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Off The Beaten Track
(A Quick Look at Rally Games)

Although quite popular in nearly every country in the world, the sport of rally racing hasn’t really caught on with the American public. To me there’s definitely something about one driver against the road, weather, and a ticking clock that’s more exciting than watching 30 plus cars make left turns and occasionally spin out into a wall or each other. Of course, there are also rallies held that pit multiple cars against each other, but again, terrain and time are part of the overall equation that adds to the appeal there. Most gamers here probably got their first taste of realistic rally action through Codemasters’ great Colin Mc Rae Rally series, the amazing WRC (World Rally Championship) by Evolution Studios, Infogrames’ (now Atari) V-Rally games, or the last two Gran Turismo games. If you’ve played these all to death and want a few new (or not so new) more games to try, do a bit of digging and you’ll find a few interesting imports (and a domestic game or two) out there.

3D Hot Rally (Famicom Disk System)

Big Run (arcade)

Hyper Rally (MSX)

The King of Rally (Super Famicom)

Konami Antiques MSX (Saturn)

Dakar '97 (PSX)

Rally de Africa (PSX)

Rally de Africa (re-release - PSX)

Rally de Europe (PSX)

WRC Arcade (PSX)

WRC 2 Extreme (PS2)

If you’re lucky enough to own a Famicom Disk System, by all means track down a copy of Famicom Grand Prix II- 3D Hot Rally. Despite having Mario and Luigi as your driver/navigator pair, the game offers up some pretty challenging racing action. Hot Rally also supports the Famicom 3D goggles (if you happen to have a pair stashed away in your closet), but they’re not necessary to play. The game also has a bit of historical value in that it’s one of four Famicom Disk titles Nintendo used in a special tournament. The prize for your rally racing efforts was a limited edition Nintendo stationery kit, of which 10,000 were issued. The other Disk games were two versions of Golf and Famicom Grand Prix- F1 Race, by the way.

On the Super Famicom, there were a couple of fun racers like The King of Rally by Meldac/Kaze, Super Drift Out World Rally Championship from Visco, and 11e Rallye Big Run- The Supreme 4WD Challenge by Jaleco (Big Run for short). Each of these games used different racing viewpoints that made navigating the twists and bumps quite challenging. King of Rally’s courses gave gamers the chance to steer all over some massive psuedo-3D maps and with a full 360 degrees of control over your car, you’ll need to get used to steering into and around the screen. Super Drift Out used the SFC’s rotation effects to dizzying effect in its top down tracks. You also got some really great music, licensed cars, a simple to use track editor, and English menu screens. One minor caveat about the above two: like most Mode 7 games, some visual elements come off as a bit flat and you’ll sort of feel as if you’re playing on a giant moving board game. Big Run’s more traditional behind the car POV was enhanced by some big jumps, night racing, and a well-implemented damage system. The game is based on an arcade machine, which of course, never came out here. You can also get many, if not all of these SFC games on MAME if you don’t want to track down the cart (or don’t own a SFC).

There are a couple of good to so-so rally games on the N64, and I believe most of the ones worth mentioning are common US releases. Stay away from the chunky Rally Challenge 2000 and V-Rally ’99 Championship Edition. Both games suffer from flawed control, and the redraw in V-Rally’99 makes the game nearly unplayable. Eden Studios is generally great with rally games, but this one was obviously not optimized fully for the N64. Amazingly, The Game Boy Advance versions of Top Gear Rally, GT Advance 2: Rally Racing, V-Rally 3, and Colin Mc Rae Rally 03 are all quite amazing, and make you wonder what the different developers could have done for the Game Cube. For some reason, there weren’t any decent rally games for the Mega Drive or Mega CD, which is interesting if you want to argue about developers really maxing out the system’s strengths. You could say the OutRun series is sort of a cross-country rally, but then again, that’s stretching things a wee bit, no? There were a few off-road titles on the MD, but Megatrax and Super Off-Road aren’t really pushing the console any. Saturn owners got a great port of Sega Rally, and if you stretch things a bit, you can include Power Drift and Konami Antiques MSX Collection for its port of Konami Rally (also known as Hyper Rally). You’ll also get 29 other MSX classics, so it’s definitely a recommended purchase…unless of course you want to spend a small fortune tracking down a MSX unit and a stack of cartridges. Speaking of Konami, the company did update Konami Rally on the Game Boy Color a few years back, and there was supposed to be a PlayStation version as well, but the game disappeared sometime after 1999’s E3. Meanwhile, on the Dreamcast, as good as Sega Rally 2 was, Infogrames Test Drive V-Rally absolutely smokes it with a great track editor, better speed and graphics. The control is extremely touchy though, so be prepared for a bit of driver’s re-ed. Get too overconfident in those hairpins, and you’ll roll your car faster than an overworked cigar maker.

