Super Sprint reviewOctober 1, 2009
You can trace Super Sprint’s ancestry right back to the dawn of arcades with arguably the first ever sports simulator: Gran-Trak (Gran-Trak was also the first game to use on-board ROM enabling the use of sprites instead of Pong and its imitator’s primitive blocks). Gran-Trak’s popularity led to many me-too arcade cabinets and many successful spin-offs and updates from Atari themselves.
One such spin-off – Sprint – was the first racing game to benefit from a microprocessor (the 6502) which enabled the developers to include two computer-controlled cars with rudimentary vector-based AI to race against. Later editions to the series Sprint 4 and Sprint 8 updated the graphics and added the capacity for more human players (four and eight respectively).
After a long wait (1986; almost ten years) Sprint fans were treated to another sequel: Super Sprint. Like its forebears, Super Sprint is a top-down single-screen racer where simplicity of control and concept make it instantly accessible to all, while the perfectly pitched difficulty curve compels attempts at mastery. Exemplifying the notion of ‘evolution not revolution’, Super Sprint takes everything that made Sprint a success and builds on it with more varied tracks, hazards, better drone car AI, full colour visuals, car upgrades and more.
In 1987, responsibility fell to Electric Dreams to bring the experience home. Not an easy task considering the game’s high resolution display and dedicated steering-wheel and pedal controller. Electric Dreams developed versions for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and (of course) the Atari ST each with varying degrees of success. Atari’s own game division Tengen produced a version for the NES (which is, curiously, the least faithful of all the points, though still very playable).
Let’s weigh up the ST port’s positives and negatives.
Hazard Perception – Super Sprint keeps things fresh by adding collectables (point bonuses and wrenches that can be traded in for car upgrades), and – later on in the game – hazards (moving barriers, oil and water patches, cones and whirlwinds) make the eight avaliable tracks all the more challenging.
Three’s a crowd – more players = more fun. Simple as that really.
Finely tuned – The controls have been superbly implemented; a remarkable feat considering the arcade original’s control system. Left and right on the stick rotate your car, and the fire-button accelerates; with deft and well timed use of these three inputs you can negotiate all the corners and hazards the game can throw at you. The cars are extremely responsive, ripping around corners with ease, allowing you to add a touch of over-steer by releasing the fire-button momentarily, giving you a great sense of precision.
Silverstone++ – Not only do the tracks all look great and very faithful to the arcade (as do the cars, which can’t have been easy when reducing the original’s resolution), they also offer lots of variation with chicanes, jumps, closing doors, bridges and cross-roads to test your driving ability.
Occasional glitch – On a couple of the levels it is possible to crush your opponents into a wall, where they will re-spawn (via the ever ready helicopter) only to blow up again and again ad infinitum. Also, on a couple of occasions, I have got stuck to a wall losing valuable seconds, an explosion being the only escape.
ABS – The way a drone car can maintain control and steer himself around the trickiest of corner during a whirlwind or oil-slick-induced spin is extremely irritating.
CD changer optional – The music that plays between each round can become quite repetitive.
The Atari ST port of Super Sprint is very faithful to the arcade original and due to the arcade’s inimitable controller it is still the best way to play at home today, unless you happen to have a MAME cab with freely-rotating steering wheels (or the original cab for that matter).