The 80s, a decade unparalleled in its excesses and style. There’s nothing quite as “big” as the 80s, and arcade racers from the 80s are no exception. Games like Outrun and Chase H.Q. did everything bigger, better, and faster than the racers before them. Outrun and Chase H.Q. featured sports car sprites driving at speeds in excess of 200 kmh on winding roads through cities, deserts, beaches, and canyons.
As the 80s ended and the 90s began, racers started trading sprites for 3D-rendered graphics. With the high-powered PCs and consoles of the early 00s, racers further distanced themselves from their 80s predecessors. Realism in racers became a trend and it is a trend which persists today. Some modern racers still opt for wild and loose arcade physics, handling, and speed, but the majority of modern racers favour simulation gameplay with realistic physics, handling, and speed. Regardless of gameplay, both the arcade and simulation racers of today often feature realistic 3D graphics. Rarely do gamers get a new racing game which looks, plays, and sounds like it came from the 80s. Fortunately, gamers have recently been blessed with that rare occurrence by means of 80s Overdrive.
80s Overdrive is a 3D arcade racer using sprite-based graphics. Everything in this game is beautiful. The cities, trees, and beaches on the horizon you’ll forever be driving towards and the traffic you pass along the way all look great. Each car the player can drive, of which there are a handful, look like their real-world counterparts albeit in sprite form.
80s Overdrive’s high-quality visual presentation pairs well with its high-quality retro-wave soundtrack. Featuring artists like Vectorwolf and Vocoderion, 80s Overdrive’s soundtrack fits the “80s by way of 2017” aesthetic perfectly. Unfortunately, as good as the soundtrack is, it falls short when racing in the “Time Attack Mode”. Like Outrun, at the beginning of the race you can choose what song you want to listen to, but the time attack mode race goes on for much longer than whatever song you choose. Eventually, the song ends and is followed up by a few moments of awkward silence before looping. It’s a small nitpick, but the repeating song and loop grow tiresome. A random song feature would be a nice touch here, keeping things fresh.
Besides the audio, time attack mode is a lot of fun. Time attack mode is 80s Overdrive’s “Outrun mode”. Players race the clock as they dart from the beach to whatever is on the horizon. Closely passing traffic while carefully avoiding collision nets players more time on the clock. All the extra time is a big help because 80s Overdrive’s time attack mode features a huge map with an almost infinite number of different routes. Time attack mode is a lot of fun and just as addictive as Outrun, imbuing players with a sense of accomplishment as they get a little closer to the goal with each subsequent race. Developers Insane Code claims there to be a reward for players who 100% time attack mode, but I honestly haven’t been able to do it yet. Time attack mode is difficult as is, but a couple of bugs make racing even more difficult. More on the bugs later.
Time attack mode is just one of 80s Overdrive’s gameplay modes. 80s Overdrive also features a career mode where players race NPCs for cash to buy more cars and car upgrades. Career mode is fun because it mixes things up with each race. Some races have more difficult routes with lots of twists and turns, other races have a lot or very little traffic, and some races will see players trying to outrun police while trying to maintain pole position.
Career mode occasionally presents players with the option to take on “missions” to pick up a number of collectables on the track, place above or below certain NPC racers, or deliberately wreck into other NPC racers. I noticed a lot of the missions present little risk but maximum reward. The missions are just another way to line your virtual pockets and access vehicle upgrades including faster speeds, better handling, nitrous oxide boosts, and a police scanner.
At first, the career mode is easy, almost too easy, but it picks up as players progress through the different races. The police chases make things difficult because the police will pull out in front of a player and hit their brakes. If players fail to avoid rear-ending the police, they will likely be set back several places in standing and maybe even get arrested if too slow to recover from wrecking.
The third game mode is a track editor. While you never do more than adjust sliders affecting different parameters to develop a track, a code is given uniquely to the developed track. Theoretically, players can take this unique code and share it with other players either in person or online, giving others the opportunity to race on player-designed tracks. I can’t decide whether this method of sharing a created track is appropriate because it holds true to the way people would share cheat codes with each other in the 80s and 90s, or whether it’s just inconvenient. It would be nice to be able to share created tracks on a server or even race other people online, but that’s an expensive proposition for developers. Maybe if 80s Overdrive does well, 80s Overdrive 2 will include multiplayer or PvP features. Cross your fingers.
Now for the bugs I mentioned earlier. Making the races difficult regardless of which game mode are the vehicle upgrades. Yeah! It’s weird. Typically vehicle upgrades make racing games easier but in 80s Overdrive it only kind of works that way.
Sure, maxing out your vehicle’s top speed will give you a leg up on other racers, but safely driving through each race without accidents becomes difficult. As I began to surpass speeds of 250 kmh, I found my surroundings chopping up and stuttering at a speed just as insane. It’s a framerate issue. Despite 80s Overdrive’s graphics being lovely to look at, the graphics just don’t do a good job of handling speed. Framerates dip as speed increases and the screen fills up with different assets. The graphical issues aren’t game-breaking, but they are frustrating and work as an artificial difficulty.
The only other problem I noticed was a sound issue in the “Elite City” track. It didn’t happen often but occasionally I would be speeding towards the horizon and a very sudden and very loud sound would just scream at me from my headphones. The sound resembled the sound the player car makes as it’s careening around a corner, tires squealing, only louder. The problem was I wasn’t careening around any corners when the squealing would sound, and the sound was so much louder than other sounds in the game. Even without my headphones I experienced the same sound quirk. The good news is I didn’t experience the bug on any other tracks.
80s Overdrive is currently available in the NOE 3DS eShop and will be available in the NOA eShop on December 14th. No plans have been announced for release in Japan or ports to other platforms.
Issues aside, 80s Overdrive is a great late-life addition to the 3DS eShop. It does a good job of being a fun and varied, retro-themed racer, and hopefully, Insane Code will port it to other platforms for players who have already retired Nintendo’s handheld. If you like Outrun and you’re a fan of sprite-based graphics, 80s Overdrive won’t do you wrong. What few issues 80s Overdrive has, they are more nuisances than game-breakers. I’ve been playing it for about a week and I don’t see myself putting it down anytime soon.