An Interesting Past – Super Sprint

Last week we covered Ivan Ironman Stewart’s Super Off Road, a game many describe as Super Sprint, but on dirt with trucks. So, this week let’s take a closer look at Super Sprint – a game with an interesting history.

Released in 1986, Super Sprint was a successor to the previously released game simply title Sprint. Sprint and Super Sprint utilized many of the distinct features that would find their way into Super Off Road years later. The entire track was visible on screen, presented in a top down format. Whereas Sprint had a stand-up arcade cabinet with two steering wheels attached, Super Sprint had three steering wheels, allowing up to three people to play at once.

The goal in Super Sprint was to win races on one of eight tracks with increasingly difficult opponents. The track themselves featured obstacles to avoid like oil slicks and roving tornadoes. Wrenches would also spawn on track, and once three were collected, they could be used to upgrade a car’s acceleration, top speed or cornering ability.

This all sounds eerily familiar as Super Off Road basically copied every aspect mentioned to this point. Super Sprint did differ in a few ways, and no, I don’t mean because players were driving open-wheel racecars on asphalt.

The tracks had shortcuts that would open and close and random intervals – time it wrong and a player would smash their car to bits instead of getting an advantage. When a player did crash their car, a helicopter would fly a replacement car in so they could continue playing. Of course, this process was time consuming and would put the player far behind the competition.

From Arcade to NES, Illegally

I was a bit too young to play Super Sprint at the arcade, but I do remember spending hours playing it on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The funny thing is, the game never should have been released on the NES at all.

Back in the 1980s Atari wanted to create games for non-Atari personal computers and consoles. The brand created a subsidiary called Tengen that was tasked with this mission. One of the consoles the company wanted to port Atari games over to was the NES.

Nintendo at the time had a very restrictive licensing agreement in place for third party developers. Tengen wasn’t too keen to follow these rules, but circumventing the licensing agreement to produce a game independently for the NES wasn’t easy. Nintendo had installed a sophisticated lockout chip into each NES that prevented unlicensed games from being played.   

In a sneaky move, Tengen reached out to the US Copyright Office and asked for a copy of the 10NES code under false pretenses. Basically, the company lied to the US government in order to obtain the coding used in Nintendo’s Lockout chip. Once the code was cracked, Tengen was able to begin producing games for the NES.

For about a year, customers benefited from this as Tengen was able to release Atari games on the NES like Super Sprint, Shinobi, After Burner, and Ms. Pac-Man. As expected, Nintendo countered with lawsuits and ultimately shut Tengen down from making any more NES cartridges.

So, there you have it. Super Sprint was basically being copied by one competitor, while at the same time it was getting illegally ported onto another competitor’s console. The ‘80s sure were a wild and crazy time for the video game industry.

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