Racing games are some of the best-represented “core” games in the mobile space. Peruse the Play Store, and you’ll find dozens of racers of nearly every type, from futuristic WipeOut clones to scores of street racers. It’s a surprise, then, that there are hardly any rally racing games, and the few that do exist aren’t particularly impressive. Rookie developer Illusion Magic Studio arrives to pluck that low-hanging fruit, but their effort only feels like the start of something good.
Powered by the popular Unity engine, Pocket Rally makes a decent first impression. You’ll start the 30-mission campaign racing along bumpy dirt roads through a series of ancient jungle ruins in what appears to be South America. It’s arcadey and evocative of games like Sega Rally more than hard-nosed sims like Colin McRae. The physics feel good and sliding is intuitive and natural.
Then you’ll move on to the next mission, another race through that same jungle track, with the same car. Some missions are time attacks, and some pit you against other cars, but these are the only variants. Five missions in, and you’ll still be on that same track, with only variations in lap count to differentiate them.
As it turns out, there are only two courses in the entire game. These two courses are different enough, with the second being a mostly paved coastal cliff area full of sharp hairpin turns, but it’s simply not enough. The app’s description slyly advertises “four tracks, including forward and reverse variants,” which might lead some to believe that there are eight choices, but alas, it’s merely two and their backwards counterparts.
It will probably take a couple hours to work through the campaign, but it seems like a pointless exercise other than unlocking the handful of cars and tracks. Everything about Pocket Rally is desperately thin. There is no car customization at all, and even the basic gameplay itself involves little more than steering. You’ll have to handle turns with some precision to maintain your speed, but sliding is automatic, and you’ll never have to touch the brakes.
The production values are likewise spare, although this is forgivable for such an indie effort. The levels are blocky and full of “paper” trees that seem reminiscent of a Dreamcast game. The sound design is actually pretty decent, with convincing engine sounds and sliding that reacts to the on-screen action, but there’s no music whatsoever, nor much in the way of ambient sound.
Pocket Rally feels like a proof-of-concept demo for a good game. It features intuitive controls, decent physics, and comes closer to solid rally racing than other competitors, but there’s just so little to be found here. Even with the 30-mission campaign to artificially pad the game’s length, the lack of content is truly appalling. If Illusion Magic can beef up the game with future updates, the experience could be a lot better, but as it stands, it simply comes up short.