To my detriment, I am obsessed with niche titles, niche video game music, and even more niche hip hop remixes of niche video game music. It's a curse to want to dig this deep, but someone has to keep digging. Well maybe that person does not need to keep digging but you can't stop me so stop trying to stop me.
I have spent many more hours on a long forgotten list of average titles. Who will speak for these forgotten games. The middling also rans that saw the hype train coming, and jumped on that train, only to trip, fall from the back of the train, and be dragged behind the train for the rest of video game history. I can do that, I say, and I will do that. So I do. I do write about these terribly average games.
I've really hit rock bottom with these obscure game retrospectives. I continue to search out more and more lost and forgotten games from my past, and now I'm here, with Rally X, like two bitter lovers forced to sit in a room and hammer out the divorce settlement. This is the husk like and overly nostalgic man that I am though, and thus, I must review Rally X. I feel like I'm fated to review this game. There is something about it's incredible monotonousness that really speaks to me. This is the most 'okay' game I have ever played, and as such, it has seared itself into my brain, because I remember everything (except everything I actively try to forget).
Rally X is a game you haven't heard of, and don't care about. You shouldn't care about it, and you shouldn't care about me neither. The chunk of coal writing this article used to be a young, broad shouldered lad just like you. I used to have a future just like you. Now I'm reviewing Rally X just like you! Well, most of those things. If you told me, back when I first played Rally-X, that about fifteen years later, my 'pièce de résistance' would be a fucking article about Rally X. Well, I'd probably be terrified that someone was standing there the whole time, cry and hyperventilate for a moment, then tell you, whoever you are, that you're full of shit. I'm gonna write a novel, with robots! You'll see!
I'm writing about Rally X though, a game with zero percent robots, no sci-fi elements, nor anything good, at all, unlike that sweet ass novel I'm working on. Not even the faintest hint of a story resides in any aspect of Rally X, and for a bookworm like me, that is a serious problem. Even Bosconian threw me a bone. Not Rally X. You expect me to give you quarters for this Nakamura Manufacturing Co? Well let me tell you something NAMCO, can I call you NAMCO?*
Listen up NAMCO, Rally X is dumb as shit. It's just Pac Man, we've already played Pac Man. Pac Man came out less than one year before Rally X and everyone in the US that also goes outside has already played Pac Man. I don't care what feedback you got at the last trade show. You are on a bad path NAMCO. I'm your friend, and I don't like where this is going. No story line? Pac Man had entire cut scenes. No artistic integrity in Rally X either. What model car is that again? Do you honestly believe that the most endearing part about Pac Man is that it takes place in a maze? Not to mention that you're already sullying the future poor reputation of racing games. Dammit NAMCO, if some goofballs didn't create Ms. Pac Man by hacking your arcade cabinets, you'd probably have gone and created four or five iterations of Rally X at this point. Pumping them out like so many Galaxian sequels.
Galaxian, Galaga, Galaga '88, Gaplus, Grobda...
Grobda? That can't be right...
Galaga 2, Galaga cubed, Galaga Tekken Edition...
You get the idea. Pac Man got the same endless sequels, and still does, as NAMCO drags him kicking and screaming into each new generation of video game consoles. reminds me of all those undignified Frogger sequels that used to come out. Fortunately, Frogger didn't survive.
But, dammit, I wasn't there for NAMCO when they needed me most, which is apparently just before Rally X was released in arcades. Unfortunately for the boys at Nakamura Manufacturing Co. I would not be born for several years. Accursed fate!
This game has nothing going for it. It's Pac-Man, but much worse and far less charming. Really hit the mark there NAMCO. In both Rally X, and Pac Man, you can collect things. You can be chased by other things. Maze. The game has the very same overhead view, four directions to travel around a large square map, ghosts, I mean ghost cars, I mean regular cars. Game would be better with ghost cars though, but apparently that would have taken some type of thought.
There isn't much better than an obscure game, unless that is an old and obscure game. The oldest, obscurest games of all are arcade games. I was old enough to see the last whimpering cries of US arcades as home consoles finally began to surpass the power of individual arcade cabinets. More importantly than processing power though, was the shifting attitudes of gamers. Sprawling games such as Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy VII were the big money in the late 90s. By the time I had the disposable income to enjoy an arcade, they had become nothing more than skeeball and DDR. The golden age of arcade games is the late 70s to mid 80's, roughly. A magical era I've only read about within the pages of various video game history books and from the tales of older nerds than I. It's a video game world that is forever lost, and because of that, I will forever remain interested in those days.
The actual reason I played Rally X is because I was bored of the other four games in my NAMCO 5 games in 1 joystick. This stellar collection included Pac Man. Dig Dug. Galaxian. Bosconian. And Rally X! That's my youth. you had a real console? Maybe some iteration of the Xbox or Playstation? Not me. The only thing plugged into my CRT television was the mono sounds of my 5 games in 1 NAMCO arcade stick. I was playing Galaxian and Dig Dug while you played Final Fantasy X, and I am 100% sure I spent my time better than you.
