Review: Rally Chase (Neo Geo CD)

 Rally Chase (Thrash Rally in the United States) is a rally racing game for the Neo Geo CD, originally released in cartridge form in 1991. The game features and overhead perspective, similar to top-down shooters of the era.

The game features 4 difficulty mode: Easy, Normal, Hard, and MVS. After playing through them all, I am not really sure what the difference is. If there is one, it's minor. There are 2 modes of play, World Championship and 1992 Paris-Le Cap. The World Championship mode is the main meat of the game. There are 5 rounds spanning Africa and Europe: Round 1 - Monte Carlo (Monaco) Round 2 - Safari (Kenya) Round 3 - Acropolis (Greece) Round 4 - 1000 Lakes (Finland) Round 5 - R A C (England)

Each round consists of 3-5 stages, which is essentially the number of laps you will be doing. There is a lot of variety between the 5 locations, featuring different driving surfaces like pavement, mud, gravel, sand, and water. There are planes, birds, and helicopters that fly overhead during the races. One Round even features a train that races along the side of the stage. While the variety between the different locations is nice, the stages in each location just loop endlessly. After you complete a stage (lap) you pretty much see the same thing over and over again.

The 1992 Paris-Le Cap (Dakar Rally) mode mimics the 1992 race of the same name. Essential it's a romp across the African continent beginning in the north and ending in Cape Town. This is a single race, consisting of 6 stages (unnamed). Each of the six stages has a very unique look and feel varying from the desert stages through the jungle.

Six cars are featured in World Championship mode. I am not a rally expert by any means, but I could identify a Toyota, Nissan, and a Citroën, so I assume the rest of the cars are real as well. Three of the cars feature an automatic transmission and have a top speed of 256 km/h (159 mph). The other three cars have a manual transmission and a top speed of 272 km/h (169 mph). The cars each have stats in 4 different categories: Acceleration, Tires, Handling, and Endurance. The automatic cars all have better acceleration than the manual cars. The Paris-Le Cap mode adds an off road bike (automatic), sand buggy (manual), and semi truck (automatic).

In the automatic transmission cars, you press A to accelerate. The manual transmission cars are unique from any other racing game I have played. You press A to accelerate in first gear, B to accelerate in second gear, and A + B to accelerate in third gear. There is a nice little icon that pops up and tells you which gear you need to be in when using a manual car. Your steer by moving the joystick left and right.

Rally Chase is a race against the clock, not against the other cars on the road. The other cars on the road are nothing more than an obstacle to avoid. Other moving obstacles include semi trucks and animals. The tracks are also littered with hay bails, tires, and cones. You can run into these and they will go flying, and don't seem to adversely affect your speed. The only exception is one stage of the Paris-Le Cap rally, which has a section of trees littered on the course which will stop your car.

The game moves along at a really quick pace. The top view nature of the game limits your ability to see what is coming, but there are icons that pop up to let you know what is coming up next. The icons are actually fairly detailed, showing the exact nature of the upcoming set of turns. Between the complicated turns are stretches of straight road. These stretches are either flat (left, right, and up) or some upward angle. What I found interesting is that you never drive down, or at a downward angle. I assume this was to prevent confusion when turning left or right when facing down, showing it's arcade roots.

The game play is very fast and twitchy. I found it challenging to correct my car if I over took a corner, or even trying to straighten out the car in a straight section of the stage. The cars with good handling can take any turn flat out, without letting off the accelerator. While the game features many different road surfaces, none of them affect the handling of the car. The car handles the same on sand as it does on pavement. The cars are not very balanced either, there is no choice between a good accelerating car or a good handling car. You either select a car with poor stats, or good stats. This eliminates your car selection greatly. Why would you drive a car with poor stats?

There is one angle of road (on the straight sections) that does not match an angle your car can drive. What this means is that your are constantly adjusting your car, steering left and right, to avoid going off the course on certain stretches of the stage. This is annoying, but thankfully, the only flaw of the game play.

To be successful at Rally Chase, you need to select a manual transmission car (which have a higher top speed) and memorize the courses. The courses aren't that big, so it is fairly easy to memorize the tricky parts. You also need to race perfect, maintaining your top speed and not running into anything. The manual transmission cars have poor acceleration, so if you hit something, it is going to take a while to get back up to speed. You need to be perfect.

The music of the game is very generic and bland. Thankfully, none of them are awful either. The cars feature very generic engine notes, and the sounds from hitting objects and cars is a very generic thwack. Overall, very bland in the sound department. The Neo Geo CD has a reputation of very long load times. Thankfully, Rally Chase has none after the initial loading of the game. This keeps the game moving at a very quick pace, as each race is only between 1 and 3 minutes.

Overall, I found Rally Chase to be very enjoyable. The game play is very quick, which keeps you on your toes and interested. I wish there were more tracks in the game. Six tracks just isn't enough. I also wish there were more cars. While there are 9 cars, I stuck with the two cars with the best stats. At the end of the day though, the game is fun. I rather enjoyed racing through the World Championship mode trying to post better times and finishes. I just wish there was more.

Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 5/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Overall - 6/10 Better than average