The Game: It’s a duel for dune buggy supremacy, and it won’t be easy. Drivers must contend not only with other drivers, but with dangerous terrain (sand hills that can launch a buggy into mid-air with little or no control over where it might land), killer obstacles including rocks and fence posts, and the amazing ease of losing all sense of direction. (Taito, 1984)
Memories: A fairly obscure first-person racer from Taito, Buggy Challenge is visually impressive, but in an era when it seemed like arcade game manufacturers were desperately trying to add complexity to control schemes – after all, a complex control scheme will probably get players “killed” more often, forcing more coin drop – Buggy Challenge most outstanding feature may be its blissful simplicity. There’s a gas pedal and a steering wheel. Try not to hit stuff that will cause the dune buggy to blow up. It really is that simple.
Simple doesn’t mean easy, however – essential to arriving at the finish line on schedule and intact is the ability to follow the “northern star” always indicating the correct path through the game’s hazardous track. It’s easier to lose track of this all-important indicator than one might expect, especially with the more immediate hazards zooming past at ground level. The unpredictability of jumping a sand hill adds to the disorientation factor, especially when a larger hill results in an airborne barrel roll; even jumping a small hill increases the odds of forward momentum bringing the player’s car to a lethal landing on top of something that isn’t a sand hill.
Buggy Challenge seemed to go unnoticed in the arcades, where a steady stream of flashy first-person racing games had been arriving since Turbo and Pole Position duked it out to cross the finish line, but its simplicity hides an addictive racing game that might’ve gotten more love (and more quarters) had it gotten into the race a bit earlier.