Road Runner's Death Valley Rally FI

SNES A Day 115: Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally


Approximate Release Date: November 1, 1992
Genre: Platformer
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Sunsoft

I grew up on Looney Tunes, and the visuals of Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally evoke all the memories and nostalgia I have for Saturday morning cartoons.

I mean, Death Valley Rally looks precisely what you would ideally want a Road Runner game on the Super Nintendo to look like; it doesn’t look exactly like the cartoon, but it is close enough that kids were probably looking at the back of the box in the store and thinking that it ALMOST did. That’s the best you can hope for on the SNES. It definitely looks more cartoon-like than the dire NES Road Runner game by Tengen.

Part of the feel of the cartoons is in the humor, and Death Valley Rally does a decent job there. Every set of levels starts just like a cartoon would, with both Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner having clever faux-latin names appear above them before the hijinks begin. Every stage features a new plan by Wile E. to catch Road Runner, like a giant trebuchet or a wingsuit, and the end of every level lets the player watch as Road Runner outsmarts him and turns the traps against the coyote. It’s great how the game follows the structure of the cartoon and adapts it quite well for a game.

Death Valley Rally wants to play like Sonic the Hedgehog. Running fast is generally encouraged, and sometimes you’ll need to build up momentum to climb walls and Wile E.’s contraptions are easy to dodge when on the move. But much like later Sonic games, there’s too much precise platforming to break up to fun fast parts. Secret flagpoles and point bonuses are scattered in out-of-the-way places in the levels to encourage exploration, but Road Runner is squirrely and hard to control for the kind of jumping around most of the game wants you to do. It’s not a totally unpleasant experience, but Death Valley Rally is trying to be two different kinds of platformers at once and it’s annoying and never clicks the way it wants.

One other complaint I have is that playing as Road Runner is boring. The Road Runner cartoons aren’t about Road Runner. Wile E. Coyote is the star, the anti-hero whom the plot revolves around. He’s flawed, unlike the perfect Road Runner he’s chasing. Seeing Wily use all these different machines to attempt to catch Road Runner in Death Valley Rally made me think about how that sounds like a better game than playing as the bird. Of course, they’d never do it – if the player played as Wile E., he’d have to win eventually, right? – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.

I can’t hold that against the game, though. Ultimately, Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally is a good game that is let down by poor level design. Nailing the Looney Tunes feel is a remarkable achievement and gives me hope that maybe more SNES licensed games will take a similar tact.

This will probably be the only one to have a button to “beep! beep!” on command, though.

Tomorrow: Can Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge take the licensed superhero game crown from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

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