The Gratuitous Rainbow Spectrum

Why I Love Uniracers

Why I Love Uniracers

Kris Randazzo
7 minute read

One Wheel to Rule Them all

Who doesn’t love unicycles? Nobody, that’s who! And this is a verified 100% scientific fact. That's why you see so many of them around. Back in 1994, Nintendo capitalized on the public’s obvious and very real love of unicycles by publishing DMA Design’s excellent racing game Uniracers, and those who decided to give it a go were rewarded with an absolutely awesome (and crazy fast) instant classic. From the unicycles’ fun personalities to the rocking soundtrack and even the colorfully written instruction manual, Uniracers was destined for greatness. Instead, it’s been tossed in Nintendo’s vault, never to be seen or heard from again.

The Need for Single Wheel Speed

Uniracers is a 2D racing game that pits 2 unicycles against one another to see who can reach the finish line first, which is a wordy way of saying it’s a racing game. What sets this one apart from others like it is the fact that, well, there’s nothing else quite like it. I suppose the closest thing I can think of is the 2-player racing segments in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Sega Genesis, but even that doesn’t quite do this game justice.

You don’t accelerate by holding a button, you just press the direction you want to move on the D-pad and you’re off . Just moving toward the finish line won’t be enough to claim victory though. These Unicycles need a little something more. Uniracers features a stunt system that’s deeply integrated into the game. Where stunts in games like Mario Kart are cool and add an occasional speed boost, successful stunts in Uniracers are absolutely necessary to maintain the speeds you’ll need to win. You’ve got your very own jump button, which performs a considerable jump, not those little hops in a Mario Kart game, so there’s no need to seek out ramps to gain the required altitude to do a flip. The more stunts you perform, the faster you go. If you crash, your top speed drops right back to where it was when you started. This can be rectified by completing a few stunts without incident, but it will shave precious seconds off of your time. As a result, the best races quickly turn into a battle to see who can pull off more stunts without crashing before reaching the finish line.

I mentioned earlier that the game is fast, and that also plays a part in the whole stunt thing. These tracks twist and turn much like a Sonic level, and they’re also filled with hazards. Purple glue patches, holes to fall through, and even these weird twisty metal things that work like corkscrews but only if you approach them while your tire is on the track stand to halt your progress at a moment’s notice. So if you’re trying to, say, do a backflip but then land on a pile of goop, things aren’t going to go too well for you. Thankfully the game has a rather brilliant system in place to help you see what’s coming; track colors!. If things are blue and green, things are safe. If it changes to something else, be prepared to react to your environment. It’s not the easiest thing to keep track (HA!) of, but that’s part of Uniracers’ charm. You’ve really got to be paying attention to get good.

Speaking of good, the music in this game is really top notch. It was composed by a gentleman named Colin Anderson, and it’s some really impressive rock. The guitar samples used sound really close to the real thing, and each song’s arrangement sounds surprisingly authentic. When comparing it to something like, say, Comix Zone for Genesis, it really goes to show just what the SNES’s sample channels were capable of in the right hands.

A Singular Sense of Humor

Of course, I can’t talk about Uniracers without mentioning its crazy instruction manual. Donkey Kong Country did something similar in that it made reading the booklet worth your time by being entertaining, and Uniracers took things to the next level by being flat-out bizarre. Every page, right down to the copyright information, has some sort of snarky joke or weird observation on it. They made a whole crazy story for these racing unicycles, and they weren’t afraid to revel in the absurdity of that. Seriously, read this.

Making the instructions on saving your game entertaining is tough on its own, but the second page here is about pizza. These nutjobs actually took a page in their instruction manual, labeled it “Irrelevant” and went on a rant about bad frozen pizza. Genius.

This all sounds awesome, right? So, what happened? Why aren’t we all playing Uniracers 3: Turbo Champion Edition? Unfortunately, as I understand it, Disney happened. Nintendo actually isn’t allowed to sell this one anymore.

There Can Be Only One (Animated Unicycle)

A long time ago, it seems that the nice folks at Pixar made an animated short about a unicycle. You can check it out on Disney + right now. It’s kind of cute. Anyway, they got wind of this Uniracers game and decided that they should sue DMA Design for copying their completely unique and not at all common unicycle design. This is, of course, completely insane. It’s a unicycle. If you’re going to anthropomorphize a unicycle, there are really only so many ways you can go about doing that. Making the seat the “head” is the most obvious choice.

Unfortunately for us all, the court decided in favor of Pixar, who apparently now own the concept of unicycles or something because how else would that work? Anyway, computer generated unicycles were no longer on the menu, and Nintendo wasn’t allowed to produce any more copies of the game.

It’s a real shame too because Uniracers really is a terrific game. It doesn’t look like much in screen shots, but it’s really something once you get to actually playing it. This really should have been a bigger thing too because I can only imagine how much better this game could be with modern tech behind it, especially widescreen HD televisions increasing your field of vision. I played the heck out of it as a kid, and I still like going back to it out from time to time.

As you can imagine, this game has never been reissued in any form, a fact that breaks my heart every time I think about it. I have to imagine there’s probably some way to fight this absurd ruling at this point, but there’s pretty much a 0% chance Nintendo or DMA/Rockstar would be willing to put in the effort to pull this game out from obscurity. I would love to see it show up on Nintendo Switch Online or something, but alas, that’s about as unlikely as can be.

Thankfully, finding the game itself isn’t all that hard/expensive. Given its history and pedigree I’m surprised by that on a regular basis, but I’m not arguing. The more people who play this game, the better. It also works like a charm on a Flash Cart. Now if you'll excuse me, I’ve got to do a double Z-flip and get out of here before the dreaded Anti-Uni tracks me down. 

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