Giving games a second chance can, sometimes, totally pay off.
I can be stubborn and closed-minded when I experience a game for the first time. I imagine what it would be like for a long while, and then when the game inevitably fails to live up to my expectations, I’m done. Out for the count.
But nine times out of ten, I’ll choose to revisit said game. I’ll come back in with low expectations and an open mind. And sometimes, just sometimes, a game that I ignorantly detested so damned hard becomes something else entirely. Where hate once stood, there is now only love.
This happened to me a few days ago, and DiRT Rally is one such game.
I’ve also been hopelessly hooked on Gotcha Racing 2nd on the Switch. Great game, and I’ll tell you all about it reeeeeeal soon!
But first, DiRT Rally.
DIRT RALLY // PC
As a youngster, I could only get in on the Colin McRae Rally games on a mate’s Playstation. My system of choice was the SEGA Saturn, and SEGA Rally Championship was all the Rally I needed, but I’ll be damned if the CMR games didn’t pique my interest. I played them, liked them, but I preferred SEGA Rally and its bombastic arcade styling. I did own a PC, but the PC port of Colin McRae Rally 2.0, sadly, passed me by.
By the time I got my Xbox, a system that received its own CMR ports, I was in love with Rallisport Challenge and the superlative sequel Rallisport Challenge 2. Both games were, again, more to my tastes, and the CMR games looked a little dated in comparison. Still, I pumped a tonne of time into Colin McRae Rally 2005 – it just wasn’t my favourite.
The DiRT games should have been my thing, but the overly slick presentation and cheesy announcer thing they had going on – particularly in the first couple of games – was off-putting.
Which brings us to DiRT Rally. Touted as a simulation, I wasn’t exactly thrilled for the game because I don’t like sim-racers. It did, however look exactly like the no-nonsense rally experience I felt I was now prepared for. So I took the plunge. Got it, played it, hated it. Definitely too sim-like for me – I wanted none of it. Next!
I don’t know what has changed in the last two years, but having finished Milestone’s GRAVEL in recent weeks (along with its DLC, Fire & Ice), I was up for more Rally action. I didn’t care how it presented itself, I just wanted the experience.
My first port of call was the PC version of Colin McRae Rally 2005, a game that I considered a more-realistic type of Rally game back in the day, but in 2018? Positively arcade-like in comparison. Time does that to some of these older racers – games that really pushed realism back in the day have had their systems thoroughly lapped by newer games. Still, it was a lot of fun, and I was having a blast.
Then it hit me… maybe I should give DiRT Rally a shot again? I was really feeling the atmosphere in CMR 2005, and wanted more, so I re-installed DiRT Rally. And wouldn’t you know it? I now love the damned thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely terrible at DiRT Rally. A race can’t go by without me careening of an embankment and flipping my car, or clipping the sides and flipping my car. Or running into a pile of logs and flipping my car. But fucking hell, I’m digging the gameplay immensely.
The controls were, and are, still the biggest hurdle for me – it still feels like a sim-racer through and through. But I guess because it’s a rally game, and because I’ll always be drawn to them, I’m more open to learning the in-and-out’s of their systems. It also helps that Codemasters have nailed almost every aspect of a real life rally race. The pace-notes are out-of-this-world – the co-drivers seem to react to my in-game performance. Which is mostly terrible, and that makes me sad. They sound so utterly dejected when I’m on a horrible run. I feel bad for letting them down. Still, for as close as the game leans towards the sim elements, Codemasters haven’t forgotten the fun. Fanging around the numerous, varied stages is super-satisfying, and whether I’m on a rare decent run, or a shitty one, the game never once fails to be anything other than entertaining.
