Mario Kart. Will there ever be a family friendly arcade racer that can top it?
Whilst I guess only the passage of time is able to answer that question, for now, there is very little that can touch it in terms of enjoyment stakes. But that’s not to stop developers trying, and for years many have come to the table with their idea of family friendly, fun fuelled, weapon filled, circuit based frolics. The latest of which is Rally Racers from West Coast Games. But whilst it is certainly family friendly, it does in fact lack enough of that main ingredient. Fun.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before I even begin – this is no Mario Kart. In fact, it’s not even close, but that’s not to say that on occasions Rally Racers isn’t enjoyable. For it is. But in the grand scheme of things it comes up pretty damn short of where it needs to be.
Delivering you to a world that is full of colour, it has to be said that the cartoony visuals for Rally Racers do the job intended of them. They draw you in and they lull you into a false sense of security that this could be a game that will have you gripped for weeks and months on end. But fun visuals – even on Switch – only go some way to allowing gamers to have a great experience, instead seeing gameplay mechanics and content come across as king. And that is where Rally Racers lets itself down.
Set across 7 worlds, your task in Rally Racers is quite obvious – you’ll need to take to the grid and cross that finish line in first place. However you can. Alongside you are numerous other competitors, all out to show that bad guys are better than their good counterparts, utilising all manner of rockets, ice blocks, speed ups and boosts at the most opportune of times. Thankfully though you can do the same and rolling over these pickups and using them to dish out justice to slow down your opponents never tires. But there’s just not enough variety in the number of power ups available for use in Rally Racers and it won’t be long before you find that homing in on the turbo boosts is usually the way forward, if only so you can get out of trouble with ease and make a dash for the chequered flag.
Make it to the end first and you’ll grab a ton of coins, and the chance to head on to the next race. In order to see that unlocked though, you will have to also hit two further objectives found in each event. See, whilst winning races is all well and good, as you compete you’ll come across multiple jumps. Hitting these give you the chance to pull of a variety of stunts – backflips and siderolls – filling your boost meter and picking up stunt points in the process. It’s a nice addition, but the lack in real stunt variety does ensure it comes across as a little bit lame.
There are also hidden oranges to collect, you know, like all games should have, and grabbing enough of these are the third requirement for each level unlock. Both of these stunt and collection procedures ensure that you’ll need to occasionally go back in to a race to compete in it a second and third time, because winning the race, picking up enough stunt points and collecting the required number of oranges in one go is a fairly hefty ask, especially as you get in to the latter levels.
Rinse and repeat all that a few times, and you’ll get the utter jist of Rally Racers, with only the odd head-to-head race against the evil boss – the top-hatted Droog – in place to bring a little light relief from the standard racing. But take a fully upgraded car to the start line as Droog revs his engine and you’ll probably find a satisfactory outcome, as these fail to really test any hardcore driving skills.
And you know what? Other than purchasing animal companions with in-game coins to bring you super special powers like shield duration increases, bigger boosts, or more coins, and heading into the garage so you can pick up a slightly different motor with higher vehicle stats, that’s pretty much it for Rally Racers. Race, collect, stunt, repeat. 21 times.
So why isn’t it as addictive as it all sounds? Well, that comes down to a couple of major issues – control and respawning.
You shouldn’t come in to Rally Racers expecting to be wowed by the driving mechanics, but it’s still slightly disappointing to find a very spongy driving style, and little in the way of feel. With each car upgradeable in multiple areas – expect to find the usual top speed, acceleration, stunt capabilities, and more, all present – even when fully maxed out, you never feel like you’re hurtling along at breakneck speed. A casual Sunday afternoon drive in your parents estate car is more akin to it, with power drifting failing to really capture any imagination.
Throw in the fact that should you even dare to break the track limit for a mere second, a countdown timer will quickly appear to respawn you back on to the track, even if you are making every attempt in the world to correct your mistake and head back under your own steam. This loses precious seconds in any race, and even though it obviously affects the AI as well, the limits that need to be broken in order for the timer to kick in are hugely tight. If I want to cut the odd little bit of corner occasionally in an arcade kart racer then a degree of leeway should be allowed. Or if it isn’t, just slow the car down and give us a little more time to correct our misadventure please West Coast! Seeing that respawn moment come in to effect for daring to hit a big jump, sending you sky high, is just ridiculous too.
At the end of the day, these issues stop Rally Racers from ever being a really fun game. And without a shed load of enjoyment, an arcade racer is left wanting. Wacky cartoon racing will always be fun… for a while, and that is no more true than with Rally Racers, but it’s not really something you’ll be playing way down the line.
Massive thanks to: West Coast Games
Release date: Jan 2018
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review), PC