The PlayStation was home to its share of 3D rally titles both good and bad. But early clunkers like Hyper Rally (not to be confused with the Konami game) and the well-intentioned but flawed Dakar ‘97 are interesting counterpoints to the later solid titles like V-Rally 2 and the Colin Mc Rae series. You may want Dakar for the excellent music tracks found on the game CD, but prepare for a jaw (and controller) drop if you actually decide to play it. Pop-up that makes Daytona look like Sega GT, chunky cars, and invisible walls do not a good rally game make. Also, it’s far too easy to get lost on the more open stages thanks to a co-driver who seems to call out turns at random and only tells you you’re off course when you’re trying to find your way back- ouch. Hyper Rally (sometimes listed as Ohlins’ Hyper Rally) has a nice inside the car view and the ability to tweak your ride before and between stages, but the racing is poor, and the visuals pretty woeful. You can track these down cheap if you like- just don’t expect anything better than below average.

On the other hand, the Japanese version of Sony’s Rally Cross is of interest, especially if you own the US original and are curious to see the changes made when a game is brought to the Asian market. It’s well known that Japanese gamers hate frustrating games, and the US version was a perfect example of the word challenging. Patient gamers embraced the bouncy physics and sensitive steering, while heavy-handed players probably chewed through their controller cables or turned the game disc into a shiny black coaster.  In the US version, you have to complete the Rookie setting to unlock new cars and tracks, and there are 8 cars to choose from and 3 tracks when you first start the game. In the import, the Rookie and Veteran modes are unlocked, you get to choose from 12 cars, and all the courses are open. In addition, the race order is very different in Season mode and the game only supports two players (the US version had a 4-player mode). When the game was in development, Sony was considering bringing over its Analog controller, but decided not to as the game was completed. The US version shipped with analog support (only if you plugged a controller in), but no vibration or analog tweaking. The Japanese version has vibration (a bit crude and buzzy, but it works), and allows you to set the steering sensitivity on your PS or PS2 Dual Analog pad. The game is still challenging as ever, but with much of the good stuff unlocked, it’s a hell of a lot less frustrating!

In 1998, a company called Prism Arts created Rally De Africa for the PS One, which was inspired quite heavily by Sega Rally, and released at a low 1500 Yen. It’s quite a bit of fun and did well enough to get re-released (with a better cover).  2 years later a sequel, Rally De Europe, hit stores at the same budget price. Prism improved the visuals and control slightly, and made the game a bit harder. Both games have really great music, and an announcer/co-driver who sounds as if he’s got a mouthful of gum and spoke his lines through cupped hands 5 feet away from the microphone. You’ll actually hear him yell “WINISH!!!” when you complete a race, and that’s probably worth 1500 Yen right there.

Quite a few folks here in the states caught up in the near-greatness of Gran Turismo 3‘s rally races missed out on the even better rallying in WRC, which is a highly recommended purchase, especially as it’s out of production and no longer shows up on the bam! Games web site. The developer, Evolution Studios made an absolutely fantastic sequel, WRC II Extreme, which was released on the PS2 in the UK, Europe, and Japan. WRC 3, an UK/Europe only release and the recently announced WRC 4, which will probably have gamers there saying “Gran Whatismo?” Well, at least until Gran Turismo 4 ships later this year. There have been some other cool rally games from Europe like Power Drive Rally for the Atari Jaguar, and most of Eden Studios output like Mobil 1 and of course, the later V-Rally and Colin Mc Rae series. Speaking of Mr. Mc Rae, Codemasters is shipping Colin Mc Rae 4 for the Xbox in March at the amazingly low price of $19.99, which is certain to lure even the most frugal gamer into trying it out. Although, if you’re new to the series, I’d recommend getting Colin Mc Rae 3 first so that you can become even more addicted to the gameplay with its super-responsive controls, great visual style and realistic damage modeling.

Alrighty then- I’m all finished for this month. Back in two with maybe a couple of RPGs to look at… 

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Last updated: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:03 PM