Video Carnage 28 – Nintendo 64

I didn’t say a whole hell of a lot about the Nintendo 64 when it popped up in The Golfyssey, so I’ll rectify that now.

Coming on the heels of the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation, those two systems were its main console competition.  Please don’t make me laugh by mentioning the Atari Jaguar.  Released in 1996, the N64 was the first console to legitimately do its thang in 64-bit.  You would think that this would be enough to blow the 32-bit Saturn and PlayStation out of the water, but again, Nintendo insisted on hobbling its console.

The company wanted to make their new system one that would revolutionize the 3D gaming experience, yet they didn’t seem to want to go full out on the expense that would be needed to get this done.  When I mentioned the cartoony appearance of many N64 games, I was talking about the limited texture cache that game programmers needed to work around.  Complex and detailed textures couldn’t be done big, and if they were stretched, they looked like shit.  So things often were done in simple colours which made things look like they were cartoons.

So much for eye-popping realism.  Another thing that really backfired for Nintendo was their insistence on staying with cartridges for the N64, rather than moving to CDs like everyone else had done.  Cartridges are expensive and time-consuming to produce, and they placed a tremendous burden on publishers.  If you were a gamer in the 90s, you might have noticed how all of the Final Fantasy games were released exclusively on Nintendo hardware… right up to Final Fantasy VII, that is.

A Nintendo 64 cartridge can only hold 64MB of data.  Compact discs at the time could hold more than ten times that amount: 650MB.  Aside from the no-brainer of production costs, time and risk, many developers were starting to actually need the extra room on those CDs now.  Square just couldn’t fit FF7 on an N64 cart, so they had to tell Nintendo goodbye.

And they weren’t the only one.  Across all regions, the N64 had a total of 387 games released for it over its lifetime.  Its chief rival, the PlayStation, had 2,418.  It’s not hard to see why more game studios and publishers wanted to publish with Sony.

But to this day, the Nintendo 64 is still fondly remembered and revered.  Why?

There are some truly great games for this system, and many of them were groundbreaking when they were released.  “Super Mario 64” was the first successful 3D platformer that showed everyone else how it should be done.  “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” is considered to be one of the best – if not the best – video game ever made.  Nintendo usually doesn’t fuck around with their first-party titles, and there are many excellent games available for this system.

The list goes on: “Conker’s Bad Fur Day”, “GoldenEye 007”, “Super Smash Bros.”, “Banjo-Kazooie”, “Superman 64“, etc.  All wonderful reasons and more to look for a Nintendo 64 today.  Just like they did with the Super Nintendo – with it’s inexplicably slow processor – they rallied around the system and brought us some of the best games of all time.

Destruction Derby 64 (1999)

Destruction Derby 64 box

Do you like drivin’ and smashin’?  This is a fun and fast racing game that puts the focus on crashing and destroying instead of out-racing your opponents.

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There are a few dozen racing games for the N64, but this one is one of my favourites.

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There are four gameplay modes available – world championship, arcade, time trial and multi-player.  The first is like a circuit mode that many racing games feature, where you race through all the tracks in sequence and get a nice big prize at the end if you win.  Arcade mode allows you to race any selected track you want.  The time trial features no other racers, and no destruction at all.  It’s just like the time trial for so many other racing games, so if you want to just drive around and around and get to know the tracks, this is the mode to choose.  Multiplayer is just that – multiplayer.  I couldn’t get it to work on my emulator.

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The game has a rather limited set of options.  There is no ability to configure the controller, but the right shoulder button is at least mapped to the brake along with the B button, so there’s that.  The A button accelerates, and the analog steering control is wonderfully precise and responsive.   If you’re using an emulator like me, you can always map A and B to up and down on your right analog stick.

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There are four levels of difficulty.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again.  Despite my fondness for racing games and video games in general, I’m quite terrible at them.  So here I go in novice gameplay!

