art of rally Review: A Stylish Love Letter (Switch)

art of rally is an effortless, stylish love letter to rallying. With dozens of classic rally cars, expansive rally stages, and a gorgeous graphical style, art of rally barely puts a foot wrong in recreating the rally experience in play-set form. It is a peaceful, meditative glide through decades of rally history.

art of rally is a laid-back rally game at first glance, but on the track, it’s a tough, slippery, and addictive arcade racer. Made by Funselektor, makers of the excellent Absolute Drift (can you tell they like motorsport?), they’ve continued this trend with a similarly stylized experience with tricky mechanics beneath. Gorgeous art and expansive tracks to explore help to make art of rally effortlessly enjoyable, in spite of its somewhat slim package and over-the-top soundtrack.

Every time I sat down on the sofa, lay in bed, or sat on the train to work and booted up art of rally, it consumed all of my attention, subsumed me in itself. It is an addictively calming experience, one that plugs the player in and doesn’t let them go. And even though there are obvious issues, it is the feeling of being blanketed in art of rally’s vibe, that has made me such an avid fan. It is an excellent racing experience.

art of rally - Launch Trailer - OUT NOW!

art of rally is out now on Xbox One, Series X|S, Windows, and Nintendo Switch now for $24.99.

Story & Gameplay – A Chill One

The main thing to do in art of rally is its career mode, giving the player decades of rallying history to glide through. There is a wonderful array of amusingly non-licensed recreations of classic rally cars and gorgeous, expansive stages that showcase the game’s beauty. With dramatic lighting, changing weather conditions, and various inclines and terrain types, the stages offer almost as much detail as the cars themselves.

The cars are hilariously named Lego-esque versions of rally classics. There’s das whip, a BMW M3, its big brother – das uberwhip, or BMW M1. There’s a Renault 5 know as le cinq, or my favorite of all, la wedge, better known as the Lancia Stratos. Even the plainest petrolhead will recognize a handful of these classics and get a good chuckle out of their silly names. The attention to detail and in-jokes are a testament to the developers’ love of motorsport, creating a love letter to rallying that feels more fitting than any WRC game.

art of rally captures the thrill of rallying sublimely.

art of rally captures the thrill of rallying sublimely.

Luckily, the fun doesn’t end there. Where this game shines is in the driving. A blinding bright shine at that. Driving through a half-dozen-minute course can be equal parts tricky and calming, a perfect balance between challenge and beauty. The difficulty is pretty tweakable, making the races as easy or as hard as you like. Turning off most assists gives a brilliantly tricky experience that’s definitely worth the effort. The slow bends, the tight hairpins, and the grand skylines all coalesce to create an unbeatable feeling of flow, and it happens more often than not. It is clearly one of the developers’ focuses, this feeling of flow, naming the updated edition of the previous game Zen Edition, and they find it perfectly art of rally

Playing a lot of racing games, a little too much of Forza and the F1 simulation series, it is obvious that this kind of game shines when they achieve that feeling of flow. That calm when you find it, at one with the car, perfectly roleplaying a racing driver, is absolutely unbeatable. And the ability of art of rally to find that feeling way more often than any other high-fidelity competitor is astonishing. The game seems to be able to give that feeling in almost every race, that feeling of being completely zoned out, focused on braking points and exit speeds, finding the perfect driving line, and gliding to the end. It is a magical experience.

Every drive has its fair share of serene beauty.

Every drive has its fair share of serene beauty.

The cars all drive incredibly differently, which is a good and a bad thing at the same time. On the good hand, it keeps the game interesting, feeling like every car is unique, with clear pros and cons depending on the rally stage and the player’s style of driving. On the bad hand, however, is that some cars just feel like hovercrafts. Rallying is admittedly slippery business (literally), so cars slip and slide and glide left and right and all over the place. But as the art style dampens the vibration and brutality of rally racing in favor of serene peace, it also makes some cars just look, and therefore feel, like they are floating through a corner.

There’s no sense of resistance as you drift against gravel, which there should be. This is a minor gripe, as art of rally isn’t meant to be realistic to the point it loses its vibe, but it’s one of the most noticeable aspects of the driving.

The only other issues with the gameplay are the slender nature of this package. Once you’re done with the career mode, there’s not that much fun to be found in the time attack and free-roam modes, even for the most dedicated. Time attack is fine, but free-roam is quite dull, an aimless roam for random collectibles that never feels engaging. It’s not the end of the world — the main career mode is a genuine treat — but it would be nice for these side modes to be a bit more substantial and enjoyable.

The charmingly conjured crowd.

The charmingly conjured crowd.

Luckily, returning to the main career mode is always worth it, as all the rally stages are randomly generated, giving the player brand new challenges every time. The rally stage in Kenya that was pure speed up the side of a mountain? Well, now it’s a punishing slog through tight hairpins and tricky cliff-sides. I thought this would be to the game’s detriment, not letting the player perfect a track through countless practice sessions, but luckily perfecting the game’s driving is more than enough to feel like you can take any challenge the random track throws at you.

Graphics & Audio – A Peaceful Experience

Visually, art of rally is stunning, with various clever lighting tricks to give every race a play-set feel. Just like pulling the trigger on a Scalextric track as a kid, this game gives you your own miniature set of toys to watch whirring through gorgeously blocky scenery. On the Nintendo Switch, the game takes a noticeable visual hit, however, with jarring pop-in on the daytime stages. When racing at night or in the gorgeously recreated low mist, the game looks almost as good as its big console counterparts, given that pop-in isn’t an issue when visibility is only about 20 feet.

A Toyota 222D, also known as the umibozu.

A Toyota 222D, also known as the umibozu.

This visual hit isn’t game-ruining, as art of rally is much more about style over graphical fidelity, and the low polygon, block-color aesthetic translates effortlessly, so the occasional blocky tree in the distance jumping into view isn’t going to ruin that. But it is a shame that the game couldn’t be easily translated, because it is a perfect fit for a portable console. It turned my dull commutes into serene, uplifting experiences that I didn’t want to end.

The only key issue I had with art of rally was the soundtrack. There’s this slightly hyperactive, over-the-top synth soundtrack that always feels slightly out of sync with the meditative experience of the gameplay. Where quieter, contemplative sound may have fit this peaceful experience a bit better, we get grand arpeggios like we’re playing Tron. Maybe other people like that, but something a bit subtler, a bit less obnoxious, would have been a better fit for me. Luckily, I could easily turn down the music, and just have the whirring engine and squeaky breaks of the car, all sounds that have been wonderfully recreated.

art of rally was reviewed for Nintendo Switch and a code was provided by Future Friends Games.

Summary
art of rally is an excellent homage to the golden era of rallying. With a huge number of cutely recreated cars and expansive stages to use them in, the main career mode is an absolute treat. The driving itself is very well-tuned, helping the player get this feeling of flow when everything's going right. There may be slender options outside of the main career and a few issues with pop-in, but they barely affect this magical driving experience.
Good
  • Gorgeous art-style
  • Great, tricky driving
  • Excellent career mode
  • Wide range of cars and stages
Bad
  • Lots of pop-in
  • Cars feel a tad light
8.6
Great
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