They say that you can't judge a book by its cover. The same could be said of videogames and trailers. In the case of Super Night Riders though, you can throw all the sayings out of the window. We had our reservations about the retro motorcycle racer when we first clapped eyes on the announcement trailer but – as we have to - gave it the benefit of the doubt. We're sad to say that the misgivings we had are almost all well founded.
To be fair to Super Night Riders, it doesn't claim to be anything more or less than a jump back to the likes of Super Hang-on, Suzuka 8 Hours and Enduro Racer. The problem is that it doesn't possess the charm or general quality of any of those classics, featuring sub-standard visuals and performance issues, as well as gameplay that's more repetitive than you would even have imagined for a title of this type.
Developer neko.works have gone for a "low-poly" art style – reminiscent of 90s arcade games, apparently - with the result being that you're staring at a rider that looks like a shiny elongated Xbox Avatar or Mii sitting astride a bike which has a back wheel that appears to never move. This pairing – the character being "The Red Rider" Alice, a point that's pushed but never fleshed out beyond that – travels along tracks in six different generic locations, with each stage potentially taking place at one of six times of day, making a total of 36 stages. The goal is to beat the clock, of course, with the only potential hazards being going off course or driving into the back of another rider. There's no crash animation of any kind, you just lose speed in either event, which makes beating the tight time limit a bit of a challenge.
Only, it would, if the traffic patterns in the game weren't so predictable. Before you so much as complete your first stage in Super Night Riders, it becomes painfully obvious that the bikers you'll be trying to avoid all appear in the same pattern. Two on the left of the track – generally quite close to together – then one in the middle, then two on the right that have a gap between them. If this was the case for one event and it changed for subsequent ones, it would be less forgivable but unfortunately, that would be asking too much. No, throughout your entire time with the game, no matter which course you're on, no matter what time of day, no matter if you're playing in "Course" (one stage from each location) or "Stage" (all six times of day from a single location chained together) mode, the traffic pattern never, ever changes throughout the entire game. You'll be counting them off like you're trying to master the box step along the way: "2-1-2-2-1-2-2-1-2…"
In fact, the only challenge will come in the last of the Course or Event modes, where you don't get enough of a time bonus at each checkpoint in order to complete the subsequent stage. This means that you can't apply the brakes for even a millisecond on the first stage without eventually falling short on the last. Fortunately, you'll never need to. Letting go of the accelerator for a half-second is enough for you to regain grip on a tighter turn, so the brakes might as well not even be there. Hitting a rival rider once in an entire event is generally enough for you to be guaranteed to see the Game Over screen as well. So, things become an exercise in concentration, rather than in skillful play. As long as you remember that the traffic goes two on the left, one in the middle, two on the right, you'll be able to beat the majority of the game easily enough in just an hour or two. Providing you can actually see what you're trying to avoid, given that on the night-based stages, the roadside lamps throw light in such a concentrated fashion and the other riders' lights are so dim that you often can't see what's ahead of you.
There are some absolutely baffling framerate problems, given the graphics that the game is trying to push. There's frequent stutter here and there, but when you complete a stage and the game tries to load the next one seamlessly, it doesn't always do so well. In a high-speed game where the road can suddenly jut left and then right and there are things to avoid that can all but sound the death knell for your attempt, it would be nice to know that your inputs won't be affected by things suddenly dropping to single digit framerates for a couple of seconds. Then again, we don't always get what we want.
What will undoubtedly trip most people up and stop them from picking up all 1000G of Gamerscore – which is the only reason to keep playing, given that you're essentially unlocking the same stages at different times of day, all featuring identical gameplay - is the final challenge. This sees all 36 of the game's stages chained together with a tight time limit, meaning that you have to ride for 20 minutes or so without making a single mistake. It's almost impressive that the developer has managed to create an event that is both crushingly challenging and soul-destroyingly dull at the same time.
But, that isn't to say that Super Night Riders doesn't have some appeal. It isn't so bad as to be unplayable and until you work out the traffic patterns, there's a suggestion that while it definitely looks like someone's first videogame project, it could be quite an addictive experience. Indeed, you could go as far as to say that for a couple of bucks, it would be a decent way to pass an hour or two.
Unfortunately, the asking price is five times that much.
Super Night Riders undoubtedly started out as a good idea. 80s and 90s racing games were cool, of that there is no doubt. But when you compare the visuals here to what's on display in upcoming projects such as 90s Super GT or Racing Apex – which aren't even finished yet - and then throw in super-repetitive gameplay and framerate issues, it all runs out of fuel rather quickly.