Road Blaster is a Laser Disc game from 1985 wherein the player takes on the role of a vigilante trying to take down an outlaw gang responsible for the death of his girlfriend/wife. The reviewed/analyzed version is the 2011 re-release for the iPhone/iPod Touch.
Road Blaster is a historical relic. It was originally an arcade game and is completely made up of pre-rendered animated scenes. Scenes play and, at certain points, on-screen directions pop up, turn left, turn right, brake, or turbo. There is a narrow window in which to perform the action which, if accomplished, will trigger the next scene. If the player fails it switches to footage of the car getting destroyed. This game comes from a pedigree of Full Motion Video (FMV) games like Dragon’s Lair and Sewer Shark. These sorts of games were popular in arcades, then in homes when CD-ROM based systems were new, as it was the first time large amounts of video were possible in home console games. In that regard FMV games provide a level of immersion not previously possible by having full games made up of animated footage or live actors. Now, however, the game archaic and nostalgic. Even more nostalgic are the visuals, Road Blaster is an anime game (Japanese animation) and has a similar look to Robotech or Gundam. So, Road Blaster is nostalgia, through and through, making an iPhone version of it an interesting case as it is a historical relic played on one of the newest platforms for gaming. It even takes advantage of the iPhone/iPod Touch’s gyroscope for control (more on that later). Despite the archaic nature of the game it stands up well as an iPhone game.
Space and time in Road Blaster are incredibly constrained. The game gives no control over them whatsoever. The player must perform specific actions at specific times to progress the game. This lack of control is necessary since the game is completely made of pre-rendered scenes that are triggered by the player. Essentially gameplay comes down to “press the right button to not die”. The player has a small window within which to perform the action shown on-screen. If performed correctly the game continues. This method works because the transitions are very smooth and the time windows within which the player has to act are very short so quick reactions are quickly rewarded with continued gameplay. This smoothness also comes from the control method, covered in the next section.
Thomas H. Apperley cites the platform on which a game appears as being hugely important to the generic analysis of a game, and while I disagree with his generalization, I think it holds true for the iPhone/iPod Touch. Where home consoles (especially when Apperley was writing; in 2006, before the release of the Nintendo Wii) do not have marked differences in game options the iPhone/iPod touch does. It features a 3 axis gyroscope and a multitouch display with no buttons. Road Blaster uses the gyroscope and touch controls. The game presents a car dashboard with a steering wheel and a throttle lever. Tilting the device from side to side will move the steering wheel accordingly, though if no on-screen prompts are present the car will not turn. Touching the throttle allows it to be slid forward for turbo or back for brake. The responsiveness of these controls, even if no action is shown in the game, mask the linear nature of the game, and the tilt controls greatly enhance the experience. When a turn signal appears jerking the device left or right will initiate the next sequence and the physical action corresponds well with the game’s timing and smooth transitions. In this way fluid controls mask the linearity of the game and make it an engaging experience.