||Machine Type: Spectrum 16K
|Submitted on: 16th of December, 2020
||Download or play online
Kerl’s third game has a somewhat unfortunate name, with a premise to match. Mental Rally sees you as the pilot of a “highly advanced Soviet car which can only be controlled by thought.” You must think up your route between the numbered checkpoints and filling stations before you set off in your trusty Lada. But don’t weaken in your mental resolve, or else the car will reorient itself towards Leningrad.
Once the program has loaded, nothing happens. For reasons I can’t discern, you must press a key to start the game. There’s no indication of this, and to a first-time user, it might seem that the program is either doing some pre-calculation, or has crashed. Anyway, now we can have our eyes assaulted by the rapidly alternating colours of the text (not depicted in the screenshots due to the possibility of seizures). This is essentially a restatement of the instructions in the included text file, so there’s not much good in straining your ocular muscles – you’re best off diving right into the game, which is preceded by a bizarre cutscene depicting the Lada driving across part of the instructional text. It gets stuck occasionally, but it can be jolted back to life with a brief tap of the keyboard.
Now we’re in the game itself, watching the world draw itself into view, scattering an assortment of camels, trees (both palm and spruce), mice and cacti, along with the filling stations and the checkpoints, of course. To control your car, you must enter the route using the directional keys in advance of driving it. You can enter a sequence of any length and then press SPACE to execute it, but if you think you can cheat by entering a move at a time, think again! You lose a unit of fuel every time you start the engine up, so you need to plan quite a bit to succeed. You get a small amount of fuel to start with, meaning that you must zig-zag between the numbered checkpoints and the petrol pumps if you want to succeed.
In terms of controls, there aren’t any; it does actually feel as if this game is controlled by sheer will power – something which I am in short supply of, having had to play a year’s worth of rubbish games. As far as I have been able to ascertain, to enter an instruction, you must hold down the key for at least half a second, then release it. You will know that your command has been stored successfully if the “brainpower” counter goes down a unit. When you go to press the SPACE key, the car will perform a sequence of moves that may bear some coincidental resemblance to those intended. This is the bottleneck that prevents the game from being any fun – I haven’t been able to progress past the first checkpoint due to the car seemingly having a mind of its own.
The most amazing thing is that this program was actually a three-man effort, with Kerl doing the programming, and the graphics being split between AsteroideZX (author of THAT game) and Kweepa. This can only serve as a startling reminder of the dangers of “design by committee”.
Overall, Mental Rally is a game which fits its name quite well – anyone who would be willing to play it is mental, and deserves everything that comes to them. If you really want to have a go (you don’t), then you can use the links at the top of the page to either download the program or try it via the online emulator. It’s just as bad either way...