Version tested: GameBoy Advance
Sega is dominating our GBA-time at the moment. Between Monkey Ball Junior and Sonic Advance 2, we don't want for too much else. So it's going to take some effort to squeeze another game in - unless it lives up to the exceedingly high quality of the developer's other recent releases. Over to you, Sega…
Rally behind 'em
Oops, Sega Rally looks absolutely dire by modern standards. We're making this clear from the outset because it's the most obvious thing about the game, and we're not going to harp on encouragingly about the good bits before slaying the game at the last turn. Not on account of the visuals, anyway. This is because Sega Rosso deserves more than a bit of sympathy - the Japanese developer has made a brave attempt to squash the physical feel of Sega Rally into a GBA cart, and has vaguely managed it, but at the expense of a reasonable level of graphical detail. Put next to InfogramesNotAtari's V-Rally 3, the game engine is a low-res, pixellated and frequently glitchy pile of nonsense. It looks like a low-end NES port of Outrun, and as ever the directional pad seems to rotate the scenery rather than the car, which squirms around on the spot in the bottom-middle of the screen.
Head to the options screen and turn on the first-person view though and things are infinitely better. The game moves at roughly the same speed (and in all honesty looks largely identical from this 'alternate' viewpoint, but without the wriggly car model the overall effect is much better). Sure, the scenery looks like Duplo bricks (not even Lego is this chunky, folks), the track texturing is very weak (in the desert levels, the track and the sidelines are almost too difficult to pick apart, especially on a standard GBA), and the overabundance of ever-smiling sprites can be unpleasant (everything from spectators, trees and buildings to the other cars), but it whizzes past at a nice speed, has the good old psycho pace notes-reading co-driver, and from the first person view you pick up more of the feel that Sega Rosso has worked into play.
The actual driving is split into three distinct modes; Championship, Time Trial and Multiplayer, but instead of unlocking tracks sequentially like Every Other Rally Game Ever, Sega Rally has you fighting to earn the game's currency, Rally Points, which you can then spend on unlocking pretty much whatever you like - the next championship mode, better vehicles, time trial tracks, some bizarre mini-games (coin-collecting?) and even artwork. Which we still don't see the attraction of - just why would you waste vital RP on static pictures to look at once and then put out of your mind for the rest of eternity? No, we really want to know. Why do developers keep doing this on the GBA?
Still, there are several championships to unlock, each comprising four tracks, and a multiple-cart multiplayer mode. We weren't able to test this on account of a lack of spare carts, but we can imagine it's quite good fun. Then again, it should be single-cartridge, because Sega Rally isn't the sort of triple-A title which everyone is going to own. And it will have known that when it was making it. However, the Time Trial mode is made all the more interesting thanks to the addition of an Internet Ranking mode. You can't plug the GBA into your mobile phone or anything, but thanks to a clever password/email system set up on the Sega Rally website, you can see your best times on the web and strive for the top of the chart. We're embarrassingly low on there, which is why we're not going to tell you the alias we used. Ha.
Sega Rally is obviously well put together in terms of the number of challenges it offers you, and it does play rather like its Saturn predecessor when you throw it into first-person mode - with every bump, gyration and wheelspin accentuated aurally and visually - but we were rather taken aback by how easy it is. We're not quite sure what we were doing wrong (or especially right), but despite bouncing off walls regularly (which is an occupational hazard if you can't pick the road out from the scenery), we quickly unlocked most of the tracks and cars, and polished off the various championships. Indeed, we breezed through most of them first time round, but unlike V-Rally 3, which was also very easy for the most part, we didn't enjoy it too much. V-Rally 3 may have glitches and the same Outrun-style engine mechanics, but it's more fun than Sega Rally, and that's a shame, because otherwise this has all the trappings of an excellent rally game.
5 / 10