Platform: Sega CD/Mega CD
Release Date: 1993
Developer: Data East
The Sega CD is often, unfairly, thought of as a dumping ground for mediocre and dated looking FMV (full motion video) games that have been around since the mid ’80s. I mean the kind of games that were once all the rage and considered innovative when available in arcades (e.g. Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace) or on home computers and were quickly snatched up by Sega to fill out their new add-on’s library. In the early ’90s, many of those games hadn’t been available on home consoles due to cartridge & console limitations, but CD-ROM technology opened up more possibilities, and it was finally time to show off what these systems could do.
Of the two main types of FMV games, the live action video kind (e.g. Night Trap, Double Switch, Sewer Shark) get the most negative attention for being considered interactive movies with awful acting and questionable game play mechanics. The other main type of FMV game is the animated style made popular in the mid-80s with laserdisc arcade games. These games are essentially playable cartoons where you must quickly and accurately perform an action based on the on-screen prompts. If you complete the action to the game’s expectations, the cartoon will continue forward. If you do not complete the action properly, you are shown an animated death sequence and lose a life.
This style of game may not appeal to every gamer due to its limited replayability, lack of game play variety and the general feeling of disengagement with the action on screen. I admit that these playable cartoon, arcade laserdisc based games have not typically been my favorite either. I consider Dragon’s Lair to be one of the more overrated games I’ve ever played (don’t hate me). With that said, I still decided to pick up a copy of Road Avenger for the Sega CD and give it a try.
Originally called Road Blaster when released for Japanese arcades in 1985, this Data East title draws inspiration from the Mad Max films plotwise. You are a vigilante in the not-so-distant future, attempting to take down a biker gang who killed your wife on your honeymoon, using a sports car as your weapon of choice. No laws or rules of the road can stop you on this single minded mission. Your own life is unimportant, you only seek swift, bloody revenge. A brief intro movie, complete with an epic ’80s rock soundtrack, establishes the game’s premise. Now you’re pumped-up and ready to spark the ignition to begin Road Avenger!
Your perspective in Road Avenger is behind the wheel of your sports car, barrelling forward with all the momentum of a motorized bull charging through the streets of Pamplona. All of the actions you take in the game (turn left, turn right, brake, turbo) are completed while driving in this first person perspective. When you’re on the verge of driving your car off a cliff or running down pedestrians on a sidewalk, or driving your car through a shopping mall, you see the action as if you were behind the wheel. This gives you a unique and exciting perspective and instantly makes Road Avenger memorable, elevating it above other similarly designed FMV titles.
Road Avenger presents you with 9 stages of intense white-knuckled action. The game will prompt you to perform one of the four actions using onscreen signals with corresponding sounds. If you perform this action quickly and correctly, the game will continue on. Each stage consists of a pre-recorded FMV animated scene that plays out until you’re able to dispatch all of the enemies you encounter during that stage.
At times, there are brief breaks in-between the action prompts and other times the actions comes at you feverishly and relentlessly, requiring you to have lightening quick reflexes. The various stages take you on your vengeance quest along the coastline, busy interstates, in and out of buildings, corn fields, and sewers, among other varied, action-packed landscapes. Each stage brings its own unique locations and animations, but overall each of the first 8 levels are very similar in terms of length and the degree of challenge they present players with.
The animations are largely fluid and while the frame rate sometimes appears to be lagging, I personally didn’t notice any lag while I was engrossed in the gameplay. There are times when the graphics and animations appear a bit grainy but that is a common symptom of Sega CD FMV games. Just compare the gameplay of Night Trap on the Sega CD vs. the 3DO version and you’ll see what I mean. This is a minor gripe and honestly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment you get from playing this game.
Most Difficult Stage
If you’re quick with the reaction time and finger speed and find yourself at the game’s ninth and final stage, you will quickly understand the reality of what you are trying to accomplish. At this point in the game, your character has chased down and dispatched with your biker enemies while somehow avoiding any unnecessary, innocent pedestrian deaths through 8 frantic but consistently difficult levels. You’ve cornered the biker gang’s female boss within the busy city streets, weaving in and out of cars and flying through alleys. The city-scape scenery of stage 9 throws every combination of moves at you. Turn left, then right, then brake….pause….hit the turbo, then quickly left again…..now brake….pause….brake. Trust me, when I tell you that stage 9 ups the intensity, I’m not playing. If you’re thinking you can sleepwalk your way through this final stage, you’re sadly mistaken.
To top it all off, you have to get it all correct in one flawless turn. Once you’ve reached a certain point in any of the previous stages you re-start at a check point. The obvious benefit of this is that it prevents you from having to replay the entire stage all over again. However, in stage 9, losing a life requires you to start the stage from the beginning, no matter how far you made it before missing a turn. This turns an already difficult stage into much more of a challenge. No one said revenge would be easy!
Key Gameplay Tip
My recommendation when playing Road Avenger is to always hold the action buttons down longer than you need to. This prevents an unnecessary death that may arise from letting go too quickly. Some actions pop up on screen and quickly disappear, while others stay on screen for a few seconds. The game’s expectation is that you hold down the action button for the entire time that the prompt stays on screen. This is designed to recreate the effect of a sharp turn, a slamming of the brakes, or keeping your foot on the gas pedal to build up speed. You are not penalized for holding the action button down longer than you need to but you absolutely are penalized for letting go too quickly.