GameSpite Journal 12 will disappear like everything else you know when the world ends later this year, which is an even better reason than the coupon code WONDERFUL (which nets you 15% off through August 31 on our Blurb store) to pick up a copy posthaste. It’s not like you have much time left.
In the early 1980s, Sega already had two notable racing games to its credit: The overhead racer Monaco GP, and the “behind the car view” Turbo. Both were fairly traditional, in that your goal as a player was to drive really fast, stay on the road and avoid crashing into other cars. For Up ’n Down, the developers took a different approach.
Whether intentional or incidental, the game cribs the ability to jump and crush other cars from Data East’s Bump ’n Jump and lifts the “capture the flags” goal from Namco’s Rally-X. Add in enemy vehicle traffic and increasingly challenging obstacle course levels, and you have something that diverges from the typical driving game and starts to resemble the single-screen maze titles of the day.
In the game, you control a dune buggy from an isometric perspective on a course with various branching paths. You can speed up and slow down, and even go in reverse, but like a slot car, you are locked on to the road and cannot steer outright. You can pick your direction when the road forks, as well as can jump across gaps to access other paths—assuming you have enough forward momentum. As you encounter traffic, you can either avoid enemy cars or attempt to jump and crush them. The graphics are quite detailed for the time and have an almost 16-bit quality to them. The music, while initially catchy, loops quickly and can becoming irritating.
The first level establishes the basics of navigating the course, avoiding the other cars and collecting the required flags. Occasionally you’ll spot a “Flag Car” that you can squish as an alternate to some other flag on the track. If you miss a flag by picking the wrong path, you’ll have another chance as the course eventually loops. You’ll quickly learn to go full speed while driving up hills, to avoid sliding back down (usually into another vehicle).
Later levels add oncoming traffic, additional scenery and more devious courses. With various gaps in the later courses, jumping becomes essential. As you get familiar with the game, quickly picking the best path and maintaining the right speed both become keys to surviving to the next round. The game also uses risk and reward to great effect. Can you make that jump, squish that enemy car, and grab the last flag? The answer most likely involves a wrecked dune buggy, but I guarantee you that when the situation arises, it will be so candy-like and inviting, that you’re going to try it anyway, at least once.
While Up ’n Down becomes difficult rather quickly (after all, it is designed to eat your quarters), the variety of the levels and the generally playful tone of the whole thing combine into something infectious. It certainly offers more than just beating the high score, and as a genre mashup, it stands out, even among the surreal sea of other ’80s arcade games.
Article by Ben Langberg
GameSpite Journal 12: Up ‘N Down