Back in the early 1990s I was a big Sega fanboy. I was the proud owner of a Sega Megadrive (Genesis for the American readers out there), and as a diehard Sega fan I regularly purchased Sega gaming magazines. One of my favourites was the British magazine Sega Power, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sega_Power. I actually subscribed to Sega Power for quite a while; such was my love for the magazine.
In an effort to stand out from the glut of gaming publications back then Sega Power began attaching novelizations of key Sega titles to the front of their magazine. These novelizations were written by editors and reviewers who were involved with the magazine, and I imagine that they must have been in some way sanctioned by both the developers and publishers of the games in question.
As well as growing up as a gamer, which is something that my older brother had a big influence on, I was also an avid reader. As you can probably imagine I went completely apeshit over these novelizations. I still have them in my possession, and I have often intended to go back and re-read them to see if they actually are as well written and exciting as I remember them being. Over this long Easter weekend I finally got around to taking Road Rash: The Novel down from my bookshelf to read through again.
What follows is a review of sorts. To get you in the mood you should also probably listen to this track by the incredible Rob Hubbard, Pacific Highway, from the first Road Rash game on infinite repeat. When the beat changes at the 1:45 mark you'll shit your pants at how awesome it is.
Road Rash, a novel based on the best selling Sega Megadrive Game from Electronic Arts. Written by Neil West
The story is written in the first person and it begins with our protagonist, Alex Player, waking up after crashing off his motor bike. The writer obviously took the "PLAYER A" from the game very literally when naming the character. Player, as he calls himself, had been travelling on his bike around North America for the previous three weeks after quitting his job and cashing in his life savings. There he was, happily cruising along the Sierra Nevada highway on his brand new Shuriken 400 racing bike, when all of sudden he ends up head butting a tree at almost 120mph. It is at this point that I realised how much the author, Neil West, likes to take a cute bit of shtick and then proceed to stretch it out beyond breaking point. In a book which is only 77 pages long he fills up the first four pages with Player commiserating with the tree, which he has left a "helmet shaped dent" in, and also with Player talking to a cow which viewed the whole thing placidly from off in the distance. Like I said, it's cute, but you get the distinct impression that the writer was like: "This is great! I'm on a roll here, the readers are gonna lap all of this up!Ē
As Player's head slowly clears, he remembers what happened just before the crash. Another rider, a woman with flowing red hair, had sped past from behind him and Player had accelerated to keep up with this biking beauty. After flashing him a winning smile, she accelerated off into the distance leaving Player behind. Shortly after this another rider pulled up alongside him and smashed him over the head with a club. Yes, gamers, by now you will have realised that these two riders were "Rashers"! Also, extra points if you realised that the female rider is Natasha from the games.
Player's luck goes from bad to worse and he is picked up by a patrolling Police Officer named O'Leary and taken back to a cell to cool off. In the cell he meets a Rasher named Slater, and yes the writer does describe him exactly as he appears in the game with "a baseball cap around the wrong way and an evil looking sneer". Slater proceeds to tell Player about the history of Road Rash and how it began...
Many years earlier two riders, Fang and Polygon (yes, seriously), turned from close friends to bitter rivals over the course of a summer of competing at the local race track. Their mentor, an old mechanic who saw that they would crash and burn without his guidance, tried to maintain some semblance of peace but when he dies they decide to have one last race to see who gets to keep the old man's mint condition custom racing bike. Really, the way they totally gloss over his death is quite sad considering he was their mentor and all. Anyway, race day comes and Polygon surreptitiously cuts Fang's brake cable with the help of his then girlfriend...Natasha! I know, I was horrified too, but as Slater later explains this was when she was young and foolish. Needless to say, Fang crashes out early in the race and Polygon is banned from ever racing again at the track. This leads to Fang challenging Polygon to one really last, final race. For realsies this time. The race will be along the Pacific Coast highway, no holds barred! Fang ends up crashing three miles into the race, anyway, and Polygon crashes a few months later and never rides again. You would think this would be enough to scare most riders away from such an event, but it gains steam and the "official" unofficial Road Rash league is born.
