Once you press start after inserting a coin, we get a brief intro.
Look at all the little sprites! So tiny! So adorable! Who knew the post-apocalypse could be so cute?
Here's the letter in full, too. Luckily it seems the path ahead is a straight line so we won't get lost.
Area 1 - Peace Village
Gaming Hell's Par Time - 1:20
You've got about four seconds to acclimatise yourself to the controls, because after that enemy cars are gonna be all over you. The path is pretty much linear at the start, but if you want to waste as little time as possible, ignore the first cage. Leaving a hostage behind is kinda cold, but all he's holding is a 2000 point bonus, what you really want are the next set of hostages, with Spanner and Gun power-ups. For the most part, this opening section is very simple and linear, and introduces you to several key enemies, so let's talk about them. For a start, the biege cars are your most basic enemy who attack by ramming you (if they have their pincers out on the front of their car, this will do more damage) or shooting at you. If you want to keep moving, you can usually swerve past them- a full 360 of the control stick ought to do that, and you can take potshots at them while you're at it. Get practice in while you can, swerving like this will be very important! The other common enemy is the orange truck, which can only move left or right in a small area, but tracks your movements and if it rams into you, it'll trap you and your health meter will plummet. They're fairly easy to take out- just a few shots- but practice your swerving here by leading them one way then doubling-back and zipping past them. Another thing you can practice here is using the blue barrels- you can sort-of set up traps for normal cars by crashing into blue barrles, as when they land they'll become red barrels!
Around the mid-point of the stage is you'll get a fork in the road- go right! The path to the left is actually a tiny bit easier (it's mostly giant pits that launch cannonballs at you) and while the right isn't exactly easy- being riddled with bomb-carrying mine-carts and shell launchers that will destroy your car in one hit, and the cannon-launching pits- it does have a First-Aid Kit for you to pick up, which you're probably desperate for by this point. A full tank of gas (read: full health meter) is what'll get you ahead in this savage world, so always go for it. Both routes also have the Hammer, probably the most important item on any stage as it halves damage that you take. Combine that with two Spanner upgrades and you're far less likely to blow up. Needless to say, they're your priority on the later stages. Just pootle on through here but take note of those shell launchers- you'll be seeing them later, and you will learn to hate them. The same goes for the big rig you see in the middle screenshot- easy now, but wait until later...
Near the end of the stage, this giant truck will show up- you might recognise it from the intro- and as well as probably being based on the giant oil tanker from the end of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (well, I mean, probably), it also ushers in one of the stranger bits of The Speed Rumbler, the auto-scrolling sections. While the rig trundles up the screen, it'll slowly force the screen to scroll too, so you have to stay with it and try not to fall behind, but don't bother pelting it with shots- it's indestructible, so just avoid it. Don't try and outrun it either, as it'll speed up and you'll probably run into it by mistake. Luckily this section isn't particularly long, as the rig will eventualy find a building to park in, but it does feel really weird with this game's controls. Afterwards, it's back to a pretty straight path, but watch out for the purple missile launchers- just zoom past them but be careful they don't hit you, as they hurt.
After reaching the end of an area, you'll be greeted by a team of survivors while a jaunty theme plays.
You'll get some bonus points depending on how fast your lap time was, and that time also gets subtracted from the 24 hours you have before the deadline's up- yes, that does actually factor into the game! The minutes and seconds are treated as hours and minutes, so if you made the par time of 1:20, you'll have 22:40 left on the clock. However, you'll only evert get 3:59 taken away from the total maximum as at 4:00 you time out, die and restart the area. The deadline won't actually matter in the end, though, as anyone who can do the numbers on this will quickly figure out. I'm not so I'll leave it to you, dear reader.
Anyway, here's the bad news- those survivors seemingly ransack your car as you start the next area with no upgrades.
So basically like Gradius Syndrome except you're losing those upgrades whether you die or not.
Area 2 - Rock Valley
Gaming Hell's Par Time - 1:40
Still, Completely Normal Joe has to just chin up and soldier on. What makes this tougher is a new enemy's introduced, the buggy, which is a lot faster and far more annoying than the standard enemy cars, but at least they're weak- you can make them flip over if you crash into them at speed, and two shots will take them down. Luckily, there's a couple of upgrades right at the start here- a Speed power-up to the right, then a Gun upgrade to the right above there, and a Spanner and second Gun icon to the left further up still. That's not a full set of upgrades- you're going to have to wait until later on for the Hammer- but it's a start.
