Up next on our tour through the Master System is another auto racing title (known in Japan as The Circuit) which represents Sega’s first attempt to bring Formula 1 action to the SMS. Now this cart isn’t really based on any Sega arcade driving title but at the same time bears more than a passing resemblence to Namco’s classic racer Pole Position, making you wonder if Sega wanted to bring that title to the console but had to settle with this clone instead. While it very well may be a knockoff, let’s take a test drive to see how this racer handles nonetheless.
The gameplay is pretty much like other Pole Position-style racers; you’re competing in a F1-style racing circut with 12 international courses, each vaguely based on real F1 tracks, and you’re out to post one of the best times in each one. In each race you drive your car down the track trying to reach the finish line while weaving your way around the other cars who happen to also be in your way. Each race is only one lap and you must meet one of the top six times to advance to the next race or else the game ends immediately. Unfortunately for you the other cars are out to get in your way and running into them causes you to explode, costing you precious time before your next car appears. Fortunately your vehicle handles very smoothly and the controls are responsive, enabling you to make quick cuts around the other cars, plus shifting from low gear to high gear is no problem.
While the action isn’t that different from other racing games, World Grand Prix has a few interesting features that tried to help it stand out, though their execution isn’t the greatest. Finishing with a good enough time to advance also earns you special points which you can eventually use to purchase upgrades for your car, such as better acceleration, handing and a new engine to increase your top speed. Sadly the upgrades only last for the next race then your car defaults back to normal, making it almost pointless to buy them in the first place. This game also sports a track editor that lets you put together your own courses to race on for fun. You choose from a selection of curves and straightaways, and once you’re finished you can then challenge it, complete with enemy racers, to see the best time you can complete one lap. Once you reach the finish, you have the choice to race it again or go to the title screen. That’s pretty much all you do, unless you want to challenge your friend to beat your best time or something. This is an okay diversion but gets boring after a while, plus you can’t even save your designs.
The graphics are rather unimpressive for the most part. While everything is brightly colored and the cars have some nice detials, they all look the same and the only scenery is the distant background that represents the race location and the lanscape is mostly barren. As far as the audio goes there’s no in-game music as the only sounds are your engine and the sound of the cars you’re passing by. But the main issue is the difficulty which is quite on the high side, mainly due to a razor-thin margin of error; basically you have to run a near-flawless race for any real chance to advance, and just one crash will most likely end your session. It also doesn’t help how the other cars deliberatly try to crash into you, often with no way to avoid them. In addition there’s nothing to indicate your rank in the race, meaning you might think you did well enough only to be abruptly met with the GAME OVER screen.
So World Grand Prix tries to be a championship-caliber racer but falls far short of the checkered flag. The game plays okay for the most part but the excessive difficulty will get on your nerves, and the well-intentioned but flawed special features fail to add anything to keep you interested. You’re better off taking the wheel in Out Run or Super Monaco GP or any other racing title, but leave this one in the pit.