Ten years ago, almost to the day, Sega Rally came out for Sega's Saturn in the UK. What a time. Obviously we bought it on launch day and loved every second of its incredible three-and-a-half minute long racing orgasm.
It had everything Sega was about at the time - three tracks, two cars, plus one of each as an unlockable bonus. You could complete the entire game in under four minutes, and if you wanted to win everything you had to be perfect and use manual gears and be really, really good. That's what Sega did best - putting an arcade machine in your house for £40.
Then came Dreamcast Sega Rally 2. Good for those who imported a Japanese copy like hardcore old us, but bad for UK buyers who were fobbed off with a terribly bordered and slow PAL conversion. That was nearly seven bloody years ago and it still hurts. Now, here in 2006 and only for PlayStation 2, we're finally getting more Sega Rally. Those letters to Santa have paid off.
The good news is Sega Rally 2006 feels exactly the same to play as the old versions. It's fun, easy, short and gives you an immediate and incredible blast of speed, right there IN YOUR FACE. This is no Colin McRae or Richard Burns accuracy marathon that requires skill and learning. Your cars - now upgraded to feature a sensational FIVE in the initial starting line-up with another eight or so to unlock - bounce, slide, never break and all feel the same. That's the Sega arcade game promise.
The number of courses in the game's Arcade mode has been boosted from Sega's 1990s-standard three to a sensational 12, with a few familiar tracks (Sega Rally 2's Desert stage being one of them). And, to begin with, it's very impressive. The game looks good from the default in-car viewpoint, the track moves smoothly, the road textures, cars and scenery are all sharp and bright - it looks like Sega games are supposed to. It's no Gran Turismo and the car damage is nothing compared to the lumps of metal Codemasters get falling off Colin's motor, but everything looks quite OK.
Almost everything - there's absolutely loads of pop-up. We're not being overly picky or anything, it really is quite terrible. The masses of trees that draw themselves in on the horizon as you slide along are really off putting and makes it all look a bit amateur, especially as there's more pop-up in this brand-new PS2 version than in the recreated version of the decade-old arcade classic.
Talking of which... the emulated version of the original Sega Rally coin-op - included in this release on a separate disc - is perfect. We're not just guessing that, we know. It feels right, looks the same, sounds right, and is the amazing rally game in its entirety. Not just "quite like" the original game or "a bit the same", but really, actually, precisely the identical same thing. This isn't one of those farmed-out Sega Ages inventions, it's the same game. All of it.
There seems to be some confusion about whether this bonus version is the Model 2 arcade game or the Saturn one - which is YET MORE belated testament to the amazing nature of the Sega Saturn conversion. And here you get the arcade version, revealed by enhanced resolution options, slightly curvier car rear ends, and... nothing. The Saturn version has, even after all these years, just moved further up in our estimation. Anyway, it’s great and you really shouldn’t need to be told anything more about how awesome Sega Rally is.
So yes. Getting a perfect version of the perfect Sega racer is a fantastic bonus and makes this twin pack a decent import choice for those with the technology to play Japanese games. But the main new thing in Sega Rally 2006 is the game's extended Career mode, designed to stop people moaning that Sega games are always too short. Sadly, Career modes are one of the things Sega doesn't do quite as well as three-minute thrills.
Your racing Career is illustrated using the trusty and quite old and rubbish 'calendar' format, with one static, text-filled screen outlining your month's race events. Pick one, tune your car, then head off into the race to earn a few credits. It's that simple and that dull.
To be fair, you do get hundreds of little stages and challenges to play through, but with cars that all handle identically and use the same bouncy, dumb arcade play, there's not much in the way of new experiences to be had here. You'll be sliding around and bouncing off things like usual. It also feels very slow, especially when compared to the lightning pace of the 1995 original. When you switch to the behind-the-car camera things slow down further, with your car having a sad floaty look to it too. It's all a bit disappointing, especially given the length of time this has taken to arrive.
Incredibly thrilling for the first half hour, Sega Rally 2006 soon degenerates into a bit of a chore. The Career game is dull and the arcade sections are very simple and over too soon. And the tracks aren't very interesting. It's feeling its age.
In the end, we got what we wanted. We've got more Sega Rally, but we've moved on in the last decade without really noticing - and games have moved on too. Sega Rally's simple arcade handling just isn't enough to fill an entire game any more, and not even the powerful feeling of nostalgia can save it.
For people old enough to remember the Sega Saturn, er, 'glory' years and the period when Sega released a new arcade classic seemingly every month, Sega Rally 2006 is worthwhile, if only to jog the memory of that incredible period when Sega's AM divisions consistently put the greatest games in the world in your home. Which makes this package a perfect arcade version of Sega Rally Championship, accompanied by average PS2 racer Sega Rally 2006. Not really worth blowing money on importing, even if you've got blue Sega blood.