Version tested Xbox 360
No game has issued that nostalgia-shattering comedown as forcibly as the original Sega Rally.
My dad, brother and I absolutely adored the game. We loved it in the dingy arcades of Bournemouth's piers and we played it to death on the Sega Saturn. My brother dreamed of one day buying a Toyota Celica, just because it was the coolest car in the game.
We especially loved all the iconic voice-overs and catchphrases, like "Game Over Yeeeah" and "Long easy left" and "Gentlemen, start your engines". Actually, that last one might have blared out from a nearby Daytona USA cabinet, come to think of it. Funny how nostalgia clouds your mind.
So when I was a little older and on a game-collecting kick, I bought a dusty Saturn from some car boot sale and picked up a tattered copy of Sega Rally from Gamestation. My dad and I slotted the disc in, figured out how to receive a SCART signal on an HDTV and grabbed the two pads for a race.
Imagine our slack-jawed dismay when the game turned out to be absolutely nothing like we remembered. We had misty, nostalgic visions of delicious tropical tracks and sexy cars churning up mud and tarmac. What we found was a blocky, pixelated blur of stretched textures and excessive pop-up; a game that sort of resembled a racer if you squinted, and made you throw up if you didn't.
Sega Rally Online Arcade, on the other hand, is exactly how we remembered it. The bonus classic mode, which pits a Toyota Celica against a Lancia Delta on the first game's dusty desert track, but with spiffy new graphics and modern handling, is like playing an artificial memory, synthetically wired to meet our impossible nostalgia.
The gorgeous, high-contrast visuals are ripped straight from the 2007 Sega Rally (known Sega Rally Revo in the US), a boisterous and noisy mud-churning rally favourite. It paints the lush landscapes in a vibrant palette of primary Sega colours - skies splashed in Sonic blue, race car bodywork gleaming with OutRun red and an overbearing sun spraying out Crazy Taxi yellow.
And, of course, the tracks are littered with little flourishes and cute sights to remind you that you're definitely playing a Sega game, and not some po-faced WRC sim or Xtreeeme DiRT sequel. There's a space shuttle shooting off into orbit here and a formation of jets there. A few hot air balloons. A hang-glider. A yak.
On the other hand, the twitchy controls are borrowed from the arcade-only and gleefully retro Sega Rally 3. The cars dart and turn with little regard for nuisances like friction, gravity and physics, and you can fling your car into corners and over jumps with reckless abandon and a foolhardy neglect for your bodywork.
You can tackle just about every corner with the same winning strategy. Fire towards a sharp bend at full tilt, let off the gas as you careen into the apex, swing your tail out wide and floor the pedal to rocket out of the turn unscathed. A wicked Ridge Racer-style drift will hold your hand around the hairiest bends and the bouncy bumpers on every surface will give you a gentle nudge back on track if you fluff it up.