AGH Lynx Preview:

by Songbird Productions

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Songbird Productions has come a long way since the famed Lynx and Jaguar publisher released SFX and Ponx for Atari's portable wonder not so long ago. Each successive effort has improved dramatically over time, and its latest title -- Championship Rally -- is no exception. Carl Forhan of Songbird has teamed up with Lucien Kleijkers this time, with the former bringing the game's sounds to life while the latter chipped in with the programming... with both collaborating on the graphics. The result? An addictive, overhead-perspective racer that will evoke fond memories of Super Sprint and Power Drive Rally. The comlynxable multiplayer game offers multiple tracks, numerous power-ups and tons of options.

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Each track has different characteristics that require the driver to master a variety of racing techniques. For instance, some tracks are twistier than others, placing a premium on quick reflexes and proper use of the brakes. Other courses are comparatively slippery and will put your drifting (i.e. power sliding) prowess to the test. You'll have seven courses from which to choose, but only the first three will be initially accessible (Desert, Meadow and Downtown.) The remaining four -- Alaska, Coastal, Valley and Formula -- are locked until you beat your computer opponents in Tournament Mode (thankfully, you can save your progress via password.)

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Speaking of modes, there are four of them: Tournament, Single Race, Time Trial and Versus. Versus mode allows for two players to engage in multiplayer, comlynxed action, and even offers adjustable car settings if the ability of the combatants aren't equal. Other options include damage mode, where your car can take damage when crashing and a ghost car that remembers the fastest lap in time trial mode.

As has recently become the norm in arcade-style racers, Championship Rally has a slew of power-ups and obstacles. Speed-up areas, potholes, oil slicks and repair icons are among the on-course items which can alter the balance of power during a race. Songbird has also hinted at the existence of hidden shortcuts and cheats -- let us know if you find any!

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Ok, so you now know what the game's all about, but how does it all come together? Very nicely, thank you. Controls are tight and accurate, the framerate is smooth enough that it's a non-factor during play, and the difficulty level is such that almost anyone can jump in be competitive -- especially in Single Race and Versus modes, where you can handicap the cars to give yourself an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how much of a stud driver you are. If there's a nit to pick, it's in the collision detection department. It seemed on more than one occasion that I was nowhere near an off-course tree, but it stopped my car dead on its tracks anyways. To make matters worse, getting around an obstacle once you've hit it is not a trivial task either. The trick is to avoid hitting anything head-on, as it will seriously impede any momentum you've had. You'll be able bounce off objects only if you barely scrape them, or hit them in an acute angle. The only other gripe is that only two players can enjoy a ComLynxed head-to-head contest. If it had the ability to allow for eight -- or even four -- players simultaneously, it would've allowed for some great fun. One of the reasons why Checkered Flag was so addictive was its eight-player link-up feature.

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The graphics and special effects won't make anyone forget STUN Runner or Blue Lightning, but every detail is drawn and animated sharply enough that you won't mistake one object from another. As far as hobbyist-developed games go, Championship Rally currently has no peer. Similarly, the sounds in the game are not flashy, but they get the job done. The roar of the car's engine and the "crunch" sound when crashing into a tree are realistic, and the in-game music is appropriate for this type of game. All in all, a worthy effort by two individuals who weren't paid thousands of up-front dollars like Lynx developers of the early 90's.

For the latest news on when this game will become available, you can either check back here shortly, or pay a visit to the website of Songbird Productions.

Title Championship Rally
Publisher Songbird Productions
System Atari Lynx
Graphics 7
Sound 6
Gameplay 7
Overall 7
Reviewer Keita Iida

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