Mach Rider
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Developer:
    • HAL
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 11/21/1985
    • US 10/18/1985
    • UK 03/15/1987
    ARC
    • US 1985
Score: 60%

This review was published on 01/11/2017.

Mach Rider is a racing video game developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on November 21, 1985, North America on October 18, 1985, and Europe on March 15, 1987. This was one of the launch titles for the NES in North America. A modified version of the game known as Vs. Mach Rider was also released for the Nintendo Vs. System arcade machines sometime in 1985. While the game never truly got a sequel, it likely served as the inspiration for F-Zero, another racing game Nintendo created for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom in the early 1990s. Some even consider F-Zero to be the spiritual successor to Mach Rider. The origins of Mach Rider can actually be traced all the way back to 1972, when Nintendo released a plastic race car or hot rod toy bearing the very same name. At any rate, the Mach Rider video game is like Hang-On or Super Hang-On, except you can shoot stuff. It's surprisingly okay, but still suffers from most of the problems that plagued racing games of the era.

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Believe it or not, this game actually has a story to it. It's the year 2112 and Earth has been invaded by evil forces that drive around in vehicles known as Quadrunners. These forces of evil are probably space aliens, but oddly enough, neither the game nor the manual ever explicitly state this. Our hero is Mach Rider, who rides around on a futuristic motorcycle that presumably travels at mach speeds. Mach Rider must travel from sector to sector in search of survivors, all while battling the forces of evil. It's up to Mach Rider to destroy the evil invaders once and for all. For whatever reason, Mach Rider is Earth's only hope. This story is both silly and unnecessary, but hey, now you know that you're riding a motorcycle to save the world.

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You control Mach Rider from a behind-the-back perspective similar to Hang-On or Super Hang-On. Despite the limited buttons on an NES pad, the controls are slightly complex. Holding the A button causes you to accelerate and pressing left or right on the d-pad will cause you to steer left or right. You can shift between the motorcycle's four gears to increase or decrease your speed by pressing up or down on the d-pad, respectively. If your bike stops, you may need to shift to a lower gear to get it moving again. Lastly, pressing the B button will fire bullets from the gun mounted onto your motorcycle, allowing you to destroy enemies and obstacles that get in your way. This gives you points. Your gun has a limited amount of ammo that's represented by a bar at the top of the screen, but it gets refilled between stages. Additionally, there's a tiny screen at the top right that shows when enemies are on your tail, which is handy. Anyway, having a gun is fairly unique for a game like this, and it's cool.

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The first mode to choose from in Mach Rider is referred to as Fighting Course. This is the main "story" mode of the game, not that there's much of a story to this game. The goal of Fighting Course is to travel to the end of the current track without dying. The distance you need to travel is listed in kilometers at the top left of the screen, leaving Americans out of luck. Initially, you'll have an energy bar at the top of the screen, which slowly decreases over time, and goes down quickly if you take damage. Whenever you take damage, your motorcyclist's sprite will disassemble and reassemble in a neat little visual effect that's quite impressive for the time. After you complete the first sector, your energy meter will be converted into a lives count, at which point, getting hit will expend a single life. Unsurprisingly, losing all lives ends your game. This mode is divided into ten sectors with two tracks each, but you only play a single track of your choosing per sector. As with many arcade-like titles at the time, the game loops after a while.

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Endurance Course is the second mode available to you in Mach Rider. During this mode, you're tasked with reaching a certain distance in kilometers within a specific time limit. Unlike Fighting Course, you have no energy meter or lives, so you basically can't die. However, getting hit by stuff will slow you down, and since time is of the essence here, you'll still want to avoid bumping into stuff. Other than that, this mode is basically the same thing as Fighting Course, except it's far more forgiving because you don't have to worry about dying. Speaking of things that are basically the same, the game's third mode is Solo Course, which is pretty much identical to Endurance Course, except there are no enemies. However, obstacles such as water, oil, tacks, barrels, and rocks haven't been removed, so you'll still have to watch out for that stuff.

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Like Excitebike, you can actually design your own tracks in this game. The controls for this are a little complicated, but they're quite effective once you master them. The design screen is divided into two halves: the top box contains the map of the track you're currently creating, and the bottom half of the screen has all the individual course parts you can use. By itself, the d-pad will move the selection cursor on the map box, but when holding the B button, the d-pad will control the cursor for the course parts. The A button places the currently selected course part on the currently selected part of the map. The only stipulation is that tracks must have an entrance at the left end of the map that leads to an exit at the right end. Once you're done, you press the select button to get back to the main menu, where you can play your track in the Fighting, Endurance, or Solo modes. Sadly, saving and loading tracks requires the Famicom Data Recorder, which was never released outside of Japan.

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This game is actually not too bad. Though there isn't much of it, the music is surprisingly good, and the graphics are decent for the time. It's also a lot of fun to shoot stuff while riding a motorcycle at high speeds, but the fun does wear off quickly, as there isn't much variety to the game. Most racing or driving games of the time suffered from this issue, so this isn't a problem unique to Mach Rider. While Mach Rider does slightly alleviate the issue of repetitiveness with its inventive game play, it doesn't entirely eliminate the tedium.

Word Count: 1,134

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