To cut a long story short, Player ends up joining the Road Rash league and gears up for his first race. This race covers two longish chapters, and it really is enjoyable to read. Before the race Player encounters Natasha again and she gives him some wise advice straight from the game: "Some of these jerks would rather fight than race. Watch yourself out there". Player is left speechless by her beauty and winning smile and simply stares as she walks away, which Slater rightly hassles him about. Before long the race begins and as in the game Player begins from 15th position. He is desperate to make his mark but he ends up getting cocky and forgets the fact that as well as other riders there are cars on the road which leads to an almost collision and Player bailing out and crashing on the side of the road. He gets back on, though, and manages to fight his way up to 10th place. Along the way he also gets revenge on a rider named Viper, the same rider who caused him to crash at the start of the book. Through some skillful riding Player manages to cause Viper to crash into the back of car and wipe out. This act is seen as very impressive by a lot of the other riders, apparently Viper has had something like that coming to him for a long time.
The story then montages its way through the next few months. Player improves in the rankings steadily until he eventually takes 2nd place behind Shiva, a rider from "the land of the rising sun". Hmm, there might be a bit of cultural confusion going on there? With a name like Shiva I would imagine he would come from India. Anyway, during this section of the book the writer kind of lets his reviewer side peek through quite a bit. Player offers some pro-tips to the reader about the best way to take jumps, and also the best way to knock another rider off of their bike (apparently by kicking them off, which I have to agree with from playing the games).
As the story nears its conclusion the organisers of the Road Rash races progressively make the races longer and more dangerous by providing all of the riders with newer faster bikes. At the start of each season, and consequently the start of each new chapter of the book, Player gives the reader a code containing his data from the previous season. All of the racers' results are entered in a fancy race computer, you see. This is a cute conceit, as anybody who has played the game will know that after each race you are given a password to save your progress in the game. I haven't tried these codes yet, but I'm sure that if I boot up my Megadrive emulator on my Wii and plug the codes in then they will correspond to different race seasons in the game.
In the end the story sort of peters out without any sort of real climax. Instead of having one last glorious race against a rival, or something along those lines, Player decides that the races have become too long and too dangerous so he and Natasha (he eventually gathered up the courage to talk to her and they have since become lovers) ride away into the sunset of the Pacific Coast to live their life happily ever after.
Overall, the book actually is enjoyable in a simple, fan fiction type of way. The writing is full of character, although some of the dialogue and Player's internal monologues are kind of cringe inducing. The main problem with the book is that there isnít really a serious villain of any sort, the only challenge that Player faces are challenges that he presents himself with. Considering that there are 14 other riders it would have been easy for the writer to develop one of them into a rival for Player to compete against. Despite the drawbacks I am definitely happy that I re-read this. At the very least, it has made me hungry to play some Road Rash!
My rating: 3 1/2 Cow Jumps out of 5
Depending on what type of response I get to this I may review the other books in the series, Super Monaco Grand Prix and Desert Strike. I also have another book from a competing publication, Sega Force, which has novelizations of two games in it: Street Fighter II and Streets of Rage II! As well as this I have a Metal Gear novelization that I bought years ago for shits and giggles and never actually got around to reading. It has the classic cover with the Michael Biehn look-alike holding his non-existent gun.
Thanks for reading! I'd be curious to see if anybody out there remembers this book, or owns other similar books. Those old magazines used to put some interesting stuff on their covers.
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About Megakrangone of us since 1:11 AM on 09.12.2011
I do three things:
Love my Woman
Play the video games
Workout TO THE MAX
I own far too many games and consoles, and I have just about enough free time to play about one third of one game at a time.
All time favourite system: Megadrive/Genesis
Favourite current system: PC
Favourite games: Sonic The Hedgehog 2
The Myst Series
Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars
Max Payne 1 & 2
Final Fantasy VII and X
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl and its spin-offs
Burnout 3: Takedown
Race Driver: Grid
Silent Hill 2