If you search through a bargain bin at your local game stop, you will probably find this title somewhere on the bottom.
Karnaaj Rally has been released to store shelves for quite some time now and it can be found sulking in bargain bins everywhere for a fraction of the price of a normal GBA game. Upon first glance at the box art and the very strange, misspelled title for this game, it can easily be mistaken as a game that was not meant to be played. However, the saying “Never judge a book by its cover” has never made so much sense.
Fans of the classic Micro Machines games or Super Sprint will feel right at home with this GBA racer. Players race through numerous levels while controlling abnormal vehicles through an overhead perspective. The meat of the game lies within the Career Mode. Players will play though numerous circuits while gaining points and money along the way. Points are spread out according to corresponding finishing place, similar to any kart racer. If you gain the most points at the end of the circuit, you will take home the gold trophy and move on to the next heat. Money is also awarded according to rank. Uniquely, in between each race, the player is given the opportunity to spend his hard earned cash on powerups such as increased speed, handling, armor, and weapons. This gives the game an RPG touch.
Unlike Mario Kart where you would hit your opponents with turtle shells and banana peels, Karnaaj boasts land mines and missiles. Each weapon is assigned to a shoulder button and must be used sparingly and with caution. The player starts each circuit with a full stash of missiles and mines. However, the amount of weapons you have will carry over to the next race. For example, if you blow all your missiles during the first race, you will not have any for the second race in the circuit. This is why each use of a weapon must be carefully thought out. Besides upgrading your vehicle in between each race, you can purchase more weapons to replenish the stock. Careful money management is also an important part of the Career Mode.
In any over the top, arcadey kart racer, how often do you actually use the brake function? If you want a fast paced racing game, why not just eliminate the brake function and add something else that could up the ante another notch. Karnaaj keeps this theory in mind as the “A” button services as the accelerator while the “B” button supplies a boost of turbo instead of the needless brake ability. Just like the weapons, the boost ability must be used sparingly and thoughtfully. A boost meter at the top of the screen gages how much boosting power your vehicle has left. After each lap, the player is awarded a slight increase in boost power to keep the action in the front seat.
If you are lucky, you can find powerups on the course to aid in your quest for first place. At times, missiles and mines, as well as money and repairs can all be found throughout each track. Each vehicle can only take so much damage. If you take too much damage, your will vehicle will explode and you forfeit that heat. Wrenches can be found on course to give a slight increase in repairs. Plus, if your vehicle only has about 10% power left at the end of the race, you will start with 10% on the next race unless you repair it for a fee. Repairs must also be taken into consideration when spending money.
Each race has four racers on the track. In between races, you can even place different kinds of bets on who will win or who will complete the track with the fastest time. Betting is another great way to earn a little extra cash.
Karnaaj contains numerous 3D elements rarely seen in a GBA game. This game supports multi-layered polygonal backgrounds. To give the game the feeling like you are actually racing in a three dimensional plane from an overhead view point, many objects in the background are actually made of polygons and pop out of the screen. This truly is a rarity for the GBA. Leaves, rocks, and poles all stick out from the rest of the well-textured land maps. You really have to see this game in motion to appreciate it. Also, each vehicle is a nicely rendered 3D model. Due to the 3D models of each car, turning left or right results in a very smooth animation.
Besides from the Career Mode, players can race against themselves in a time trial mode. If the player achieves a fast enough time, the game will produce a secret code that can be posted on the Karnaaj website. While console games have been doing this for a while, I believe this is the first GBA game to take advantage of this feature. The game does support multiplayer mode, but each player must have a copy of the game. Not having a single pak link function is the biggest disappointment about this game.
Besides from the lack of a single pak link option, my only other complaint is the absurd characters and box art. The box art is quite in your face and can easily be considered repulsive. The same goes for each character in the game. Before you start your Career Mode, you must choose a face to represent yourself. Each character is giving off a ridiculous smile that will appall gamers. I assume that the designers of this game thought it would be funny to make disgusting characters instead of serious ones. Boy, were they wrong.
From the stupid box art alone, I can see why this game remains in bargain bins everywhere. However, if you play this game, you will see that it really should belong in your GBA collection. The character designs are repulsive, but the game play will keep players entertained. The absence of a single pak link option drags the score of this game down a bit, but with the cheap price point, each GBA owner can afford it. The graphics are a wonderful blend of 2D and 3D elements while the sound can be a little catchy. The player will religiously go after each dollar to upgrade their vehicle until it is totally maxed out. This is a great way to keep this cart plugged into your GBA. Karnaaj Rally proves that what’s inside is what really counts.