Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sega Rally Championship 1995 Review

Though intended to be one of the last games for the Model 1 arcade board, Sega Rally was shifted to its successor as the board's production diminished. After a graphical update, Sega Rally was released on the Model 2 board in 1995 and Sega had another arcade hit.

The game was a different type of racer - different than Daytona USA and Virtua Racing released before it. Instead of being glued to an asphalt track, the cars in Sega Rally were driving on dirt, pavement, mud, through water, and hopping through the air. Not only was it new territory graphically, but the cars reacted differently to every surface, just as they should. The same addictive qualities of Sega's other racers were there, but Rally was a beast of its own.

As with many of Sega's other arcade hits, the game eventually arrived on the Saturn, where it was heavily promoted (along with Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop) in a last-ditch effort to save the failing system. Though graphically inferior to the arcade (and from what I've heard, plays differently as well), it made up for it with a ton of extra features.

While Sega Rally was a must-have game for the Saturn, I never actually owned it. That doesn't mean I haven't spent some time with the game, having rented it and played Forest level demo too much. I've kept up with the series and, though I hate to admit it, logged in far too many hours for my level of suckage at the Dreamcast's Sega Rally 2.

Now, over ten years later, I finally get my chance at Sega Rally Championship. Included with Sega Rally 2006 for the PS2 is the original Sega Rally. Even though it's part of a bundle, the game is packaged separately as Sega Rally 1995.

This is as bare-bones as it gets. There's no multiplayer (unless you count the second controller also being able to control the car), no extras, no additions - just exactly what was in the arcade, minus the other kids telling you how much better they are at the game.

This is the arcade version of Sega Rally Championship running on the PS2 via emulation. My guess is that it's from the same code base that has been used in other PS2 Model 2 ports in the Sega Ages series. As far as I can tell, the graphics have come over intact. Sometimes the textures look a little nasty as they get close to the screen, but this may have very well happened in the arcade version. On occasion, polygons will clip, though usually just on the ground right before the race or on the car immediately after finishing a race. Other than that, the game looks very good and arcade accurate, running at a solid 60 (or is it 57.5?) frames a second.

I don't think a person has made it through a Sega Rally review without mentioning the music. It all comes over intact and sound great, ready to get the subwoofer pumping. Before you ask, the answer is, "Yes." The "Game Over, Yeah!" is here in all of its glory, working as a positive reinforcement for giving away your quarters.

More importantly, though, is that the game plays exactly like the arcade. Steering can be done with the d-pad or the left analog controller while acceleration can be controlled with the right analog pad or with the controller buttons. Gear selection and views are controlled using the shoulder buttons.

On a side note, I really miss the Dreamcast pad for racers. The analog triggers were great, finally adding some subtlety in the controls that was only available with a wheel/pedal combo. With the PS2, I find myself using the face buttons rather than the up down motions on the right analog stick, so it's either pedal-to-the-metal or nothing.

They physics are great - the cars feel thick as they bounce and slide all over the track and even though it's an arcade racer, it doesn't feel like the cars should have a massive antenna on top and while you're holding a remote control in your hands. The game really does hold up after all of these years. It's a fun drive through the courses while drifting, sliding, and shooting for the fastest time. And that's where the challenge lies - trying to get the best time possible. Each turn has to be mastered in order to shave off fractions of a second. All these years later, it's still fun. And all these years later, I still suck at it.

As would be expected with a game of this age, it really does feel like it's from a different time. There are only two different cars available right off the bat and a total of four tracks. Would this ever pass today? No, and only just barely did on the Saturn. But as a bonus and a chance to play a nearly arcade-perfect of Sega Rally, it's worth it.

If you already have the Saturn version, is there a real reason to get this? Not really. But the game is still just as fun as it was back in 1995, and that's what matters.


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