Kickstart 1.4?

Combo Racer logo

RIDING around the perilous streets of the City of London on a Honda H100s is one thing but roaring around a race track with a colour co-ordinated sidecar is another. That is not to say that I would not like to try, but I would like a little practive on say a Kawasaki GPz 550 first. However, failing to raise three grand for such a machine, I would rather spash out 25 quid for Combo Racer and play that.

After all, Combo Racer does have the advantage of being some £2975 cheaper, you do not get all hot and sweaty from wearing all the protective gear, your hair does not feel lousy as the sweat circulates over your scalp, and the only real damage you can do to yourself is to contract joystick finger or fall off your chair when you realise that this is a very good game (Bah! You big pansy).

Combo Racer is the product of one of the best programming teams in the country, Imagitec Design. Its playability largely depends on whether you like fast action racing games. Personally, I have had enough to last a lifetime, although I must admit I would rather play this than many others.

My first impression of the game was one of disbelief. The title page makes use of a truly awful digitised black and white picture of a motorcycle-sidecar combination.

There are eight tracks to race around and you will need to qualify for a starting position on each of these. Once you have completed all eight, you progress to the next level where the going gets tougher.

There are three levels and each must be completed beore being promoted to the more difficult stages. Your vehicle, equipped with a side car, carries both you, the rider, and a pillion whose job it is to keep the baike balanced around those tight corners.

What makes Combo Racer so playable is the inclusion of team spirit. Two people can play at once. However, they do not compete against each other but instead have ultimate control of the combination.

Joystick one has control of the machine while joystick 2 controls the pillion. Once both players have got the hang of the controls and know how to balance the machine, some pretty hair raising speeds can be maintained around those corners. In single player mode the human controls only the machine, the pillion crawls about under automatic supervision.

Although eight tracks are more than you find in many games, Combo Racer has the added advantage of a track editor. Accessible from the main menu screen, the track editor allows you to modify any of the existing tracks or begin from scratch and design your own.

Edited tracks can be saved to memory or permanently to disk. Those saved to memory can be practised and then edited again if required.

There is nothing more boring than racing around falt lanes, so the track editor allows you to create hills and valleys with fantastic effect. You can even dig out a tunnel or two along the course. One thing however you cannot do is to make crossroads - a shame but not too disappointing.

On technical merit, Combo Racer scores highly. Its graphics are fast and colourful with a rescaling routine that is second to none. The undulating motion of the screen when ascending or descending hills is very good, however hills do not seem to affect the performance of your engine.

The sound too is not harsh as in some racing games and the noise of other vehicles indicates that thre is someone up your rear end.

My only complaint is of other racers passing - the bikes simply fly, especially when you have crashed. Whoosh - a noise then a dot on the distance. Still this does not spoil what is really an enjoyable game.



Combo Racer logo

GREMLIN £19.99 * Joystick/Keyboard

There has been a garage full of racing sims over the past year. So one has to be either very special or different enough to merit a second look. Combo Racer's claim to fame is simultaneous two player action, with rider and passenger working together for speed.

Combo Racer has all the elements that a strong racing title requires. It offers a variety of courses for seasons of high speed action, and gives you the chance to try something outrageously daft at no personal risk. It even comes with a course designer to help out in the lasting interest stakes.

Controlled by joystick in the traditional manner (up to accelerate, back to brake etc) Combo Racer is easy to get to grips with. Precise changes of direction, speed and gears are required to even qualify, let alone race. The opposition is good enough to leave crash victims for dead and even the very best must struggle to win, while the undulating tracks, complete with tunnels, are varied enough to test a rider's ability.

What makes Combo Racer different is the two-player mode, which allows racing in pairs. In a one man game the computer takes care of the passenger's fiddly bits - shifting their weight to give the biker greater traction. In two player mode one person takes the handle bars, the other dons a helmet and controls the passenger. He plays a vital role because if he is not perfectly positioned a terminal flip is all too probable.

