Well, I’m back! A little longer than I anticipated, but nevertheless, I have returned to the world of retro! Not that I ever left… really…
Anyway, back in the mid-1980’s Sega was really beginning to make a name for itself outside of Japan, thanks, by and large, to Yu Suzuki and his AM2 team. Starting in 1985 with Space Harrier, the first of Sega’s “Super Scaler’s”, wowed arcade goers with it’s amazing sprites and its large sit down cabinet. I remember the first time I saw Space Harrier in the arcades, my jaw literally hit the floor! The sprite scaling, huge sprites, colourful graphics and awesome sound really made it hard to miss…
Space Harrier was followed by the legendary AM2 titles Out Run and After Burner, and in 1988, by Power Drift.
With 12 different drivers to choose from, Power Drift offers 5 different courses, split into a further 5 stages; finish in the top three and you’ll qualify for the next stage of the course you’ve chosen, any lower and it’s game over! Pure arcade simplicity; and in true arcade fashion, the stages get increasingly difficult as you progress through your chosen course.
Not too long after its release in the arcades Power Drift was converted to the popular home formats of the day, mainly handled and published through Activison. The first home console port was on to the PC Engine in 1990 and it doesn’t look too bad, but still a long way from truly capturing the arcade original’s graphics and sprite handling. You have to remember the limitations of the hardware available at the time, and perhaps this is why Sega themselves never released a port on to the Mega Drive or Mega CD, despite releasing decent ports of AM2’s other Super Scaler’s, Out Run and After Burner.
In 1998 with the Saturn and its impressive sprite handling abilities at its disposal, Sega released an arcade perfect port of Power Drift on its Sega Ages label, and it is this port that I find myself happily glued to my seat playing. I just love the big bold graphics, pumping synth soundtrack and the pure simplicity of the gameplay. Even today, I think it still looks really impressive when you see the way the screen rotates, tilts, and throws the sprites around at such speed and so smoothly. No wonder, really, that Sega waited until there was a home system capable of doing the arcade original justice!
The Saturn port contains the original arcade game in all its glory, plus a Grand Prix mode, whereby you race across all 5 courses racking up race points based on your finish position. The game is just such a big nostalgia kick for me, they just do not make games like this anymore! With the choice of courses and driver’s, there is more variety than in Out Run, and from the time of original release, I cannot think of anything else that really offers what Power Drift does and how it does it. The sheer sprite handling is so impressive, with the course fly-by at the beginning of every race, to the roller coaster style layout of many of the stages, down to the scaling and rotation of your buggy when you crash… even SNK’s venerable Neo-Geo hardware would struggle to deal with the sprite handling on this game! The Saturn takes it all in it’s stride, and it’s a real testament to the arcade hardware that impressed so much all those years ago.
I’ve long felt that Power Drift has been left a bit under-rated by the years that have gone by since its original release. Remembered by many when you mention it, but otherwise rarely talked about; perhaps brought up as a footnote now and then when people are discussing other late ’80 Sega / AM2 games. The game was last featured on the Yu Suzuki Game Works compilation for the Dreamcast, which, although I’ve not played it, I assume is a further port of the Saturn version.
Many people recommend picking up a Saturn nowadays so that you can enjoy its impressive back catalogue of shoot-’em-ups, however, I would just as whole heartedly recommend getting a Saturn so that you can sit down and take yourself back to the ’80’s and Sega’s arcade heyday with perfect ports of Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and of course, Power Drift.