This is it, my official introduction to racing games. I was probably four or five years old when I first saw my friend playing this game on his shiny new Commodore, and it was memorizing. He would hit buttons on this board full of letters and numbers, and it would control this small car on a TV-like screen in front of him. What was this witchcraft?
It may be hard for anyone to fathom that was born in the last 35 years, but computers and video game consoles were a rarity and an oddity in the early 1980s. Until seeing this Commodore my friend owned, the only experience I ever had with computers was the Apple II my Dad brought home at the end of June from the school he worked at so it wouldn’t be stolen during the summer break. My sister and I would play the shit out of Oregon Trail on that bad boy. My job was to flip the cassette tape.
But back to Motor Mania. Released in 1982, it was an O.G. Commodore game. It involved driving a small car-like figure on a vertically scrolling track for as long as possible. It was a simple premise; the further one drove, the higher the score they achieved.
The game was surprisingly complex though. To start, the track kept changing. The player started at a gas station and proceeded onto a multi-lane freeway. But suddenly, without warning, the road would shrink in half to a much narrower roadway, or even descend into a one-lane dirt road. The latter would require the player to slow down to be able to negotiate the various back and forth corners.
Besides the changing road conditions, there were also obstacles to avoid like the usual roadside hazards such as a trio of flying rocks, lane blocking logs, opponents’ cars, oil spills and glass shards. If that weren’t enough, at some intersections a fire truck would come screaming by that would require full lock-up braking to avoid at times.
Players had four lives per game and would lose one if they crashed. As an added layer of difficulty, there also existed a fuel gauge that players needed to keep an eye on to ensure it didn’t run out. Refueling was simple enough as a quick drive through the gas station would do the trick.
Couldn’t Get Enough
As could be expected for a five-year-old, I was utterly useless at this game. But I couldn’t get enough. Every time I visited my friend’s house, we would head straight to the computer, have his mom boot up the game off the 5 ¼ floppy disk, and spend an undisclosed amount of time in Motor Mania bliss.
We would see who could make it further down the track before we ran out of lives. We were mesmerized by how far his older brother and friends could make it. The game seemed like endless fun and was the gateway drug to my lifelong addiction of car racing video games.
I’ve gone back and played it more recently and gotten much better at it (30+ years’ experience will do that). Although laughably rudimentary by today’s standards, nostalgia is a hell of a drug and I still had a giant grin the entire I was playing it.