Automobili Lamborghini

Developer: Titus
Publisher: Titus / Taito (JP)
Released: November 30 1997
Regions: NA, PAL, JP
Genre: Racing
Multiplayer: 1-4 players
Cart Size: 8MB / 64Mb
Saving: Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
It's like Need for Speed, but with fewer brand names

If there's one thing to be said about the N64, it's that it sure has its fair share of racing games. Most of the popular genres are covered. There are kart racers, simulators, arcade ports and destruction racers, just to name a few. As the N64 matured over the years, all these genres and more would populate the N64 library. Back in the early days though, the selection wasn't nearly as varied. One of the earlier racing games was Automobili Lamborghini, an arcade-style racer with licensed cars. It's most definitely inspired by the contemporary arcade racing games of the time, but that isn't its only inspiration.

Automobili Lamborghini may have its roots in a similar title for the SNES, titled "Lamborghini American Challenge", which was spun off from the Crazy Cars series on MS-DOS, but much of Automobili feels more Need for Speed II, which was first released in March 1997. Not only for the particular car handling and use of scenic real world-ish tracks, but also due to the use of real, brand name cars, Automobili Lamborghini ends up feeling like a clone. That would be the case here... If Titus actually had the real names for the different cars. Apparently, the Japanese release seems to have fully licensed cars, with actual names and such. In the US version however, that was all removed. The most confusing part of all of this is that the game itself is called "Automobili Lamborghini". That's the formal name of the company most people know as simply "Lamborghini", so why couldn't Titus include the names of the cars? How can they have a game named after a copyright and still have nameless cars which are clearly made by Lamborghini?

When you first start the game, you can play by yourself, or with up to four players. There are four play modes, those being Arcade, Championship, Single Race and Time Trial. The arcade mode plays a couple different tracks back-to-back, whereas the Championship mode covers multiple tracks. It's also the mode where extra cars can be unlocked. Everything is saved onto a Controller Pak. Single Race and Time Trial are self explanatory. In each track, there is a pit-stop option. When it is enabled, the game plays a bit more like Daytona USA. The car tires can wear down or your fuel can run low. In either situation, you have to swing by the pit-stop. It's not an automatic event though, you have to push buttons to get the pit crew to do anything. The various unlockable cars aren't actually made by Lamborghini, such as the Porsche 959, Dodge Viper, McLaren F1, Ferrari Testarossa and the Bugatti EB110, but just like the two Lamborghini cars, none are named. That it still just baffling...

Automobili Lamborghini is about as simple as most other arcade-style racers on the N64. The control stick moves the car, the A button is the throttle and the B button is the brake. There is also a handbrake available, but it's mapped to C-Right. Why it couldn't be the Z Button or something more easily reachable, I'll never know. Camera angles are assigned to the D-pad and pressing C-Up makes the camera look behind the car. In the options menu, there's a setting for full or semi analog control, so that certainly offers an alternate mode of play (more difficult I should say). There is even steering wheel support, which is a nice selling point. The track and car selections are pretty basic, but the lack of any names ends up complicating things.

Quite possibly the oddest feature though, is the Viewer mode, accessible when you pause in the middle of a race. This mode simply lets you move the camera around the car in two dimensions. It's a bit of a letdown though. It doesn't even remove all the HUD display items like the map and speedometer. I can sort of see where Titus was going with this, taking photos of slick looking cars in neat environments, but it doesn't really add much to the racing experience itself. Not only that, it feels like wasted potential.

Perhaps the most important aspect of any game though, is how well it plays. First off, the analog stick movement tends to be a bit jumpy. Not much effort is required to send the car careening into the guard rails. With a bit of practice though, you'll gain a gentle thumb. Much like any game, you need to brake or handbrake in the sharp turns. Also, the camera tilts a bit whenever you steer the car, which is pretty annoying and doesn't really add to the game. The computer controlled cars are pretty brutal in difficulty though. One bad turn and you'll be left in the dust in most cases.

Concerning the graphics, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The textures are usually pretty detailed and the polygon count seems good, but there is some inconsistency between courses. One of the simpler, circular courses, has some fog and a bit of an overcast appearance, making the game look pretty dull. On one of the more complicated tracks though, there's no fog but instead is some slowdown here and there. It's hard to say which is better, but the lack of consistency between courses is rather strange. Where Automobili Lamborghini gets its visuals right, it's a pretty competent-looking racer. On the less than stellar tracks though, the game won't win any beauty contests.

The music and sound effects are pretty good though. There's even some voice here and there. The car/engine sounds aren't grating either. The soundtrack is reasonably clear and the selection of music is nice. Most of the race track clips are techno-ish, which incidentally makes Automobili Lamborghini feel even more like Need For Speed II. I don't know if the inspiration here was intentional or not, but at times it really feels more than just a coincidence.

Getting to the bottom line though, Automobili Lamborghini is certainly a decent effort at a licensed racing game, by a company not known for quality releases no less, but it's not the best in the sub-genre. Better arcade-style racing games came along after it. Even Cruis'n USA, released before Lamborghini, was a bit better in some regards, arguably. The parallels with Need For Speed II at times makes Automobili Lamborghini feel like a cash-in clone. The graphic and sound quality is pretty good all around, except for some rough patches here and there. What hurts this game a lot though, is the lack of names for the cars and race tracks. It makes identification difficult, it cheapens the game and the brand this game is even named after. Still, for what it's worth, Automobili Lamborghini is a decent way to get your racing fix in luxurious cars. It's not great but not outright bad either. It's kind of cool even, to be playing quasi-Need for Speed on the N64. The steering wheel and 4 player support are nice additions too. The game is pretty cheap too, even with the box and manual. To put it simply, it's worth a playthrough.

Presentation: 5.0
The cars aren't named at all, neither are the tracks. There's no excuse for that. Still, there are some decent production values in this game, nothing spectacular but not outright lazy either.

Graphics: 7.0
The visuals are pretty decent for their time, especially the textures, only problem is the overall graphical quality differs between tracks.

Sound: 7.0
Pretty atypical soundtrack for a mid 90s racing game, mostly techno sounding. The quality is reasonably good though and at least there's actual music. The car and engine sounds aren't irritating either.

Gameplay: 7.5
The touchy steering takes a bit of getting used to, and the location of the handbrake function is mapped to a very inconvenient place, but at least there's steering wheel and 4 player support. The computer controlled racers tend to be ridiculously difficult to compete with.

Lasting Appeal: 7.0
Outside of the championship mode, there isn't a whole lot to keep one coming back for more, unless you end up liking Automobili Lamborghini enough to never tire from playing the same small handful of courses again and again. The 4 player mode is a nice addition though.

Overall: 6.7

Written by Aaron Wilcott
August 17 2012