Format: Game Boy Advance Cartridge
Release Date: December 12, 2002 (US)
Developer: Paragon5
Publisher: Jaleco Entertainment

I'm a big proponent of 2D over 3D, when it's appropriate. And the fact is that 3D is *never* appropriate on the GBA; thus, this racing title is one of the better ones for that platform (end opinion).

Karnaaj Rally (no, we don't know who Karnaaj is - sounds Indian though, outsourcing strikes again - and what he did with Carnage) is a top-down faux 3D racer in the tradition of Death Rally, the original Grand Theft Auto on MS-DOS, or apparently Micro Machines on the NES. By "faux", I mean that there are 3D elements (towers, overpasses, jagged boulders, trees) which seem to stick out of the screen and have actual perspective; you can see their right vertical side approaching from the left, see none of their sides (just the tops) when right next to them, and see their left vertical side when departing to the right - basically an advanced form of parallax scrolling. Otherwise the track is flat (no jumps), although there are a few actual tracks with overpasses.

Gameplay

At your disposal are standard racing controls (left, right, throttle - no brake, but simply letting off the accelerator will slow you down) and the ability to fire rockets, drop mines and apply turbo. You will race 3 other opponents on tracks ranging from blacktop cityscapes to arctic tundra; each surface handles differently, and the response of your tiny (but well detailed) car is immediate and engaging, although drift is perhaps not in the repertoire. You'll need it, as some races have obstacles that will cost you precious seconds. You can flat out race, or try to take out your opponents - unlike Death Rally however, you will be hard-pressed to eliminate more than one rival; the armour in this game is stronger.

Prior to each race you can purchase up to four upgrades for tyres, armour or engine power, increasing grip, rocket/mine resistance and top speed respectively. You can also purchase rockets and mines for yourself, up to a certain limit. Finally, you can make bets on outcomes of races. This ranges from predicting the order the racers will come in, betting that you will be first or betting that a certain racer will not finish a race - of course you can lend a helping hand to their disqualification.

That's about it! You will progress through several campaigns (that for some reason make you go through time periods, from Flinstone cars all the way to hovercraft), selecting a vehicle in each (there are three types in each time period: fast but weak, average, slow but well-armoured) and upgrading it through the Cup. Each progressive Cup has more races in it, and each Cup's vehicles are faster - the races become longer and more complex as well.

Is that all?

Yup. The game is not intended for extended or involved play; it offers a brief arcade diversion of gradually increasing complexity, the AI gets downright vicious in the end stages. With forgettable music and only adequate sound effects, it's something to play over lunch or on the bus (or Tube), when you can play silently and switch off at any point - just remember to save at the end of your race.

Added bonuses include:
  • Keeping track of up to 4 players on the same cartridge
  • Quick Race mode which throws you right into the action
  • Multiplayer via the link cable
  • Time attack mode vs. a ghost car of your best time - great for those who obsess easily
  • Karnaaj, being a rather old and obscure game, should be obtainable at your local used softwares shop at a low, low price - USD 10 sounds about right.
In summation, Karnaaj Rally has a lot of excellent features for a low price, and any fan of mayhem and racing (and hopefully both) should consider picking it up.

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