Time once again to delve into the vaults for a Friday retro review. This week: Unirally, a game that the developers of Grand Theft Auto made — until Pixar made them stop.
Unirally: On the plus side
Unirally is a truly odd little game from Scotland’s DMA design — the same crew that would go on to become Rockstar North. You may have heard of them.
Before they were committing auto theft on a grand scale, though, DMA brought us a tale of racing unicyles, filled with stunts, time trials, speed and that elusive “one more go” factor, all set against the fictitious — and highly amusing — world of the Uniracers, but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t read the game’s excellent instruction manual. Not that you have to, but it’s a tale of a UniGod, Unicycles that don’t talk to each other and a mission to race.
Really, race. To quote directly from the game’s instruction manual
RACE! Race race race race race!
THAT’S how you play. What do you mean you want to know more? Unirally is a RACE! It’s a race, and you race in the race. Not clear enough? Oh very well….
Unirally (Uniracers in the NTSC world) is a racing game, but not a game that’s quite like anything that came before it.
You play as a unicycle of your choice, either racing or stunting through warped and colourful courses with a high level of competition. Each race is quite quick, and that means that a single mistake can cost you the race, whether that’s failing to turn in time, or failing a stunt and landing on your head. Which is a seat. It’s all rather confusing when you talk sentient unicycles, really.
In short, stunts make you go faster (as per the manual, because jet fighters go faster than cars), but failing stunts makes you slow down and most likely lose the race. Lose the race and it’s game over, but because each race is only a minute or so in length, the compulsion to try again is incredibly high.
Even once you’ve defeated each CPU skill level, there’s the joy of time trials, as well as the two player mode to keep you busy.
But is is still any good?
Yes. Certainly, definitely, absolutely, undoubtedly and definitively. I’ve been playing it on and off, in-between checking in on my Death Star, all week, and it’s still just as good as it was back in (gulp!) 1995.
Unirally: On the minus side
Unirally gets hard, fast. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, because challenges are what we — and by we, I mean “Sentient Unicycles in an insane twisting world” — must overcome.
The issue with Unirally being hard is that you’ll quickly become obsessed with beating each track or besting each time. That means a lot of time hitting the SNES pad very hard in very intense play sessions.
I recall back when I first got Unirally playing it quite literally to blister point. It wasn’t pretty, but that’s addiction for you.
It turns out I can learn, because this time round I stopped before the blood stopped flowing down my wrists, but only just.
By “only just”, I mean I had imprints on my thumbs from gripping the D-Pad too hard, and I know from prior experience that I’m not the only player to suffer from Unirally thumb.
Nintendo loves nothing more than recycling its old IP, so naturally Unirally/Uniracers is available on eShop for 3DS and Wii U, right?
Wrong. You can’t buy a legit digital copy of Unirally anywhere — and you never will be able to, thanks to Pixar. The weird little historical oddity here is that Pixar — yes, that Pixar — sued DMA Design after Unirally came out, stating that the design was too close to that of a unicycle they’d animated back in 1987 in a short called “Red’s Dream”. It’s out there on YouTube, but I won’t link it; if Pixar sued over such a thing back then, who knows what they’d do now as part of the Disney empire?
Anyway, Unirally never made it to a second printing, or any kind of digital service at all. That means the only legitimate way to play it is via an actual cartridge and an actual SNES.
That link suggests you should be able to buy a copy for around $10-$20, so despite it never making it big, it’s still not that expensive.
Unirally: Fat Duck verdict
Unirally’s design is one part classic arcade, and one part terribly forward looking, because it’s exactly the kind of thing that gets turned into casual games these days. I was somewhat worried revisiting Unirally, because I had such fond (if rather pained) memories of this game, but I needn’t have worried. Unirally is an absolute classic game, and I’m personally annoyed that it never got to be developed into sequels.
Sure, we got Grand Theft Auto V, but we could have had Unirally V as well. I’m not entirely convinced history went the right way there.
Disclaimer: Affiliate eBay link above. I’d rather be transparent about that kind of thing, but if you’re tempted to buy a copy, I’d appreciate you using the link.