Hudson Soft's promises a lot in their manual for their Paris to Dakar racing sim, but their claim that Victory Run is "the perfect union of man and machine" is one that challenged me to consider what other machines are available with which I could form a perfect union.
It was once conventional wisdom that for a gaming console to succeed within the launch window, those important first few months of the product's life, games had to be present from the popular game categories. You had to have a fighter, a platformer, a sports game and a racer. Enough variation to suit all kinds of gamers. Racing games, because of their tight control of perspective, are often the best showcase for what a console is capable of which is why NEC had so much riding on Victory Run when they published it for their TurboGrafx-16 console in 1989.
Despite appearances, Victory Run is no mere copy of SEGA's OutRun. Hudson Soft innovated and expanded on an category of racing game that was established well before SEGA's genre-defining arcade hit. The game challenges you to complete the Paris to Dakar Rally traversing the 13,000 kilometre race through a variety of terrains and conditions.
Unlike simple arcade racers of the time all components of your vehicle will degrade and need replacement, which you are able to monitor from the main racing display. As you advance through the game you can purchase ungraded tyres, gears, suspension, brakes and engines.
Beyond resource management Victory Run also has advanced gear shifting, which is remarkable given the constraints of the controller. With just two buttons and a 4-way directional cross pad a tap up, and down controls gear shifting, while left and right steer and the other two buttons are used for acceleration and braking.
Visually the game provides a significant improvement over what is possible on Nintendo and SEGA consoles of comparable capability. Rich colours fill the screen and sprites, such as the trucks, bikes and other cars, are detailed. However, the low frame rate combined with whiplash-inducing parallax scrolling is jarring to the point where it affects the ability to get through the timed-stages. It appears as though speed was the driving goal of the developers, which perhaps sacrificed some of the enjoyment of the game.
The chiptunes are sublime, though the real standout in the audio are the engine effects which are tuned to the transmission.
Combined with the speed of the game, the sounds of the engine and the undulating courses I found myself taking each course seriously, trying to race as far as I could into the timed-stages. Though as mentioned, the speed, combined with the low frame-rate, is often the undoing of the game, resulting in hazards being presented with little time to adjust. Hudson Soft should have taken their own advice provided in the manual, "Don't always keep the pedal to the metal!".
Eight different stages must be cleared to complete the game at which point you will encounter what Electronic Gaming Monthly noted was the "Longest Ending in a Video Game". Sadly, I was unable to form the perfect union with the game and made it only through five stages before sliding my TurboChip out of my console. While I consider Victory Run to be a significant game, worthy of enjoying if you have access (it was released for the Nintendo Wii's Virtual console), your mileage may vary.