One of the biggest disappointments of my life came when I was about seven or eight years old. I think it was Halloween, but it might have been Christmas, and occurred at a fancy dress party held at our local parish church. Now my mum is dead good at sewing and had spent days working on what turned out to be an absolutely top wizard's outfit - pointy hat, moon-and-stars jacket, magic wand - the lot. I was a bit shy as a lad and didn't really want to go, but after a little persuasion and the threat of a spanked bottom, along I toddled in all my regalia.
On arriving my mood improved almost instantly, not only because I spied the Grandstand "Pong" video game and numerous chocolate treats that constituted the prizes, but because all the other kids' outfits were completely cack. Well I was laughing, I can tell you, as that sorry bunch of misfits traipsed hopelessly around the parish hall in dress that looked about as fancy as a Michael Foot overcoat. Pong was mine for the taking!
When it was time for the prize giving I sat between my parents with a smug grin on my greedy little face - a grin that would soon turn to utter disbelief as some girl or other from my class at school was ushered towards the makeshift stage and presented with the fabled Pong as a reward for her pathetic-looking fairy outfit.
"But well done to everybody, especially Paul Roundell - and his mum!" boomed our compere jovially. All was not lost - at least I'd won the sweets. "And now ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause to our infants for last week's smashing play." He continued, whereupon a dozen or so five-year-olds trooped towards the front to be dutifully furnished with spangles and Texan Chew Bars. Scandal! The sweets were for the kiddies and I would go home empty handed for there was... No... Second... Prize...
Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong - now renamed the Sega Master System - and Thalion are taking a bit of a risk in thrusting yet another racing game into a market already overcrowded with mediocre offerings. If No Second Prize is to have a hope in hell of raking in a decent chunk of the Christmas loot it will have to provide us with substantially more entertainment than the vast majority of its predecessors.
It does - in fact I think it's safe to say it's one of the very best racing sims around, and it even has a story. The most completely fabulous one-of-a-kind biketastic dreamcycle in the world is up for grabs - the owner is unknown but has offered his machine as a prize to whoever proves themselves as the best motorcycle racer in the cosmos.
Competition has been narrowed down to just six riders who must now race head to head for the ultimate supremacy. You can choose whichever rider you want to be - some are particularly good on bends, or may be very fast, while others have a high hit point count, meaning they can sustain all manner of damage and continue racing unabashed.
After making this momentous decision you will then need to decide how to set up your bike. Basically this involves choosing a sensitivity setting for the mouse - no joystick option at all, which is a bit of a shame - and locking the gears onto either manual or automatic. Having done this, you're ready to race.
There are 20 tracks in all, and you must chug bravely round them all for points - coming last actually results in a deduction from your overall score.
Chug really wasn't the right word to use at all, as the game is incredibly fast. Viewed from a 3D driver's eye perspective, it will have you and anyone watching swaying from side to side as you swing around bends, under bridges and into surprised bystanders.
Changing gear manually involves toggling a couple of the keys, and is a bit tricky at first considering control is by mouse. The game has a replay mode, and you can watch your hopelessness from four separate angles including from a chopper - I enjoyed playing the replay backwards as it gave me the impression that I was actually overtaking someone.
Graphics and sound are pretty much what you would expect from this kind of game, but how could I complain when it's as fast as this?
Since my last encounter with a real motorbike resulted in treatment for abrasions in a Greek hospital, I might not be the best person to advise you about the difficulty, but it does seem very hard. In the races I did manage to finish I came sixth out of six every single time - there's nothing at all wrong with the control, once mastered - it's just hard.
Hard it may be - but I played it sold for many hours without becoming ever slightly frustrated and I'm dying for another go right now. Well done Thalion of producing one of the best racers I've seen.