The Switch may still lack a Virtual Console, but HAMSTER is keen to fill that void. Having released many Neo Geo titles (with more appearing regularly), the company has now started to bring other retro delights to the system. It's already released one of Nintendo's own games and now here’s the first offering from Irem’s library: highscore-chasing racer Arcade Archives Traverse USA.
The game is also known by a few other names, such as MotoRace USA and MotoTour. In Japan it went by the name Zippy Race and this version is also available to play from the main menu. This inclusion will not surprise anyone who has picked up one of HAMSTER’s Neo Geo re-releases and the various options, menu screens and modes will also seem familiar.
For those that haven’t picked up a title from the ACA Neo Geo series, know that these options allow you to remap buttons to your liking and to add scanlines (and even a scrolling horizontal video line) to the image for that old-school CRT look. There are game-specific options too and in this case you can adjust how quickly your fuel burns off or whether to have the speed displayed in kilometres or miles per hour. HAMSTER’s usual Hi Score and Caravan modes are also included that limit you to one credit and five minutes respectively. With these restrictions you try to get as high a score as possible to move up the online leaderboards, but otherwise the aim of the game is the same.
Said aim of the game is to race your bike across America from Los Angeles to New York. For reasons unexplained you are racing against cars and you’ll want to pass as many as possible, as points and fuel are awarded based on your placement when you reach a checkpoint. Further points can be gained by passing through certain narrow paths (indicated on screen with their points value), driving over jump ramps or passing through a “wheelie zone”.
Your fuel burns off as you ride, with further deductions for collisions with cars and obstacles. Fuel cans are available along your route (ride over to refill) but should your tank empty it is game over. Extra credits are just a button press away however, so you can continue on your journey should you wish. This results in a score reset, but does serve as a way to see the sights of the game, although as this is a game from 1983 those sights are not particularly impressive.
The game takes two approaches to the cross-country bike-riding with you beginning in a top-down view, which is the main part of each trek between cities. Here is where you do your overtaking as you attempt to move up the 99-place field. Bends and obstacles in the road add to the challenge as does the fact cars will try to cut across your path. The visuals are basic, using block colours for the road and roadside, but your bike, your rivals and some objects/buildings use a bit more colour.
The second part of each ride (which the game cuts to somewhat abruptly) uses a behind the rider view and has you drive a short straight, avoiding oncoming traffic. Places cannot be gained/lost and you are simply trying to stay on your bike to avoid loosing too much fuel. A simple city can be seen on the horizon (the Las Vegas one is well done) and there’s no trackside scenery, making these short sections less varied and more basic looking than the top-down parts despite the pseudo-3D appearance.
If playing undocked you may want to make use of the option to rotate the screen 90 degrees, allowing you to play in TATE mode. By default the screen is still square, but it can be stretched to fit the Switch screen (as much/little as you wish) which actually gives the cars a more natural appearance compared to the squat default look.
Audio-wise there’s some basic but inoffensive music and some similarly simple sounds (screeching tyres, crunches) that actually work quite well as you work through (or try to work through) the field. The racing gets steadily tougher as you progress with more turns and harder to avoid traffic, and you have to make split-second decisions if you are hoping to stay on your bike.
After you’ve completed the trip to New York the game loops back to the beginning, only this time at a faster, tougher speed: 750cc compared to 500cc. Complete it again and you move up to 1200cc with further loops continuing at this class. Just playing through the game over and over gets dull, but if you’re highscore chasing then it’s a lot more fun as you try to improve your riding to stay on your bike as long as possible and move up the placings.
Trying to improve your score works best with the Hi Score and Caravan modes, but if you’d rather see how you do compared to one person rather than the world then the game allows two-player alternating play; the player changing when the current one comes off their bike. Play undocked and the game can be set to flip the screen when the current player changes, allowing people to sit opposite each other and pretend they are playing on a cocktail arcade cabinet.
Traverse USA is a game that looks, sounds and plays simply, but is one that gets surprisingly fun as you weave about the screen avoiding obstacles, gaining places and passing through narrow gaps for a points bonus. If you are just looking to complete the ride to New York then the game is not particularly entertaining, but it works well with the Hi Score and Caravan modes and it feels satisfying to stay on your bike for long sections of road; positions gained from this also helping your points tally. Traverse USA is unlikely to be the Irem game people wanted HAMSTER to start with, but still works as something to dip into for a quick bout of highscore chasing.