1997 was my favorite year in console video game history. Big non-sports games like Ace Combat 2, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, PaRappa the Rapper, and Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation were complemented by what was arguably EA Sports’ best year of releases for the platform… especially NHL ’98, which is one of my all-time favorite hockey games.

Another EA-published game from 1997, Moto Racer, had flown under my radar until just recently– thanks to a $2 find at a local video game store– and it’s a shame that I missed out on it until now, because my first impressions of it are really quite positive.

Moto Racer is a motorcycle racing game from Delphine Software. Delphine might sound familiar to you; it’s the same development studio that delivered Another World, Flashback, and… Shaq-Fu. Shaq Diesel is nowhere to be found in this game, however. It’s an arcade-style racing game that feels a little bit like Ridge Racer on two wheels to me. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s forgiving, and it’s fun to play.

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The track design is pretty interesting, ranging from mountainous roads to dirt and sand courses to a track along the top of the Great Wall of China. The default bike that I used had really good handling, so navigating turns was fairly easy… with proper acceleration control. The dirt and sand courses try to be a little too much like BMX, with lots of hills and opportunities to get air; unfortunately, I didn’t find a way to preload before jumps, so there were spots where speed really suffered on groups of jumps and a once-commanding lead was trimmed considerably before I was able to find a groove again.

Visually, Moto Racer really impressed me. Most of the time, the frame rate is pretty smooth and there’s a decent sense of speed. There are times when things slow down a little bit, especially on dirt and sand courses when there are a lot of racers on the screen at once, but this tends to smooth out once most of the other bikes are out of the way. Crashes usually throw you off the bike in pretty painful ways. The sound is fine, highlighted by “YAAAHOOO!!!” when your racer catches air, and the music is decent.

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Completing the game’s Championship Mode unlocks reverse layouts of some of the tracks in the game, adding to the challenge. I didn’t spend any time (yet) tinkering with the other bikes or bike settings. The CPU opponents usually keep things close for the first lap or two before players will often get the best of them.

I think the comparison to Ridge Racer is apt, save for a lack of drifting and the decidedly different soundtrack choices. The courses twist and turn, the vehicles are fast and generally handle well, and the game is very accessible to players of all skill levels. I was able to pick up and play the game without reading the manual or going through any kind of tutorial, and that was a big plus.

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I’ll certainly revisit Moto Racer in the future, and am looking forward to trying out Moto Racer 2 when I have a bit more time. I can say, though, that if you can find the game on the cheap… give it a spin. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s no Road Rash or Moto GP, but it’s fun to play.

You make the call!

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