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Super Runabout
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Climax Graphics
Publisher:  Sega
Features:  Analog control, VGA Box
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  
One of the more amusing things about import games is the way some Japanese developers translate certain elements of American pop culture into some really fun, playable titles. Games like Pepsiman, Rising Zan, and Rent-a-Hero are loads of fun, but sort of make you wonder while you play them if this is how we're thought of over there. It's hard to know what to make of a game that has a mission where you race down city streets to pick up hot dog fixin's for some hungry partygoers, but I really liked Climax's Super Runabout for the Dreamcast. While it's not as polished or as addictive as Crazy Taxi (which, by the way was inspired in part by the first Runabout on the Playstation), it's a ridiculous amount of fun, once you get past its shortcomings.

The game has a lot going for it- two different storylines, mission-based gameplay, a huge and realistic version of San Francisco to drive around in, and a wide variety of vehicles at your disposal. Oh yes, let's not forget the tons of stuff you can smash, like other cars, some storefronts (and the items inside), entire BART subway trains (if you find your way into the station), and lots more. The two scenarios have you either playing as some happy-go-lucky hippie-types who run a garage of sorts ("The Poor Have No Leisure"), or joining the police force as a pair of happy-go-lucky cops ("Bad News Has Wings") working for the SFPD. It's sort of a cross between Lethal Weapon and the old Hot Wheels cartoon (remember that one?) meaning that both of the stories are pretty mindless if you try to take them at all seriously. The setup is simple- pick a scenario, mission and a mode of transportation, get your objectives and go for it! You can modify your chosen set of wheels somewhat before you start (which helps a lot with many of the slower cars), and take it out for a spin on an empty test track (boring!), or just dive right into the game.

You'll find that the graphics are very detailed- even more so than in Crazy Taxi, but you pay the price with some pretty bad pop-up in the distance, rivaling Daytona USA on the Saturn. Sometimes, you get nailed good by a bus or train and the game will glitch out in crazy ways for a few seconds as you go flying, just like in Driver. At least you'll finally roll you over onto your wheels, rather than slide for 200 yards on your roof! You'll also occasionally pass right through a vehicle that's already collided with something else, and smash into a wall a few times- the game is coded to draw any struck cars without any additional collision detection, so don't even think of sliding against one to slow your momentum. But I found it to not be much of an issue since I was busy grooving on smashing stuff into pieces. The game has a pretty realistic physics engine, meaning you'll need crazy braking skills for some of the faster cars, while the slower ones chug up hills like an asthmatic poodle. Unlike Crazy Taxi, your chosen ride can and will get smashed to bits if you're careless or the cops don't take a liking to your driving skills. In fact, some of the AI is questionable in certain spots- you'll be cruising along about to break an old record, when all of a sudden a runaway police car will come out of nowhere, cross lanes and smash right into you, sending you flying. This reminded me again of Driver, with its cheap cops out to ruin your day. Also pretty cheap are the boxes of explosives placed randomly about that launch your car spinning into the air, causing massive damage- very frustrating, but at least it's a good way to check out the detail on the rooftops.

Occasionally, a smashup or two will occur a few hundred feet ahead of you, leaving some damaged car or bus in flames right in your path. This unpredictability is a welcome change from the preset path cars in most other driving games take. The pedestrians no longer have that one frame hop from the first Runabout, now they run away unscathed like the bystanders in Driver. But a few times you'll jump a curb and watch as some poor digital schlub gets trapped against a wall or simply stands in place like nothing is happening. This didn't bother me as much as all the annoying voices which never seem to stop. You'll get some sort of mad sensory overload from constantly hearing "Stop, or I'll shoot", "Someone call the Police", "Hey, lookout", and others every time you step on the gas. It's like having a clown car full of back seat drivers. The music is decent- if you liked the surfabilly tunes from the first game. Otherwise you can just turn down the volume on the Options screen.

Despite it's great successes with 16-bit systems, Climax Graphics has had a bit of trouble in coming up with a completely solid next-generation game for the Dreamcast. Both Blue Stinger and Time Stalkers were highly anticipated releases, yet the final versions fell far short of most gamers' expectations. Warts and all, Super Runabout ends up being their most accessible title to date. An American release is planned, and I really hope that whoever ports it over leaves the odd humor intact and squashes all of the bugs- this is one of those games that deserves more than a quick glance.

Greg Wilcox

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