Karnaaj Rally (GBA/Jaleco)
by mark magdamit
I've long enjoyed (though was never good at) the MicroMachines games for the NES, Genesis and Playstation. They offered such a fun mix of action and racing, all the while feeling like little tiny and skittery toy cars. I always completely sucked at the games, mainly because the AI was just so incredibly ferocious. Still, they were always great fun, and they had a neat atmosphere of "schoolboy imagination".
Editor's note: incidentally, Karnaaj developers Paragon 5 went on to make a Micro Machines game for Infogrammes on the GBA not a few months later.
"MicroMachines" for the MegaDrive
I also really used to love the Super OffRoad game in the arcade. Nothing in my high school days matched the fierce competition three friends and myself had playing this game after school at the local arcade. Simple upgrades and much-desired turbos were the order of the day (as well as fawning over the girl with the locker next to mine, but that's another story). Even though those tiny trucks were built for rockin' and racin', one still had to know how to get them around the corners and through straightaways with the steering wheel, all the while keeping that speed up.
Ivan Stewart's Super Off-Road
I'm quite happy to say that Karnaaj Rally for the GBA has elements of both these games, as well as its own distinctive flair. I must have looked past the box (the horrible, awful box) on game shelves for some time now, not realizing just how fun and fresh it was. EB now has the game for only $9.99 new (and apparently there's lots of stock), so there's no reason not to buy it.
The graphics in this game are simply fantastic. Everything is really, really detailed and crisp. There are even some polygonal elements to the backgrounds that add such a great dimension to the scenery. Spectators sometimes cheer you on by the side of the road, and they're quite animated.
The cars are all very sharp and detailed. Each one scales nicely when turning, and it's never hard to pick out which car is yours on the screen. I think each of the vehicles is nicely designed, none of which looks like some uber-lame "futuro Mad Max" design we've all seen about a million times. No friends, these are just some fun simple vehicles to race with.
I also have to say that the actual front-end screens are really nice and clean. The developers used some 3D elements in the background of the results screens, making everything look really, really slick and snazzy.
The only downer is that the developer decided to use really CRAPPY digitized pictures of real people as the characters in the game. You don't necessarily see them often, but they just look LAME. If they looked more like actors done up to look like exaggerated characters in the game, I suppose that would have been okay. But most of them look like:
their kid brother/sister,
or on-again/off-again girlfriend.
Other than that, I doubt anyone would be disappointed at how this game looks. The animations of birds flying overhead, the lazy alligator crawling alongside the road in the first series and the little chunk of boulder that gets knocked off of a larger boulder are all very, very well done. Fantastic.
So far, the music is pretty cool, and the sound effects are decent as well. Explosions are nice, rocket sounds are uh, rockety, and turbo sounds are uh, "fast". Good stuff.
"Refreshing" is the best word I have for this game. While there's the standart Quick Race, the meat of the game is in the career mode. There you can select a starting car and upgrade it, add to the armory (armor, mines and missiles - simple and effective), check your current ranking, and betting.
Betting is very cool, because it's not just always about you betting on who will be first or whatnot. There are other challenges I believe. One that I ran across was betting whether or not you'd beat a certain total time for the next race. I also ran across another that was essentially whether or not a certain racer would even finish the current race!
From the looks of things, all the cars are based off of time periods. The first bloke who ran the first race was some caveman, while the second race series looked like Al Capone's brother-in-law.
The actual racing is purely ace. All the cars have "weight" and momentum, and going around corners you can actually pull off some spectacular fishtails and minor drifts. It's quite a wonderful sensation. I also have to give MAJOR props to the developers for apparently omitting the "hit just the tip of the corner of an obstacle and completely stop your car and lose your place/the race" feature I seem to run into in other such 2D racing games. You'll definitely slow down, but you never get stuck or jammed.
The game starts off slow, letting you get accustomed to the controls and mechanics. After that, the game REALLY ramps up and gets quite competitive (in a good way). Between races you can upgrade your car or save your progress, too.
I can't recommend it enough. It's not only beautiful to look at, it's also very finely-tuned as a game. Why EB is letting this game go for only $9.99 new is beyond me, but screw it - take advantage of it. Highly recommended!
If you blokes are having a hard time finding the game on the shelf, here's the completely appropriate and tastefully designed box art to help you:
Thanks to Genesis Project and KLOV for non-KR screenshots.