I must admit that I’m a fan of Al Unser Jr.’s Turbo Racing on the NES. I can’t remember where I first acquired it, but I remember it being a part of my NES collection for quite some time now. I always wondered what a sequel would have been like, but I assumed that was it, as I had never heard of a sequel. That was until a week ago when I found out there was, kind of, a sequel titled Al Unser Jr.’s Road to the Top for the Super Nintendo. Knowing this meant I just had to try it and see how it compared to the Turbo Racing memories of my childhood.
Growing up in Indiana May was a big deal, as the Indy 500 was an event that lasted the whole month. There was testing and qualifying and wrecks and deaths and all the things the come with a month-long racing event. Needless to say I was very familiar with the Unser family, as they were almost always on the local news throughout the month of May, throughout my entire childhood. I’m not sure whether this had anything to do with my acquiring Turbo Racing in the first place, but it certainly wouldn’t dissuade me either.
Al Unser Jr.’s Road to the Top takes a bit of Turbo Racing, which really just slapped Al Unser Jr.’s name onto the NES cartridge when it was translated from the Famicom version, and expands on it a bit by trying to simulate the road from beginning a racing career to becoming a champion driver. You’ll start your journey in go-karts, then graduate to snowmobiles, then compete in the IROC series, and finally you’ll race in the Indy Racing League. Each series only has three courses available and after you’ve beaten them you’ll have a final one off race, such as Pike’s Peak, to cap off the series. Before you start the main game mode you can test almost every course, with the exception of the one off courses after each series.
In each series you are given the choice of three vehicles, each with their own unique color schemes and handling characteristics. Between each race the disembodied head of Al Unser Jr. will appear to give you advice or simply to inform you that he too raced a go-kart once. Once you have beaten all three courses for any given series, as well as the championship race, you’re given a password to save your progress.
The graphics are pretty much par for what the game is, the colors are pretty nice, but the sound can sometimes be a bit too much as your go-kart buzzes continually throughout the track. I do love how they used the Mode 7 scaling to add banking and other characteristics to the tracks. This game feels like it took bits of Super Mario Kart and F Zero and then mixed in a liberal amount of “that’ll do”. I tested the game on easy difficulty, just to get through it quicker, and easy difficulty is way too easy. Even so, I don’t feel the need, nor desire, to go back and try it on any of the more difficult levels as it really is the same thing over and over again, just potentially harder.
Don’t get me wrong, had I rented this game for the weekend as a kid I probably would have had an amazing time and created the same fond memories I did with Turbo Racing. I do really like what they did with the Mode 7 scaling, and I can’t say it’s terrible by any means, I just feel it’s repetitive. I also feel things might be a bit shoehorned in as I’m not sure snowmobiling is typically part of the learning curve to becoming a champion race driver, but maybe it is. However, I do know IROC stands for International Race of Champions, meaning you have to already be a champion of some kind, and I’m not sure go-karts and snowmobiling qualifying someone to compete in IROC. Regardless of my perceived discrepancies, the game actually isn’t horrible. I mean it’s not great, but it’s not horrible.