A lot of video game racing fans will remember this title fondly. It was one of the first games to truly capture Formula One into a digital format. For its time, Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II was a very authentic game. There was a 16-race world championship circuit with real the racetracks. It included qualifying (preliminary race), multiple teams of various levels of skill, rivalries, pit stops and even weather.
Launched in 1992, as the title suggests, it was developed with the help of the 1991 F1 champion Ayrton Senna. It wasn’t just a branding exercise either as Senna actually made suggestions to give the game a better sense of speed and realism compared to the original Super Monaco GP game.
Senna was also included in game. He was the main adversary in the World Championship mode and his voice could be throughout the game shouting phrases at the player like Keep it Up, C’mon, Final Lap. If sporadic sound clips weren’t enough, players did have the ability to go into the options screen and scroll through these words, having Senna say them over and over. It was like a bad remix of a Speak and Spell.
Like Real F1
There were three main game modes. Free Practice, World Championship and Senna GP. The latter involved three Senna-designed fantasy racecourses that players could test their skills on. But the real meat and potatoes of the game was the World Championship.
It included 16 races at various real-life tracks throughout the world. Like has always been the case with F1, not all cars were created equal. The game featured sixteen teams each running one car. The teams were separated into tiers, with D being the lowest, then C, B, and A. The highest tier was S which included just one team, MADONNA. This was the car driven by Ayrton Senna.
Each team had full specifications on their car; its engine, power, handling, tires, aero, etc. Much like Grand Theft Auto, the names used for the teams, engines and chassis were all made up names, but mimicked real-world ones.
Rival Your Way Up
Players began the season on a low tier C team. Before each race, there was the option to pick a rival to race. The Player could pick any rival in the game, but because of the performance disparity in the game, it was best to start by picking a car from the B tier.
During the race there was always a display indicating the player’s racing position as well as the rival’s racing position. If the player beat their rival a few times, the rival’ team would offer the player to join their team instead. So, by rivalling better teams, and winning, it was possible to be on a tier A team by mid-season.
Getting on better teams meant having faster cars, but it also meant the lower tier teams would rival the player from time to time. Lose too many of these races and the player got demoted down to a worse team. I remember sucking so bad at this game that a few races into a championship I would be racing in the D tier.
Hard to Master
The gameplay was fast paced and required quick reactions. It elevated the usual stationary car, rolling track racing game style that was still popular at the time. Although the sensation of the car moving instead of the track was still missing, the player did feel more in control of their car.
Braking wasn’t required for the majority of the courses, as only the tightest of corners required a stab of the braking button. If using the full seven-speed manual transmission mode, downshifts sounded quite cool and realistic. All other car sound effects were less than stellar with the player’s car sounding like a vacuum while opponents cars sounded like a swarm of angry bees.
Regardless of how good a player was, a bit of fun could be had at the finish as the guy waving the checkered flag would be standing on the track. If timed right, it was possible to punt this digitized guy way off into the horizon.
If one did learn to master this game and win the World Championship, Senna’s digitized self would come up in the paddock and raise the player’s hand in victory. There would then be a screen with his picture and scrolling text congratulating the player and how they would dominate F1 for years to come. It was a cool end to an authentic-for-its-time game but would take on new meaning and somberness just a few years later.