Battle Cars (SNES) Review – A unique futuristic combat racing game worth knowing about.

Battle Cars is a Mode 7 futuristic racing game for the Super Nintendo.  It’s not particularly well known, but it is a good game well worth playing!  This review isn’t very old and needed only minor touchups.  I don’t know why I failed to put it on my site before, but I’ve corrected that now!

  • Name: Battle Cars
  • Developer and Publisher: Namco of America
  • Released: 1993 (US exclusive title)
  • Review written 4/6/2012


Battle Cars is a futuristic combat racing game clearly inspired by F-Zero, but it is not a clone of that great classic.  F-Zero is my favorite 4th gen racing game, but Battle Cars is worth playing as well.  Indeed, it’s its own game in most respects.  As much of this is bad as good — it’s a flawed game for sure — but genre fans like myself are sure to like it anyway, and it definitely has good points as well.

Battle Cars is a mode 7 game, as the above screenshot shows. The game has very few options — the only modes are 1 player, 2 player, 2 player versus, and options.  The game does not have saving or passwords, so set some time aside for this one — you’ll need to do 20+ races without turning off the system, if you intend on beating the game.  1 player and 2 player are campaign modes, so yes, the game has a co-op campaign, which is pretty cool. The one player game is fullscreen, the two player game splitscreen, so it supports both modes — again a nice feature.  This is also seen in Street Racer and presumably some other mode 7 racing games, but neither F-Zero nor Mario Kart did it (though Street Racer had 4 player splitscreen, while this has only two, it’s still nice.).  2 player versus allows you to choose a track (5 normal tracks and 9 cross-country tracks are available) and any of the six cars and go; this is the only mode where you can choose a track, or the three boss cars without a code, so there is no way to play a single race in one player mode, stupidly.

In the options menu you can change the difficulty, volume, etc.  The difficulty levels really do matter; the game’s appreciably harder on Hard, and easier on Easy.  You also don’t play the last few levels on Easy (the game ends early), or the first two levels on Hard, oddly enough for the latter case.  The ending gets better with each difficulty level, to push you to try the higher ones.

race xc 2

During a race – Cross Country

In the game, there’s an onscreen indicator in the left (or center, for two-player mode).  This shows your armor level (the bar), speed (the lower number), distance to the goal (in cross-country races) or ahead of the rival (in versus/boss races) (the upper number, with a – for behind and a + for ahead), and the status of your shields.  That latter point is important.  When you hit the walls, or get hit by another car or mine, your shields may go dark red, instead of the default bright red.  When shields are dark red and then you take another hit, or hit a wall again, your turbo goes offline for several seconds.  When this happens, your health bar turns grey, and you immediately start falling behind because of how much slower you got.  So yeah, try to avoid this… it’s cruel.

The controls are as follows.  The d-pad turns, of course. A accelerates.  X brakes.  B fires your current weapon.  Y switches weapons.  And L and R are sharp-turn buttons, to make turns quickly.  Pressing L and R together jumps, which causes great damage if you land on top of another vehicle (indeed, slowing cars down with fire and then jumping on them is a good tactic, once you can get it down).  Pressing down plus L and R effects an instant reverse, useful if you get turned around.  Down plus L or R does a sideswipe attack, which is stronger if you also press left or right at the same time. The main problem with the controls is that you must regularly hit Y while holding A, which, if you think about it, is NOT comfortable.  Either you need to momentarily let go of the accelerator to switch weapons — not a great idea — or use an odd way of holding the controller.  It’s kind of annoying, but you do get used to it… and no, there’s no control configuration options.

