Designer: Stephen Landrum
Additional Programming and Graphics:
Players: 1 or 2 players
Before there was Super Mario Kart... for almost a decade, one game was synonymous with split screen, fast paced, tactical two player racing: Pit Stop II:
The sequel to the successful but not hugely innovative Pit Stop from 1983, Pit Stop II revolutionised the genre of racing games by being the first split screen racing game for home computers. The ultra fast formula 1 racing action is further enhanced by the addition of the titular pit stops, which are real time action sequences where the players directly control the pit crew as they change tires and refuel their vehicles, and un-licensed real world formula 1 racing tracks (no one was thinking about that being a necessity back in the day). :)
The game is a fairly straightforward racer, with the standard one button joystick controls the left and right movement of the vehicle and the fire button plays no part during the race (you press up to accelerate and back to break, diagonals allow for simultaneous steering). Your tires can (and will) take damage during the race through collisions with the course side barriers and other racers. This damage is represented by the changing color of the sheen on each tire. Once they hit red you know you are just one contact away from a blowout and a premature end to your championship dreams.
To remedy damage, you can pull into the pit stops located close to the starting point of each track. You just need to pull in to them and then the pit stop phase of the game begins. You now control a cursor in the shape of a steering wheel and by clicking on one of the two crew members (tire guy and gas guy) you take direct control of them. The gas guy can be set to auto-pilot, so once he starts filling the tank you can leave him to it and start working on the tires.
Make sure you don't overflow the tank though, since it will reset to 0 and cost you precious seconds to refuel.
The tire exchange consists of kneeling next to the tire to change, walk it over to the spare tire pile, it will be exchanged for a fresh one and return to the empty spoke and kneel again. This can be time consuming, making the decision to leave a semi-solid tire on the vehicle for another lap or two in order to gain a few precious moments a key tactical decision.
To say nothing of the risk one runs bypassing the pit stops altogether during the race to gain time, but then perhaps running out of fuel or blowing a flat just shy of the finish line.
The graphics are simple but effective. No matter where in the world you are racing the same distant hills are shown and the other vehicles are, other than for a color swap, identical to the player's. Even the pit crews are the same.
That being said, the track runs at an amazing frame rate with super smooth scrolling and everything is easily recognisable and nothing distracts from the action.
While there is no in game music, it isn't missed. The engine roars are nicely done and the split screen and parallax effect of drivers whizzing by provides all the atmosphere the game needs.
A special mention must go out to the AI in this game. While a two player game is always fun, the computer controlled cars on the track and even the computer opponent in single player, react amazingly human and can be quite aggressive.
In an interview, the designer Stephen Landrum revealed that this was in large part due to a little "disadvantage" he built into their abilities. The computer controlled drivers have a shorter available draw distance than the player, thus forcing them to react a split second later than the player, compensating for the computers faster reflexes, and making the race fairer.
While it's now been 30 years since the game's release, it is still one of the best head to head racers out there. Fast, fun and easy to delve into. It has been re-released on the Wii Virtual Console and will hopefully continue to be played for generations to come.