Review: Team Suzuki (Atari ST)

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Box Shot

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

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Fast but limited

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

I think most people who know me will be aware that I love a good racing game. As much as my man-cave is a haven of retro goodness with the lovely MiSTer box and variety of old-school joysticks and 8bitdo console controllers, it’s also home to a triple-monitor and VR racing game rig with a Thrustmaster T300 wheel and Fanatec CSR Elite pedals. My idea of fun is to go out in a Caterham R300 and throw it around sideways at Donington. However, most of my racing time is with cars – motorbikes have featured little in the real world (unless you count trying not to die in Thai traffic on a moped) and not much in gaming either outside of Super Hang-On.

Team Suzuki therefore represents only the second motorcycle racer we’ve looked at here at Bitmap Towers, and it’s a long way from Super Hang-On. Gremlin have wonderful form for racing games of course, creating the wonderful Lotus games for that Outrun vibe, SuperCars 1 and 2 for the top-down racer and Toyota Celica GT Rally for those who wanted a 3D sim flavour to their racing. Team Suzuki is closest to the latter of those games, with its focus on 3D with a sim slant.

It actually has quite a bit in common with Toyota in that it has the funky sampled intro music at a ludicrously low bitrate (sadly not quite as good as the Toyota music) and the 3D engine is likely the same. However, you where in a rolling road game it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re driving a car or a bike, in a 3D sim it becomes a different proposition as a bike handles very differently to a car.

3D bike sims have for the most part been outshone by their 4-wheeled counterparts through the history of sim racing. Very few 3D motorbike sims have really gained the kind of traction of an RFactor or an Assetto Corsa, and there is a reason for that. Representing the control of a motorbike using the gear available to home users (typically a game controller or joystick seeing as dedicated handlebars and bike platforms haven’t made their way into home setups in the same way wheels and pedals have) is hard. Before analogue joysticks became a thing, mouse control was the general accepted tool of choice, and yet really while it does at least offer precision and speed it still doesn’t do a great job given it represents so little of the weight-shifting that happens on a motorbike.

Coming back to Team Suzuki for a moment, the controls are, at least with my modern USB mouse, a little too fast to be controllable. Now one could probably find ways to tune that down, but that’s just the start of things. A related issue is that acceleration is very on-off, making it hard to have the subtle control you need to control a motorbike. Both of these are not the big issue however.

For the video review I chose a track I’m very familiar with, and which I know had a reasonably similar layout in 1991. Now I know that 16-bit racing games can get layouts fairly close – one only has to look at Microprose F1GP to see that, the layouts are really very impressively close to the real thing. Suzuki however is not. The tracks bear very little resemblance, Donington may roughly have the same number of left and right turns but it really bears very little resemblance in corner profile or elevation. That is not the biggest crime however – one can work around that and just treat it as a fantasy track that you’re learning.

Donington isn’t as wide as Silverstone, that much is obvious (I’ve driven both), but it’s still actually pretty wide, even in a Caterham there’s plenty of room to move around. Most race tracks are in fact plenty wide enough because you generally want cars to have enough room to pass – it’s considered a given that motorbikes will be able to. So the question one must ask is why these tracks are goat tracks with barely room for two bikes to go side by side. Going back to controls and difficulty then, these goat tracks combined with twitchy controls make it impossible to get round the track, and while F1GP sensibly added driver aids to get people going, Team Suzuki lacks any other than an auto-gearbox for the 125cc bikes.

Verdict

Clearly it’s a little unfair to compare Suzuki with Geoff Crammond’s masterpiece given it came out quite a bit later. Driving aids weren’t common at this time, nor were accurate tracks, and yet even wider tracks would have helped, and as for the driver aids, well someone had to be first. Clearly there’s a difference between something that’s a labour of love over a long time from an auteur like F1GP, where Microprose indulged him the time and space to get that done, and Gremlin who while better than the likes of Ocean and US Gold still had their eyes on the prize and weren’t necessarily placing a Microprose-esque focus on polish.

Team Suzuki is pretty good for what it is, and if you manage to master the controls you’ll have fun, but for most of us mere mortals I sadly have to suggest other options, most likely car games instead.

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