Virtua Racing got its start as an arcade game. Its V.R. initials purposely alluded to virtual reality, which can be forgiven for a 1992 game trying to capitalize on the growing buzz surrounding what VR would be like. The Lawnmower Man, a film that featured virtual reality as part of its setting, had debuted in theaters a few months before Virtua Racing debuted in Japan. The game looked great by 1992 standards, with its polygon models and quick speeds. It was also possible to select different views, including a first-person perspective and three other third-person angles. I played it quite a bit and gradually improved– although that was after lots of practice on the Beginner, Big Forest stage. It was totally worth the tokens.
Fast-forward to March 1994.
Virtua Racing came home for the SEGA Genesis, with a steep price tag of $99.99 USD. The driver behind the high price tag was the inclusion of a pricey proprietary chip in the cartridge called the SEGA Virtua Processor— or SVP for short. The chip, similar in purpose to Nintendo’s Super FX chip, supplied extra processing power for the Genesis to render 9,000 polygons per second. For $100, was this version of the game worth the money?
For $100 back in 1994, the answer was no. Now, at less than a third of the price? The answer is… kind of.
The problem with Virtua Racing back in 1994 was the limited content for the money. While the game was certainly impressive for the Genesis, it was also over pretty quickly. With only three tracks and nothing to really unlock, players could be done with the game in less than an hour. Virtua Racing‘s replayability comes from trying to beat the best times, but there really wasn’t much to keep players coming back. The $100 price tag– which I foolishly paid back then– was just too much for what was basically a graphics showcase.
That’s not to say that Virtua Racing didn’t show effort. SEGA made compromises to bring the game home on inferior hardware, but the spirit of the arcade is intact. With some practice, players will get used to the choppier frame rate and limited draw distance. The music and voice clips, while muddied a bit on the sound chip of the Genesis, stay close to the originals. All three track layouts from the arcade are in the game, too, and each has its own set of challenging turns to navigate properly.
Thanks to the price of the game now being generally low– around $15 for just the cartridge and about double that for a complete copy– it’s more accessible for players in the modern age. There are certainly better versions of Virtua Racing than this one, including a slick port on the SEGA Classics Collection for the PlayStation 2 and a digital version of the arcade game from SEGA and M2 for the Nintendo Switch, but playing this version and understanding how it pushed the Genesis in terms of graphics for the time makes it a curiosity that’s worth checking out.