Stunt Race FX isn’t the worst tech demo, but that isn’t a compliment

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Punching above its generational weight class

The Super FX chip was a handsome feather in Nintendo’s cap, even if they very rarely wore it out on the town. A graphics support unit, the Super FX chip was a co-processor that pushed the SNES’ graphic capabilities pretty far. Games like Star Fox and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island benefitted from the tech and were able to punch above their generational weight class.

Regardless, only Yoshi’s Island doesn’t look entirely antiquated by today’s standards. While 3D graphics were novel at the time, their mostly flat-shaded surfaces came at a tremendous price when it came to framerate. Because of their overall choppiness, games that were classics once can be difficult to play through a modern lens.

It’s debatable if Stunt Race FX was ever good. Reviews at the time were generally favorable, but any game with visual pop would normally be lavishly praised in contemporary reviews. Even discounting its arthritic bones, there was a lot left to be desired. However, when I first played it as a kid, it enthralled me, and I have a lot of extremely pleasant memories of playing it with my family.

Stunt Race FX - Roller Coaster
Screenshot by Destructoid

Historical perspective

Stunt Race FX was created by Nintendo EAD and Argonaut Software during their time tucked under the wing of the Japanese video game giant. It was released in 1994, which is important to keep in mind because that’s a few months after the seminal 3D racing game Ridge Racer was released. It’s roughly two years after Virtua Racing (and the same year as the Genesis version). It’s also almost directly alongside Daytona USA. I find this perspective to be rather important because it strips Stunt Race FX of any status of being unique as an early 3D racing game. It wasn’t. Maybe it’s more impressive than Super Mario Kart, and perhaps it’s impressive for an SNES game, but you had other options in 1994.

You can smell the tech demo on it, which I find somewhat charming. Despite being a rather routine racing game, there is a lot of enthusiasm on display. There are two circuits of four tracks, and slotted in the middle of each of them is a bonus game where you drive a tractor-trailer. It’s completely apropos of nothing, but they made a level and a side objective around it.

The racing is actually the lamest part. The only thing it really has going for it is some fun physics and a boost button. 3D racing kind of sucks on an all-digital controller, but the shoulder buttons are used to turn harder. That’s one better than digital; it’s trigital! Or something.

Stunt Race FX Ice Stunts
Screenshot by Destructoid

Play ’til you puke

I really don’t think I can describe Stunt Race FX without making it sound lame, so I’m going to reach back into the past and bring up some of my family’s impressions of it. First, 3D is amazing. I don’t think I knew what I was seeing when I was younger or why it was impressive. However, my family described going over the hills in cockpit view as “like riding a roller coast.” We’d challenge each other to drive through the more undulating courses in first-person to see who would feel nauseous first.

It was a rental fixture for us. When we needed a multi-player title, it was a big go-to for us. That’s right, there’s split-screen, which was still pretty rare for racing games in general. It’s 1-on-1, but there are no weapons, so it’s less likely to tear your family apart.

There are also a lot of whimsical little details scattered throughout in the background. Deer running across the road, whales swimming alongside underwater, and an airliner flying above the track. There are even callouts to other Nintendo titles like Star Fox and Kirby. The cars each have eyes for headlights, so you can watch the fear in them as you drive toward a wall. More importantly, weight is simulated, so rather than just being glued to the road, your car will lean and bounce as you drive. Suspension physics are taken for granted today, but it barely even existed back in those days.

Stunt Race FX transport truck
Screenshot by Destructoid

Easy to digest

I’ve already mentioned some of the shortcomings of Stunt Race FX, so I’ll withhold further explaining how it runs like a flipbook. I will show restraint and not bring up the fact that it can’t even do full screen.

It is, however, worth pointing out that there is very little content contained. There are eight race tracks, as I mentioned previously, but no difficulty changes. The second circuit can be a bit tricky, but it’s unlikely you’ll struggle too protractedly. There are “stunt” levels where you collect star-shaped balloons. Those are pretty cool but easy to digest. I re-played all of Stunt Racer FX in less than an hour, just to illustrate how much of a rental title this is.

If you have someone else who’s down for some antiquated racing games, you can squeeze some extra time out of it. Otherwise, it just feels insubstantial. It does a lot to feel like it’s being sold entirely on being a technological showcase. And, to be fair, Virtua Racing had three tracks. Once again, historical perspective.

At least the soundtrack by Tarō Bandō is pretty awesome. Like, really weirdly good. It’s maybe not something I think of often, but whenever I hear it, I find it impressive.

RC Racing
Screenshot by Destructoid

Admiration for Argonaut

Wait a minute. I just realized that Argonaut Software was responsible for the subject of one of my recent kusoge articles: 2004’s Catwoman. I have a lot of admiration for Argonaut. They seemed to just really love technical tinkering. Have you ever seen Race Drivin’ on Game Boy? It’s not a good game, but holy crap, how did they get Race Drivin’ on Game Boy?

Stunt Race FX is exactly like that. It looks like the team had a lot of fun challenging themselves to see what they could squeeze out of the tech, but it’s not necessarily that much fun to play. Yet, somehow, it has just enough personality to feel distinctly Super Nintendo.

Weirdly, even though I keep on lancing Stunt Race FX and keep pushing forward the idea that it’s aged poorly, I still recommend trying it. It’s on the Nintendo Switch’s Online SNES platform, so you can at least play it easily enough. Just try it, then tell me it’s completely bereft of charm. I wouldn’t believe it.

For other retro titles you may have missed, click right here!

Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.