Rally-X, Forever in the Shadow of Pac-Man
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
It's getting near the end of the term at school, which means my work load is pretty heavy right now. Exams, papers, figuring out what to take next term, it's all too much for my rising stress levels. Despite this, I am looking forward to the 3-4 week gap in-between school terms to crank out some projects (or finish some lingering ones). All of a sudden however, this somewhat hard to find Midway/Namco classic popped up on Craigslist I just couldn't resist to pick it up. As an added bonus, it was about 15 minutes away from my house.
Maybe the most famous thing about Rally-X here in the USA is not so much the game itself, but the bit of arcade folk lore that surrounds it. In 1980 the Amusement Machine Operators of America held their annual trade show. The trade show showcased all sorts of new games and whatnots from manufactures, in the hope distributors would buy the new games. The four big games that premiered at this show were Atari's Battlezone, Williams' Defender, and the Namco (but distributed by Midway here in the USA) games Pac-Man, and Rally-X. Rally-X was evidentially the hit of the show, and most people ignored the introduction of Pac-Man. Battlezone was also praised and would turn out to be a big hit for Atari. Defender was deemed too difficult and somewhat dismissed at the show. Defender would however go on to sell over 55,000 units and become an instant arcade classic. It turns out its difficultly was actually the selling point as some gamers longed for more challenging games.
Pac-Man of course, would go on to become a world wide phenomenon selling almost a half a million (legit and bootleg) machines over the world. Its fast paced graphics, innovative hunt and seek maze gameplay, and I believe its basic character driven story line (The ghosts had names, different personalities) made it a big hit with men and women over the typical spaceship games of the time. Rally-X also had some very innovative features such as: an early radar in a game, the first game with a bonus stage, first game with background music, and a fun fast paced maze style game play which shares a lot of elements with Pac-Man. Despite this, Rally-X was overshadowed by other games in 1980-1981, and saw nowhere the production of the other four games mentioned above. I couldn't find any hard figures of Rally-X production but I would guess all three cabinet styles (Upright, cocktail, and cabaret cabinets) saw a production total of well under 5,000 units. This would not really make Rally-X a flop, but not exactly a run away success either.
Rally-X in a nutshell is a top down racer where your car (or dune buggy I think) is stuck in a maze with several other cars. The maze is scrolling from top to bottom and is a fairly large play field for this era of arcade game. These other cars have one mission, to crash into your car. In order to progress through the stages, you must collect all the flags represented on the screens radar as little yellow dots. Flags increase in point value for every consecutive flag you recover without getting caught by other racer. A bonus flag works as a x2 multiplier for all future flag captures. Rocks also block certain paths in the maze, which will also cause your car to blow up. You also have a defensive weapon with the "Smoke Screen", pushing the "Smoke Screen" button leaves a trail of smoke that makes enemy cars spin out temporary allowing for a fast get away. Using the "Smoke Screen" causes you to use more gas unfortunately, and if you run out of gas before capturing all the flags you lose a life. Chirpy and bouncy music plays in the background throughout your game time. Bonus levels appear starting at Level 3, which eliminates the enemy cars from moving, but you now have a timed race to collect the bonus flags.
For the record, I love Rally-X and consider it to be one of my favorite games from the classic arcade game era. (Lets call this era 1979-1984) It has great control, gameplay, fast paced levels, and a fun look. Even the cabinet with its "Rat Fink" inspired cartoon depiction of a race car is fun and totally different than any game from the era. It's possible after so many top down racing games in the 70's (Such as Atari's Indy series, Sprint, and many others) people were just ready to move on from top down racing games. I will go out on a limb here and say in my opinion Rally-X is just as fun and innovative as the original Pac-Man is. Rally-X machines are getting harder to find now, many of them were converted to other games since they didn't have the long-term earning power of Pac-Man. One of the interesting physical factors in the design of the dedicated upright is how small the cabinet is compared to Pac-Man. Although the shape and overall design is very much like Midway releases of Galaxian, Pac-Man, and Galaga (the cabinets are all about the same height and width), the depth is about 6 inches shorter for the Rally X upright cabinet. It is noticeably thinner to the casual viewer because of this, not only compared to other Midway cabinets, but other arcade cabinets in general.
Rally-X shows up from time to time in modern "Best of Namco" collections on modern home systems and computers. During its release there was only one official home ported version for the MSX computer. There were several games heavily based (or ripped off from) Rally-X, most famously the game "Radar Rat Race" for the Commodore Vic-20 computer. Radar Rat Race replaces the cars with mice, rocks with cats, and the flags become cheese. I am almost positive I had a rather primitive copy of Rally-X for my TRS-80 Color Computer at some point.
Right now there are 4 games ahead of Rally-X in the workshop in need of restoration work. My multi-Konami project (which is the most complex project, and the one that currently has priority), a Taito cocktail (Currently running Elevator Action, and 80% done with restoration) , The Simpsons, and a Moon Patrol. This Rally-X works well electronically but will need a good bit of body work, a monitor rebuild, and a new bezel. The previous owner replaced the power supply with a switching one (which is a good move), but it created a feedback issue I need to look into. I will probably repaint the cabinet and put on new artwork to really make this game look its 1980's best. I love any game with orange T-Molding. The front kick plate area under the coin door should have additional artwork which appears to be missing. It is possible this is an early production model that didn't include this art, unfortunately the serial number stamped section on the back fo the cabinet was damaged making the serial number impossible to read. It appears however this game was number 1508 from what was left of an internal cabinet assembly tag.
Rally-X forever in the shadow of its more famous cousin Pac-Man is an important and highly enjoyable game from the classic arcade era. As these less popular games start to hit the 40 year old mark, it's nice to see that some of them made it out alive and intact. Over the next couple of months I will bring it back to its original glory so it can hopefully live on for another 40 years.