Crashing costs time and loss of face. In Combo Racer it also affects the bike's performance. Each collision costs 3% engine damage, and after a few shunts you soon lose the title of Racer and start looking at a funky Combo Moped.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

Speed is the sould of any racing game and Combo Racer moves with eye-numbing rapidity. Corners loom with frightening suddenness, a factor complicated by the dips and rises on each course. The bike responds well, hanging on line if controlled properly, but dishing out big penalties in the form of crashes to the careless. Soundwise the game lacks convincing effects, with a simple engine sound and a tolerable intro tune.

LASTING INTEREST

The big plus points should be the track designer and the two player mode. The course creator breathes life into it, but only for people who find racing itself inexhaustibly entertaining. The two player option is disappointing, with the passenger's involvement limited to corners. Even there it is simply a matter of pushing the stick to one side - not scintillating gameplay.

JUDGEMENT

A first-class sim, but Combo Racer lacks the magical spark of a classic. The course designer will only interest die-hard bikers, while two-player games are too limited to be of consequence. Combo Racer is a commendable entry in a packed field, but lacks the poke to take pole position.



Combo Racer logo

Was ist am Computer eigentlich noch nicht zu einem kleinen Rennen angetreten? Autos, Motorräder, Trucks, ja sogar Flugzeuge gabg es schon in Rennspielen. ABer ein Motorrad mit Beiwagen? Nein, das gibt's bislang nur in Gremlins neuer Raserei!

Die Idee kann sich schon sehen lassen: Mit der Beiwagenmaschine über acht verschiedene Strecken düsen oder gleich in den alljährlichen Kampf um die Weltmeisterschaft einsteigen!

Vor allem für Computer-Piloten mit gleichgesinntem Partner scheint die Aufgabe interessant, denn da steuert einer den Feuerstuhl, während der Kollege mittels Joystick im Beiwagen herumturnen muß. Aber wie so oft, dämpft auch hier die Praxis die Freude an der Theorie...

Nach einem sehr bescheidenen Titelbild geht's ins Auswahlmenü, wo festgelegt wird, ob man alleine oder im Doppel ins Rennen geht, ob zunächst noch ein bißchen trainiert wird, und wieviele Runden auf welcher Strecke gedreht werden müssen.

Auch ein voll mausgesteuerter Editor ist vorhanden, mit dem man relativ problemlos eigene Kurse zusammenstöpseln kann. Sitzt man endlich im Sattel, präsentiert sich der Screen in gelungener Aufteilung: Das untere Drittel ist dem Tacho, dem Drehzahlmesser und der Ganganzeige vorbehalten, der Rest gehört der 3D-Aussicht - nur oben links ist noch eine kleine Streckenübersicht, auf der sich die Positionen der Konkurrenz ablesen lassen.

Jetzt den Stick nach vorne, der Tourenzähler schlägt aus, ein Druck auf's Knöpfchen für den ersten Gang, und die Karre setzt sich in Bewegung. Wer die sechs Gänge fleißig durchschaltet, kommt recht flott vom Fleck und darf sich am sauberen Scrolling der verschiedenen (aber nicht sehr detailreichen) Streckengrafiken freuen.

Weniger schön: Die Kollisionsabfrage ist unter aller Kritik, oft genug fährt man durch Bäume oder Reklameschilder einfach hindurch. Und wenn's dann doch mal kracht, ist nix zu sehen - die Maschine muß nur neu anfahren!

Auch die originelle Zwei-Spieler-Option hat ihre Tücken: Zwar macht es einen Heidenspaß, die Stickbewegungen möglichst synchron hinzubekommen, nur leider fehlt der rechte Sinn. Sind sich Fahrer und Copilot nämlich uneins, so beeinflußt das die Straßenlage nur in sehr bescheidenem Maße.

