Featured Video Play Icon

Length vs. Girth: Sega Rally (or Why Less Is More)

Last Updated on June 1, 2024

Is Sega Rally fun because it is short, or short because it is fun?

An uncle of mine used to say that the yard is greater than the metre in all regards but length. He wasn’t quite right but I could see where he was coming from and there was a light of romance in his eyes for the bygone yard; it was better despite him not being able to demonstrate why.

Less was more. Just ask Sega Rally. Four circuits, three cars and infinite blue skies between them. Such was the tactile joy of controlling those cars that those circuits drifted in sweeping turns and murmured with hairpins. Nothing got in the way of that joy and that was why you returned. Not to unlock a thing or accrue something else, but just for the regular beats of it.

You get the power slides, but it is a long slog around those sub-menus to get there, and when you do it’s as serious as applying for a second mortgage.

Sure, it was almost realistic for the day and was drenched in Euro-cool presentation. Plus it arrived in those precious few years of the mid-nineties when the rules were polygons for the gusto, not realism, at least not yet. Fidelity was for the handling and the creation of manic grins. You know, like it used to be before Gran Turismo called time on the fun and parked us up for some licence tests. Woe for the loss, for the humanity lost wholesale from developers now hungry for the pursuit of chassis menus and torque tinkering. I have been playing Gran Turismo Sport recently at my brother’s house and I bring mixed tidings from the future, some of which are good.

Gran Turismo or Sega Rally?

I am aware that this iteration of Gran Turismo is not the latest, but I think we can agree to count it as modern at the time of writing; state of the art, minus a few. It certainly looked modern, by which I mean it had a flat sense of depth and spiky contrasts of colour. Yes, it beats Sega Rally on detail, but based on life experience I can guarantee that the Lancia Delta in Gran Turismo will not look as good.

Image credit: BrettV8

It will look more detailed, more realistic, but be further from its heart. Something about Sega’s Model 2 board rendered a perfect balance between lifelike and bright painting. Like staring into the Fae realm, which coincidently also runs at a rock solid 60 fps and can be accessed with a fifty-pence piece. So, good points for Sega Rally there and we haven’t even got to power slides yet. Let’s get on with it and get there, or at least in my case begin to navigate GT Sport’s extensive menus.

I say that, but in truth navigating modern Gran Turismo requires my brother to do it for me. Cars, circuits, options; I reliably know that any Gran Turismo is chock full of these things. It is why the game exists, but by golly, I cannot find them when I try, which I have long given up doing. Let us remind ourselves of how Sega Rally went about things. You give it money, first and absolute, then you select a circuit from the few presented and very quickly thereafter you have one of your two main cars and have probably gone for automatic transmission. Then 3-2-1- Go…! No need to call on someone else to take you through it.


Back in the modern world and my brother set a deliberately poor lap time around Monza in a Mercedes F1 car and then left me to try and catch its ghost. Now we’re talking. Let’s power slide. Only let’s not. I’ve been through the indulgent need to power slide my way around Gran Turismo with my brother before and he is impressed only up until the first corner.

The spirit of rally car

So, we know there is no sliding in GT Sport, but what about its own sense of joy? Sega Rally captured something of the rallying spirit with its free-flying gusto and Martini cool facade. What does GT Sport capture of the ultra-high, polo shirt world of circuit racing? Of its own interests, it does very well, the menu screen replicating the dazzling display of graphics you see when watching the pre-race action of Formula 1 on the television. And similarly, despite the dazzle, there is no fun. It has been located and eradicated to make space for information. I guess well done?


man driving a racing car machina
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

But now what of the racing, of what merit the spirit of the thing? Well, I spent an hour chasing that ghost around Monza and it was a good exercise in… something. I could feel a genuine interest, and a rush each time I would close in on the ghost, only to lose it shortly thereafter with a twitch of disappointment. I could do better. That was the impression GT Sport left on me. Next lap I would be nipping at the coat-tail of that ghost. But it wasn’t really fun at any point; nothing spontaneous, no tinge of effervescence.

Now you might think that comparing an old rally game and a modern circuit racer has no point, but no, they both represent the premier populist racing of their day; the spirit of their age. But only one of them shows up with an abacus, while the other is doing donuts out in the car park. That being said, I am blessed with enough forethought that I did also play a modern World Rally Championship game at my brothers’, so there. Result? Same old thing really.

You get the power slides, but it is a long slog around those sub-menus to get there, and when you do it’s as serious as applying for a second mortgage. You are power sliding, but you are careful with the goods. Fair enough, but I can’t help but feel that no one ever got into rally racing for real out of a career exploration. I mean have you seen rallying? The wild hearts that got people into doing that, that is what Sega Rally brought and that is what kept you coming back and leaving with a smile, despite having no pocket change left. Those the brokes and you probably were.

But you felt like you had been gathered up into the spirit of rallying and that kept you clocking up the lap times on those same circuits long after the arcade had been translated over to Sega’s home machine, the Saturn, where you just picked up from your last go in the arcade. What an effort; half the resolution, half the frame rate, digital control, but all the tactile joy of the thing. How they did that I do not know, but because they did I and anyone else who might have owned a Saturn outside of Japan knew those cars and those circuits inside out. We weren’t playing to win (Saturn owners never were) or collect. We were playing for keeps.

So, you can have the metre, I see the appeal, but it wasn’t made to last. The yard is as natural as walking. Its length has been defeated but its girth goes on immemorial.

Weekly newsletterGet the latest retro gaming news in your inbox

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply