(Note: The original version of this piece was featured as part of a Reader Roundtable feature on Sega-16.com back in 2011. Look at their site to learn more about the ultra-obscure Mega-CD platform. Also, you can totally get this for your mobile now so there’s no excuse not to play it.)
People talk a lot about defining moments in videogame history. They bring up the epic storyline of Final Fantasy VII, the addictive qualities of Tetris and even Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone.
But what could possibly be more important than spiky-haired Lego people trying to save the Earth, Russian mind-control plots and blue hedgehogs fighting robot wasps?
The answer is Road Avenger… or rather the theme tune by “me neither” Japanese soft-rock band J-WALK. From the opening line (“Ah know ah‘m gawna re-vah-ve when ah ayum… awn the rowad”) to my personal favourite – “Ah knerr too well eeh‘s berry hurd, eeh‘s jes burkeng for dee seelbah moo-oon” – the song has absolutely everything. I feel that it sums up the game very well. You almost don’t need to play the game if you listen to the song, but you should anyway.
Yes, you can complain that the video is grainy or that the gameplay is repetitive and maybe even that the animation kind of sucks, but you cannot deny that the game has charm. It manages to be exciting because it is FAST – just like driving a car! You never know when you might have to turn left, brake, accelerate or even turn right!
There’s more to it than that though. Road Avenger is every car chase ever filmed since Bullitt. It has all the components of a great action movie without all of that tedious ‘story’ which is always getting in the way. All you need to know is that a gang of street punks (with helicopters) run your car off the road, killing your wife but leaving you unscathed. Naturally, you decide to get your extra car (oh, that one) and drive it into lots of other cars. The title says it all.
The thing about Road Avenger is that you accept things which would be ridiculous in a film, the difference being that you don’t have time to laugh because then you’ll forget to turn right and then you die (set some time aside and watch this compilation of death scenes and crashes, it’s totally worth it). You drive your way through several hotels, dodge flying boats, smash into helicopters (they blow up in mid-air but you are fine – because don’t ask questions, that’s why) and chase motorbikes up stairs. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.
Something which you also begin to realise when you get about halfway through the game is the fact that you are killing a lot of people. At one point you nudge an enemy car off an unfinished bridge and you can see the terror on the driver’s face as you send him over the edge. Even Grand Theft Auto doesn’t have that. I know they killed his wife, but come on.
I also refuse to believe that there are absolutely zero civilian casualties – particularly in one scene where you drive through a hotel dining room full of people, out the window and into a helicopter (which then crashes into the side of the hotel in a big ball of flame). Just imagine the news reports you’d be seeing in that city – which would presumably be interrupted when the reporter is run down by a vigilante in a nice car.
I’m not sure a game has ever made me think so much about the human cost of your average quest for vengeance. Surely this proves beyond reasonable doubt that Wolf Team has created a masterpiece that transcends mere ‘game’ status and becomes something more, something which will ultimately bring about world peace as soon as Ban Ki-moon can buy enough copies for the assorted leaders of the United Nations.