System: Commodore VIC20 Publisher: Commodore Developer: Commodore
Genre: Arcade Type: Pac-Man clone Circa: 1981

I can see why a game like Radar Rat Race would have entertained me way back in 1981 before I had a plethora of better games at my disposal. Many home console games of the pre-NES years often fell into one of two categories: Games that were so easy you could play them forever without any danger of losing all your lives (ie, Defender), and games that were practically impossible to be good at due to sloppy design. Radar Rat Race falls into the latter category, which is what contributes to its somewhat-compelling nature: In any given session you may get to Round 5 or you may not even get past Round 1. You never know and that makes you want to play again.

As one of the many Pac-Man clones of the era, Radar Rat Race has you running a mouse through a maze while looking for cheese and being chased by rats. The maze is multiple screens high and wide so the best method for success is to use the Defender-style radar screen that shows where all the rats and cheese are. To further complicate matters, stationary cats are scattered around the maze, blocking passageways or sitting right next to the cheese pieces. Since you constantly move forward and cannot stop moving, it can be tricky to pick up a cheese that's situated directly in front of a cat without ramming into the feline and losing a life.

It would seem that designers of 80's Pac-Man clones, and sometimes even those responsible for making ports of it, clearly did not understand one very important thing about that game that made it work: the ability to dodge around corners a little faster than the ghosts could. Radar Rat Race is yet another Pac-Man clone in which you can't dodge around the corners more quickly than your enemies. Since the rats are extremely relentless in the way they chase you, there's little hope of outrunning them or losing them in the maze. Your only line of defense is the ability to drop stars that temporarily stun them. Dropping stars eats up a bit of the stage timer, so you can't drop them infinitely. But the rats don't remain stunned for very long and then they just keep coming at you. As consecutive rounds add more and more rats while simultaneously increasing the amount of "death trap" dead ends in the maze, it isn't long before the game becomes ridiculously overwhelming. Whether you get to Round 2 or 10 will be more a matter of luck than skill.

Like most Commodore VIC20 games, Radar Rat Race has a "made in basement" quality to it. Even though I remember liking it when I was a kid, my most exciting related memory was figuring out how to make the mouse's dying "eek" turn white instead of the usual red or blue, then challenging friends to figure out the trick, as opposed to anything actually related to the gameplay. And no matter how much I may have liked it, I was also aware that VIC20 Moon Patrol is a far better game. But unlike Moon Patrol, Radar Rat Race runs fine on Pfau Zeh, a Commodore VIC20 emulator, so there's no harm in downloading it and trying it out for a few minutes, which is probably all you'll need.




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