The Fair Shake

Turbo: Colecovision

Drivers, start your engines. The Fair Shake 500 is about to begin. Carl is setting the pace. Can you keep up? This week we’ll be discussing Turbo the arcade driving game as released for the Colecovision. Originally released in 1981 by Sega, the arcade game set many milestones with it’s development, such as being the first racing game to feature changing weather. There was an, until recently, unfinished and unreleased conversion for the Atari 2600. (It has since been completed). Also released were ports to the Intellivision, and the topic of this week, the Colecovision.

The seated controller looks like an old school cell phone.

One cannot discuss Turbo on the Coleco without mentioning the steering wheel controller for the Coleco. The official name for the controller is “Expansion Module #2” (#1 was the Atari 2600 cartridge adapter). While Atari had paddle controllers for driving, Coleco went all the way with this.  The wheel is battery powered with several C batteries. It’s a fairly simple device that ingeniously has a place to snap the standard Coleco controller into. Turbo uses this controller as the gear shift. The wheel itself is a little small compared to modern gaming wheels, and if you have bigger than average hands, they make have a little trouble adapting to the wheel, as it’s mounted close to the ‘dashboard’. The pedal is an ‘on off’ device; there is no sensitivity for part throttle. This may sound crude, but for the time, it was a great controller. This controller alone takes the ho-hum game Turbo and and drives it at reckless speeds directly into Engaging Experienceville.

Pedal to the metal….. errrrrrrrrr. Plastic.

The games description in the instruction manual is fairly straightforward. “As in the popular Sega arcade game, you press down on a real accelerator foot pedal to speed over city, country and mountain roads. Twist and spin your steering wheel to swerve past oil slicks, cars and speeding ambulances. Shift down into low gear to negotiate dangerous seaside road curves and icy conditions on snowy highways. Coleco’s special Expansion Module #2 turns your Control Stick into a gear shift and features an accelerator foot pedal and steering wheel. It gives you the thrill of a genuine road race!” Where is this road race? Why are we racing? Why are the buildings painted in such bright colors?

Ah yes, the old “Funky City vs Megatrees” circuit.

Turbo on Coleco is a racing game that combines a clock with other race cars. You must pass 30 cars within 99 seconds. Repeat ad infinitum. Points are accumulated as you drive and pass cars. You must race in high gear to pass other cars. Low gear is good for slowing down quickly. Thankfully, for the most part, the road course is straight. The road changes into a ‘curve’ that can be tricky to navigate. An ambulance will ocasionally appear behind you and increase speed. Crashing will cost you some time and depending on the game level set, crashing could cost a life. Like the later game Enduro on the Atari 2600, Turbo features different weather states. For example, the  road can be sheeted over with ice, making your car difficult to control.

Graphically, Turbo on the Colecovision  is “fair”. In typical Colecovision fashion, the on screen graphics just can’t hold a candle to the actual arcade game. Smooth scrolling of a background is not the system’s strong suit. Colors are nice and bright, with the buildings actually somewhat trippy as they scroll by. This game was released before seizures were an issue. The road is featureless, as is the sky. Cars are identifiable as cars, and the buildings, while not ‘arcade correct’, do have a unique look that fits with the style of the overall game.

Arcade > Coleco

Thanks to the responsive wheel controller, play control is fairly decent in this home conversion. The pedal control is an on off type switch in a nice housing. Part throttle is not possible. It’s fairly easy to compensate for, with some slow or quick tapping of the pedal. My main gripes are the steering wheel is too small compared to the arcade unit, or modern home steering controllers, the pedal is a little light, so it moves around fairly easily, which can be bad during an intense game, and the controller-as-shifter can be a little awkward at first.

“But what about the sounds?” Yeah, the sounds. About them. As my father is apt to describe early 1990’s import cars with oversized mufflers, the car in Turbo sounds like ‘a fart in a tin can’. It’s true. Try it sometime, then play the game. It’s actually somewhat disappointing, as that’s really the only sound of consequence in this game. No music or introduction diddy, just some beeps for passing cars and so on. Indy 500 for the Atari 2600 sounds like a real life NASCAR event compared to this.

I recently picked up a Coleco and a wheel specifically so I could play Turbo. Having grown up with the arcade game, I was curious to see how the home version fared. I gave it The Fair Shake. When the Coleco comes out in my game room, Turbo and the Expansion Pack #2 are not far behind. I rank it “not quite Enduro for the Atari 2600”. Even with the sounds, the steering wheel adds some gameplay depth that is simply not possible with Enduro. La Grange, by ZZ Top should be in your music device of choice while playing Turbo, among other songs. Otherwise, you’ll zone out on the constant drone of the engine. I suppose in my little dream world, the Coleco wheel would easily work with the Atari 2600, and two player action would be possible with Indy 500, but alas…