Have you ever gotten good at a game out of sheer desperation. Just finding any menial way to pass the time. Well, Rally X has you covered. Why slowly play out a game of Solitaire between forced sighs when you can hit the arcade and play Rally X?
I played Rally X. The game is a shining testament to how completely forgettable a game can truly be. Rally X is the definition of going through the motions. Just continuing to hone some unnecessary skill that makes your life better in no objective way because life is just as monotonous as Rally X anyway.
Rally X is obscure now, but back when it debuted, NAMCO, cigar smoking big shots after the debut of Pac Man, had big dreams for the simple, simple Rally X game. Sequels were planned, because of course sequels were planned. One came out. New Rally X was basically just Rally X, and I only have enough room in my cold and dying soul for one Rally X game. What crushes my spirit most, is the lack of Story line.
Over in America, Atari released arcade games like the graphically sterile but emotionally intense Cold War scenario of Missile Command, as well as the Alice in Wonderland inspired drug trip of Centipede.
The Rally X arcade cabinet had some college mascot looking driver plastered all over the thing, and was presented as if it would be the next Pac Man, on account of it being a total rip off of Pac Man. If NAMCO didn't work on both games, they would have sued themselves, and had Rally X banned. In that perfect world, I would also be hard at work on my second novel.
This game came out in 1980 by NAMCO. Some folks thought it might sell well. Rally X bills itself as a maze game, a chase game, and a race game. Having multiple things in one thing is a clear warning signal that all those things are bad.
One of those interesting things about living during my lifetime, is the sheer flood of garbage that comes down the chute along with the handful of gems that grab a hold in your memories. How the warm feelings of nostalgia help filter out the truly memorable moments of youth from the unemotional hours of Rally X playing. Even uninteresting memories are valid though.
I look back and hear tales and stories about how Toru Iwatani came up with Puc Man by taking a slice out of a pizza, unless he didn't do that, and yes I said Puc Man. I don't believe it. Mostly because it's not true, and mostly because it's dumb. I don't know where Toru Iwatani gets his ideas, but he also tells some lame stories about where he gets his ideas. Iwatani is a man that had great ideas though, essentially creating several genres and practices that permeate video games to this day.
Whoever created Rally X said, "Hey! Me too! What Iwatani did! But instead of ghosts we have cars, and instead of perhaps the most recognizable character in popular culture, we have another car."
This game is just Pac Man with zero artistic ability or insight. Rally X is the brown and gray as fuck FPS game of the early 80's arcade scene. Pathetically forgettable, especially when you could be playing one of many hit Atari games available at your local arcade!
Perhaps another feather in the cap of destiny is that Rally X is the first NAMCO game to have music. Considering VGM is 90% of what I write about, it seems only right to have to deal with this game. BGM was a pretty radical concept in 1980. For all the many, many faults of Rally X, the theme song is surprisingly intense, and super underrated, especially considering the minor gaming milestone it achieved. Imagine a world without NAMCO soundtracks. No Tekken. No Tales of Phantasia. No Katamari Damacy! Without those classic NAMCO soundtracks, who knows what I'd be blogging about today. Probably Rally X.
It's easy enough to minimize that credit though. If I was a rational writer about video games and video game music, I would probably hang my Rally X article on this one somewhat interesting fact. Honestly though, If Rally X didn't get the background music treatment, it would have just been the next NAMCO game in line. Leave it to NAMCO to milk this dried up cow for all she's got though. The Rally X theme has appeared in numerous NAMCO titles since. During a racing segment in Tales of Phantasia, and shoved into damn near every NAMCO collection. The game is even fully playable during the loading screen to Ridge Racer (a series which holds true to the proud tradition of NAMCO racing games set by Rally X, which is a long way of saying Ridge Racer is also lame). No one likes your old boring game NAMCO, give it up!
If you think there wasn't a lot of meat on the bones of the Bosconian story, well this one isn't even bones. The only official writing for the game comes way of the sales flyer for the arcade cabinet. This is where I get pertinent information like, the dirt brown racing lanes are actually city streets. This means that the green, grass looking borders are actually buildings? Man, even this sales flyer has plot holes.
There is no story here at all, no matter how esoterically I try to interpret the instructions to the game. One thing I did learn, is that Rally X was marketed as "a uniquely different racing game."
You can say that again!
Racing is apparently the genre of the game, even though there are no laps, no course, and the other cars want to kill you. There are no exits. There is no escape. Oh no! This isn't a race... it's a murder! Throw them in the pit, give them helmets and some formula one race cars! It's the Roman Coliseum, if the Romans had combustion engines.
Luckily, and conveniently for this article. scientists recently uncovered top secret transcripts between the upper echelon of Nakamura Manufacturing Co. during one of their corporate meetings back in 1980. I'll let their words speak for themselves.
Boss: "Imagine Pac-Man, but instead of surreal and likable shapes, the game featured real world objects. I believe we have the technology. Enough with these odd but incredibly memorable characters. Let's have something recognizable, like a race car!"
Lackey #1: "I know what cars are!"
Boss: "Not just cars. but demonic F1 race cars doomed to chase down cocky young drivers. Foolhardy men that do not fear death, until now. Before we get into that though, we need a world for these cars to move around in! Where does a man usually find a car?"
