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Blast Corps Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Rare
Platform - N64
Type - Racing/Simulation
Score - 9/10

Blast Corps starts with a great premise. Drive trucks and knock down buildings. As a member of Blast Corps, you are part of an elite group specializing in urban demolitions, and the time has come to prove your stuff. An out of control truck filled with explosive nuclear material is headed towards an area where it can be detonated without harm, but on its way it is passing through a variety of populated areas. It is up to you to make sure it gets there safely, and that means destroying everything in its way.

To accomplish your mission, you have a variety of vehicles with differing capabilities. On the simple side, there is a bulldozer and other vehicles that can be driven into buildings to destroy them. There are also giant robots, a missile launching motorcycle, and a train, among other things. Frequently you have to use several vehicles in combination to successfully destroy everything in the truck's path. While the goal is always to create a clear path for the truck, this is by no means easy. Some vehicles are inherently more difficult to use than others, and some levels start with the truck very close to the first obstacles. In this case, not only do you have to destroy the obstacles before the truck gets there, but you also have to avoid colliding with the truck, which is just as sure a means of causing an explosion as is letting it collide with something.

There are many, many levels in this game, and the level design has an admirable degree of variety. The initial levels are fairly simple, and just involve using one vehicle to knock down a bunch of buildings as fast as possible. By the end of the game, the levels get quite complex, and it may take several attempts just to figure out how to pull it off, and then many more tries before you actually succeed. Many of the levels are sub-levels that are devoted to training, rather than actually saving the nuclear truck. They are based on destroying all the buildings in an area or running a race in a certain amount of time, rather than clearing a path. Doing these fast enough to get a gold medal can be quite challenging.

After the initial goal is completed, there are several additional goals that can be met. These include rescuing all of the survivors, finding the six scientists, activating all the RDUs (Radiation Dispersal Units to deal with radiation from the leaking truck), complete destruction of all the buildings in the game, and finally earning gold medals on every level. These greatly extend the gameplay, and success will require "thinking like a plumber." Taking a cue from Super Mario 64, you will have to look everywhere and try everything to succeed.

This game looks excellent. The trucks look shiny and metallic, the environment is detailed and varied, and there is a satisfying variety of explosions. Even when you fail to save the truck, the truck explosion is very dramatic and makes up for the failure. As you drive, you leave impressive skid marks on the ground, which add to the wanton destruction. One weakness is that the buildings are cleanly segmented, which means that as you destroy part of a building, a smooth face is left behind. This lack of realism can be slightly annoying, but only until you destroy the rest of the building.

The sound also lives up to the quality of the rest of the game. The music is light techno that increases in tension as the situation becomes more urgent. It definitely pushes you along, encouraging you to move fast and adding to the panic when you are in danger of failing. The sound effects are also satisfying, with squeals as you skid and good explosions. The siren off the truck also helps you to keep out of its way.

The controls are excellent, with intelligent layouts and responsive controls. It can be slightly disorienting when switching vehicles, because different vehicles have different layouts, but you adapt quickly. Generally the controls are consistent from one vehicle to the next, but the trucks use the A and B buttons to go, while the robots rely strictly on the control stick to move. Given the difference in behavior, this makes sense, but it can take a moment to realize why you aren't going anywhere when you jump out of a truck and into a robot and hold down the A button.

I have one criticism of the gameplay. The harder levels tend to rely on the more difficult vehicles, without any real justification for this. After struggling with them for a while, it can begin to feel like rather than actually designing more difficult levels, the game designers are just forcing you to use harder vehicles. On the other hand, you can't beat the satisfaction of pulling off the moves that the vehicles require.

I also have one criticism of the game design. The way the game handles saved games is less than ideal, especially if you are playing without a controller pack. First, once you have completed a level, there's no way to go back and play it again. After Super Mario 64 and Shadows of the Empire, among others, the fact that you can't show off levels to friends and just replay levels because they are fun is frustrating. Second, it's unreasonably difficult to delete games saved directly on the pack. Since it only saves one game, it assumes you will likely never want to delete your game, so it makes doing difficult and buries the instructions in the booklet. Given the frequency of video game rentals, this can lead to frustration for gamers who rent a game that's already been played out. If you rent this game and play it without a controller pack, be sure to delete any previous game by holding the Start button on your controller when you turn your system on. Otherwise, you may end in a wasteland where everything has been destroyed and there is little or nothing for you to do.

On the whole, this is a great game. It features an innovative premise that is so good that it's amazing it hasn't been done before, and it matches that concept with excellent gameplay and many varied levels. While it fails to match the sheer depth of Super Mario 64, it offers many hours of gameplay without ever starting to feel like you've done this before. For all its destruction, it feels surprisingly laid back, almost like Pilotwings 64 with high explosives. This and the fact that the early levels are fairly simple makes this an appropriate game for younger players, but older players will also enjoy the destruction and find challenge in the later levels. Blast Corps serves as further demonstration of the Nintendo 64 as a platform for highly innovative games while also succeeding on its own merits. I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping for a sequel.