Although not marketed as a sequel, anyone who has played Blizzard's RPM Racing will recognize Rock n' Roll Racing as its successor. They are both isometric racing games with weapons, similar to Rare's classic R.C. Pro-Am on the NES, but Rock n' Roll Racing is the superior game by far.
You can enjoy Rock n' Roll Racing solo or with a second player. At the beginning, you choose your racer from six colorful, punky characters: Tarquinn, Snake, Cyberhawk, Ivan, Katarina, or Jake. Each is good at two skills from among acceleration, top speed, cornering, and jumping. Olaf, from The Lost Vikings, is secretly available by holding down L, R, and SELECT while Tarquinn is selected. Olaf is busted because he's good at all four skills!
Four characters race and attack one another's vehicles with lasers, missiles, and mines. You begin with only one laser shot per lap. Between races, you can purchase additional shots and upgrade your vehicle's armor, tires, shock absorbers, and engine. Each upgrade of armor gives you one additional hit point, which can keep your ride from exploding and costing you valuable seconds respawning. You earn money by placing: $10,000, $7,000, and $4000 for first, second, and third, respectively.
You can also buy a better vehicle. You begin with either the Dirt Devil or the Marauder, which is faster. The Airblade, which has nitro boosts, is available immediately but costs $80,000. You have to balance kitting our your current vehicle with saving up for the next. As long as you're winning races, you should save, as purchased upgrades don't carry over.
Race tracks are varied and winding, with lots of ups and downs and obstacles, such as gunk, slippery water, and mines. There are also bonuses on the tracks in the form of piles of gold ($1000), med kits ("armor," which refills your health), and speed boosts. Some tracks have overlapping segments, so you need to pay attention to the mini map to make sure you don't make a wrong turn. (Unlike in RPM Racing, you can't cheat; going the wrong way will always set you back.)
Tracks are divided into six circuits. Each circuit takes place on a different planet, with a unique color palette, tracks, obstacles, and AI racer. The opponents get progressively more difficult, as they have more advanced vehicles. If you play on easy mode, the game ends after only the third circuit. To play all six, you have to choose the hardest difficulty (Warrior).
Each circuit has two divisions with a set number of tracks. Tracks do repeat, so you may get tired of some of them. Advancing to the next division or circuit requires hitting a certain point threshold. Points are awarded based on how high you place in a race: 400, 200, and 100 points for the first three places. You can advance as soon as you have enough points, though it literally pays to keep racing. If at the end of the division you don't have enough points to advance, you go back to the beginning with zero points, but keep all your money and upgrades. There are no Game Overs, so you'll get there eventually! You can save your game with a password.
The first world, Chem VI, uses basic track patterns on black-and-red roadways elevated over a swamp, with burning methane gas coming out of pipes in the background. The cars are slow and can't even equip nitros, instead being preloaded with worthless jump jets. The second world, Drakonis, has a purple-and-black palette, with moon-like craters in the background. It looks like something out of Battletoads. Oil is replaced by green goop, which slows you down. The third world, Bogmire, features classic-looking brown dirt tracks with a deep blue ocean in the background. The Battle Trak, a tank-like vehicle, is first available on Bogmire and is a huge upgrade. The fourth world, New Mojave, has a yellow-and-green palette with a desert in the background, complete with animal bones. The penultimate world, NHO, is an ice planet with snow drifts to slow you down. The final vehicle, the Havac, which is a hovercraft, becomes available here. It uses homing missiles that do half the damage of normal missiles, so you need a lot to make kills. Normal missiles are more fun because you get the satisfaction of sniping drivers! The final world is Inferno, which looks the way you'd expect from the name. It uses a sleek, red-and-silver palette well suited to the final world. Its courses contain backward-facing boosts to be avoided.
Rock n' Roll Racing takes its name from the five classic rock songs that play while you race: Bad to the Bone (1982), Highwar Star (1972), Paranoid (1970), Born to Be Wild (1968), and the recognizable theme to "Peter Gunn" (1959). These licensed music tracks, combined with snarky high-quality voice samples from racing announcer Larry "Supermouth" Huffman, were the game's secret weapon. If you get too annoyed with Larry's constant quips ("Ouch!", "Whoa!", "N. should avoid mines!"), you can turn them off in the settings.
There were other racing games, but they couldn't hold a candle to Rock n' Roll Racing's edgy, anti-establishment vibe, which fit so well with the pop culture of the early 90's. The music, the attitude, the fast racing, and the vehicle combat made this the best racing video game on the market. Okay, maybe Super Mario Kart was the best, but the two look, sound, and play so differently that it's hard to choose one over the other!
I played Rock n' Roll Racing a lot as a kid. It's a fun game if you like racing combat. I'm happy to report that it's even better today. The "Blizzard Arcade Collection" (which includes no arcade games...) includes a "Definitive Edition" that adds widescreen, minor quality-of-life improvements, and a proper soundtrack with vocals and even additional songs! It's so cool being able to play with the actual music, especially with three extra songs: Red Barchetta (1981), Breaking the Law (1980), and a song from Warcraft III. Unfortunately, Paranoid was left off, presumably because Warner Bros.'s licensing fee was too steep.
"It's not only one of the more enjoyable racing titles to come out of the 16-bit era, it's also one of the more unique as well."
— Corbie Dillard, Nintendo Life, 8/10
"An isometric vehicular battler that had you cruising around wild tracks while blaring heavy metal music blasted."
— IGN, #72 of Top 100
"The high-octane action never lets up and moves at a great pace."
— Jim Evans, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, 4.5/5