There's a technical term often associated with racing games of a certain age. That term is "rubber band A.I.," and it's a style of artificial intelligence that will always catch back up if you race too far ahead. Games like Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were notorious for that, always keeping your opponents right on your tail, no matter how skilled of a racer you are. I'm not sure where the first instance of rubber band A.I. occurred, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out the Road Runner arcade game.
Talk about a perfect cartoon property for a video game. The Road Runner cartoon is full of action and violence perfect for this type of venue. It's the age-old story of a speedy bird trying to get away from a creature that wants to eat it. Throw in all of those cool (yet problematic) Acme products and you have the makings of a fantastic video game. Unfortunately this 8-bit NES port doesn't quite live up to the cartoon's potential. Instead of being an exciting action game based around the idea of outrunning a coyote, Road Runner is an exercise in frustrating gameplay and levels that require more luck than skill.
In this game you are tasked with two simple jobs - outrun Wile E. Coyote and pick up as much yummy bird feed as possible. Unlike most old school action games, Road Runner has you racing from right to left, which always makes this game feel a little unnatural. Perhaps this wouldn't be a problem if every other game didn't do it the exact opposite way, but I never could get used to running the opposite direction. I liken it to driving in London, you may get used to driving on the other side of the street, but it doesn't feel natural if you didn't grow up there.
The main gameplay revolves around you outrunning Wile E. Coyote, which doesn't really mean much because he's constantly able to catch back up. See, this isn't really a racing game, but rather an elaborate test to see how good at dodging hungry animals you are. No matter how fast you're running, there are times when your arch nemesis will catch up and try to capture you. At these points you can't just run faster, you have to run all around dodging him. Later in the game he'll pick up special Acme toys, all of which you will have to avoid if you want to make it to the end of the game.
There's just one big problem with this structure, there are times when it's impossible to avoid Mr. Coyote. Too much of the gameplay revolves around you being in the right place at the right time, often based entirely on luck. There are moments where your skills will get you out of a jam, but a majority of the gameplay involves you simply being lucky. Couple this with the fact that you only get a few lives and no continue, and Road Runner turns into a vile action game that is easy to hate.
Another problem is the level designs, which seem dead set on making you rip all of your hair out. Early in the game you are spending most of your time on the highway, but it doesn't take long before you have to race through complicated maze-like side roads and jump over annoy obstacles. Needless to say, these level designs don't fit in well with the core gameplay. Too much of this game involves you dying for no reason, rolling your eyes and trying again. Even when you play a level perfectly, you still have to deal with cheap deaths that you have no way of seeing beforehand.
The graphics are small and lack any detail. The Road Runner character looks good, but Wile E. Coyote doesn't look a thing like his cartoon counterpart. The backgrounds have a funny way of repeating themselves, giving the whole game a very simplistic look. I certainly won't knock the game for having simple graphics; I just wish the overall look was more cohesive.
Road Runner was a mildly entertaining game in the arcade. However, this NES port is simply too hard and repetitive to be worth your time. If you don't give up on the game after the first cheap death, then I guarantee you'll have tuned out by the 1,000th. This game may have had good ideas, but somebody forgot to include them in this NES port.