The speedy thrills of legendary racing game World Rally

I love a good racing game, but I’m typically more of a fan of either the “vanishing point” style of quasi-3D racer, or Ridge Racer-style exaggeratedly arcadey polygonal racers. Top down racers, meanwhile, are a genre that I’ve had a complicated relationship with over the years — though Gaelco’s excellent World Rally, now available for Evercade, is causing me to rethink that somewhat.

My issue with top-down racers is that I’ve historically played them on home computers or consoles with digital control schemes, and in pretty much every case I’ve found myself prone to excessive oversteer. This is because in many cases, these digital control schemes were, in fact, an attempt to approximate the rotary control schemes used in the original arcade versions of these games.

World Rally for Evercade

In more recent years, compilations such as Atari Flashback Classics have used analogue controllers to more closely approximate the “rotary” feel though — by allowing you to simply push the stick in the direction you want to go, rather than pushing left and right to “turn” — and I’ve found myself enjoying those titles a lot more, as simplistic as some of them are.

What I’ve found with World Rally, whose original arcade still used a steering wheel, but one which acted more like a “joystick” than a freely spinning rotational control, is that the kind of controls I’ve historically suffered with can be implemented well to create a truly satisfying game. And I’m kind of intrigued as to why we haven’t seen the approach this game takes a little more often.

For the unfamiliar, World Rally is a 1993 arcade game that was developed by Zigurat Software and published by Spanish company Gaelco in Europe and Atari Games in North America. It’s an isometric perspective racing game in which you take on the role of a rally driver competing in up to four three-stage rallies, with your aim being to complete each leg in 60 seconds or less. The faster you complete each leg, the more points in the championship you attain.

World Rally for Evercade

World Rally is speedy, but it manages to remain controllable as a result of two main aspects. Firstly, the excellent “co-driver” system telegraphs the upcoming corners to you via means of a flashing arrow in the centre of the screen. The thing that makes this really work is the fact that it’s not simply a vague arrow indicating that there’s a “left turn” coming up; the arrow indicates the exact shape of the section of road you’re about to hit, including, most crucially, the direction you should be facing when you come out of that section.

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Combined with this is the way that the game’s controls have a tendency to “snap” you to the correct direction the road is going, so you don’t have to be overly precise when leaving a corner or chicane. This is the real clincher; the real thing that makes World Rally stand out from pretty much every top-down or isometric racer I’ve ever played — aside from an obscure 2005 Game Boy Advance title called Racing Fever, which clearly very much wanted to be World Rally.

It’s impossible to overstate what a difference this little tweak to the controls makes to the overall World Rally experience. It means that when you’re confronted with a daunting string of corners, as long as you make sure you steer vaguely around them and end up pointing roughly the right direction by the end of them, you’ll stay on the road. Of course, this can be a big ask sometimes — particularly in the later courses, which feature some very complicated arrangements — but once you “click” with the controls, you’ll be flying along at speeds you never thought you’d be able to handle in a game like this.

World Rally for Evercade

That’s not to say you’ll master the game right away, even if you get to grips with the controls quickly. Success in World Rally is all about timing things perfectly so that you can get the ideal line through the various corners. It’s about learning the courses so you can anticipate the exact moment you should start steering. It’s about knowing where the inconvenient obstacles are so you can position yourself in advance without having to panic steer at the last second.

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And, of course, all this means that it’s about shaving tenths of a second off your best times and seeing how high you can climb not only the in-game championship leaderboard, but also the high score table. Because yes, there’s a standard “gamey” scoring system in there too — something which sometimes feels out of place in racing games, but which works quite well here. You gain points for driving over a certain speed and not crashing — and continuing even resets your score to what it was at the start of the race you failed, so you can credit-feed through the game and still have an “accurate” score by the end of the four championships.

World Rally looks great, with its detailed maps flying past at a fair old clip, and sounds good, too. Between races we have Gaelco’s iconic digitised guitar music, courtesy of the company’s in-house musician Joan Sanmarti, and during races we’re treated to one of the best “roaring engine” sounds ever heard in a game of this type; while some might prefer music during races, the fact that each leg is very short lends itself well to the sheer intensity of the engine sounds and tyre screeches, adding to what Gaelco described as a “TV-like 3D” experience on the original flyer.

It’s surprising that World Rally never got a conversion to home systems up until now — though Zigurat’s own Carlos Sainz: World Rally for Amstrad CPC, MS-DOS PC, MSX and ZX Spectrum is the rather less elegant spiritual precursor to this game, if you want to see its real origins. A PlayStation version was supposedly planned, but this never made it to market for one reason or another — and until 2008, it was notoriously tricky to emulate, too, thanks to the original arcade board’s built-in anti-piracy systems.

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Still, now it’s had its first ever home console release as part of the Gaelco Arcade 1 cartridge for Evercade, it’s absolutely worth adding to your collection and spending some time with. Just don’t get too spoiled by those excellent controls — it’s still hard to go back to stuff like Super Sprint and Super Skidmarks after playing this one!

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