Lackey #1: "On the road!"
Boss: "Give that man a raise!"
Lackey #2: "Sir, there's a slight issue with the roads, we can't do gray."
Lackey #2: "Gray, the color."
Boss: "I know what color gray is, the very same color as my jaded heart!"
Lackey #2: "We can't render that color. It is currently a mere dream of engineering."
Boss: "Are you serious? You're fired!"
Lackey #2: "That doesn't change the fact that gray is-"
Boss: "Pack up your things and get out! Who cares what color the road is anyway! If folks can imagine that some sort of pac person is being chased by ghosts, they can imagine one color is a different color! They'll drive on whatever color streets I decide there are in Rally World! Can you do brown? Dirt streets are brown you know."
Lackey #1: "Yes sir, I do know."
Boss: "Great, so he'll be driving on brown city streets, perhaps because the city has been ruined in the near future due to some unknown apocalypse that released these racing ghouls into Rally world. Anyway, make sure to add some buildings between the streets."
Lackey #2: "But sir, buildings, are generally gray."
Boss: "Didn't I fire you!?"
Lackey #2: "I'm, I'm still gathering my things."
Boss: "Fine. Okay. Whatever. So what do we got so far? People love cars, they love roads, and they love video games where you turn in 90 degree angles to escape wronged and wayward souls. Those who enter Rally World never forget, and never forgive. Was anyone taking notes? I want all this backstory on the arcade cabinet."
Secretary: "Sorry sir, the person you fired was taking notes, and he took them."
Boss: "Sonofa- Alright, that's fine, just slap some cartoonish race car driver all over the cabinet. I'm going home for the day, and I want my entire office painted gray by the time I come in tomorrow!"
Pac Man was a successful game for a variety of reasons. One of the key aspects was the 'character' design. Much like Mario and his pixel perfect overalls and 'stache, Pac Man creator Toru Iwatani settled on Pac's well known design based on the limitations of 1980's arcade cabinets.The layout of Pac Man was very surreal. An overhead view of wide-eyed geometric shapes running through a dark labyrinth. Pac Man and the group of ghosts were even presented as individual characters and in cut scenes.
This is where Rally-X failed hardest. By going with familiar designs such as cars, streets, and 'Smoke Screens' the game looked boring and boxy and frankly, offensive. Humans know what cars look like, and what roads look like, and what shape a race track is. Rally-X fails at all of these things. How some folks thought this would be a breakout hit eludes me, even with over 30 years of hindsight. I never thought I'd be pining for the realism of Atari's Pole Position.
Rally X has no legacy. If anything it's riding on the coat tails of Pac-Man and NAMCO in general. If it hadn't snuck it's way into NAMCO collections to bolster the amount of games mentioned on the back of the game case, then it would be well and long forgotten. Just because classics are remembered and re-released doesn't mean they need to be. Sometimes it is okay when games are forgotten.
When I look back on the slowly forming landscape of video games when Rally X was released, almost 40 years ago, It's easy to look at certain aspects of game design, and wonder how far we've really come after all these years. Video games are still constantly striving towards realism, even when it's to a games detriment. Carbon copy ripoffs and rehashes of popular franchises are as ubiquitous as the programmers willing to do so.
It's also true that even terrible games can be innovative. Certainly not so easy to do in 2016 as compared to the early 80's. Back then, even Rally X had such innovative features as...
A stage larger than the area of the screen
Don't play this game. This is not a good game. It is not a notable or worthwhile game. It is a game, and that is really about it. Yes it did innovate a key aspect of games for NAMCO in those early days, but if it wasn't Rally X, it would have surely been another, likely better game.
I dare to dig through these forgotten games though, looking for some facet of knowledge or a keen insight into the realities of man. Perhaps one day I'll be writing a review of Drakkhen or Salamander and suddenly all will be revealed. Dammit I have to try.
I am glad to dig this game from it's digital grave, and judge it from up on high, thanks to almost 40 years of video game history hindsight. Don't play this game. I guess it's an okay way to pass the time, but only if you are already bored of Pac Man, Dig Dug, Galaxian, and the actually decent and surprisingly innovative obscure game Bosconian. That Rally X music is still good though.
After this, I am not sure which obscure game I should tackle next. I think it is high time I move forward and attempt to review a game I actually grew up with. Shmups seem like the ideal candidate. Not Gradius or R-Type for me though. How about something like Earth Defense Force, or UN Squadron. On that train of thought. How about Einhander! Remember Einhander? No? Good.
Oh who am I kidding, I will be reviewing NAMCO's ever so slight hardware upgrade New Rally X in my next arcade classic retrospective! I'm trapped. Don't play this game either. Send help.
*Whenever I do these retrospectives, I wonder, do I call a company by it's current name, or do I call it the name it was during the time of the game I choose to write about? In this article I chose to continue saying NAMCO because it is easier, but I cold be saying NAMCO BANDAI. Or is it BANDAI NAMCO? Pfft, lucky I didn't just call them Nakamura Manufacturing Company the whole article.