Retro Resolution Retro Review
System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Year: 1990 (JP, US) / 1991 (EU)
For those of a certain age the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain will be forever associated with an era in which Sega’s Super Monaco GP wowed in the arcades and impressed on the Megadrive.
The splendid 1989 arcade machine utilised the same Super-Scalar sprite scaling technology as the acclaimed Outrun to render detailed and recognisable trackside features, recreating the famous buildings of the F1 street circuit. It should be noted that, as with Sega’s later phenomenal Manx TT Superbike, the titular track is not faithful to the real circuit, rather it is designed to maximise the racing experience.
The Monaco Grand Prix is often the most interesting of an arguably increasingly boring parade of shiny multi-million pound cars (it is a true achievement to create vehicles capable of velocities of 200+ mph, and then make racing them appear dull); the coin-op thankfully delivers the excitement of F1 at its best.
The 1990 Megadrive conversion is necessarily stripped of virtually all trackside detail, not unlike Atari’s 1982 Pole Position, a sacrifice which enables the console version to retain all the crucial speed of the original. Although visually the resulting experience is more akin thrashing around a home-counties go-kart track than the jewel in the F1 crown, the conversion successfully retains much of the thrilling and satisfying gameplay of the original.
As with the arcade parent, CPU cars can still be rammed out of the way, causing them to spin out, issuing forth clouds of smoke, and can be found to crash of their own accord, which is always enjoyable to witness. Also retained is the rear-view mirror which allows for the application blocking tactics (a feat not even the mighty Saturn Sega Rally conversion was able to achieve).
The plucky console version incorporates the sharp and direct steering of the original, the impressive number of competing vehicles, a blast through Monaco’s famous tunnel which is almost as exciting as on the coin-op, and the undulating road (although it appears that the action has relocated from the hilly Monaco to the great plains of Holland).
Somewhat less impressive is the loss of the throaty engine roar of the arcade parent, with the 3.5 litre V12 engines seemingly replaced by swarms of angry bees for the Megadrive outing (uncannily presaging the aural disappointment accompanying the introduction of hybrid power units to the real sport in recent years).
Graphically and sonically not as visceral as the arcade experience, the Megadrive version trumps the coin-op in the longevity stakes with the addition of a full Championship mode which introduces a raft of new tracks to supplement the single course of the original, featuring drivers and teams (very) loosely based on the 1989/1990 season.
In some ways the 16-bit console conversion mirrors the gradual degradation of the BBC’s coverage of the sport; the spiritual home of F1 initially lost all broadcasting rights to ITV, before briefly winning them back, only to find Sky behemoth taking the spoils.
The venerable national channel was left offering a reduced experience, keeping some aspects fully intact (full, live coverage of some races, including practice and qualifying), whilst plying a reduced, yet serviceable, incarnation of most the rest (delayed highlights of qualifying and races).
Whether played on the state-of-the-art arcade system or the heroic home conversion, Super Monaco Grand Prix is unforgettable, which is more than can be said for the BBC’s woefully emasculated motorsports coverage…
Links: Retro Resolution Retro Reviews