DiRT Rally looks rather nice too. I’d hesitate to call it pretty, because out of the box, it is a mite bland. Colours are muted, and there’s not a whole lot of life in the environments themselves. The near-dead spectators, occasional drone and trees that just barely sway in the breeze let down the presentation a bit, and some honest-to-goodness dynamism injected into this area of the game would push it over the top. As it is, DiRT Rally runs pretty great, and with a few re-shade tweaks, looks rather nice too. Next time around, it’d be nice to see a bit more life, and maybe some dynamic weather thrown into the mix.
I’ll leave it here for DiRT Rally, because I’ve got a rally-focused special event planned for this blog right here, but just know that DiRT Rally is a great game, and even if you detest sim-racers like I do, give it a crack – it might surprise you!
GOTCHA RACING 2nd // SWITCH
ARC System Works
Who doesn’t love a good top-down racer?
Having grown up with stuff like Micro Machines, Double Clutch and the like, I do have a bit of a soft spot for them. Modern ones though? Not so much. There are just a whole slew of them on Steam and Mobile Devices, and sadly, they’re generally of the shovelware variety. You know the kind. Shitty lane-switching games with horrid art and no gameplay. Then the occasional game that comes along, like the killer Mantis Burn Racing, that really gets the top-down style of gameplay right. Great courses, great controls, and a nice upgrade system that keeps you hooked.
You can add Gotcha Racing 2nd to that small list of modern must-haves.
Gotcha Racing 2nd was a total surprise for me. For one, I had no idea that ARC System Works had done anything even remotely related to racing. And two, this is a sequel to a 3DS racer that I had no idea existed.
Well, whatever, because Gotcha Racing 2nd is an absolute blast, and an instant classic. If you’ve got a Nintendo Switch, and you like the occasional top-down racing game, then you’re going to be needing this.
My love for the game almost wasn’t, though. After a few decent races in the first Grand Prix, the lowly E Class, I got stuck, and stuck hard. There’s a fairly brutal difficulty spike in the fourth race of the Grand Prix mode that will make or break the game for a lot of people. I could not get past this hurdle, no matter how hard I tried.
Then I did, and the game’s central conceit becomes very, very clear.
So you win money in races, pretty standard stuff, for sure. Gotcha Racing 2nd’s big thing is its Gatcha Machine upgrade system. You feed money into these capsule machines, and in return, you’ll get cars, engines, tires and various buffs that help you out in a race. Of course, there’s an element of chance to this, so you never really know what you’re going to get, but rarely will you ever be short of money, so off to the Gatcha you’ll go. Over. And over. And over.
It’s addictive as all hell.
Before I dig any further into this, I’ve got to let you know that Gotcha Racing 2nd contains no micro-transactions. This is good-old, in-game money you’ll be spending, not the real-world stuff. What could have been a free-to-start nightmare is instead a brilliant old-school experience, where you can only spend what you actually earn with your driving skills. Now that we’ve got that out-of-the-way, lets continue.
Getting cars is awesome. Some cars will have special abilities, which you can activate in-race. For example, you might get a car that gives you a massive speed-boost for a short time. The only catch is that once this over-powered speed boost has run its course, your top speed will be limited to 40% if its overall performance stats for 30 seconds. This risk-reward mechanic can mean the difference between 1st place and last place, so you’d want to use it wisely.
Or maybe you’ll happen upon a SUPER RARE (all in caps, naturally) vehicle, just as I did. I scored the Pinin, a gem of a car with unbelievably good stats. The only downside to it was that it had no special abilities whatsoever. But since the Pinin’s stats thoroughly outstripped anything in my vehicle collection, I went with it. I’m still using it 5 hours into the game.
I Love this car.
Not only can you score upgrades, tires and limited use buffs, you can fuse each of these items together to increase the overall stats of each item even more.
For example, if you really like a particular set of tires, but feel that they could use a boost in their drifting stats, you can fuse tires or items that are more proficient at drifting with the item that is lacking in that area to permanently up that stat for good. But there’s a bit of a catch – not all fusions you will perform will work 100% of the time. The game will give your chosen fusion a numbered success rate, so you’ll be able to gauge whether or not you’re willing to sacrifice a particular item for a chance at a stat increase. On top of that, some items will allow you to perform more fusions on it than on others.
