Retro Gaming Challenge Week Fifteen: Unirally (SNES)

Unirally is a great game, but it reminds me of a rather grim reality when I play it.
Week fifteen, and my resolve is wavering. Are enough people reading these? Would anyone care? Am I doing it for them, or for me? Am I overthinking the whole thing, and should I just get back to playing all the pixelly games?
Probably the latter, really.
For those who wonder what this is all about, for the next year, I’m playing a different retro title each week and writing about it. So far, mostly review-type stuff, with a slight reminiscence edge, and terrible puns, because hey, I can.
So far I’ve written about obscure Japanese wrestling games, classic arcade games in fully block pixel formats, and plenty more besides. Here’s the rundown so far.
Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation (N64)
Donkey Konga (Gamecube)
The Firemen (SNES)
Space Invaders (2600)
Three Dirty Dwarves (Saturn)
Trog (NES)
Robocop vs The Terminator (Megadrive)
James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Xbox)
Godzilla Generations (Dreamcast)
Devil Dice (PSOne)
Asterix (Sega Master System)
Toki (Atari Lynx)
Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home Review (PS2)
Super Monkey Ball (Gamecube)
Each week, you — that’s you, the Internet en masse, or at least as en masse as reads these things — gets to vote on the game I play in two weeks time; I also reveal the results of the previous vote so you’ll know what I’m playing next week. It’s a confusing system, and I somehow wonder how I ended up with it. All the voting stuff is below the main story in its own section, if you’ve just come here to pick the next game.

Unirally and the Inevitability of Death

Unirally presented itself as a bit of a problem for this challenge, simply because I’ve already written about it before, in review format, for this very site. I covered off why it was brilliant, why there’s no VC release of it, and even why, thanks to Pixar, there’s no sequel of any kind.
No, really, that’s why. Go and read it.

Subtle is not part of the Unirally playbook.
Subtle is not part of the Unirally playbook.

It’s still all the things that I wrote in that review, and if you’ve never played it, you really must. Sure, the clever folk at DMA moved onto far more lucrative efforts with Grand Theft Auto, but Unirally is gaming distilled; a simple concept, deeply evocative animation and a blaring rock soundtrack that challenges you to have one more go.
So this week should have been a doddle; just run the same old lines about how great it all is, play a whole bunch with some adorably cute unicycles and everyone’s a winner, right?
If only. Because Unirally did something to me as I played it this week.
As Mr Barnes so eloquently put it, there ain't no second prize.
As Mr Barnes so eloquently put it, there ain’t no second prize.

It made me sad.
Not sad because my copy stopped working; it’s still fine, and I even have the original box. Heck, I’ve even got the original receipt which shows I bought it on lay-by completed on the 21/10/95. That was, the calendar tells me a Saturday, and it would have been a great Saturday, because this was a great game that I played a lot of.
Also, apparently, Meredith Baxter, the mother on Family Ties got married on that exact day. It didn’t last, for whatever that’s worth. But at least you learned something not about games while reading this.

There’s a peril with owning a game for that long, however.
A game I’ve owned for that long still has all my original records on it, and back in the day, when I could only afford games on lay-by*, I played a lot of Unirally. Everyone I knew did, because I played a lot socially, and we all competed as hard as only a group of slightly bored twenty-something University students could.
Which was, if it’s not clear already, a lot. We played until our fingers scorched, because Unirally is a game that grips you tight, and in return you tend to grip the SNES controller pretty tight too. I still have vivid memories of stopping playing because I had circular button imprints marked on my thumbs. I’m not kidding about that.
Draws are quite rare, but they can happen. It's still like losing, though, because you didn't win.
Draws are quite rare, but they can happen. It’s still like losing, though, because you didn’t win.

I can’t play like that any more, though.
Time is getting to me, and while I can live with the fact that I’m out of practice with Unirally, the simple fact is that any kind of elongated session of this game is one that’s uncomfortable. When I was in my early twenties with few responsibilities, it didn’t really matter if I had sore thumbs from too much Unirally, but in my forties, it does. Maybe not from the responsibilities point of view. Simply because I’ll feel it more, and for longer.
Tie that into reflexes that aren’t as sharp as they were in the mid ’90s, and Unirally is a much tougher game than it used to be.
A winner is not me. Or at least, not that often.
A winner is not me. Or at least, not that often.

Except of course, that’s nonsense. Nobody came in and reprogrammed just my cartridge to be harder. It’s just that I’m older, and slower, and just slightly less good at games than I was as a younger man.
Sure, at the bronze level I can sail through levels with relative aplomb, but the me-who-played-this-back-in-the-90s would wipe the floor with current day me on any gold level. In fact, because the battery backup has kept my old times intact, I can even see by how much my skills and abilities have degraded over the years.
Of all the things that I expected Unirally to make me feel, maudlin wasn’t it.
It’s a slightly silly, very challenging game about sentient unicycles, and a stone cold classic… that reminded me that I’m getting older, and one day I will die, and when I do, my children probably won’t even think about Unirally at all.

Well, that brought the mood down swiftly. Is it worth buying Unirally?

Oh god yes. As noted in the review, which was distinctly more cheery than this week’s writing, Unirally is a great game that has no virtual counterpart or for that matter a sequel, thanks to Pixar raising up a stink about sentient unicycle animations.
Bloody Buzz Lightyear. I’ve never liked that guy.
That means if you do want a copy, you’ll have to trawl eBay and the like for one.
You can hunt for a copy on eBay (affiliate link) here.

Next week: Sports Games

There was really only one game that Internet wanted me to play, and that was EA’s rather offbeat Mutant League Football.
Which means, rather like this week, we’re back in the territory of games I’ve already reviewed on Fat Duck Tech.
Which is great, actually, because it means that instead of just reviewing it, I’ll have to do something else. Quite what that thing is I’ll work out while I’m playing it. I’d like to say that it won’t involve mentions of death, but this is Mutant League Football we’re talking about, and death is pretty much the whole point.
In the meantime, however, there’s the question of what to do for the following week, which means we need another vote. This time, I’m going to travel all the way back to the dawn of console gaming history and the Atari 2600. I’ve already played Space Invaders, but there’s plenty more simple gaming goodness to be had in heavily pixellated form.
[socialpoll id=”2374363″]
*Lay-by was… it was a thing. Back in the day, where you paid things off in parts, rather than all at once or by accruing credit card debt. I even feel like I’m old explaining this, and perhaps it would be best if you simply boiled me down for my nutrients now.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

1 thought on “Retro Gaming Challenge Week Fifteen: Unirally (SNES)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.