Super-fast, lunch-repeating racing games are in vogue at the moment. Ever since the days of the abysmal OutRun, they've grown ever faster and the graphics increasingly bigger and more detailed. Ultimate Ride is probably the most thoroughly researched racing game yet, with incredible attention paid to how the bike reacts in real situations. It's so detailed, in fact, that if you get the speed right you can even perform wheelies.
Before you get to all that, though, you first select one or two-player mode: in the latter, the screen is split vertically with each player's bike and road area shown in one half of the display. After this you're through to the bike select screen where you pick the type of bike you wish to ride, tyre types (you need different tyres for different roads), hills, bends and weather settings.
With these options selected you're then through to the main action with a choice of racetrack or street course. In track courses you first need to complete a two-lap qualifying race to determine your starting position. You then race against five other bikes. The street courses put you in a manic cannonball run, racing against the clock. There are six possible courses available for both Track and Street courses.
Wing mirror views of what's going on behind you have rarely made their way into a racing game and they lend a great deal of realism to the action. Top this with more than 70 roadside sprites - from daunting trees and rocks to bales of hay, cars and even a few sheep - and you have a game which looks damn near stunning. Seven animated sequences accompany the end of a race just to give some continuity to the action.
But sadly, these amazing visuals cannot conceal the fact that the graphics move ridiculously slowly. Fortunately, the programmers must have realised what a problem this is, and there's an option from the main playing screen to turn the roadside sprites off. They're still there for you to crash into, but they're blacked out so all you see is a silhouette. Why, you might ask, should you want to play with the roadside sprites blacked out? The answer is simple: with sprites switched off the game manages to run at a playable speed.
There's a similar situation with the sound effects. You can choose to play either with sampled sound effects or ST sound chip noises, and though the sampled engine noise is brilliant it has the effect of slowing the game down slightly. Personally, in those circumstances I can live without that throaty roar.
Complex and detailed research went into deciding how the bike should respond to your every movement, but this all seems to be at the expense of gameplay. With sprites and sampled effects switched on, Ultimate Ride looks and sounds brilliant but is just far too slow to be an absorbing challenge. The option to speed up the game by switching off the roadside sprites certainly makes it far more playable - but then the game looks and sounds like it's just free-wheeled its way out of the ark.
At the end of it all, Ultimate Ride makes a good simulation but a pretty average racing game.