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You can choose from a wide selection of vehicles to race with, and they each have different attributes to consider.  Most of the vehicles are locked at first.  I’ll use this as a segue point to talk about something I dislike about the N64 controller design.  You could either have a memory pak or a rumble pak in your controller when you played – you couldn’t have both.  So if you wanted to go unlocking all these unlockables and have them available for the next time you played, you had to “hot swap” your rumble pak and memory pak at different points in the game.  You also have to do this with an emulator’s controller options.

Happily, this can also be fixed with emulation and saved states.  Emulation to the rescue again!  And I happen to have a six-button controller that rumbles, so I’m good to go.

NUON+ controller

If I can continue with my digression, this NUON+ is a damn fine controller.  I was impressed by how solid it is and how good the analog control is.  And it works perfectly on Windows XP, which is my last stop on the Microsoft train.

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On with the game.  The first track in the “World Championship” is Seascape Sprint”.

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You can see already that the N64 graphics are a cut above the PlayStation’s in some ways, but in others they’re about even.  Text on-screen looks terrible in many N64 games.

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But when the race starts, who cares?  This is great fun to drive around and hunt down the other cars!

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Wheeeeee!

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Half of the cars in the race go clockwise and half go counter-clockwise.  This results in some nice head-on collisions like the one above.

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The sound effects are nicely done, and so are the voices of the announcers.  There’s a female voice announcing things like “Time bonus!” and a male announcer who does play-by-play.  His commentary is pretty amusing, sometimes smirk-inducing and sometimes hilarious,

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There is some nicely energetic music pumping along throughout the game too, and like you saw in the screenshot above, you can adjust the audio levels and turn the music, voices and sound effects completely off if you prefer.

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When a car gets smashed enough times, it will steam and smoke and eventually burst into flames.  Points and most importantly time are awarded each time you ram your car into an opponent.  If you run out of time before making it to the next checkpoint or hitting another opponent, the race is over.  The race is also over if you’re left a burning crashed out heap like me above.

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Race results are shown after each race…

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…as are the circuit standings if you’re playing “world championship” mode.

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And then off to the next race, with some rules and objectives flashed on the screen for you.

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You would think that it would be easy to just race around and crash into cars.

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But because this game moves at such a fast pace, that can be a lot harder than it sounds.

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You also have to avoid hitting obstacles that aren’t the other racers, as that will damage your car and get you out of the race faster too, and without getting you points or any time bonuses.

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See?

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Interspersed with the standard street and road tracks are some arena-style stages.

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These are truer to a demolition derby, and require a different strategy as you must not only gain first place by smashing opponents, but you must outlast them too.

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And it can be harder than it sounds.

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You can smash your way up in the ranks…

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…but if you burn up it’s over.

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Next up is “Terminal Impact”.

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The racing is just as fast in this one, and each level gets a little bit harder as they progress.

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That was a nice hit!

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And so was that.

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Lucky for me I was in 1st place.

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Here’s the final race of the unlocked tracks, and here’s where it gets hard.

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This stage has some graphical effects that look a bit distracting at first.  These rays of light coming through the dust looked to me like walls when I first approached.

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And that reflective puddle under the hole in the roof looks a lot like a hole in the ground until you get close to it.

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And this is where I ran out of time because the only remaining racer and I were driving the same direction around the track and we could never collide.

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But, I managed to win.

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“Destruction Derby 64” has seven unlockable tracks in addition to these.  I’m able to unlock most of those during normal gameplay, but to show you them right now, I’ll cheat.

One of the features of the emulator I use is built-in cheat codes for the known library of N64 games.  Cheating normally takes the whole point out of playing a video game…

Cheat to win!

…but in this case I’ll use it to unlock these tracks

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The above two game screenshots are from the “Midnyte Rumble” track.

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These are from “Bayou Run”.

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Above you can see “Alpine Ridge”, which has some wickedly hard driving physics thanks to the ice on the roads.

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This is “Sunset Canyon”, which features an imitation Las Vegas and surrounding picturesque desert.

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The next ones are arena stages.  Above is “Urban Mayhem”

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“Ground Zero”

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And finally “Aztec Ruins”.  Yeah… the cheat code doesn’t seem to work in unlocking this one, and I haven’t been able to unlock it in play either.

