Mach Rider (NES)

Game Review

Mach Rider Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jake Shapiro

A forgotten gem from the NES launch library

Mach Rider is an impressive feat for an NES title — a faux-3D motorcycle combat game with dozens of courses, an endurance mode, and a track editor. Not only was Mach Rider an NES title, but it was an October 1985 NES launch title. Namco's Pole Position had only hit arcades three years earlier, and already Nintendo R&D2 was evolving the groundbreaking racing concept for home consoles. Today, Mach Rider is lost in the shuffle and overshadowed by Nintendo's other customisable-track motorcycling NES launch title, but if you give it a chance you'll find a deep, rewarding, vehicular manslaughtering arcade-style experience.


That's all the exposition you get in Mach Rider. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome hit cinemas the summer before Mach Rider's release, and the influence of the Aussie post-apocalyptic franchise shows. This title's eponymous protagonist treks across desert wastelands and ruined cities in his (or her?) search for survivors; it's a much darker tone than we're used to seeing from Nintendo. Taking its name from a 1972 Nintendo toy car (back when Nintendo made toys), Mach Rider has never had a sequel. F-Zero would arguably serve as its spiritual successor, borrowing Mach Rider's 3D perspective and futuristic racing combat.

The game has gorgeous graphics for a 1985 NES release. In addition to the faux-3D perspective and blistering speed, Mach Rider's death animation features the character exploding into spectacular pieces, before coming back together again if the player has any lives left. The soundtrack consists of only a few songs, and they're solid 8-bit tunes on par with the music of most of Nintendo's B-list releases on the NES.

Mach Rider features a more complex control scheme than many racing games of its time. In addition to standard "A to accelerate, D-pad to move left and right" controls, you press B to fire your machine gun... and you press up and down on the D-pad to change gears. There are four gears and, like in real life, you can't just switch to fourth gear right away. It's best to start off in first gear and slowly make your way up. Along with the combat, this gives Mach Rider a depth not seen in many of its contemporaries.

It's split into four modes: Fighting Course, Endurance Course, Solo Course, and Design. There's no multiplayer to speak of, but that's not a huge surprise considering that it was an NES launch title. Fighting Course is the campaign mode, consisting of 20 sectors. You choose between two different tracks in each sector, adding a rudimentary level of non-linearity to the experience. All you have to do is make it to the finish line to proceed to the next stage, avoiding obstacles like oil slicks and tacks on the road. As the name of the Fighting Course mode implies, you also fight off opposing cars who can ram you to death with a single hit from behind. They can sneak up on you quickly, so you have to keep a watchful eye on your rear-view mirror in the corner of the screen. Mach Rider isn't defenceless, though: you've got the aforementioned machine gun you can use to destroy enemies and obstacles.

At the end of each stage you're scored not on how long it took you to reach the finish line, but on how many opposing racers and obstacles you've blown up. You get bonus points for defeating enemies by ramming them into obstacles. In the first stage you get unlimited lives, but after that you can only die four times before you reach game over. As you progress to later sectors the enemy cars take multiple hits to destroy, and there are even environmental effects — it'll start snowing in the middle of a race, and the track will become slippery. Hard to believe this came out in 1985! Like many arcade-style games of the mid-'80s, though, it's incredibly difficult. Enemies sneak up on you and ram you from behind with virtually zero chance to get out of the way, and you need lightning-quick reflexes to dodge all the barrels and boulders on the track.

Endurance Course, Mach Rider's time trial mode, is a much more welcoming introduction to the game. The same obstacles and opponents from Fighting Course are there, but you have unlimited lives — all you have to do is travel a certain distance within a given time limit. Solo Course is exactly the same as Endurance Course, except there are no other vehicles on the road to contend with. It's the easiest mode in the game, but it's also fairly boring, so you'll quickly want to graduate to Endurance Course.

Design mode is a curious affair. You're presented with a blank map of the course, with 40 different track tiles of all sorts of twists and turns that you can place wherever you want. Control is a bit awkward at first: to select which tile you're placing you have to hold down B and then choose it with the D-pad. Then you let go of B, move around the map with the D-pad, and press A to place the tile. It's cumbersome, but there aren't many alternatives for operating such a complex level editor with the NES controller's scant number of buttons. After you design a course you can use it to play any of the game's three other modes.

