The Game: As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Special flags (marked with an “S”, of course) offer big points bonuses, while Lucky flags (“L”) give you bonus points based on how much fuel remains in your car’s gas tank, so it’s best to find them as quickly as possible. Watch out for rocks, and use your smokescreen only when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (1981, Namco)
Memories: Not even really a sequel to Rally-X, which hit the arcades at roughly the same time as Pac-Man, New Rally-X was an attempt by Namco to give its cutesy overhead racing game a little more “oomph” to Rally-X in the hope that it might pick up steam during the arcade boom that Pac-Man spawned.
The changes are fairly minor, and don’t affect game play that much – if anything, the biggest change is to the game’s scoring system. The Lucky Flags, if pounced on as soon as possible, can rocket a player’s score into the stratosphere. The game is really no harder (and in fact, I could even swear that it’s easier than plain old garden-variety Rally-X). Or maybe it’s just the no-skill-required score boost from the Lucky Flags that makes it seem that way.
Aside from its countless reappearances in Namco’s various retro compilations, New Rally-X just isn’t a vast improvement; I’d honestly hesitate to characterize it as an improvement at all, in fact. Like a handful of Namco games from the same era, Rally-X had – and perhaps still has – potential to become a franchise of its own. But the reinventions will have to be just a little more inventive than this.