Who doesn’t love unicycles? Nobody, that’s who. Back in 1994, Nintendo capitalized on the public’s unicycle love by publishing DMA Design’s excellent racing game Uniracers, and those who decided to give it a go were rewarded with an absolutely awesome (and crazy fast) instant classic. From the unicycles’ fun personalities to the rocking soundtrack to even the colorfully written instruction manual, Uniracers was destined for greatness. Instead, it’s been lost in time.
Uniracers is a 2D racing game that pits 2 unicycles against one another to see who can reach the finish line first, which is a wordy way of saying it’s a racing game. What sets this game apart from others like it is the fact that, well, there’s nothing else quite like it. I suppose the closest thing I can think of is the 2-player racing segments in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Genesis, but even that doesn’t quite do this game justice. There’s a really cool stunt system in Uniracers that in deeply integrated into the game. Where stunts in games like Mario Kart are cool and add an occasional speed boost, successful stunts in Uniracers actually make you go faster. You’ve got your very own jump button, so you don’t have to wait for jumps in the course to start twisting and flipping. As a result, the best races quickly turn into a battle to see who can pull off more stunts without crashing. If you crash, your top speed drops right back to where it was when you started. This can be rectified by completing a few stunts without incident, but it will shave precious seconds off of your time.
I mentioned earlier that the game is fast, and that also plays a part in the whole stunt thing. These tracks twist and turn much like a Sonic level, and if you’re trying to, say, do a backflip and then land on a pile of goop, things aren’t going to go too well for you. The game combats this by changing the color of the track. If it’s a certain color, things are safe. A different color, the track is going to change. That kind of stuff. It’s not the easiest thing to keep track of, but that’s part of Uniracers’ charm. You’ve really got to be paying attention to get good. It’s quite intense.
Speaking of intense, the music in this game is really top notch. It was composed by a gentleman named Colin Anderson, and it’s some really impressive rock. The guitar samples used sound really close to the real thing, and each song’s arrangement sounds surprisingly authentic. When comparing it to something like, say, Comix Zone for Genesis, it really goes to show just what the SNES’s sample channels were capable of in the right hands.
I can’t talk about Uniracers without mentioning its crazy instruction manual. Donkey Kong Country did something similar in that it made reading the booklet worth your time by being entertaining, and Uniracers took things to the next level by being flat-out bizarre. Every page, right down to the copyright information, has some sort of snarky joke or weird observation on it. They made a whole crazy story for these racing unicycles, and they weren’t afraid to revel in the absurdity of that. Seriously, read this.
Making the instructions on saving your game entertaining is tough on its own, but the second page is about pizza. These nutjobs actually took a page in their instruction manual, labelled it “Irrelevant” and went on a rant about bad frozen pizza. Genius.
So, what happened? Well, unlike several other games I’ve talked about in these articles, Nintendo actually isn’t allowed to sell this one anymore. It seems that the nice folks at Pixar sued the crap out of DMA Design for copying their unicycle design. This is, of course, completely insane. It’s a unicycle for crying out loud! But the courts ruled in favor of Pixar, so computer generated unicycles were no longer on the menu, and Nintendo wasn’t allowed to produce any more copies of the game.
It’s a real shame too because Uniracers really is a terrific game. I played the heck out of it as a kid, and I still like busting it out from time to time. It doesn’t hurt that my kid likes it too. It isn’t on any sort of eShop or anything thanks to Nintendo being no longer to sell the thing, but thankfully finding the game itself isn’t all that hard/expensive. Given its history and pedigree I’m surprised by that on a regular basis, but I’m not arguing. The more people who play this game, the better. Now if you’l excuse me, I’ve got to do a double Z-flip and get out of here before the dreaded Anti-Uni tracks m down.