Before the invent of 3D polygons or Mode 7 technology, racing games were limited in what they were able to do. You basically had four options: you could try and make your game 2D (like Excitebike), you could try the overhead perspective (like Spy Hunter), you could fake 3D (like Rad Racer), or you could do what Super Off-Road did; create a strange combination of all three.
Super Off-Road is just one of many racing games that used this odd isometric view. Fans of classic Midway racers will no doubt feel right at home at this not-quite-overhead perspective, but anybody who is coming to this type of game for the first time will certainly be confused by the strange angle and control scheme. In a lot of ways Super Off-Road reminds me of a faster version of Nintendo's classic RC Pro Am title, only with tiny trucks and a whole lot of dirt.
Although Super Off-Road can be considered archaic by today's standards, there's no denying that it is still quite a lot of fun. In fact, this type of game may even hold up better than the faux-3D racers of the era, mostly because it's not trying to be something it technically is incapable of being. Fans of Gran Turismo and Burnout may be confused by the weird control scheme, but give it a few tries and I have a hunch you'll be keeping up with the best of them. This is, after all, an arcade-style racing game that is extremely accessible, no matter how many racers you've played before it.
The controls are simple enough, you use left and right to turn directions, you hold one of the buttons to go and there's a handy nitro button. Since the camera never changes its angle you will sometimes be driving into the screen, which means that you'll have to keep track of which way to turn (much like you would with an RC car). At first this may seem a bit tricky, but it won't take you more than one or two laps before you get the hang of it. Best of all, the vehicles are extremely fast and the action will have you on the edge of your seat. Unlike most racers, if you mess up you aren't doomed to fail, the game is extremely forgiving and it's possible to go from last to first in less than a lap.
Speaking of laps, the tracks themselves are actually pretty entertaining. Super Off-Road offers quite a few unique courses, each with their own obstacles and difficult turns. It all starts easy enough, but by the time you've made it to the fourth or fifth race you'll be surprised at how complex the levels are. Best of all, a lot of the levels feel like they were created specifically to mess the racers up. It's not only the figure eight course; it's the pits of water, the massive hills and the large jumps that send you right into a wall. The only problem I have with the levels is that it's not always clear where you're supposed to go, something that can be the difference between coming in first or last.
What makes this game even more exciting is that you can bring a second player in, making this one of the best racing experiences on the Sega Master System. For the most part 8-bit racing games weren't very accessible for two or more players, but Super Off-Road lends itself perfectly for this type of gaming. It's easy to learn how to play and there are enough levels to keep you cycling through without getting bored quickly. It's a shame the game didn't let you play with four players, but given the Master System's hardware you can't expect all of the conveniences of modern gaming.
Even with all of these amazing 3D racing games floating around Super Off-Road still proves to be entertaining. This is still a lot of fun because there aren't many racers with this perspective, which means that this game isn't as out of date as you might think. If you're looking for a unique racing experience on your Master System then you can't do any better than Super Off-Road.