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There are a lot of racing franchises over the last three decades that have become household names. Sega alone has a two well-known franchises in Outrun and Daytona USA, but Sega Rally Championship may possibly be one of the most innovative and influential racers of all time.
While it may not have been as inviting to the casual arcade gamer, Sega Rally gained a cult following as it was the first major games to feature drifting, a variety of driving surfaces, and a blend of realism and arcade sensibilities.
The arcade landscape had a handful of interesting racing games throughout the 1980s, but the genre started to get rather stale in the early 90s until Sega became a major player in breathing new life into the genre.
Sega first dropped some jaws with Virtua Racing in 1992 and then Daytona USA just a year later (both titles developed by Sega’s AM2 division). Sega’s AM5 division (later known as Hitmaker) led by director Kenji Sansaki (formerly of Namco and Ridge Racer fame) and game designer / producer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi (who later gained fame after working on Rez, Space Channel 5, and Lumines) followed up that streak by launching Sega Rally Championship in 1994.
Sasaki, in particular wanted to work on a racing title that was different when compared to Ridge Racer and Daytona USA and thought the rally racing world would be an excellent opportunity to innovate the genre.
The payoff of this route was a game that not only built on the advance on 3D graphics to make the racing experience more realistic, but a game that featured different racing surfaces that caused the car handling to change dramatically.
With the rally racing setup, there are a handful of different concepts compared to many other traditional racing games. First of all, instead of laps, a single instance of the track is the extent of the race. There are 3 tracks to race on, in succession, with the positions being carried through the series of tracks. (If you finish in 5th place on the first track, you will start in 5th place on the second track).
Sega’s team did wonderful job of focusing on pure racing and polishing the core experience about as well as the era allowed.
After spending time with the game and comparing to other racing games that preceded it, Sega Rally Championship
In the end, Sega Rally Championship not only spawned a handful of sequels, but became very influential for future racing game design and. For instance, Guy Wilday, the producer for the first four Colin McRae Rally games mentioned “Everyone who played it loved the way the cars behaved on the different surfaces, especially the fact that you could slide the car realistically on the loose gravel. The car handling remains excellent to this day and it’s still an arcade machine I enjoy playing, given the chance.”
Sega Rally Championship was released on a handful of platforms in addition to the arcade such as the PC, Sega Saturn, and PS2. There were mobile versions on the Game Boy Advance and the Ngage, but they aren’t considered the same game.
The most common port of the game is on the Sega Saturn. Even though the game was essentially rebuilt for the Saturn hardware and contained some graphical compromises (lower polygon count, texture quality, and draw distance), Sega Rally was a technical marvel that effectively utilized the hardware, was very well-received by the industry and was one of the killer apps for the console upon its release.
The Saturn version did, however, add a time attack mode and split-screen two player racing. Players could also customize the Celica and Delta models of the game’s cars.
Additional Saturn version include the Japanese “Plus” version and the US Netlink Edition that supports the Saturn’s 3D Control pad and the XBAND and Sega Netlink respectively.
A Japanese version for the PlayStation 2 was bundled in a box set with Sega Rally 2006 and is a straight port of the Model 2 version with some adjustments for the PlayStation 2 hardawre. This PS2 port is actually the most accurate home version, but also only include arcade mode and is missing the extra settings and features of the Saturn and PC versions.
More modern console installments include Sega Rally 2 on the Dreamcast, Sega Rally 2006 on the PS2, Sega Rally Revo on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PSP, and Sega Rally 3 / Online Arcade on the PS3 and 360.
Join us in the forums this month to compare the many ports and share your challenges, techniques, and best times.