Retro Video Game Review: Road Runner (Nes)

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Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

In 1989, non-licensed development company Tengen produced a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System based on the Road Runner cartoon license from Warner Brothers. It attempted to place the zany cat-and-mouse (or, in this case, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner) chase of the Looney Tunes into a video game experience with some help from classic arcade-style influences. The end result was a somewhat bland cartridge that lacked either the colorful appeal or the deep characterization of the Tunes it drew its titular inspiration from.

Gameplay

Controlling the Road Runner character, the player maneuvers from right-to-left (a stark contrast to most NES games that may cause cognitive dissonance at first) while avoiding the casing Coyote character. Along the road in the middle of the desert, Runner must eat piles of seeds while avoiding mines that he can jump over with the A button, oncoming trucks, other obstacles like falling boulders, and generally winding conditions that are even maze-like at certain points.

If Road Runner ever advances so far that Wile E. is off the edge of the screen, then the coyote comes roaring back on a pair of jet skates in rapid advance that the player must avoid by using a different movement pattern. In fact, throughout the stages, Coyote will utilize a few different devices (including a rocket and a pogo stick) to try and catch the bird by means of differing movement patterns the player must avoid. There may be other items on the journey too, such as invisibility fluid that either makes Road Runner more difficult to catch for Coyote or make Coyote more difficult for the player to avoid.

The player begins with five lives, and the end of each level is given a points bonus based on certain feats, such as jumping over land mines, collecting lemonade glasses, or tricking the Coyote pursuer into having a truck run into him or a boulder fall onto him. The biggest points bonus, by far, is awarded for not missing any of the seed piles on a level. The levels soon begin to repeat, and thus the game becomes an arcade-style endurance match toward a high score.

Graphics

This game looks okay, with the competent desert backgrounds and navigable tracks, but is not exactly spectacular overall. This may be defensible, though, considering that the nimble gameplay involved necessitates the small character sprites that, while recognizable, over no impressive detail. One interesting note about this title’s visuals is the overt use of the cross-hairs Tengen logo prominently displayed on the opening credits screen, which was unusual even for Tengen’s line of games.

Sound

The lack of music on the title screen is startling, along with the lack of sound effects throughout with few exceptions. The music is pretty good, but not original; it is formed of prior famous compositions, such as use of the Finale portion of the William Tell Overture. While this is an appropriate choice, it is hardly representative of video game composition and, instead, represents a watered-down 8-bit version of a classic piece.

Originality

With the enemy-avoiding, item-gathering, high-score, maze-like gameplay, the Road Runner video game for NES certainly keeps arcade-classic elements intact from examples like Pac-Man. Whether this is noble or cheap is up to the observer, but perhaps the only real source of creativity to be found is the implementation of Acme devices that Wile E. Coyote comes across that alter his pattern-based movement. Otherwise, the overall gameplay is bland, leaving little room for replay value or the colorful characterization that made the source material, Looney Tunes, so popular. This one meep-meeps a mere one and a half stars out of five.

For categorical reviews of other NES video games, including licensed titles, check NintendoLegend.com.

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