When I heard about Moero Downhill Night Blaze (and its recent Western release), it was described as a Japanese-made "adult 3D racer"—a description that sent my mind reeling. How do you make a game that is both a porn game and a racing game? My mind came up with more than a few "interesting" theories, but I knew that I just had to play it to know for sure. Unfortunately, the finished product was nowhere near what I imagined. Instead, Moero Downhill Night Blaze is a game that fails at being both an adult visual novel and a racing game.
When it comes down to it, the vast majority of Japanese erotic games are visual novels. The best of these—like Fate/Stay Night, for example—go on to mainstream success (though with the pornographic parts cut out). This is because, in some cases, the "adult" elements of the game are just a marketing tactic. Once experienced, the plot is strong enough to support the game all on its own; the porn is just a trick to get more people playing it.
So mixing the story aspects of an adult visual novel with a racing game is an intriguing idea if done right. Several fighting games—e.g., Project Justice and Persona 4 Ultimate Arena—have mixed visual novel-type storytelling with well-built fighting engines to great success. And as a person who loves story in games, regardless of genre, I was excited to see how this combination would work out. Sadly, the plot of Moero Downhill Night Blaze is that of…
Moero Downhill Night Blaze has perhaps the most cliché 80s sports movie plot of all time. The hero, who doesn't even own a car, dreams of being the best street racer in Japan by beating the current champ. Through skill and determination, he gets into the racing tournament, faces off against his honorable rival, overcomes the dirty tricks of an evil racer, and, in the end, wins the championship and, of course, the girl.
In fact, it's so terribly cliché—so mind numbingly predictable—that it almost becomes enjoyable again. You can see every plot twist coming from a mile away and the characters are so one note it is stunning. It eventually feels more like a parody of those types of films than anything else. And let's face it, when the final race involves strapping a jet engine to the bottom of the car from Initial D, you know at least some of it has to be tongue in cheek.
Moero Downhill Night Blaze is all over the place as far as the presentation goes. In the visual novel sections, the voice actors are pretty solid and the art/sprites are passable. However, there are a myriad of typos and formatting errors that plague the game from start to finish.
The racing presentation, on the other hand, is less of a mixed bag: everything just looks and sounds terrible. Even when the game came out originally in Japan back in 2007, it must have looked pretty bad. Repeated backgrounds with jagged textures and horrendous car models are just the start. In fact, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit on my PS1 looked better than this and it came out nearly a decade before. And don't get me started about the sound. The car engines are a grating half-second sound clip that is looped forever when you hit max speed.
The key interactive elements in any visual novel are the choose-your-own-adventure choices you make to guide the plot. In Moero Downhill Night Blaze there is really only one choice in the game: which female manager you choose. Or, rather, which girl you will be seeing in explicit sex scenes for the next few hours. In most visual novels like this, once you choose a girl you would be treated to a story more or less unique when compared with the others. Not in Moero Downhill Night Blaze though. No matter which girl you choose, the game is 90% the same (with the remaining 10% being sex scenes). It really is scene for scene, line for line identical. The only lines that are even slightly changed are the manager's—not that it really matters, as everyone else responds identically regardless of the manager you choose. Thus the story has little replay value aside from what your hormones can con you into. As for the racing gameplay...
Whenever I play a racing game, I ultimately don't compare it to the Forzas or Gran Turismos of the day. Rather, I compare it to the worst (and most infamous) commercially-sold racing game of all time: Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. Moero Downhill Night Blaze is, of course, not as bad as Big Rigs—I mean, it is a playable racing game after all—but it is certainly close.
You play each of the five courses three times, with the first two being you racing the clock and the final race being against AI-controlled cars. Of course, it really doesn't matter if there are any other racers or not as the other cars not only lack hit detection (meaning you can drive right through them) but also are so slow you'll never see them again after the first twenty seconds of the race (unless you lap them).
Your car, on the other hand, is "amazing" as rising elevations do not slow it down (nor does turning), and it seems to be the only car capable of drifting—though it's usually safer and faster to just let your foot off the gas.
The track designs themselves aren't so bad however, but they are often boring, especially considering how many times you play each track before you move on to the next.
Moero Downhill Night Blaze is neither a good racing game nor a good visual novel. Even keeping in mind that this game was released in 2007 doesn't really excuse the game's lack of quality. This is all the more a shame as the idea of mixing two completely different types of game was—and still is—an interesting idea; but the finished product reaches nowhere near this idea's potential. In the end, I'd only recommend this to those interested in seeing this train wreck in action—and maybe those few of you who just need another 80's sports movie plot in your lives.
Moero Downhill Night Blaze was released in English on December 11, 2012. It can be purchased at the JAST USA homepage (NSFW).