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Nostalgia Tripping: Stunt Race FX, Where Polygons Go to Die

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Nostalgia Tripping is a column in which Dan Tallarico explores his collection of retro games to see how well they hold up. You can expect heart break, childhood flashbacks and a ton of Capcom games.

What I remember

I was at my local video game rental arena when I first noticed Stunt Race FX. I call it a rental arena because with the slim selection, Friday school dismissals meant that the only game that would remain was Super Mario World–a game that everyone who had a SNES already owned–and Aero the Acrobat. This particular Friday I was lucky enough to be sick; not so sick that I had to be quarantined, but sick enough that my mom felt that renting a game would assuage my pain.

It was 1 p.m., a bit before the school kids would raid the video games. I was able to walk through the video game aisles as if this were my personal museum. The cartoony box and claymation cars stood out to me, and I plucked Stunt Race FX from the shelves for a weekend adoption. When I got home, I put the game in to find a wonky driving simulation. It was powered by the cutting-edge FX chip, which meant I was exposed to polygons that my brain didn’t quite understand. I wanted crisp sprites, not these ugly trucks with eyeballs. I wasn’t too thrilled with the tracks, and the game moved a bit too slow for my liking. I was a F-Zero kind of kid anyways. I returned the game, a weekend wasted, hoping that next time I had the opportunity to choose any game I wanted I wouldn’t squander it.

Playing it now

If I never see another polygon again, it’ll be too soon. Remember that opening to Star Fox, where the Arwings are flying through the tunnel and your heart almost stopped because it was so incredible? Well, the entire game of Stunt Race FX is built in that fashion and, in 2012, this does not hold up too well. Everything is made up of a maximum of four polygons, and it’s pushing the SNES to such limits that I could hear the circuits wheezing and coughing as the main menu loaded.

From the main screen, I was given four choices: Speed Trax, Battle Trax, Free Trax and Stunt Trax. It’s clear that the team spent all their money on polygons and now they couldn’t afford a “cks.” I chose Speed Trax because I love speeding around a track. Call me old fashioned. This is what Stunt Race FX named its circuit mode. Speed Trax has two circuits to choose from: novice and difficult. I chose novice because I’m not very well versed with driving a car made out of two polygons and eyeballs.

After choosing the F-Type vehicle (possible a homage to F-Zero?) I named him Qoy. The default name was Roy, a poor soul I can only assume gave his life to this game. Qoy looked at me with eyes that reeked of melancholy. I can tell that Qoy wasn’t fond of this polygonal arena, but I didn’t know why. Then the race began.

The other cars, some trucks and coupes, sped off into the distance. My brain was addled as it couldn’t comprehend the shapes the polygons were forced to make. It was like trying to drive through a Salvador Dali painting. Shapes so abstract they could be used to administer a Rorschach test. Qoy lurched forward as I applied the gas and around the corner we maneuvered. As I punch the buttons on my aging SNES controller, Qoy reacted with severe hesitation. Often times it would take a second or two before Qoy would follow my commands. It was like driving on a continent made of ice with Mr. Magoo at the wheel.

As I went around the track, objects would blink in and out of existence, which caused me to crash into walls that I swear to god, officer, just leapt out at me. The more Qoy and I traveled together, the more I felt this was a scene out of Saw VII. What would I have to sacrifice to escape from this brutal arena? Have I placed too much of an importance on sprites and pixels in my youth?

Despite the dismal controls and the inability to identify if a curve was bending left or right, I was able to finish the four races. They certainly tried their best to diversify the tracks with limited resources. Each contained pitch-black tunnels, hills, puddles and half-pipes to drive through. Some courses had surprise events, like horses randomly galloping across the road, or rocks falling from the heavens. All of these ingredients blended smoothly to create a nightmare cocktail. Once finished with the circuit, I thought I would try Stunt Trax. Maybe the game wasn’t meant for racing, but was built on the same trick engine that Uniracers used.

The only stunt that’s performed during the gauntlet that is Stunt Trax is not throwing a controller through someone’s skull. Stunt Trax is an obstacle course dotted with balloons that must be gathered within a time limit, less I’m forced to taste the sour tears of defeat. Unfortunately, at this point in the game I’m so numb to the taste that the frustrating potholes and physics defying ramps have no effect on me or Qoy. This mode wasn’t doing anything for me, so I tried to quit out of it and go to the menu screen.

I hit start, then select, then L and R, hit them all at the same time, but nothing. There was no way to get out of this mode. I could select a new car, start over, or pick a new track, but there was no escape from Stunt Trax. I was forced to reset the game. This might not seem like a bad thing since it’s a cartridge, which means no load times. But, considering that all of my personal times are erased after each reset, all my hard work dissolved when I escaped from Stunt Trax. Was that the sacrifice this game wanted from me?

I was reluctant to continue down this polygon-hole of insanity, but I had to see what Battle Trax was like. If I had to guess, I’d say it was a battle mode. Right? That’s incredibly reasonable and any human being would come to that conclusion on their own.

Battle Trax is a mode where two human beings pick cars and a track. The cars are controlled by the computer as the humans, holding their controllers, can choose to beep the horn horn or not beep the horn. I don’t know how this mode shipped in the game, or if it was left in there by accident, but it is truly the only playable mode in this game. The mode where you don’t control anything is the only playable mode in the game.

I was done after this. I couldn’t take the torment or sacrifice anymore. I turned off the SNES leaving behind Qoy forever. He would be forced to slug around tracks, grinding his car-eyes into walls, trapped in this horrifying arena where polygons go to die. Would I miss Qoy? Possibly. We suffered through this game together. I just hope that one day I return with the patience and skill to free him from the land of Stunt Race FX, a land that no man or vehicle should be caged in.

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