Once you grab the Spanner, there's a Speed icon just ahead, and from there head straight upwards. If you pass by a set of three rocks, you're on the right track because a First-Aid Kit will be just ahead, and you'll usher in the next auto-scrolling area. This time, smaller rigs launching cannon shells spew forth from giant encampments, and don't even think about taking these guys on- even graze them and it's instant death. If you've been paying attention and you just grabbed the First-Aid Kit, then from there go to the right and you'll come across a Hammer icon which will be very handy. Just try not to stick around the edges of the arena too much, as it's very easy to get trapped by the scrolling and die. One tip is that if you can see the cannon fire ahead, slip inbetween them, as if you successfully get between the death machines you can pass through the back of the tent they're spawning without harm.
Sadly, it doesn't make the next bit easy- whether you take the left or right path, both have a blockade of barrels. These roll out of the doors of some large buildings, essentially turning the road ahead into an extreme version of Frogger, and they're almost all red exploding barrels with the odd blue barrel thrown in just to taunt you. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly easy obstacle to avoid- the stream of barrels is relentless, and you'll have to wait for gaps to appear. The best you can hope for is to drive in when there's a gap and hope you can fire fast enough to take out some of the barrels ahead before you slam into them. Additionally, try and aim for blue barrels when they appear, as they won't hurt you.
Oh, and there's two of these buildings.
Once you get past them, your best bet is to just keep going and don't look back, as you get introduced to three new hazards in quick succession, and the best approach to tackle all three of them is 'run, keep running, and stay the hell away'. The first are the mines, which obviously kill you if you run straight over them, but if you graze them and get out of the way fast enough, they'll explode and not take you out- not a tactic I would recommend, as it's too risky to pull off consistently. The next hazard is the water- dotted around the sides and middle of the path, you so much as graze against these and your car will slowly come to a stop... Then explode, and you're dead. The annoying thing is you can't even clip these, as you will die. On the plus side, any normal cars can be pushed into them and take them out too, but the final hazard here, the hoverboats, are immune to them- they'll just glide right over. Keep your driving straight and true, and you should make it in one piece.
Area 3 - Stone Hill
Gaming Hell's Par Time - 2:10
Stone Hill's considerably less open than Rock Valley, so there's little in the way of picking a route- generally, you just need to follow the track to the end. Quite a few new hazards appear here though, and the path tends to be a bit narrower than what you've seen before. The area starts in a valley with standard cars, a new beefier car that can only shoot projectiles from its sides, a variation of the sliding trucks (they move up and down instead! Wow! But you can drive above them and they won't hit you) and a vertical variation of the barrel-throwing buildings from the last area (fortunately, the barrels aren't nearly as fast or frequent as the previous stage). Also, living up to its name, there's falling rocks that split and multiply before disappearing. The only advice beyond the usual here is to take out the standard enemy cars- you might think you can outrun them, but they're gonna annoy you and whittle that health meter down, and upgrades are short on the ground at the start (only a Speed icon at the beginning, and a Gun and Spanner later on).
You're in the clear once you reach a metal bridge... Well, I say 'in the clear' because there's a First-Aid Kit. However, it actually gets worse as we're now introduced to bomb-covered conveyor belts. As with the mines, these are a one-hit deal, but unlike the mines, they're non-negotiable- just brush them and you're dead. Making things more complicated is the fact every conveyor belt leads off a cliff which, again, will kill you slowly just like the water from the last area. The game also starts auto-scrolling here! The trick here is to drive straight across the conveyor belts so you won't graze the bombs, only adjusting your direction if you're approaching the cliff edge. Also, watch out for enemy cars as they have a lovely habit of nudging you gently into bombs or the cliff. After a few of these, you'll get a choice between left and right, and I highly recommend the left path as it does feel slightly easier to navigate (there's a tiny bit more space) but while the right path gives you a Speed icon, the left has a Hammer which is going to be much more useful to you (and, if you do graze a bomb, you'll just burst into flames rather than die instantly, not that you should aim for this).
The final section of the stage is literally a run to the end- a twisty-turny road beset on all sides by cliffs and lakes. There's also a new enemy, a truck that leaves behind small bombs until you blow it up. What you really need to watch out for are the darker patches of ground by the edge- you touch them, you die, even if it looks like you can scoot across to the other side. No shortcuts, punks! This is of course why the hostage boxes are strategically placed right next to the cliffs, but the one you'll need to grab if you've made it this far without dying is the lone box on the right near the start, which has a First-Aid Kit. All you need to do here is just follow the path, staying as far away from the edges as possible! Eventually you'll reach a stone bridge with a mine in front of it (be very careful, you'll have to slip past it without falling into the water) and the final obstacle of the stage is just ahead- a mini-fortress with four cannons. Just park in front of it, pelt it with bullets, and you're good- drive on to clear the stage!
... Having said that, my first proper run of this stage didn't exactly go to plan. Ahem.
Don't worry, Joe, you'll get a fresh Speed Rumbler on the next page.