Ah, the humble racing game… There are not many game genres where the objective is to simply ‘go fast and win’. The offering is so simplistic that literally anyone can pick up a controller and go, without a need for instruction. The problem with such a simple formula is that the market is competitive to a degree where there is only room for one top dog on each platform. Rally Racers attempts to muscle in on Switch despite a behemoth standing in its way.

Rally Racers reviewed on Switch; €9.99

For Nintendo in general, let alone the Switch, one might argue that they already possess the true king of arcade racing. (Hint; it’s not Rally Racers)

Rally Racers
Not a bad looking game with some interesting backdrops

In a portable racing game world dominated by Italian plumbers, Koopas and Donkey Kong, developer West Coast Games’ attempts to wag a finger at Shigeru Miyamoto and say “now, now, give someone else a go”. Unfortunately, they have managed to miss the mark completely.

Droog has stolen “all of the rugby balls”. For this reason, racing ensues. Really.

A New Challenger Approaches

Despite it only serving as a vehicle to justify the game’s content, the plot to Rally Racers is…strange. You take on the role of Rees – a hip, baseball cap wearing wacky racer. Rees finds himself in a predicament – Droog, his evil brother (complete with top hat and curled moustache) has stolen “all of the rugby balls”. For this reason, racing ensues. Really.

Like a discount store Ash Ketchum, Rees turns his bright yellow baseball cap backwards and rallies his friends to chase Droog down…only to find they have been “turned to the dark side”. Now siding with the textbook antagonist, Rees finds himself alone, and must race to win back the coveted rugby balls and revert his teammates back to the side of light.

the game plays out over the course of 21 tracks, themed to 7 different islands that each come with their own weather warning

Seriously, who writes this stuff?

Fortunately, the game itself isn’t as convoluted, but it becomes apparent quite rapidly that this is not the racer you’re used to. Content wise, the game plays out over the course of 21 tracks, themed to 7 different islands that each come with their own weather warning. In order to catch Droog, and eventually liberate your teammates, the player must play through each of these stages. Simple enough, right?

Collectathon with a race in there somewhere

You dun goofed, West Coast

Regrettably, this is where the commonalities end. Rally Racers endeavours to
be different, and arguably suffers for it. Each of the 21 stages feature a set of 3 goals, the criteria of which must be met before progressing onto the next. These are set goals that remain the same for each track – 1) completing and winning the race, 2) reaching a set amount of freestyle points (we’ll get to that), and 3) by collecting a set amount of oranges (one of the developers must love their vitamin C) littered throughout the track. At the end of these 21 stages, following the completion of the set goals, the game culminates in a new standard of corny final race-battle. I won’t spoil it, but God bless you if you get that far without switching back to Mario Kart.

the kart design also changes with the stage, adapting to the varying weather conditions and terrain that are well illustrated

Daredevil

In terms of actual gameplay, Rally Racers follows the traditional kart race format but manages to add unnecessary weight by means of needless bloat. This leads to the notion of freestyle points; throughout the stages are ramps and precipices which provide opportunities to do various stunts with your kart.

Text concerning tricks appears but it means little beyond fulfilling arbitrary objectives

When the aim of the stage is to come first, this stunt feature takes away from a player’s ability to case that goal. It is better suited to the likes of SSX or STEEP where stunt jumps feel like a natural addition. On top of this, the stunt feature feels like it was a second thought before release – though each manoeuvre requires an individual controller input, the animations are nearly identical. It adds nothing to the experience, and would likely be ignored if it wasn’t compulsory in order to progress.

Despite the attractiveness of the game’s design and customisation options, they’re not enough to outweigh the negatives that plague the player experience

What a Beautiful Horizon (Yes, I do Montserrat Caballe/Freddie Mercury jokes)

There’s always a light in the darkness, however. With Rally Racers some solace can be found in the game’s design and art style. While the graphic style harkens back to a title that might be found on a previous generation console, the individual stages are incredibly detailed and bursting with colour. Though a small detail, the kart design also changes with the stage, adapting to the varying weather conditions and terrain that are well illustrated.

This accompanies a variety of challenging track layouts that are designed to break monotony, and feature secret passageways that feature new freestyle opportunities and shorter routes.

Icy level; a classic or a tired trope

The only downside here is a slightly buggy hitbox regarding track boundaries; at points, particularly when attempting stunts, the AI will mistake the kart for going off-road and teleport Rees back to the start of the track.

Controlling Rees is where Rally Racers fails big time

Down on the Upside

Despite the attractiveness of the game’s design and customisation options, they’re not enough to outweigh the negatives that plague the player experience. Controlling Rees is where Rally Racers fails big time. While the actual act of controlling the car is easy enough, steering Rees around the stages is a chore. Handling is a fundamental aspect of any racing game, and it’s crucial that it feels natural to justify playing the game in the first place.

Rally Racers doesn’t even offer a competitive element, lacking multiplayer entirely, and the ideas it presents discourage replayability

Unfortunately, it falls short of what would might even be deemed adequate. There are upgrades available via point spending, but they make little difference – it often feels like you’re driving a steamroller, rather than a kart. Stuff this, where’s my Italian plumber?

Game in the Mirror

When Michael Jackson said change is “gonna feel real good”, it’s possible that West Coast interpreted it as being universally applicable. While it’s clear to see that the developers were trying to set themselves apart, and create something different, Rally Racers is a mess of different ideas that just don’t gel together well.

The reason that main competitor Mario Kart works so well is because it doesn’t overdo what’s expected from the genre. The series fosters competitiveness through a simple, easy-to-use format, retaining players and continually building its installed user base.

Rally Racers doesn’t even offer a competitive element, lacking multiplayer entirely, and the ideas it presents discourage replayability. It’s probably a good idea if West Coast fail-fast and go back to the drawing board.