Rings of Saturn Issue #21: “WipEout” in WOAH BRUV, THIS NIGHTCLUB HAS PROPER BANGIN’ ZERO GRAVITY INNIT?

I’ve actually written about WipEout before, but that was the PlayStation version. Though WipEout is known as being one of the early PlayStation games to captivate the eager video game market during the fledgling grey slab’s early months of life, WipEout also saw ports to PC and SEGA Saturn (with there even being a totally different version of the game built from scratch for the Nintendo 64), and I recently picked up a copy of the game via a certain auction-based website. My buddy, Adam, hasn’t had access to a Saturn until recently, and seeing as he liked the Master System and Mega Drive, I thought I’d give him an excuse to try a game for it by bringing him on board for a tandem article!

History with the Game

Mike: As previously mentioned, I not only own the PlayStation version of WipEout, but I’ve also written about it for this very site. I’ve also invested a lot of time into the WipEout: Omega Collection on the PS4 and have written about that as well, so I’m quite into my anti-gravity racing! There have been quite A LOT of WipEout games over the years, and for as many as I’ve played, there’s even more that I haven’t. As a general rule, I consider WipEout to be one of my favourite racing game series, and along with Mario Kart, Ridge Racer and Burnout, it’s in my list of “go-to” titles whenever I want to get my race on. Seeing as my Saturn doesn’t always get a lot of use, I thought that the Saturn port of WipEout would at least be enjoyable enough to make it worth my time playing.

Adam: My first experience with the WipEout games was on the PlayStation. I never owned the full game back then, but I believe I had a demo disc with it included. To be honest, I’d never spent much time with the game until recently. When I was younger and first played it for the PlayStation, I was never really captivated by it, so apart from the odd play of the demo, I never actually purchased the full game for my PlayStation. I think this was likely because there were other games that interested me more back then and also because I found WipEout quite difficult to play.

Gameplay

Adam: As mentioned above, I think one of the things that initially put me off the gameplay was that I always found it difficult! I have always quite enjoyed racing games, usually the arcade-style racers than the more realistic racing simulator games (too hard!), but WipEout has more of an arcade feel to it, which I like. Having now properly sat down with the game and played it all these years later, I must say that I really enjoyed it. The gameplay is fast, and you have to time things just right to make it around the corners and tight bends. I often found myself hitting the walls because I wasn’t quick enough to react, and this slows you down, allowing the other racers to overtake you.

The tracks remind me of a rollercoaster with occasional big jumps that you need to make, and if you don’t quite clear them, then you’ll lose precious seconds, and in a game like WipEout, every second counts! Once I’d had a few tries and was more familiar with the tracks, then things became easier, and I soon found myself zooming around the courses at full speed and leaving the other racers behind. Another feature that makes things more interesting is the ability to pick up different weapons and boosts by passing over marked areas on the track. Sometimes you’ll be able to fire a missile at the person in front of you, giving you a few seconds to overtake them. Just watch out for your opponents returning the favour!

Mike: For those not au fait with the series, WipEout sees you taking a journey into the future to race anti-gravity craft on a selection of different race courses from all different corners of the world. The game starts out with 8 different craft to choose from, each with their own different stats. Some will sacrifice speed for greater control, whilst others will do the exact opposite and will move much faster whilst also being much more difficult to control on corners. Pressing B on the Saturn pad will cause your craft to accelerate, whilst the shoulder buttons operate as the brakes. Certain pads on the race course will cause your craft to speed up, whilst others will give you an item you can use with the press of the C button.

The items on offer range from projectile attacks that you can use on your opponents, a shield that will protect you should they try and attack you in reply, and a boost that will give you an instant jolt wherever you are on the course. Sometimes you will need to complete certain jumps, and if you fail, you will have to wait whilst another ship returns you to the course, not unlike what Lakatu does in the Mario Kart series. Success ultimately comes down to how successfully you apply the brakes at relevant moments as failing to do so will see you crash into the side of the track with an unmistakable thud (immortalised forevermore by Caddicarus), which will slow you down considerably and cost you precious seconds.

As a result you will experience a lot of trial and error when you tackle courses for the first time, with success coming down to how well you can memorise the track so that you know the best times to brake. When you manage to apply the brake at just the right moment and sneak round a corner smoothly without losing any momentum, it can really feel like a genuine achievement to be proud of, but when you get it wrong, WipEout can be utterly torturous sometimes, especially on some of the narrower courses that have really tight corners. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t able to complete the game because I got stuck on the sixth course of the opening tournament circuit, and I couldn’t finish high enough to advance any further.

WipEout can get ludicrously difficult sometimes, especially when you use a craft that isn’t suited to the track you are trying to tackle. For instance, some crafts just don’t maintain their speed when you go up an incline, which means that some of them aren’t capable of making the big jump on the Terramax course, so if you’re unlucky enough to pick one of them when you tackle the Championship Mode, then you’ve pretty much burnt off a run then and there. This strikes me as a bit of a design flaw with WipEout, to be honest. Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to have different crafts with different attributes, and it’s nothing new in racing games, but it should still be possible to actually complete each course with every vehicle on offer.

For instance, Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. both have really slow acceleration in the first Mario Kart game for the Super Nintendo, but it’s still possible to complete the game with them because their other attributes make up for it, and there isn’t a track in the game where their lack of acceleration makes it impossible for you to win the race in question. That WipEout has courses where it’s next to impossible to complete them with certain crafts limits the player in the options they have, even if the overall racing itself is good and challenging. There’s a fair challenge and an unreasonable one, and sometimes WipEout on the Saturn crosses that line for me.

