sequel outshines the original in every way.
At first glance it’s a kart racer like so many others. But there are fundamental differences at the core level that make me wish this was the direction the kart racing subgenre took instead of where it is now. Most importantly, the item system, which is the basis of kart racers. There are the usual projectile attacks, traps dropped behind you, speed boosts and so on. But instead of grabbing them from the track, coins are picked up instead. As long as at least one coin is held, a roulette wheel can be spun and the item the wheel stops to is given as a reward. It creates a very different dynamic when coins can be saved up and then multiple items can be released in quick succession, and the player can keep the coins in reserve until they’re needed. And in a stroke of genius, the developers decided to disable items completely on the harder difficulties. So instead of hoping to get lucky with items, the player must master the driving and learn the tracks in order to win. And it must be noted that the game has a speedometer, a true rarity among kart racers.
The game has quite a unique visual style to it. Like in many 40’s and 50’s cartoons the cars are personified and literally stretch towards the direction the player pushes them to. At first it may feel a bit jarring, but soon it feels natural. The tracks are very colorful as well and it all feels very cohesive. There are five cars to start with three more to unlock and five tracks (as well as their reversed versions) to race them on.
There is plenty to do in MTGP. There are modes for single races, time attacks, free fun, a two-player mode (but only via a link cable) and a championship mode. Depending on the difficulty chosen, different things can be unlocked there. Absolutely the coolest unlockables are the three minigames. First is a tank combat game, where the cars have been re-shaped into tanks and they attack each other with either direct or ballistic shots in obstacle-filled arenas. Second is a fairly simple clone of the board game Battleship. The last one is a new racing mode with realistic cars and more realistic handling. This mode also runs in higher resolution and in 60 FPS, which was quite uncommon for PS1 games.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the game also has great replay functions with which to save your best races and use them as ghost cars with the time attack mode later on. There are even hidden ghost cars by the developers to beat. The game is just absolutely full of content and should at least be tried out by all arcade racing game fans, even (and especially) the ones who don’t usually care for kart racers.
Gran Turismo 2
Sony’s flagship simulation racing series boasts incredible production values and a huge amount of licensed cars. Even the very first game has about 150 vehicles to choose from, but the sequel boosts it up to an incredible amount of 600 cars to buy and unlock, and all the cars are modelled as accurately as the hardware could allow. Car lovers should have no problems finding their favorite vehicles (or maybe even the one they have in their driveway) and take it out for a virtual spin. The sequel also increases the amount of races and tracks available, as well as including rally cars and courses for the first time in the series.
The game comes in two discs, one for Arcade Mode and the other for Simulation Mode. In the former the player can freely choose the track to race on and the car to use but the heart of the game is the Simulation Mode, where the player needs to earn licenses and money in order to enter events and purchase cars to his ever-growing garage. The license tests also unlock more tracks to be used in Arcade Mode and the tests can be a great challenge to get the best ranks in. There’s a great amount of content in the game, there are events dedicated to specific car types and manufacturers, endurance races, and more. All this makes GT2 a game that hundreds of hours can easily be spent on.
The neGcon support is excellent and it allows nearly every facet of the controller to be configured just to the user’s liking.
In 1997 Taito decided to bring their classic franchise Chase HQ to the 3D era with Ray Tracers. As with its inspiration, the main focus is on Chase mode, where you go through several missions through busy streets before encountering a large boss enemy like twin tanks or even a helicopter, whom you then you have to ram into several times to destroy. The player’s car can’t actually be destroyed, but failure to destroy the target in time will result in a game over. There are four characters to choose from and they vary in top speed, attack power and other abilities.
In addition to Chase mode, there is a more traditional Time Attack mode where you race either alone or against an single opponent. It’s a very nice additional feature that brings a lot more replayability to the game. Ray Tracers was released in all territories, though only the Japanese one has the characters talking to each other with actual voice clips.
The neGcon is quite possibly most associated with this futuristic anti-gravity racing game series, and for good reason. The games are extremely smooth and playable and just plain fun. They can be played as either combat racers, or as a more traditional racing game with all the weapon pick-ups turned off. In either case, the best players usually use the neGcon as their controller of choice, especially since the first two games in the series, Wipeout and Wipeout XL (known as Wipeout 2097 in Europe) do not support analogue controls any other way.
The series is known for its blazing speeds, bright neon colors and licensed techno/electronica music. The tracks are often very technical and require the proper use of the vehicle’s airbrakes, which take some getting used to. But after they are mastered, it is exhilarating to fly through a hard corner nearly at full speed, with the craft’s back just barely scraping against the wall.
The PS1 hosted the series three times, with Wipeout, Wipeout XL and Wipeout 3. In addition to the normal game, Europe received Wipeout 3: Special Edition that contained slightly altered physics, gameplay changes, bug fixes and most importantly 10 new tracks. The series continued to PS2 with Wipeout Fusion that also supports the neGcon. Sadly, it would be the last of the series to do so.
There are many other excellent titles that can be played with the neGcon, this was just a small part of them. Namco’s Ace Combat series, the two Rollcage games, Crash Team Racing, and so on and so forth. For more coverage on the racing titles, check out Rolling Start!!, a site dedicated to arcade-style racing games with a forum for discussing the games, exchanging tips and engaging in time attack competitions.