When Mach Rider was originally released, the Japan-only Famicom Data Recorder was required to save players' custom courses, since the NES didn't have enough memory; fans in the West were out of luck. Unfortunately, fans in the West are still out of luck with the 3DS Virtual Console release of Mach Rider. The "SAVE" and "LOAD" buttons are sitting there teasing us, but alas, players cannot save their custom courses. Nintendo rarely adds extra features to its Virtual Console releases, but this seems like a simple fix that could've easily been implemented.


Mach Rider is an overlooked gem from the NES launch library. It's a technical wonder for the time, with a darker mood than Nintendo is typically known for. The game's flagship Fighting Course is too hellishly difficult for all except the most experienced arcade racing fans, but the more approachable Endurance Course makes up for it. The custom course design mode would be a selling point, but the lack of a course save function is a huge oversight on the part of Nintendo. It's not an all-time classic, but Mach Rider stands the test of time better than most other home console racing games from the 1980s, and it translates smoothly to 3DS.

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User Comments (33)



ajcismo said:

I love the expositions that so many older titles have and share. Simple, to the point, no huge plot to deal with, just race and blow stuff up. Fun game, I remember renting it several times as a wee lad.



MegaAdam said:

Didn't they add the ability to save custom courses on the Wii VC releases of Excitebike and Wrecking Crew? Seems like they could have done the same here.



Ryno said:

Glad to see there are others that remember this forgotten launch title so fondly.



47drift said:

One of my favorite NES games. I hope to see it revived like Kid Icarus one day!



the_shpydar said:

I loved this game. I always used to imagine the in-game text exposition (there is more between each level of the main mode, if memory serves) being spoken by the guy who did the voice-over during the opening credits of Knight Rider.



Lalivero said:

This looks like something I'd be interested in picking up; maybe even this weekend if I can.



AJSjedi said:

I thought this was only available in Europe? If this is on the us e shop may need to pick this up after work



Clayfrd said:

Glad to see this favorable review. I agree that this game is overlooked. I've got it on NES (was able to snag it on eBay on cart for cheaper than a VC download!), and I really enjoy it. Simple, arcade action and an impressive predecessor to Mode7. I highly recommend it.



Obito_Sigma said:

Not sure if I should get this game. There are already a million other games on my wish list in which I would prioritize... sorry Mach Rider, if only you were a 9 or 10.



sleepinglion said:

See, titles like THIS and Rad Racer, which actually did have a 3D mode, would have made far better classics to remaster than Urban Champion.



KeeperBvK said:

@AJSjedi Just read the info section at the top. It hasn't been released on WiiU anywhere. It's just on Wii in all three major regions and on 3DS in both Japan and NA, but not Europe.



Pahvi said:

I never liked this even back in the early 90s when I played it. By the standards of mid-80s the score might be a fit, but today I feel 7/10 is too much,



unrandomsam said:

In the EU this came out about the same time as Roadblasters came out in the Arcades. Arcade versions are always what I am after never NES games (Although to be fair the only way I would have bought any NES games at all is the way Nintendo has done it).

(Hopefully we are going to get Outrun as well and we already have Super Hang On.)



Freeon-Leon said:

Where's the mandatory punnny line at the beginning of the review? Oh Jake, you really need to be punished for that.



DarkSplatoonLink said:

Anyone remember the 'Mach Rider Unchained' rumour from like three years ago? I wonder what ever happened to that...



JakeShapiro said:

@Jahir Sorry, I'm new here! That subheading is the most stressful part of the review. I promise puns in all future reviews.



AltDotNerd said:

@JakeShapiro I figured that would be the answer. It's just odd that one reviewer would give it a 4/10 (which actually convinced me not to get it on the Wii), and then it gets a 7/10, almost a 50% increase. But it was a stupid question in the first place.



Kosher-X said:

Wait, wasn't the Wii VC version able to save/load custom tracks? Why not the 3DS eshop version? Seems strange to me, and I'll hold from buying it until this gets solved.



MC808 said:

@AltDotNerd I don't find your question dumb at all. As subjective as reviews are by nature, to have two scores so far apart from each other is surprising.

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