Aber die Animation des eigenen Sprites entschädigt für vieles, der Beifarer liefert geradezu akrobatische Turn-übungen! Dafür brausen die Gegner reichlich steif vorbei, und auch der Sound ist nur Dutzendware.

Unter dem Strich überwiegt dennoch der positive Eindruck: Die Spielidee hat eben doch ihren Reize, und selbst im Solo-Modus (wo der Beifahrer vom Rechner gesteuert wird) bietet Combo Racer noch solides Renn-Vergnügen.

Da der Schwierigkeitsgrad auch Einsteigern ein heißes Race ermöglicht, kann das Programm getrost zu den besseren Vertretern seiner Gattung gerechnet werden - nur der ganz groß Hit ist es eben leider nicht. (ml)



Combo Racer logo

GREMLIN
PRICE: £24.99

There have always been simulations of most kinds of on-road vehicle - cars, motorcycles, quadbikes, trucks, pedal-bikes; you name it, there'll probably a game about it. Apart from sidecars, that is. Gremlin, in their ultimate wisdom, have sat up and taken notice of the gradual rise in the popularity of the sport of combo-racing and have produced a game based on this fast and furious pastime.

Combo Racer opens with a menu allowing the player to choose the amount of players, whether to go for a practice run or a proper race, and even to create new courses using the in-built track editor. Being a racing sim, the object is to win as many races as possible during the season. While one-player mode entails simply tearing around the track, in a two-player tournament player one controls the motorcyclist while player two takes the role of the chap in the sidecar, leaning left and right as each particular turn demands.

At the end of each race, the first nine finishers receive a score which is added to their season tally - the team with the most points at the end of the racing calendar wins the championship. Can you be the one who lifts the trophy and sprays champagne over the crowd at the end of a grueling tournament?

There are strangely few road-race simulations based around motorcycles, and it's even more refreshing to see one which actually has a twist. Although when in one-player mode the addition of the sidecar makes no real contribution to the proceedings other than cosmetically, in two-player mode the human-controlled sidecar opera.

Graphically, Combo Racer is of a very high standard; bike sprites are impressive (although it's a shame that the opposition are the same colour as yourself), as are the multitude of backdrops which are meant to portray various parts of the world. The game also runs at a very nippy frame rate - vital to a game of this type. And then there are the effective sound effects, such as the engine noises which actually echo when going through a tunnel, the screech of metal against concrete when rubbing against a tunnel wall and the agonizing crash when you flip your bike.

All in all, Combo Racer is an extremely playable, good looking and addictive simulation of a dangerous motorsport, and the inclusion of the easy-to-operate course editor gives the game a lasting quality which similar products lack.



Combo Racer logo

What does "lean out, lean out... no, no, the other way, left, left, no right, aaaah!"? That's right, it's David Wilson and Paul Lakin playing Combo Racer.

Motorbikes are funny old things, aren't they? It's easy to tell why motor cars and lorries don't fall over 'cos they've got four wheels - it's all to do with balance. But motorbike thingies have only got two wheels so how they stay vertical is anyone's guess.

Combo Racer doesn't need to dabble in the murky world of equilibrium since the motorbike in question has got a side-car slapped on the... er... side. As well as stopping the bike from toppling over the side-car has many uses, such as allowing you to carry your pet cat, a large pot plant or a complete set of Agatha Christies. This will ensure you an interesting, homely journey but is unlikely to boost your chances of winning a race. For that you'd be far better advised to strap on a friend and let it all hang out. (Ooer!)

Combo Racer is a one or two player racing game with a difference. In most two player racing games you're frantically trying to get away from the other player and win. This would be an unfortunate tactic to follow in Combo Racer since you are both on the same bike.

One of you gets the glamorous and relatively safe job of driving the bike while the other has to risk life and limb (to say nothing of bottom) trying to keep the bike on the track. This is achieved by leaning in out, in out and shaking it all about. If you lean the wrong way or too far the right way, you'll find that you, the bike, your partner and the road have all parted company.

