Mach Rider was an ambitious vehicular combat game in its day, but the unpredictable hit detection and choppy graphics ruin it now.
- Riding a machine gun-equipped bike is still very sweet
- You can save your own custom courses now.
- Choppy frame rate perpetually leads to crashes
- The frame rate also induces painful eyestrain
- Your bike and bullets are just as likely to pass through targets as to hit them.
Mach Rider earned a spot in the Wii's Virtual Console library not because it's actually worth playing, but because of its historical value. It was one of the first NES games to hit store shelves in North America in 1985. It was also one of the most ambitious vehicular combat games conceived up to that point--pushing "behind the back" views, twisty courses, and an intense sense of speed out of an 8-bit processor that wasn't known for any of those things. Sadly, the talent of Nintendo's programmers didn't come close to matching their ambition at the time.
As a collection of ideas, Mach Rider has a lot going for it. Aliens have turned the planet into a desert wasteland, and you're a macho biker tasked with locating their home base. This translates into driving insanely fast down twisting roads that are full of oil slicks and rocks, while also dealing with aliens on ATVs that are constantly trying to bump you off the road or detonate your gas tank by ramming into you from behind. The directional pad lets you steer left and right, you can tap up and down to shuffle through four different speeds, and the buttons let you pour on the gas or fire your machine guns. You can bump alien ATVs off the road or get behind them and use your guns to blast them to bits. Your guns also do a nice job of obliterating certain types of roadway debris. The third-person viewpoint lets you see everything from right behind the bike up to a distance far ahead of you, and you can even see approaching attackers in a rearview mirror.
In 1985, and on the NES no less, Mach Rider promised to let players experience postapocalyptic racing with machine guns, head-on views, and a rearview mirror. People saw the screenshots on the back of the box showing the large bikers, the vaguely three-dimensional roads, and exploding aliens, and they plunked down money and raced home to see it for themselves. And then, about 30 seconds after firing up the game, reality hit like a ton of bricks. Amid the meaty rumble of the engine and the ratta-tatta of the machine guns, the most common sound effect by far is the sound of your bike exploding. Obstacles and aliens are nearly impossible to avoid because the frame rate and collision detection are downright broken.
When the game is paused, it looks good. Nonmoving images of Mach Rider look gorgeous, as 8-bit games go. However, when the game is in motion, the frame rate is so choppy that it's akin to rapidly blinking your eyes while driving down the highway. On top of that, the collision detection is unreliable. You're just as likely to drive through a rock as you are to hit it, and your bullets are just as apt to pass right through an enemy as they are to blow it to bits. That's not good when you're traveling 200 miles per hour on a rocky road. Nintendo didn't bother to improve the frame rate for the Virtual Console release, so if you're crazy enough to download the game, you can experience the same sense of heartbreak and eventual combination of frustration and eyestrain that loads of people went through two decades ago.
Ironically, Nintendo did patch the track editor in the Virtual Console version to allow people to save their custom tracks to the Wii's system memory. That's great, but the game's biggest problem never was that its main mode lasted only 10 courses or that its endurance and solo modes were simply glorified time trials. The game's problem is that its crummy frame rate and slacker collision render it nigh unplayable. Nintendo didn't fix those issues, and so, apart from its historical significance, there's no way to justify wasting 500 Wii points ($5) to download the NES version of Mach Rider from the Wii's Virtual Console shop.