There are three weapons that the vehicles in Battle Cars are equipped with.  The main weapon is the Disc.  This round shot fires straight, but then bounces off of the walls once it hits one. It’ll keep going for a while.  It’s a very useful weapon, but does take three shots to kill other cars in cross-country mode if you just use the gun, so unless you jump on them or something too it can be hard to do while finishing in time.  The other two weapons are the Homing Missile, which, as the name sounds, homes in on the vehicle in front of you, and the Grenade, which acts like a mortar, shooting in front of your car.  The homing missile might sound great, and it is, but as you can only have one weapon fired off at any time, if you shoot a missile and it doesn’t hit anyone for a while, as can happen, you can be left without weapons at a crucial time.  As for the grenade, it’s very useful and damaging if you can hit with it, but hitting is the trick… Also, you have no weapons that can hit someone behind you, which is a complete pain. I’d LOVE to have mines.  And on that note, some computer cars do have mines.  None have projectiles, like you do, oddly enough, but many can drop mines behind them.  Why you have projectiles but not mines, while the computer has mines but not projectiles, I have no idea, but it’s kind of odd.  It works, but it’s odd.


Choosing a color

In the main game, the 1p or 2p co-op modes, you choose one of three cars (or six, if you use a code to unlock three more or play in 2p versus mode) and go.  There’s another code that allows you to choose one of eight colors for your car, or after you beat the game you unlock this as well.  Of course, turning off the system loses that, so the main way to change car colors is with the cheatcode (see GameFAQs).  The cars are somewhat reminiscent of something in Rock n Roll Racing, though this game predates that one.  The tracks, though, look like something out of F-Zero, though without the jumps.  The graphics are good, and I like the variety of locations, including a polluted city wasteland, a water planet, etc.  Each place looks different.  This is clearly a dystopian future, as the art makes obvious, but humanity has survived… and met aliens too, as you’ll find later in the game.

race xc

Cross Country race… grey bar, so they’ve been slowed. Poor driver.

Once you’ve begun the game, you go to the first planet and location.  The way the game works is that each of the ten (in Normal difficulty) locations is broken up into two races.  The first race is a Cross-Country race, and the second is the boss race.  There is no 3-2-1-Go text in this game — the instant that you see the track the race has begun, so hold down the accelerator from the first second or you’ll immediately fall behind.  Yeah, it’s kind of weird.  In the cross-country race, a one-way race, you have a preset time amount and try to complete the track before time runs out.  While you drive, you also want to try to destroy as many of the traffic vehicles as possible.  The game will continue if you run out of time, but the traffic vehicles will be replaced with dangerous bombs, so try to finish in time.  While you can’t immediately choose to replay these races, if you fail the boss race, you can redo the cross-country race, and your points and money carry over, so it’s a way to build up your car more, if you choose.  The cross-country races are fun and decently challenging as well.  Each time you finish a cross-country race, you go to the upgrades screen.


The upgrade screen.

At the end, your points are totaled.  You get money based on how many cars you destroyed and credits based on how much time was left on the clock (no money if you ran out of time, of course).  The money can be spent on car upgrades, of which there are six types — Engine (increase base max speed), Turbo (increase turbo speed), armor, Jump, Tires, and something else. Engine and turbo are the most important powerups, but you need to somewhat balance it out. Having enough upgrades is VERY important — later bosses will be quite hard if you aren’t powered up enough.  Turbo is automatic, not a separate button — it’ll activate as long as you hold the accelerator down, unless it’s disabled temporarily.  I’ve found that the cross-country courses very in difficulty — in some I found it pretty much impossible to finish in the given time, but with others it wasn’t too hard, and the difficulty curve wasn’t entirely linear either.  At least you can also get money with kills.

Now, there’s one odd thing about the money system.  In addition to cash for car upgrades, the game also has weapon upgrades, for the game’s three weapons.  However, you don’t buy weapon upgrades with money.  Instead, you buy them with the Credits.  Why you buy car upgrades with one kind of money (from kills) and weapon upgrades with another (from time) I have no idea, but that’s how it works.  Each type of money is not transferable to the other. You an upgrade the three types of weapons to make them stronger.