All these gymnastics are performed over a range of eight tracks. If these aren't difficult (or easy) enough for you then there's always the track editor. This is a bit like using a scalextric set, you put a selection of curves, straights and humpback bridges together to make a fiendishly cunning track and then find you can't get it to join up at the end. This is the sort of engineering that gives the Channel Tunnel a bad name.

You'll need a steady nerve, a fast turn of speed an an asbestos bottom to get through the season. Even qualifying in pole position is likely to play havoc with your hedgehog skin underwear.

Atari ST reviewPaul: Times 'ave changed since I were a lad. In those days we had to make our own fun by playing games like Knee Break, where you pedalled up to a motorbike that had stopped at traffic lights and grabbed hold of the back. Nowadays everyone ponces about wearing crash helmets in their Mini Metros; kids today, they just don't know they're born.

At least i>Combo Racer catches some of the thrills and plenty of the spills of those racey pre-Metro days. In one player mode it's a smooth, fast and fairly novel racing game. The figures are nicely animated, especially the sidecar passenger and control is really sharp.

However, it's in two player mode that this game really comes into its own. Both players have to work together if the bike is going to stay ahead of a very competitive field. If the 'driver' does not watch his revs, gears and speed, then he'll either stall his engine or start doing Catherine Wheel impressions. Equally, any bad positioning from the passenger will at best slow the bike down and at worst send it flying off.

The races themselves are difficult even at the simplest level but not unplayably so. The main problem with the competitors is not so much their skill as their graphics. They have a slightly unfinished look about them. The same is true of the sound. Although there are some nice effects, such as going through tunnels or when you change gear, the sound is a tad on the thin side.

However this doesn't really affect the gameplay and pales into insignificance when set against the Track Editor. This little beauty allows you to build a track from scratch, putting in as many curves, humped back bridges and straights as you like. It's even possible to determine the gradient of any slope you put in. Before long you find yourself spending more time designing new circuits than actually racing round them.

Even without the two player option and track editor Combo Racer is certainly an above average racing game. With them it's excellent.

Amiga reviewDavid: As soon as I saw that little side-car chap's derriere perched provocatively close to the tarmac as his team mate roared around the course at 120mph, I immediately recognised the potential for much Frankie Howard type 'Ooh no Missus, buttocks no, titter ye not' type remarks.

Anyway, you'll be pleased to hear that I decided against it. Right, well what can I say? I'm a big fan of motor racing games and I've been saddened by most available so far. Few have really captured a convincing sense of speed and excitement and frequently the 16-bit versions have been left shamefaced by their 8-bit counterparts!

Well, this having been said, Combo Racer gives a good impression of speed. Programmed for Gremlin by Imagitec, the sound and graphics are both good. The pre-programmed courses offer variety and different colourful backgrounds. Add this - which already makes it an above average racing game - the the innovative inclusion of two player co-operation and the track editor and Combo Racer gains even more over its rivals. The idea of having animation within your main sprite, was a bit of a brainwave. Although the passenger moves a bit jekily, he does drastically alter the way the bike reacts to the driver's control and, as such, the teamwork required adds a nice new perspective.

The track editor is a great idea - it builds just like a Scalextric set (except without those crap pieces of track that make your cars stop). Okay, so why isn't it a ZERO Hero?

Well, that's hard to pinpoint. But, despite my comments about the impression of speed, there's something about your bike's turning relative to the road that doesn't quite gel and there's something about the other bikes relative to your bike that doesn't quite gel either. They overtake (with nice accompanying sound) and the graphic shoots past. It gave me the impression that there was no way you could catch it, but let me reassure you you can. I did (eventually) manage to win and very thrilling it was too.

Maybe I'm being hypercritical, but I still haven't found the ideal racing game on the ST or Amiga. Indianapolis 500 does it for me on the PC, but there's absolutely nothing else which compares on the other formats. This gripe aside, Combo Racer is without a doubt the one I'd buy while I'm waiting. Stop