I enjoyed racing games growing up. I put many a fair amount of hours into Ridge Racer Revolution, Wipeout XL, as well as the various iterations of Jet Moto and Need for Speed. In hindsight, these games seem as though they were catered for someone in their early teens, like myself back then. There was nothing overly complicated about them. You had a choice between different vehicles, each with their own attributes and the double edged sword that is so prevalent in the genre was easily understood. Some vehicles were faster, some accelerated better, others were better at turning and some were just average. While some series such as Wipeout and Mario Kart (and let’s not forget Road Rash) had you able to hinder your opponents progress and others were simply just racing, they were all enjoyable experiences.
As I grew up and was able to explore the world a bit more, arcade games made their way into my gaming repertoire and one of these was Sega Rally Championship, which brought a tad different dynamic. There was no real difference between the cars, the Lancia Delta and Toyota Celica, which for fans of World Rally Cross are stand-outs of the sport. I would pick one car and my competitor would choose the other but it was simply a façade. Akin to first person shooters of modern day, it ultimately had no tangible bearing on the outcome of the race; they just “looked cool”. Until the first turn of the race, it was an equal match, acceleration, top speed, handling… all the same. Instead of relying on the attributes of your vehicle, the outcome of your race was solely based on the ability of the driver. Some would say “as it should be”. Out braking, taking better lines and track positioning were important factors not used in others series or at least not as extensively.
Sega Rally Online Arcade (SROA) by Team Sumo is another marker in the Sega Rally series, succeeding Sega Rally Revo (2007) it maintains the before mentioned style and theme presented by its arcade original those so many years ago. You boot up the game, choose which type of race you would like and get to the car selection screen. You start with an option of six cars, again, all memorable ones for the fans and again, there is nothing different about them. The Subaru is just as fast as the Ford which handles just as well as the Mitsubishi which can accelerate just as well as the Peugeot, et cetera. Wins and losses are measurements of a driver’s capability with a slight tweak.
The game rewards players who use a manual transmission versus an automatic and it can be said it rewards them favorably. Added acceleration and a tad higher top speed (I believe) are granted to those willing to jump into the land of the changing gears. This is actually a tad humorous and unbalanced as on the majority of the tracks, if the right lines are taken; once you accelerate to sixth gear you will never need to downshift thereby void the premise of a manual transmission. Xbox Live play is where this feature stands out most. There were races where I’d be the lonely ‘MT’ driver (out of six racers total) and by half way through the first lap, I’d have a lead of at least a second or two, which would only expand as the race progressed and reaffirm the lonely sentiment. So, perhaps the double edged sword of other series has changed into rewarding players willing to use a bit more dexterity in this one?
Yes, I did race against others with using manual transmission and this is where the game shines. The equal playing field thoroughly makes this game enjoyable. Having equal attributes mimics the arcade like experience of the mid to late 90’s that Championship brought to the table. I won a race by the shortest margin possible (0.0001 seconds); I’ve gained positions through proper driving techniques acquired in such games at Gran Turismo 3 – A Spec and lost them in one fell swoop as I went just a bit too fast into a corner, hitting the wall too hard and losing my precious speed. It should be noted that “hitting the wall” doesn’t have much effect on your car if you lightly graze it and is something that I personally wish affected the game a tad more but as it maintains the arcade feel throughout, it’s forgivable.
There are unlockable cars, tracks and a neat avatar award but the main focus of the game is the gameplay, not the aesthetics. It’s not too difficult to unlock everything in the game and provided the right online conditions are there, you could 100% the game in a few hours. Sure, the courses and their backdrops look good but they are not trying to blow minds with ultra-high-definition visuals. The cars look “cool” (I’m partial to the ‘Andorra Racer’) but what makes the game so great are the neck and neck races that occur. Yes, races will be won or lost by wide margins and seemingly the ‘Time Attack Mode’ leaderboards are hacked but as an Xbox Live Arcade game it really hits back at its arcade beginnings and makes for an enjoyable experience. The sad part of this is that it seems like it will be a game that will go under many people’s radar though being featured on the XBL Dashboard.
With other, larger racing titles being released recently and the amount of aesthetic and gameplay customization lacking that modern racing fans crave, the game may not get the run it deserves. This is already happening as it is more and more difficult to find games on XBL after only a couple weeks of being released. I like being able to boot up a game and less than 10 button pushes later, am starting a race. It’s very “Less Talk, More Rock”, at least in my opinion. With more simulation style games out there and doing well, it nevertheless is good to see a game that goes back to its arcade roots, more than just in name.
Sega Rally is currently available for 800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Arcade
Picture of my Xbox avatar from Xbox.com
Title picture source HERE