During a race – Boss race

Once you exit the upgrade screen, you go to the second race of each location, the boss race. Here, you face off against a challenging, and indestructible, rival driver.  There are still traffic cars on the track, to get in your way, lay mines in your path, and such, but the one that’s your main challenge is the track’s boss.  Before each race the boss will say a few words to you, and then it begins.  Remember, hold accelerate, you don’t want to fall behind at the start! Each boss race is two laps on a track, and each one has its own course.  The bosses start out not too hard, but get quite tough in the later going.  The last three or four boss races took me many tries each. You can shoot the bosses, but can’t kill them; it’ll only slow them down.  As the bosses were often faster than me though, this was vital, as it was about the only way to get ahead… as for staying there?  Well, you better hope you have enough speed powerups.  Otherwise, stay close, shoot the boss at the end, and hope for the best. Because I didn’t do well enough on some of the cross-country events, I had to do some of this.  So yeah, the game can be frustrating.  It was fun enough to be worth continuing the effort, though, and it eventually paid off once I got past each boss.  If you fail, you are given the chance to retry the race, retry the cross-country race again (with, as I said before, all your current upgrades and money), or quit the game and give up.  You can continue as much as you want, but man do I badly wish the game had passwords… it’s kind of long for a game with no saving! At least you do get a decent reward once you beat the game, though — there’s a nicely long ending that made completing the game more satisfying.  It promises even more in the hard mode ending, too.

Specifically, in the ending, you see silhouettes of each of your defeated foes congratulating you for your victory, with a top-down view of their tracks on the side. The ending hints at being able to play this in Hard. Looking on GameFAQs, there’s a cheat code that lets you play the whole game in top down, as well… interesting. I think that a game like this is going to be better in third person than top down, but it’s cool to have the option.

Title Screen

The tracks are reminiscent of F-Zero, as I said, but they have their own style too — they’re not ripoffs, they have a different identity.  For one thing, sharp turns are very common — you’ll need those sharp-turn buttons a lot, because otherwise you’ll be bouncing off the walls and getting slowed down as a result.  Learn the courses!  Also, while the tracks are usually on the narrow side, there are some parts which widen out significantly.  In these areas, you’ll need to memorize where the path goes, or follow the computers, in order to learn it — it’s not always immediately obvious.  The tracks are long as well, and each one takes a good while to drive through, so two laps (or one, for the cross-country courses) does not feel short.

If you want it to be longer though, for the 2-player versus mode you can change the number of laps from 2 to 10.  Sadly there’s no one player mode with this option, just like how there’s no 1p single race mode.  You can also enable or disable bosses in 2p vs. mode, and choose between having all the weapons, none, or just the Disc (and again, no, no options like these for a 1p mode).  In splitscreen mode the graphics are simpler — the courses are just a track on a black background, instead of having a colorful environment like you have in the single player, full-screen game — but given that F-Zero didn’t have multiplayer at all, it’s great that it was included here.

Overall, Battle Cars is an interesting, but frustrating and somewhat odd, game.  On the one hand, it’s great to see because there are FAR too few 4th gen F-Zero inspired games out there — you’d think that its success led to numerous copies, but for some reason it didn’t.  Really, this is one of the few.  I like the visual style — mode 7 looks great for a futuristic racing game — and the gameplay, while frustrating unless you’re good at the game, is fun.  The designers made some odd choices, like the missing one-player single race mode and the very long, linear campaign with no saving, not to mention the various unlockables that are kind of pointless as unlocks because it doesn’t save (thankfully they’re accessible via codes too!), and there’s also that frustration until, or unless, you get good at the game, but even so, it’s a good game overall. I give it a B or B-.  Most would likely score it lower, but I love futuristic racing games, so it deserves that B.  It helps that I love futuristic racing games, of course, but even so, this is a fun game.  It’s something that most people have overlooked, but it’s worth more attention than it has gotten.  The graphics are good, track designs are great and challenging, the gameplay is unique in some good ways as well as the bad, and despite some issues, I’m happy to have gotten this game and will definitely be playing it more.  I still need to tackle Hard mode, after all… I’ve only beaten it on Normal.   Battle Cars is a flawed game, but good overall even so.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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