Review: Road Blaster HD (iOS/iPad): A Treat for Anime Fans and Retro Gamers

IMG_0059Road Blaster (aka Road Avenger) has been around a long time now. Created for arcades by Data East in 1985 in conjunction with legendary anime studio Toei Animation, Road Blaster was one of the later titles in the genre of animated LaserDisc games that began with the revolutionary Dragon’s Lair. Since then it has been ported to a number of systems including the Sega CD, Saturn, 3DO, and Playstation. This time it’s Revolutionary Concepts at the helm for the iOS iteration.

The first thing you’re going to notice is the beautiful, hand drawn cell animation. Road Blaster has never looked better! Colors are bold and bright and the video’s frame rate has even been smoothed over. The animation style IMG_0063in unmistakable. This was mid-80s Toei flying high as they defined early shonen with the release of Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) and Dragon Ball. Tattooed wasteland thugs brandishing spiked clubs and axes from the back of jeeps and pick-up trucks tear through town leaving shattered glass and inexplicable explosions in their wake. I have seldom been as sick of CG and Flash animation as I was after staring slack jawed at Road Blaster’s into movie. I couldn’t help but watch through twice more.

That’s when I noticed my head bobbing. While Road Blaster does not include the original soundtrack due to licensing reasons, the new one is very similar. Composed of the same nostalgic 1980’s “hair metal”, Road Blaster typifies both the time and gene of the game. Quick electric guitar trills are fired off in rapid succession before resting on a high pitched sustain featuring generous use of the whammy bar. It’s the stuff Guitar Heroes are made of. The intro music is enough to make you throw two fingers up in the air and do your best Beavis and Butthead impression. Many of the sound effects have also been replaced. The “Turn that way!” beep is noticeably less shrill while the whine of Supercar’s turbo is unmistakable.

IMG_0064In terms of gameplay, Data East’s LaserDisc games were always a notch above the more recognizable offerings from Cinematronics. Where as Dragon’s Lair has you watching a scene unfold, Road Blaster, like its predecessor Cobra Command, drops you into a first person viewpoint  behind the controls of the vehicle. A green arrow points left, you push left, you see the car turn left. Do anything else and die in a fireball. You don’t actually have any control, but the game flow creates a fairly convincing illusion. The control prompts even make sense. Flaming hot rod rolling down the right side of the street? That’s going to be a turn to the left followed by a turn to the right to correct the oversteer. Bad Guy in front of you? Get ready to hit the turbo. That’s not to say that Road Blaster is without its share of cheap deaths (many of which hide their own animation sequences), but they are infrequent compared to Dragon’s Lair or even QTE sequences in some modern games. There are 9 levels, each of which run a little less than 3 minutes on a perfect run. 3 difficulty levels are available with Expert giving you the challenge of playing with a shattered dashboard that removes the control prompts.

The game features two control schemes: Touch controls where you turn the on screen steering wheel with one hand and work the brake/turbo shifter with the other, and accelerometer tilt controls. I usually can’t stand the tilt controls in most iOS games, but the digital nature of Road Blaster’s prompts make it a quite enjoyable experience; You’re either going left or right. No finesse required. I had no end of fun swinging my iPad left and right like a steering wheel and leaning into every turn. It is also worth noting that this is the first time in the game’s history that Road Blaster has EVER been presented with an appropriate control scheme. Even the arcade release used repurposed Cobra Command cabinets, complete with flight stick. Yes, believe it or not, it took 25 years for Road Blaster to be played with a steering wheel.

IMG_0067Road Blaster is a top notch treatment of a forgotten classic. Whether you come for the classic animation, retro gameplay, or just that good ol’ 1980’s Max Max vibe, Road Blaster delivers ton of bumper ramming, fireball dodging fun. To make matters better, both versions are on sale for a buck at the time of the writing, but it is still an easy recommendation at the normal price of $3.99.

Road Blaster is available via iTunes for iDevices running iOS 3.1 or later

Road Blaster HD is also on iTunes for the iPad running iOS 3.2 or later

Reviewer Rating: 5/5 Stars – Excellent5star

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