Biker Mice from Mars

Racing games are about perfection.

In a racing game, the core of the gameplay is how well you do your lap.  That’s why the game can be played just doing time trials, by yourself, on an empty racetrack.  You have to drift, accelerate, change gears, use special abilities if it’s not a simulation game, pick the right path, start your turn at the right time, stick to the inside of the turn or the outside of the turn, ease up on the gas and slam on the pedal at the right times – and there is always a perfect, optimal zone for each of these things.  Excelling at a racing game is a mathematical process; it is moving along a curve towards the limit of the perfect lap; it is the calculus of speed.

The first and most important complication, of course, is the dynamic obstacles that are your opponents; they occupy space that you cannot occupy, and thus every movement they make can potentially alter the perfect lap, from moment to moment, and thus a competitive race becomes a pursuit of an ever-changing goal, one that you can never quite reach.

The other complication is homing missiles.

Limburger cannot drift, but he hovers and can turn to face backwards and fire lightning, like some freakish Norse ballet.
Limburger cannot drift, but he hovers and can turn to face backwards and fire lightning, like some twisted Norse ballet.

Biker Mice from Mars does not attempt to simulate the reality of racing in any direct way.  It is cartoony and pixelated, in a very nice SNES-era graphical display.  It has tank controls, meaning that when you press left, your little biker mouse (or corpulent villain, forebear of fat corporate execs who devour worlds in future series, one of the first of many manifestations of the public dread of industry) will turn left relative to his own orientation, not yours as the player.  The tracks are simple and square; your movement, although deliciously kinetic whenever you bump into walls or other players, thrusting them aside with impunity, is clearly one plotted out along an obvious, finite, discrete grid.  You can almost see the equations of acceleration, velocity, and impact. There are no gears.  You get a speed boost from doing a little hop and drifting, just like Mario Kart, if you time it with Euclidean precision.

(All of this happens to a soundtrack that seems to consist entirely of half-stolen music.  The most common one that I could identify was Painkiller by Judas Priest, which you may be familiar with as it is the most difficult song on-disc in Rock Band 2.)

The result of this is nothing like a simulation game, in the vein of Gran Turismo.  It is different even from Mario Kart, whose Mode 7 races exist – despite graphical and computational limitations – in a continuum of movements, rather than rigid, discrete ones (or at least, it presents such an illusion).  In Mario Kart, you have 360 degrees to turn; in Biker Mice, you click along the various compass directions (I believe you get a grand total of 12 or 16 possible degrees) like the hand of a clock.

Instead, it is like a Newtonian racing game – simplified, streamlined, and easy to grasp but difficult to master.  The mechanisms you must steer and the forces you must harness are finite and discernable, and precision is visibly attainable.  There is no veil of realism or immersion between you and your technical goal: to drive the perfect lap.  You must click through the notches of your clock with the greatest precision in order to do so.

And then some asshole will shoot you with lightning, and you will convulse with a world-splitting rage as you are stirred from the trance in which you pursue perfection, a rage that is only further aggravated by the realization that even here, in this fictional, abstract, existential realm of simple constructs, the vulgarity of real existence will rudely force itself upon you.  The ink of your calculus is smudged by the spittle that drips from its gnashing jaws, and chaos distorts the pattern you have attempted to construct.

Limburger, you whore-begotten cockslobbering bastard, I spit on your electric shot, and your grave.

Graze on my ass-hair, you bloated wretch.
Graze on my ass-hair, you bloated wretch.

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