Released on the Super NES in December 1994, Uniracers let the players race as fast as they could with a unicycle and no one on top of it. If it could appear odd at first, we quickly went past that detail and simply enjoyed the game. Furthermore, it uses the same kind of technology as Donkey Kong Country meaning that high-resolution 3D models were rendered on a high end machine—most likely from Silicon Graphics—to be then downgraded, transferred and used in a Super Nintendo cartridge. Although the game boasted of having beautiful graphics—that still hold up to this day—they came at the background’s expense. Therefore the tracks are seemingly all the same and the checkered texture feels out of place, like a placeholder. Not to take away the impressive feat of bringing such shiny graphics for the tracks and the cycles of course.
But, as fun as the game is, especially the stunts Tony Hawk-y part, I’m not here to tell you about it. Maybe you never even heard of this masterpiece as Ars Technica called it in a 2011 paper they published. Just know that there’s a reason for that or 300,000 thousands of them. And most importantly, a culprit: Pixar. The company founded in 1986 and later saved by Steve Jobs had released a computer animated film called Red’s Dream in 1987. Written and directed by John Lasseter, who would later write and direct Toy Story, it tells the rather sad story of a bright red unicycle dreaming of being the main attraction of a circus. Although DMA Design sure knew about the film, the unicycle is the only commonality between the two productions. Uniracers didn’t have any story as it focused solely on the gameplay. However, it didn’t stop Pixar from filing a lawsuit against the Scottish company on the grounds that the unicycle were essentially the same.
As it turned out, the pre-Rockstar DMA Design chose to fight what can only be described as nonsense. But Pixar was stronger and had more money. One of the developer who took part in the trial, Mike Dailly, still can’t digest how it turned out: “We modelled the unicycle exactly, based on a real life unicycle. The problem with Pixar was that they seemed to think that any computer generated unicycle was owned by them. They took footage from Red’s Dream and compared it to Unirally and the unicycles were virtually the same; this isn’t a big surprise as there’s not a lot of ways you can bring life to a unicycle without looking like the one Pixar did. The judge – being the moron that he was – agreed. While it was a unicycle, and did look similar, I think he should have looked at the game as a whole. If he had, then he would have noticed that the game was a completely different environment, and the ‘character’ of the unicycle just wasn’t the same.”*
DMA Design eventually lost this battle and Nintendo, their publisher, had to refrain from producing any more copies of Uniracers. The 300,000 initial run would remain the only sales the game would ever see as it was never re-released in any other shape or form. Whether it would be the Virtual Console or any compilation, Uniracers would remain an orphan of what could have become an interesting series.
*Source: GamesTM issue 64