Contrary to this cover, you don’t actually race against any other car in the game.
RELEASE DATE: 1984
Safari Race should be the sequel to Safari Hunting, but – spoiler alert – it isn’t. Whereas the latter was Sega’s love letter to poaching, the former is a one-man trek through the African Savannah in a sleek mid-80s sports car. Speeding on a highway by yourself was a pretty standard idea in gaming circa 1984, but imagine an alternate Safari Race where you drive alongside rhinos, elephants, and gazelles in miniature sports cars. As you approach said wildlife, you choose whether to shoot them for bonus points (you monster) or let them go free and get more fuel (both saving and destroying Earth’s precious resources). Too ambitious? Probably! Still, I’d rather play ten ambitious disasters than travel through the Land of Uninspiration that is Safari Race again.
Why aren’t you in a sports car like mine, Mr. Elephant?
In Safari Race, you speed along on a highway in the middle of the desert, avoiding poorly rendered rhinos, gazelle herd, elephants, and other miscellaneous highway debris like… office safes? And boulders? Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s on the road ’cause of how transparent and crap everything looks (except the mountains in the background, which look gorgeous). Why are you racing in the desert? ‘Cause racing in Africa was what the cool kids did back in the 80s – Bono and Springsteen and all those hip rockers used to ‘thrash on the pedal’ and ‘bust it up’ and other outdated slang.
To put it another, more truthful way, you’re trying to reach a certain distance on the highway before your time runs out, and the animals in the Serengeti have had just about enough of your greased-out shenanigans. If you hit an animal or another car, your car will bust up in the middle of the road. You have four tires which represent lives, and once you’re broken down, a tire will levitate down from the top portion of the screen and get your car running again. Keep in mind, though, that you have a limited time to get to the end of your goal, and the clock is always running, even if you’re broken down or stopping for fuel.
Having to refuel so often is where Safari Race breaks down for good. Blue gas pumps will intermittently appear alongside the highway, and if you don’t stop at every one, you will run out of fuel. Trouble is, you have to align your vehicle perfectly next to the pump or the car won’t get any gas. If you’re off by a quarter-pixel or so, no fuel for you and you can’t drive in reverse to go back to the pump. The time limit forces you to go fast too, so it’s not uncommon to be racing at three hundred kilometers an hour, then slam on the brakes when a blue pump suddenly appears in your view. The constant jerky race-stop-race-stop disrupts whatever flow Safari Race tries to establish.
I asked for premium, not mid-grade!
Ugly graphics, busted mechanics, and lastly, confusing controls. When you begin Safari Race, you push up on the joystick and your car moves forward before getting stuck at eighty kilometers an hour. I knew I could go faster, so I pressed Button I, but that only honked the horn (what a useless feature – if the horn doesn’t do anything, why assign it to a button? For “realism”? Bah!). Button II slammed on the brakes. Turns out, you have to push up, then down on the joystick to reach higher speeds. Like shifting in a car, sure, that’s what Sega was trying to replicate. Except there’s no logic in pressing down to move forward, ever. You get used to the reverse logic, but Sega should still be ashamed of themselves for putting these backwards controls in the finished product.
Safari Race would be the most forgettable racer Sega’s ever been associated with if not for the honest-to-God licensed cars found within the game. According to the back of the Safari Race box, the player controls a Lancia Stratos HF and the other cars on the freeway are Audi Quattros. How did Sega get these?! Not only is this one of the first examples of car licensing in any game ever, but these are high-quality enviable vehicles that Sega rendered with a lopsided amount of care. The Lancia Stratos resembles the car it’s modeled after, but the Quattros resemble Trans-Ams from a generic LCD handheld game. If someone could find out how much money Sega spent in order to acquire the cars, that would be super. My suspicion is that the licensing fees far outweighed both the development cost of the rest of the game and whatever profits Sega received from the game’s sales.
That’s not the Quattro I grew up with, Sega.
Licensed cars aside, it’s obvious that Sega put little time or energy into Safari Race. I suggest we all do the same.