It’s been nearly a year (!) since I last played the Sega Master System or recorded gameplay, but I’m getting back in the groove. First order of business: highlighting Enduro Racer! Originally released as an arcade game around this time of the year in 1986, it was another popular hit designed by Yu Suzuki. The Master System port released a year later and perspective-wise, was quite different. Whereas the arcade version featured a behind-the-back perspective akin to Hang-On, this version featured an isometric viewpoint more like Zaxxon. That difference aside, gameplay still revolved around racing dirt bikes and catching big air. Once I understood the mechanics, I was off to the races and had a great time.
Controlling the dirt bike was simple to grasp, a feat in and of itself considering isometric viewpoints don’t always mesh with cardinal direction oriented d-pads. The dirt bike was responsive, to boot. Obstacles and other racers crowded the courses, especially in the back half, and when I couldn’t avoid them, the blame was mine alone. There were five unique stages, each with varying obstacles like rocks, cacti, and marshy terrain. These stages were repeated once in a tougher variation that included more racers, for a total of ten stages. It was a short game with a smooth learning curve; I was able to beat it within a half-hour. Prior to reading the manual to comprehend jumping however, I only made it a stage or two into the game.
Like Excitebike, jumps were prevalent and masterfully tackling them involved positioning. What mattered in that game was how you landed; in this game it was the approach and exit. By popping a wheelie and releasing at the peak of the jump, my dirt bike maintained its speed and launched forward. Otherwise, I’d go a small distance and lose a quarter of my speed. Additionally, by maintaining a high speed I was able to pass more racers and earn more points. These could be exchanged between races for temporary improvements or damage repair. If I sustained too much damage, time would pass twice as fast. Naturally, I had to reach the finish line before time expired but, crucially, any excess time would rollover to the next stage, for a maximum of 99 seconds.
As mentioned, this was a brief game. At most I played for two hours, resulting in two full playthroughs (and many more incomplete). Getting acclimated wasn’t difficult (with a manual, mind you) and once I was, I could reach the final stage easily. That said, overcoming the obstacles and racers on the often-cramped last course was more challenging than anything in the lead up. After back-to-back failures and multiple attempts where I didn’t even make it that far, I triumphantly overcame. It was exhilarating! Surprisingly, the game ended with a lengthy philosophical statement regarding the importance of competition and self-improvement, aspects of which my playthrough embodied. Perhaps because I enjoyed playing the game so much, I also interpreted the epilogue to emphasize the importance of the journey, not just the destination. Brief though it may be, Enduro Racer is a journey worth taking.