Racing to 31: 31 racing game greats – #30 Badlands (1989)

It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years.  Enjoy!

BadlandsBadlands in a lot of ways is sort of the bastard child of Atari’s own Super Sprint and Magnetic Fields’ Super Cars II.  To put that into perspective if you’re not familiar with the Super Cars series, it’s basically Super Sprint with weapons.  Much like Super Sprint, Badlands takes place on a single-screen track, meaning you can see the entire racing field at all times.  Not that you’ve got a Formula One cohort to keep track of – there are only three opponents in any given race – but it is noteworthy in that this type of game well and truly died in the early 90’s and to my knowledge hasn’t been picked up since.

Originating in the arcade, like most Atari games at the time, Badlands made its way to my home on the Amiga 500.  As its origins being as such, it really paled in comparison to the bigger and richer games being offered on the system at the time, offering very little in the way of depth or longevity.  But with its post-apocalyptic, almost Mad Max like aesthetic, it had a nice look and feel to it that made it a little more exciting than your standard late 80’s racer.

The tracks are, in a lot of ways, the star attraction.  Badlands was a cracking looking game at the time, in stark contrast to the barren-ness of Sprint, with the tracks brimming with detail.  Smoke billows from smoke stacks and lava flows through rocky alcoves, and on some tracks destructible oils tankers and drums can leak oil if hit. Its stark departure from  the usually bright and oversaturated colours in racing games of the time, making way for a very reserved  palette and incredibly gritty art style,  brought the decrepit and in many ways industrial setting to life.

Like any racing game though, it is the game’s core handling that makes it such a joy to play, even if it doesn’t quite have the frenetic feel of its kin.  Like the Sprint games before it, it is designed around the very loose steering wheel, and so the cars float around corners in an almost Ridge Racer like way.  Sure, playing with the old Competition Pro wasn’t the perfect substitute for an infinitely spinning wheel, but it felt good enough to still give the controls that insane drift feel.

And of course weapons. It’s always fun to blow things up, and while many games followed suit over the following decade, Badlands was one of only a few games that shifted its focus away from simply being about hitting the apex to cross the line first.  Track design changed from the Sprint games to accommodate this, with the sweeping wide corners replaced with narrow claustrophobic roads and on-track hazards.  It may have seemed slower than Sprint, even when your vehicle is fully upgraded, but the ability to blow the living crap out of each other more than makes up it.

It is a shame that this type of racing game has all but fallen off of the radar for most people.  The single-screen racer isn’t necessarily the deepest of racing experiences, and in the case of Badlands it was certainly best played with others, Badlands may not have been filled to the brim with content, but put it in context of its arcade origins, and it’s pretty easy to be sucked into what it has to offer in the game play stakes.

Like Badlands?  Let me know in the comments and come back tomorrow for #29 in the countdown! Be sure to catch up with past games in the countdown below.

#31: Stunt Car Racer   #30: Badlands   #29: RVF Honda  #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge  #27: Nitro  #26: Super Grand Prix  #25 Super Cars II  #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally  #22 Wipeout 2097  #21 Micro Machines V3  #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes  #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0  #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge  #15 Project Gotham Racing 2  #14 F-Zero GX  #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown  #11 Ridge Racer  #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2  #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift  #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles  #6 Dirt 2  #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  #4 Shift 2: Unleashed  #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed  #2 Forza Horizon  #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition

BadLands Amiga 500