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Are you a fan of racing games? Because I know I am. I have a bunch of racing games on rotation that I enjoy regularly. Everything from Mario Kart to Gran Turismo. Racing games can be one of the most fun genres that videogames have to offer. However repetitive, and sometimes boring, most of them can get. So when I say I like Wipeout, brother I'm not kidding. Here's a series that utilizes fast, addictive gameplay mixing in elements of combat and speed that few games ever attempt to rival. And back in the mid ‘90s when the first Wipeout game came out on the PlayStation I was hooked. But I don’t want to talk about Wipeout. I want to talk about a game that is a total clone of Wipeout.
Speed King was originally an arcade game released in Japan. It never made its way to North America but there was a European release of the game retitled Road Rage. The game is pretty obscure and kind of flew under the radar when it was released. While the version I have is the Japanese release pretty much everything in the game is in English, even the announcers, so it's not hard to figure out what you have to do. When selecting what game options you want all you really need to know is, much like Mario Kart, changing the speeds changes the difficulty. When you select a vehicle you will be given three options, Jack, Queen and King. Jack is slow, Queen is medium and King is pure unadulterated hatred in digital form. So why did this game not seem to do well and why did Konami not release a North American version?
While the original Wipeout has smooth controls, a consistent frame rate and a decent draw distance allowing you to see down the racetrack, Speed King has none of these. In its attempt to give you fast paced racing it fails on almost every front. Track design can be frantic and with the increased speed can feel way too brutal and unfair. You can find yourself getting frustrated with the vehicles because they handle like floating bricks. Turns sometimes feel like they're coming out of nowhere and because you have to focus as hard as you can on the track in front of you there is no time to look at your mini-map on the screen. Instead you're at the mercy of the announcer who tells you to turn left or right and informs you of a nice turn when you happen to make one. But the announcer himself will sometimes come in late giving you not enough warning for a turn or freaking you out tricking you into turning at the wrong time. Wipeout might throw a sharp turn your way every so often but with Speed King it feels like every turn is a sharp turn and because of the bad handling and questionable controls you have absolutely no way to deal with turns in your brick mobile. While the first track actually has a good design, giving you some idea of what this game could have been, the other three completely dropped the ball. In fact one portion of the track on one of the levels holds your vehicle in place and drives your vehicle for you. No joke. That's not a powerup I think they just had no way of designing that track to actually be driven in a proper way so it just does it for you. That's insane.
From what I understand the arcade version of this game is actually pretty good but whatever happened during the porting process was completely lost in translation, if in fact it was a good game to begin with. So you might be wondering why I picked this game up if it's so bad. Well it's because I'm a big fan of Snatcher. Snatcher was a game released to English-speaking audiences on the Sega CD. Without getting too much into it, it's a pretty fantastic game and Speed King actually takes place in the same fictional city that Snatcher does — Neo Kobe. In fact the game is littered with references to other Konami games like Gyruss, Metal Gear Solid, Frogger and Gradius. It even has a few references to the popular sci-fi film Blade Runner, much like the original Snatcher did. While there is no story to be had in the game, speaking as a fan of these games and many of its references, it's a cool little oddity to own. Don't pick up this game if you're looking for a competent racer on the same level as Wipeout. You won’t find that here. You really won't. But if you're like me and you have a certain affection for a couple of Konami’s games this might be worth the price as a collectible.