*Review based on R.C. Pro-Am’s release as part of Rare Replay*
R.C. Pro-Am marked a turning point in Rare’s history, as it’s often regarded as the developer’s first big success on a Nintendo platform. Rare was previously known for their titles for the ZX Spectrum back when they were known as Ultimate Play the Game. But R.C. Pro-Am’s success on the NES lead to a nearly unparalleled partnership between Rare and Nintendo; one which would lead to years of success due to the creation of games like Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Goldeneye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie.
When playing R.C. Pro-Am today, it’s easy to see what made it so appealing way back when, though it may lack the depth to make it a worthy alternative to more contemporary similar titles.
R.C. Pro-Am is a racing game. A racing game in which you can pick up upgrades and weapons to help to achieve victory. If that sounds a bit like Mario Kart, well, that’s because that’s very much what it’s like. Though with its 1988 release on the NES, R.C. Pro-Am predated the original Super Mario Kart by four years.
Of course, being released four years beforehand, and on a less advanced console, means that R.C. Pro-Am is also a simpler game than Mario Kart. While Super Mario Kart used the SNES’ Super FX chip to give the race tracks a sense of three-dimensional space, R.C. instead went with an isometric view.
The race tracks are small, and only consist of a few twists and turns, and the cars control in a way that feels surprisingly similar to a remote-controlled toy cars. You’ll always race against three other cars, and will have to use weapons to hinder your rivals and boosts to help you achieve first place. Weapons come in a small variety, like missiles which you launch forward, and bombs which you drop behind.
There’s really not much more to it than that, but the gameplay is still engaging and strangely addictive even today. Though there are some drawbacks to the experience.
On the downside of things, each race ends as soon as one racer reaches the finish line. This means you could be in first for the majority of the race, but then potentially fall into fourth place in the last lap, and lose the race as soon as one rival clears the finishing line, thus not giving you a chance to better your placement. This can be particularly annoying because there are only ever four racers at a time. Claiming first through third places will nab you a gold, silver and bronze trophy, but coming in fourth means you lose that race. Lose three times, and you have to start all over. The penalty for the losses is reasonable, but the fact that you can easily get a loss because of one small slip-up is a bit less so.
Another big drawback is that R.C. Pro-Am is only a single-player affair. With its chaotic, combat-heavy races, this is a game that was begging for a second player to get in on the action. Sadly, your only options are to try to beat the computer and better your performances. As fun as the gameplay is, adding a second player to the mix would have given it so much more replay value.
As it is, R.C. Pro-Am is still a fun game, being something of a precursor to the combat-racing and cartoony go-karting genres, and it boasts a fun musical score by David Wise (always a good thing). But, as you may have noticed, I’ve brought up Mario Kart a few times in this review. Considering Mario Kart is beloved for its multiplayer, well, you may find R.C. Pro-Am may make you want to play Nintendo’s iconic racing series after a few short sessions.