Not only is managing all of this entirely addictive, it also adds some ridiculous depth to the way the game plays out, and you’ll be spending as much time mulling over your gear as you do actually racing with it and using the Gatcha machines to get even more. Should you own some items you don’t want to use at all, for either racing or fusing, you can sell them off for more money.
Any time you hit a difficulty spike, you’ll know what you’ve gotta do. Grind some races for more money, spend it on increasingly expensive Gatcha Machines and fuse the absolute fuck out of your equipment. I personally try to get my Acceleration, Cornering and Drifting stats as high as possible, that way, some of the tricker courses with sharper corners become less of a problem, and if I collide with other vehicles, I can quickly get back up to full-speed and get back into the race.
And you’ll be racing a lot. It is a racing game, after all. But beyond that, everything just feels right. At first, I was a little put-off by the fact that ever single bit of control you have is digital. Steering is digital, acceleration and braking is digital – everything. It only takes a few races to realise why this is the case though – each corner is placed with purpose, and certain corners require certain tactics. Some will require you to slow down, others to drift through them and some you can take at full speed. In the end, it works and it works extremely well. I absolutely adore how this game plays – not only is the Gatcha stuff moreish, the actual racing mechanics are too.
Graphically, the game really shines. It’s basic, but damned does it look crisp. The vibrant colours that drench each and every screen really pop. The backgrounds feature 3D geometry lathered in anime-style textures, and whilst the 2D Cars are less impressive, and don’t animate at all, they do rotate smoothly, ensuring that you’ll always be able to pick your vehicle out from the background. Whether you’re playing Gotcha Racing 2nd 1080p docked or in the 720p handheld mode, the game flies along at a blistering pace. You’re getting an unbroken, unwavering 60fps here at all times. Now the game doesn’t look too complex, so the killer performance shouldn’t come as a shock, but I’ve seen games with lesser presentation that struggle in this area, so I’m glad Gotcha Racing 2nd doesn’t drop the ball here. Great stuff all round – simple, done well. I like it.
Course design is yet another highlight. From city racing to touge-style mountain passes, and coastal drives lined with cherry blossoms to rally races through thick mud, Gotcha Racing keeps it fresh throughout with a lot of variety. There are a lot of courses to play here, and coupled with a bunch of modes like Grand Prix, Two Player Vs and Time-Attack, there’s a lot of content here that will have you playing for a long, long time.
There’s also some mini-games in here, but I personally don’t bother with them.
I also have to mention the fantastic soundtrack. From very ARC System Works-style Metal and J-Rock to the cheesy, twee J-pop-style numbers, I love each and every track in here. It’s all very Japanese, and I’d not have it any other way.
Gotcha Racing 2nd is one of the Nintendo Switch’s very best games. It has sprung up from absolutely nowhere, for me at least, and now I’m a slave to it. It’s the best $20 I’ve spent all damned year.
Get it. Love it. Be converted.
So there we have it – Chalk and Cheese. Both games couldn’t be any more different, but I highly recommend you try them.
Dig DiRT Rally? LOVE Gotcha Racing 2nd?
Let me know just how much in the comments below!
Also, what would you all think of A Certain Kind of Gamer taking on themed weeks? Say, something like a Rally Week, anyone?
Tagged: ARC System Works, capsule machines, CMR, CMR 2005, Codemasters, colin mcrae rally, dirt, DiRT Rally, driving games, gatcha machines, Gotcha Racing, Gotcha Racing 2nd, Hidden Gem, Hidden Gems, Japanese, Japanese Games, micro machines, must-play games, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Now Playing, PC Gaming, racing, racing games, Racing Sims, Rally, Rally Driving, Rally Games, Steam, SteamPowered, Top-Down Racing, top-view racing games