When it comes to video games, there are two guaranteed ways to get me interested. One: have an awesome soundtrack. Two: competitive racing. While I never considered myself particularly good at either music or racing, the combination really gets my motor running. That's why games like Rock and Roll Racing, Burnout, GTA, etc hold such high regard for me. They mix quality racing (or open-world style racing) gameplay with real tunes, real composers. So when I saw Road Rash, I knew I was in for something special.
I mean, just look at this box cover promising thrashin' music. It's like they knew I was coming.
Now, I thought I remembered Road Rash from the arcade. You race along, running from cops and punching your bike-riding opponents in a timed race to the finish line. Nothing special, just a fun arcade racer. I was in for a real treat! From the first minute you boot the disk on your Sega CD, you know it's gonna be fun. Once you get past the old Sega and EA logos, you're treated to a FMV sequence of a police chase playing to Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage." The video is grainy and washed out, the standard pixelated mess that you get on the Sega CD. It's still pretty damn awesome, and even 20+ years after release this game gets me pumped!
There are a few FMV sequences, all pretty cheesy. When you start the race, you're treated to a quick one of your racer getting zipped up, grabbing a weapon, and taking off. You'll also be treated to a fun one if you get caught by the police, a frustrated policeman removing a baseball bat from your jacket. Provided you win the race, you're treated to a cornball video of a bikini-laden trophy bearer kissing your helmet. Subtlety and wit, this is not. Ridiculous over the top cheese on the other hand...
When you get to the gameplay, you realize why the Sega CD is the superior version. The Sega CD version is the only one to actually play the real songs during racing gameplay. Every other version plays down-sampled chiptunes. You're also treated to a dual rear-view mirror system, a very nice touch that makes this feel much more like a late 90's era game.
It's these little touches that really make the Road Rash experience. The racing is standard 80's arcade faire, all of the enemies are re-colored skins of the main racer, and the backgrounds are fairly bland. It really doesn't matter much, that rocking soundtrack continues to blast through and something about a really great soundtrack can elevate a racing game to something better than the sum of its parts. I rate Road Rash for Sega CD a very solid 85/100. I find myself letting the demo mode run in the background as I write this review, just rocking out. That's high praise.