Posted on February 27, 2015
Sega doing what Sega do best!
(Arcade – via Model 2 Emulator)
Two cars and three tracks. Yep, that’s all you get. But it matters not one iota, as what is on offer here is pure perfection, tuned and tweaked to provide the most pure and perfect arcade racing experience you can have. The two cars, the Lancia Delta (HF Integrale) and Toyota Celicia (GT-Four ST205) both look, sound and handle brilliantly and have enough subtle differences to make driving each one a whole new experience. After selecting your preferred vehicle you begin on the bumpy sand and mud filled Desert stage before heading along windy mountain roads, more mud and tight hairpin bends in the Forest course. Then it’s a twisting trip through villages and, you guessed it, more mud as you careen through the final Mountain stage.
(Arcade – via Model 2 Emulator)
Each of these tracks is a perfect example of expert level design, with every nook and cranny feeling totally essential to the rollercoaster ride you take through the jumps, puddles, tunnels, twists and turns. Even better, if you place first, you get a brand new track to race on, the beautiful, yet devilishly tricky, Lakeside. If you manage to successfully traverse the incredibly tight corners of this final stage and place first you are granted a brand new car, selectable the next time you play. The Lancia Stratos (HF) is just as iconic as the two cars that adorn Sega Rally flyers and advertisements and is a welcome addition that will take some serious practice to master thanks to its rather erratic handling and high speed.
Sega Rally Championship is an absolute blast to play due to, not only the cars and tracks themselves, but the wonderful physics and handling of the vehicles. Your car drifts around corners in such a satisfying manner that it makes you feel like a true pro every time. The feeling of weight you experience when hitting one of the many bumps and lift off from the ground is second to none and wrestling with the wheel to keep yourself facing the right angle to the approaching corner is what arcade gaming is all about – pure excitement and adrenaline. The different road surfaces play a part too, with mud and sand feeling different from the smooth tarmac found on the Forest and Mountain stages – the transition from a muddy track onto the tarmac is extremely gratifying and feels, one would imagine, just like real rally driving. Sega rally offers two viewpoints, behind the car and a full screen, first person viewpoint. It all comes down to personal choice, naturally, but for my money the outside view wins every time – these cars deserve to be seen and look ace drifting around corners and launching off bumps in the road, spraying dust and mud in your face as they do so.
The coin-op cabinet came in both single and dual variations, allowing for some seriously competitive and tight races against your buddy if you were lucky enough to chance upon the double seated cab. Sadly, with the death of the arcades and the sheer age of Sega Rally Championship, you are very unlikely to come across one these days. If you do see one out in the wild, be sure to sit down and put a few coins in it as it’s still the most enjoyable arcade driving game out there (second only to Daytona USA). Luckily, however, there were a selection of console and computer ports that brought all the thrills and spills to your own home, in some cases providing an even greater experience.
The first port was for Sega’s 32-bit Saturn console. Released in 1995 and built from the ground up, the Saturn port was a real showstopper, especially after the rushed and rather dismalDaytona USA port. The visuals, while not in the same league as the original, were fantastic, with a slightly grittier look than its arcade parent. Sega were also thoughtful enough to reposition the timer to a less distracting position and also remove the unnecessary progress bar featured in the Coin-Op. The music was one of the biggest improvements made, with the arcade tunes replaced with CD quality remixes. These powerful guitar tracks are incredibly catchy and suit the game to a tee. Anyone who has played Sega Rally Championship will remember the quirky voice acting in the game. These incredibly upbeat and tongue-in-cheek samples elevated the games sense of fun even further and in the Saturn port they sound even better. The iconic “Fiiiii-nish” and “Game Over, Yeeeeah!” are of a much higher quality than before, providing even more of a laugh. Honestly, there isn’t a person on this planet who won’t raise a smile at these wonderful voice overs.
The game retains the same three cars as the coin-op, though this time the Lancia Stratos remains unlocked and selectable once Lakeside is beaten in first place. There is an additional time trial mode, complete with ghost opponent, and a brilliant split screen two player mode. There are also a wealth of customisation options for each car, allowing you to fine tune its performance to suit your play style. You can then save these customisations (along with other changes in the options) to the Saturn’s memory for next time. The Saturn version was a big success and rightly so. It’s the best game for the system and, despite it’s rather ropey visuals (by today’s standards and compared to the PC version), it remains an utter joy to play. I would even go as far as to say that it is worth owning a Saturn for this alone (a 60Hz model, of course!).
In 1997 Sega released Sega Rally Championship for the PC. Essentially a port of the Sega Saturn version, the PC version looked very similar (but with a slightly cleaner look), featured the same excellent remixed soundtrack, contained the time trial and split screen modes and featured the same customisation options. There was also a rare version released with direct 3D support that improved the visuals further. You can now download a patch online to mod your existing Sega Rally installation to this version, and there are also other user made mods out there to further enhance and improve stability and function on modern PCs. With this setup, combined with an essential Xbox 360 controller, the PC version of Sega Rally Championship is my favourite of all the versions. Be sure to own a copy of the original disc in order to get the awesome soundtrack playing alongside the action!