Jester Interactive’s 2005 Isle of Man TT simulator on the PlayStation 2 is still one of the best motorcycle simulators around.
TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing was developed and published by Jester Interactive, receiving a European release in 2005 for the PlayStation 2. It was later renamed ‘Suzuki TT: Superbikes’ for the North American market and I’m here to tell you, it was a doozy.
Although Jester Interactive had created the successful ‘Music‘ franchise – including a tie-in with MTV – surprisingly it had only created one other racing title before their Isle of Man TT (IOM TT) simulator. The game spawned two direct sequels in 2008; a follow-up in TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing Championship (TTS: RRRC), and a historic bike version called TT Legends (TTS: RRC).
The latter expanded the series’ track selection, featuring Road Racing classics like the North West 200, Oliver’s Mount, Aberdare Park, the Ulster Grand Prix circuit, and the epic Macau street circuit.
These joined the full IOM TT course and the Billown Southern 100 layout also found in the original game.
Upon release, many critics loved TT Superbikes’ sensation of speed, its motorcycle physics and the accuracy of the overall IOMTT experience, but many bemoaned its difficulty and lack of variety.
Despite the mixed reviews, many gamers still regard TT Superbikes as the absolute benchmark for Isle of Man TT games, even despite Kylotonn’s recent TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge efforts.
So, this begs the question, why are TT Superbikes and its sequels so highly regarded by sim fans?
It’s just like riding a bike…
I’d always loved watching the IOM TT – being Scottish my obvious TT hero was Steve Hislop – and seeing all the riders blasting through the village of Kirk Michael at speeds of 150mph+ was etched into my memory from a very young age thanks to Duke’s peerless VHS review compilations (I am over 30 years old, dear reader).
Your first thoughts when playing TT Superbikes will run along the lines of: “this is fast”, “this is impossibly fast”, and “I wonder what second gear feels like”.
The game nails both the sensation of speed and the difficulty. You’ll soon grow weary of the number of crashes you have – a more casual gamer will have given up after their tenth-successive trip down Bray Hill on their face.
But, if you’re a hardcore sim-fan like me, you’ll persevere and begin to understand the bike physics: you need to feather the throttle over crests; you need to shift your rider’s weight under braking to prevent an epic race-ending endo; (a Rendo?) and you have to short-shift and/or use the rear brake exiting slow corners so you don’t end up in a Manx hedge.
And then once you’ve mastered all of these techniques, you’ll still end up crashing.
However, you can just get back on the bike and try again. Unlike the real world, where the wait is a bit longer. Normally three to six months of rehab longer…
The game does offer extra help with auto-braking and automatic gears, but for me, this detracts from the overall experience and is perhaps only really useful for the most powerful bikes. The 125cc bikes are a good place to start, and can be controlled easily; they never get to the silly 190mph+ speeds of the superbikes!
ISLE OF MAN-Y RACES (apologies)
Critics of TT Superbikes pointed to its lack of variety, which is a fair point. But to have the 37.73-mile IOM TT circuit in all its glory on PS2 hardware was a feat in itself, so dedicated fans didn’t mind in the slightest.
There are a lot of events, so you’ll need to be dedicated or insane to play through every single event, and there are only two circuits (the Billown circuit appears with a reverse direction layout, so technically three tracks in total).
There are also special events in which you race against real-life TT heroes. Beating them unlocks their leathers, boots and motorcycles, like some kind of sim racing Terminator.
These, plus the plain nuts ‘Mad Sunday’ mode, add a little variety, but players still faced racing the same track again and again, with the only difference being the cc of the bike engine.
But then there are the sidecars…
This game features a two-player split-screen mode, but your options are limited to racing against a friend over 37 miles or dodging two-way traffic in ‘Mad Sunday’ mode. Neither option is really workable with two players, owing to the extra strain on the graphics engine, but the best fun is had when two players operate the same sidecar outfit.
Essentially, player one steers and controls throttle and brake, while the second player controls the sidecar passenger movement, leading to some hilarious miscommunications as someone decides to lean right while a sixth gear left-hander looms menacingly…
The difficult second album
I excitedly pre-ordered the sequel, TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing Championship (TTS: RRRC), and upon my first playthrough, I wondered if anything had changed. The answer was: not really.
Sure, the graphics were a little tidier, but the music and menu sounds were exactly the same. The core bike physics were still there, complete with a full roster of Road Racing tracks; thereby addressing some of the content criticisms of its predecessor.
The sequel also allowed the player more freedom to pick and choose the kind of race they wanted, offering reverse direction layouts for all tracks… as if Macau wasn’t hard enough the normal way round! Wet weather was still an option too thankfully.
Perhaps TTS: RRRC was the game TT Superbikes should’ve been? Regardless, Jester Interactive went on to release a historic motorcycle version, titled TT Legends, but this was fairly limited in scope, and these days would pass as DLC rather than a full release.
The IOM TT gained new videogame representation in 2018, with TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge, followed by a sequel in 2020. Although developers Kylotonn nailed the sense of speed and accuracy of the TT course, the bike handling was still not convincing enough for me – it felt like they’d tried to shoehorn the car physics of its WRC series into it.
It simply didn’t feel like the bike was pivoting from the centre of the rider’s body onto the tyres, falling into the ‘floaty feeling’ trap most bike games do. Sega also had a go at making an IOM TT game, coming up with the arcade racer Manx TT Superbike in 1995, with a Sega Saturn version arriving in 1997, but this certainly wasn’t pitched as a simulation and didn’t feature a realistic depiction of the TT course.
You could ride a sheep for goodness’ sake…
For me, the beauty of TT Superbikes was the sensation it fed back to you. It felt like the bike was under your control. The engine RPM rises as the bike leans over into Ballagarey, (commonly known as ‘Ballascary’ on account of how leather-fillingly frightening it is) while going over a crest with a bit of steering lock results in a convincing chassis-wiggle until centrifugal force gradually brings the bike under control.
Don’t get me wrong, it had its flaws; the sounds were of their time, the presentation was dated, and the learning curve was steeper than Snaefell Mountain. However, if you persevered and let your passion for the IOM TT take over, there was a hugely rewarding gaming experience underneath.
This passion for the TT shone through in Jester Interactive’s games; they had a large collection of rider tuition videos, photos and other collectables in-game, but it was the speed and physics that demonstrated their understanding of what makes the IOM TT wonderful.
If you managed to nail a full, clean lap on a Superbike, you’d feel like King of the Mountain.
And that’s what a great sim is all about.