Road Rash Sega CD | Developer: Electronic Arts | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Year: 1995
Road Rash Sega CD box art showing a biker swinging a chain

Road Rash (Sega Mega-CD)

A demake is a video game that’s been recreated on inferior hardware. Video game ports are not uncommon, so sometimes demakes are considered thought experiments — how much of a complex game like Halo would translate on the Atari 2600, for instance? Hobbyist programmers are pretty keen on “demaking” games, with the upcoming release of Bloodborne (PSX) being 2021’s leading example.

Official titles like Evolution: Eternal Dungeons prove that demakes are not just community efforts, and it begs the question whether Road Rash Sega CD — or Road Rash (1994) – 16 bit, if you want its technical name — is actually a demake too? You could argue it’s a port, but aside from sharing some visual assets and art style with the Panasonic 3DO original, Road Rash Sega CD has more in common with the Mega Drive instalments.

I’ll save my thoughts on the original Road Rash (1994) for another time because this Mega-CD version is a very different production once you get past the menu screens. There are no 3D environments or wide open tracks here. The game looks and plays like Road Rash 3, which released alongside it in 1995.

Of course, being a demake would not automatically mean Road Rash Sega CD is a bad video game. But make no mistake: Road Rash Sega CD is absolutely a bad video game for several other reasons.

Despite some basic stylistic changes, the structure remains identical to the Mega Drive entries. Players compete across five levels winning cash, buying bikes, and smashing skulls on the US highways. Players are treated to similar 2D tracks as before, once again with a choppy frame rate that’s much harder to forgive considering the increased console power.

An awkward menu system hides a few welcome extras. There’s an arcade mode for one-off races, save files to replace those annoying passwords, and a jukebox that plays all the licensed music from Road Rash (1994).

The only unique thing about this version is its sound mixing option that lets players set the individual volume levels for the background music and SFX. You can also hear the licensed music in-game, which is something that not even the 32-bit versions could manage.

A composite of Road Rash gameplay screenshots for Sega Mega-CD

Female rashers still have male voices in-game, which is disappointing not just because Road Rash 3 had them, but also because the FMV clips feature women bikers quite prominently.

Unfortunately the sound quality isn’t very good. The same dithered graphics that brought down the appearance of Road Rash 3 are also used here, with the accompanying splash screens and character art looking heavily compressed. The full motion video has remained intact, though it’s on par with the Mega-CD’s usual low standards in that area — very grainy and lacking in colour.

There’s very little to say in terms of gameplay. Players keep the weapons they collect between races, but there’s none of the combat upgrades or additional weapons that the third game introduced. The early levels also feel a bit easy because the CPU rashers aren’t as aggressive.

However, the absence of a simultaneous 2-player mode is the most dumbfounding exclusion. Considering the game stuck to its 16-bit roots in every other way, there is no good reason for its absence here. The 2-player mode alone justified the existence of Road Rash II, so removing it also removes any reason whatsoever for someone to own or even care about this already inferior sequel.

A composite of Road Rash gameplay screenshots for Sega Mega-CD

The treacle-like frame rate is inexcusable. With more care, this could have been a worthy alternative to the 32-bit versions.

If nothing else, this debacle clearly highlights the problems with the Mega-CD as a format. Every negative cliche about the add-on is represented here. The lackluster graphics that fail to improve on Mega Drive alternatives; the repetitive videos that make navigating menus an overwrought process; the CD audio being the only real plus point. Even the lack of simultaneous 2-player is a familiar problem, as the Mega-CD conversions of Golden Axe and Syndicate demonstrate.

I never played this during the Nineties because it was an NTSC-U exclusive, but it seems I lucked out seeing how awful it is now. Road Rash Sega CD is just a more expensive and less feature-packed version of Road Rash 3, only with loading times and a missing 2-player mode thrown into the bargain. It may share assets with the 3DO original, but underneath this is a hollow demake with none of the ambition or care that a constrained design can show us.