I’ve always wondered where the phrase “one-trick pony” comes from. In my head, I have always pictured a magic show put on by a herd of ponies, a competition to see which one was the best pony magician, and the poor pony whose master had only one trick lost. I feel bad for that pony. Like one of the animals from the Grimm fairy tale, The Musicians of Bremen, I hope he found a career for himself outside of prestidigitation.
Sega Rally Revo is that poor pony. While it does what it does proficiently, it’s ultimately just a horsey with a limited repertoire. The game is a pitch-perfect rendition of vintage arcade racers - all it’s missing to complete the feeling are a couple of coin slots. Those of you with elaborate racing setups at home will feel right at home - but without the vibrating driver’s seat, without the full-size arcade cabinet enclosure, without a rumbling racing wheel, and without the all-important smell of stale popcorn and cigarette smoke - there’s very little to Sega Rally Revo.
Sega’s arcade rally series was all the rage back in the early ‘90s when its fiercest competitor was Namco’s Ridge Racer series. The decimation of arcade culture forced both series to adapt to console culture. Ridge Racer has remained a staple of console-based arcade racing, but Sega’s rally series hasn’t adapted that well - and this latest title brings nothing new to the table.
It does look nice, though. It runs at a slippery smooth framerate with nary a hitch. Course environments and vehicle models are crisp and vibrantly colored. Imagine if the real world was pained in default Microsoft Paint colors. As a stylistic commonplace for arcade racers, the look suits the game well.
Sega Rally Revo’s single novelty is its implementation of track deformation. Granted, it’s an impressive trick. As you and five other cars race over a wide variety of terrain, the cars leave an impressive array of tire tracks, skid-marks, furrows, and puddles to contend with. With each successive lap, the track becomes more and more deformed, affecting the general handling and stability of your car. In effect, each lap handles differently as the track changes in real-time. Additionally, since you can see the exact path you and other cars have taken in prior laps, you can adjust your driving strategy to shave seconds off your lap times.
Complimenting the track deformation technology are various layers of driving surfaces: tarmac, rain-slicked tarmac, gravel, hard dirt, soft dirt, mud, snow, sleet, ice, and water. You’ll also see many of these surfaces combine as you deform the track. Often, you’ll uncover other surface types buried beneath others, such as mud beneath snow.
As cool an effect as this is, it can’t make up for many of the game’s shortcomings. As widely varied as the terrain is, the courses and cars are not. With only five areas with three courses each, that’s a mere fifteen courses. Some reversed-direction versions of some courses are included, but it doesn’t save the game from getting stale very quickly.
Futhermore, the game’s unlockables consist entirely of more vehicles and liveries - paint jobs and decals. There are three different vehicle classes, but within each class, there’s very little variation between vehicles. As a result, all of the unlockables simply give you more of the same.
Also, don’t expect to do anything in the game other than circuit racing. Despite the name, there is absolutely no rallying in Sega Rally Revo. You’ll be driving in circles, dully repeating the same circuits in the same cars in the same environments over and over again. While there is a multiplayer mode (two player off-line, up to six online) and a time attack mode, you’ll still be on the same courses driving the same cars.
The driving mechanics themselves feel sufficiently arcade-y. Expect to hone your drifting skills as you’ll be expected to master the accelerate-through-every-corner-so-you-can-drift technique quickly. Within a single class, every car handles the same. Since there are only three vehicle classes, you only have to learn three different driving styles. But even if you don’t get the hang of drifting, the invisible boundaries along the sides of the course will keep you moving in the right direction. Sometimes these invisible boundaries make sense - a wall or fence - but other times you’ll hit a boundary – grass or slightly dirtier dirt – for no apparent reason. Arcade racers I understandably need vehicles to say on the course, but these boundaries are unpredictable and arbitrary. It feels like the racing equivalent of bumper bowling.
The game adds some elements of rally racing aside from the aforementioned variety of terrain. One of the strangest elements, though, is the voice of the navigator, the co-driver who reads “pacenotes” that tell you what turns and terrain to expect. In Sega Rally Revo, a disembodied voice unnecessarily booms in all of its god-like magnanimity: “Easy Right!” or “Hairpin Left!”. If the game’s music and voices weren’t so bad, I’d almost be willing to call them “retro” in an nostalgic way, but most of the game sounds just sounds plain bad.
Generally speaking, though, Sega Rally Revo does nothing terrible or game-breakingly wrong. It simply doesn’t take the experience any further than arcade racing circa 1993. There was a time when the sight of four full-size arcade racing compartments sitting side-by-side would have made me giddy with excitement. So much of what makes that experience so exhilarating are the immersive additions like pedals, shifters, full-size bucket seats, and a crowd of observers. Without all of the environmental additions, Sega Rally Revo is an average racer at best.
Poor little pony.