Graphics

Mike: WipEout on the Saturn doesn’t look too bad, and it still retains the FMV opening sequence that the PlayStation enjoys, but when you put the two games together side by side, it becomes clear that the PlayStation version looks better and also runs better. Everything on the Saturn just looks a bit fuzzier and is just generally a bit choppier. On more than one instance, I found myself getting stuck on the scenery, and on a couple of occasions, I had to restart races because of it. That all being said, in a bubble WipEout isn’t awful from a visual perspective, and considering how the Saturn wasn’t really made with this kind of 3D in mind, it does a decent enough job of recreating it here.

No one ever really got the best out of the Saturn when it came to 3D games as the internal architecture was difficult for a lot of developers to get their heads around, and it often meant the much vaunted double processor within the console itself was never really used, if ever. Had the console survived for longer, then maybe someone would have been able to really crack the 3D and produce a port that was on par with the PlayStation from a visual perspective, but sadly, we never really got there. WipEout is not a terrible effort though, although it certainly hasn’t aged all that well over the years (but then again, not a lot of early 3D games from the fifth gen do).

Adam: Graphically, the Saturn version doesn’t look quite as crisp as the PlayStation version of the game and is generally not quite as smooth, and it’s also a bit “blocky”. It’s not too bad though, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. The bright and vivid colours really give the game a futuristic feel. I think, graphically, the game was probably ahead of its time.

Sound

Adam: This is an area where I think the game really shines. The soundtrack perfectly matches the gameplay as its fast, pumping beats and electronic melodies give everything that futuristic vibe. I don’t think any other genre of music would have fit as well with the visuals and gameplay. On one occasion I stumbled across a glitch that cut the background music from one of the levels for an entire race, and the game suddenly felt a bit dull and empty, although fortunately, when I gave it a quick restart, the beautiful beats were back!

Mike: WipEout has a fantastic soundtrack, although the Saturn version is slightly different from the one found on the PAL version of the PlayStation as tracks from Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Orbital on the PlayStation have been replaced with three tracks from Rob Lord and Mark Bandola. Thankfully, the nine tracks from CoLD SToRAGE remain, and they are amongst some of my favourite music in all of video games, with Messij and Cairodrome being two of the best. The only criticism you can throw WipEout’s way when it comes to sound is that the sound effects in the actual races themselves are quite muted, and that sometimes dampens the atmosphere a little bit. Aside from that though, the set-list is an area where WipEout scores an easy homerun, and it’s easy to see why so many of these tracks actually got played in clubs back in the day because they are truly good enough to deserve it!

Longevity

Mike: WipEout’s single-player experience comes with three main modes of Championship, Single Race and Time Trial. Championship is where you will have to try and complete a season of races, with you needing to finish in at least the top 3 in order to advance to the next race. Single Race allows you to get some practice on the more difficult courses by racing against other racers, whilst Time Trial puts you on a track all by yourself with the sole goal of finishing in the quickest time possible. One annoying aspect of Championship mode is that if you finish outside of the top three, then you get three chances to continue, but once the continues are gone, it’s game over, and you have to start all over again from the very first race. This just feels like an unnecessary bit of extra difficulty crowbarred in to artificially extend the game.

The only way to get multiplayer on the PlayStation version of WipEout is with the aid of a link cable as there is no in-built split screen multiplayer. Thus, if you want to race against someone else on that version, you will need two consoles, two TVs and two copies of the game, which was annoying back in the day and tantamount to unthinkable to a modern mind. Even worse, the Saturn version has zero multiplayer, meaning you’ll be stuck playing on your tod. Believe it or not, some of the early fifth gen games were bereft of standard multiplayer like this as the technology was still new, and some developers either didn’t have the time or the know-how required to make it work. Thankfully, this became less of an issue as the fifth gen rolled on, but that doesn’t really help you out if you play this today and one of your chums wants to join in for some zero gravity racing.

Adam: There’s a tricky Championship mode that I’ve put a good amount of hours into because I still can’t beat it! The game keeps me coming back for more though, and that’s no bad thing. Finishing anywhere below 3rd place in Championship mode doesn’t cut it, and once you’ve used up all your continues, then it’s back to square one. It can be very frustrating and has had me almost tearing my hair out at times, but then I take a deep breath and remember it’s only a game, and all is well with the world again. So, as far as longevity goes, I think this mode alone has a few hours of gameplay in it, maybe even a few years if you’re as bad as me! There are also Single Race and Time Trial modes, which are good for practicing and getting familiar with the tracks and vehicles that the game has to offer.

Would We Recommend It?

Mike: I’d recommend WipEout in a very specific situation, that being if you don’t have a PlayStation but do have a Saturn and want a decent enough racing game for it to pad out your collection. However, if you own a PlayStation, or you’re more selective in the games you pick up for your Saturn, then WipEout on the Saturn is hardly one that you need to go out of your way to play. The PlayStation version of the game is the superior one, so if you have a PlayStation, you should just get WipEout for that. Even if you have just a Saturn, WipEout is hardly the sort of game you just HAVE to own. It’s middling graphically, and the gameplay is a tad too broken for it to stand on that alone.

Adam: Despite my initial impressions of the game many years ago, I would recommend WipEout to anyone who enjoys an arcade-styled, fast-paced racer. I’d probably lean towards the PlayStation version just because of its smoother and crisper graphics, but that being said, the Saturn version is still a fun game in its own right, and if you can find a copy cheap enough somewhere, then I’d say go for it!

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