[typing] “Super Mario Kart.” Not only is it the third-best selling
Super Nintendo game of all time, but it’s almost entirely responsible
for the kart racing video game genre. It was also a great showcase for
the system’s Mode 7 graphics mode, which allowed for impressive 3D
environments for a console at the time. Of course, if you were a PC gamer like me and
wanted a similar kart racer, then screw you, man. That is, until 1994 with the release of “Wacky Wheels,” developed by Beavis Soft in the UK, and published by Texas-based Apogee
Software for PCs running MS-DOS. Initially, this was a Shareware game
you could register by mail order, but this is the upgraded retail
release distributed by FormGen. It includes everything from the full version of the game, plus new tracks and other sweetness to
make you feel superior to early adopters. And it also comes on these two beautiful
3.5″ floppy disks from Apogee. Mmm. These never fail to make my heart flutter. They also packed in an Apogee registration card, and ad for Computer Gaming World magazine, and this delightful full-color instruction manual. Ahh. No matter how small a
computer game was back then, it still wasn’t out of the ordinary to get a
nice box with some quality goods inside. I love this stuff. “Wacky Wheels” whips up a wild world of wonderfulness in the form of an Apogee logo followed by a title screen showing our racers darting out
of the zoo at breakneck speed. From the main menu, you can
choose from four different modes: Single Player, Two Player,
Wacky Duck Shoot and Combat. Let’s just dive into single player for now, which gives you eight animals that
have disturbingly learn-to-drive go-karts. Since the apocalypse is clearly upon us here, choose whichever creature engaging in
motorsport bothers your soul the least. There are three classes, or difficulties, to choose from, as well as a Time Trial for competing against a clock, and a Kid Mode, which only
has you pressing left and right and not bothering with braking or acceleration. Ha ha. Dude, “Wacky Wheels” was ahead of its time. That’s identical to modern mobile
racing games like “NFS: No Limits.” After that sad realization, choose your engine size,
and consequently the game’s speed, followed by the tracks that you want to play. Finally, it’s time to play some “Super Wacky Kart.” Just hammer the accelerator and try your best to cross the finish line first, all while roaming around colorful,
pseudo-3D environments and collecting pickups to take down competing drivers. And yes, those random hedgehogs
can be run over to use as ammunition because the animal kingdom is… somehow
just as bizarre as the Mushroom Kingdom. Now, I’ve never been that much into kart racers, and “Wacky Wheels” never did
much to change my mind there, but, hey, back in the day, this was fun! It was charming. And when you went into the water you turned into a periscope, so it was all good. Plus, I was always happy to support any game that showed that a DOS PC
could do what the consoles could! Even if it wasn’t quite up to par with the
hottest games from Nintendo and Sega. And right off the bat,
“Wacky Wheels” does not hold a candle to the game it’s trying so desperately to imitate. The first issue is the handling, which just doesn’t feel as tight as it
should for a kart racer, if you ask me. And there are no buttons for drifting or power sliding, so making sharp turns has to be
done either at a very slow speed or by using the hand brake. And the hand brake is just strange because it only rotates you at a
hard 90-degree angle left or right. Sometimes this works great, other times this sends you into a
wall because you were one pixel off. This is especially aggravating due to how
you don’t bounce off of walls and obstalcles like you do in “Mario Kart,”
but instead you just kinda stick to them. Or even straight up explode
when you hit something wrong and you lose a life. And that’s no fun. But the single biggest problem is the framerate which putters around at around
half of what “Mario Kart” does. As a result, the faster karts
and more complicated tracks cause no shortage of eye strain
when playing for any real length of time. But still, this is a really impressive bit of programming for a VGA game that can run on a 386, but I can’t say I’d ever want to play this
over something like “Mario Kart” nowadays. At the time, I had no choice because, hey, couldn’t justify a Super Nintendo
when we already had a computer that could play games *and* do our taxes. And in that sense, “Wacky Wheels”
was absolutely wonderful back then. It may not have had iconic
characters like Mario and Luigi, but it did have well-drawn
caricatures of recognizable animals. And it may not have had mushrooms,
stars and Koopa Troopa shells, but it did have fireballs, ice cubes and hedgehogs. And it may not have had that soundtrack,
but it did have *this* soundtrack: [16-bit keyboard-heavy rock music] Oh, yes, this is one of the biggest
things that “Wacky Wheels” has over “Super Mario Kart”, in my opinion: the superb soundtrack by Mark Klem. [16-bit synth rock goodness] In AdLib or Sound Blaster mode, especially, the music is just awesome and really gets me in the mood to play this. Oh, hey! Dope Fish! Is that the first appearance of Dope Fish
outside of a Commander Keen game? Neat! Anyway, as I was saying, uh,
the game is pretty much just okay. I mean, there’s nothing to unlock or upgrade. It’s just a bunch of races on a bunch of tracks with a bunch of racers that all control the same. However, that’s just the single-player. There are a variety of multiplayer modes, both in split screen and online flavors. So whether you’re playing in the same room
or over a serial or modem connection, you can race against a friend and
throw demon butts in each other’s faces. You could also play a shootout mode, which turned the game into a one-on-one death match, and is probably the best part
of the game after the music. Other than “Doom,” I didn’t really know of
any games back then that let you do this. So, head-to-head violence was always welcome. Especially in study hall,
on the DOS computers in high school that I was not supposed to
install this on but I did anyway. There was also a single-player shootout mode that let you practice on defenseless ducks, which is sure to appeal to
anatidaephobics the world over. Oh, and *one* more interesting thing before we’re done. There’s a chance you’re looking at this going, “Huh, this sure looks like another
DOS kart racing game I know of.” And if the game you’re thinking of is “Skunny Kart,” then you’d be correct. In fact, they’re closer relatives than you might realize, since the programmer of
“Wacky Wheels,” Andy Edwardson, used to work for Copysoft, the folks behind the Skunny games and “Skunny Kart.” While he was still working there, he decided
to build a game engine in his spare time, and this ended up forming the backbone
of what would later become “Wacky Wheels.” But before that ever happened,
he took a demo of this to Copysoft to gauge their interest in
making a game out of his engine. They were absolutely interested but the problem was Apogee Software was interested as well. After a disagreement over royalties, Mr. Edwardson decided to go with Apogee instead and paid Copysoft for the use of their
equipment while making the game. But *just* before “Wacky Wheels” was finished, Copysoft released “Skunny Kart,” shocking everyone. It turns out that Edwardson had left a copy
of the source code with Copysoft when he left, and they in turn just used it outright to make a quick buck by applying
some graphics from the Skunny games. “Copysoft,” indeed. There was a happy ending, though, since “Wacky Wheels” went on
to sell rather well for Apogee and retains a cult following to this day. And there is even an HD remake
in the works by Cascadia Games set to release in late 2015. It amuses me when Shareware games get revisited and stay loved over all these years like this. So I’m definitely looking forward to the new one. As for the old one, it’s still sold on services like GoG and Steam, as well as in the “3D Realms Anthology” pack. So, if you feel like giving it a look,
it’s quite simple to do so nowadays. This is not something that
I’d go back to play very often, but if anything it’s worth checking out just to take a peek back into a
unique era in PC gaming history. [16-bit synth rock] Did this video leave you wanting more? Well, have I got a solution for you! LGR is a show that has new
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