So there you have a look at “Destruction Derby 64”.  This is definitely worth getting if you like the demolition style of racing, and even if you’re looking for a fast racer with a twist, this one is damn good.

Mario Kart 64  (1996)

MarioKart 64 box

You might have heard of this one.  This is a definite must-have for any fan of racing games, and any fan of video games in general.  This game is legendary.  This game is epic.  This game is immortal.  This game is the stuff that dreams are made of.

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The original Mario Kart was released on the Super Nintendo, and it was one of the finest racing experiences that console had to offer.  This one takes everything that was great about that game and improves upon it, making a game that I’d say is damn near perfect.  This isn’t a hardcore racing simulation.  The emphasis here isn’t on speed.  This one is all about fun.

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You get two choose first how many players you want, and which game mode after that.  The multiplayer modes are the reason why this game is still played to this day, and why some go out of their way to buy Nintendo 64 consoles just to play this one game.

Check out the Mario Kart article on the MarioWiki, and the Mario Kart 64 article in particular if you want to read up on all the ins and outs that this game has to offer.  I really can’t do a game this awesome and deep the proper justice here in my review.

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I would have preferred some controller customization options

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I also would have preferred that this game supported the rumble pak, but since that accessory came out after this game was released, it sadly does not.

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You get to choose from eight of your favourite Nintendo characters, and then it’s on to select a circuit.  There are four courses each in four circuits for a total of sixteen.

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The battle modes have four separate battle courses.  All of the artwork in these is beautifully designed and rendered, and the Mario worlds are very well-suited to the N64’s hardware.

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The race starts with balloons and a 3D fly-around intro.

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You get counted in…

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And then you’re off.  The distinguishing feature of this game (and of the Kart-racing genre that Mario Kart spawned) is the integration of power-ups into gameplay.

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Driving into these power-ups will get you things like weapons and speed boosts that you can use when necessary.

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This adds some strategy to the game, and this is what makes it so addictive in multiplayer mode.

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You can be in first place, just about to cross the finish line when out comes that turtle shell from behind to knock you out of the lead.

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The controls are perfect too.  Analog steering at its best.  The N64 was the first console to have an analog joystick as standard on the controller, and they got it right.

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The music is also wonderful.  It’s bright and sunny and energetic – which is what you’d expect.  It gets faster and more urgent at the final lap, and propels you to race harder as the other racers close in.

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And it looks great too.  Despite being one of the first games released for the system, it’s one of the best looking games available for it.

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The cartoony nature of Mario’s world helped a lot in this regard, but Nintendo’s in-house knowledge of their own console went a long way too.

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At the end of each race, you will get a summary of that race and each player’s progress in the circuit so far.

Here are some screenshots from the next few tracks in this circuit.

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After winning a circuit, you get an awards ceremony at Peach’s castle.  Who wouldn’t want that?

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I’ve never gotten bored with this game.  The only thing I would add to it are rumble pak support and controller configuration options, though the latter is moot when you’re playing it on an emulator like me.  This is one of those games that works flawlessly on an emulator, so you have no excuse not to play it.  If you’ve never played Mario Kart 64… what are you waiting for?

Road Rash 64 (1999)

Is it me or do all the Nintendo 64 games have the number “64” after the title?

Road Rash 64 box

The “Road Rash” series started its life on the Sega Genesis, and its mix of motorbike racing and combat proved to be very popular.  This version is by far the best out of any Road Rash game ever made, and anyone who says differently is a fiend and a scoundrel!

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Sorry to go all fanboy on you for this one, but “Road Rash 64” is hands down my favourite racing game of all time.  It can never be bested in that respect.  I have had the most fun I have ever known playing a video game while playing “Road Rash 64”, and I still get a big dumb grin on my face when I play it, even though I must have played this game over 200 times by now.

This is the game that really got me into racing games.  This is the game that made me appreciate analog steering controls in a racing game, and things like speed and braking control to take sharp turns.  Not to mention clubbing fellow riders over the head with metal pipes.

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When you start the game, you’re met with an “Alternative Rock” soundtrack that is actually pretty damn good.

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I can’t bear to hear the music after playing this game so often, so I always turn it off.  But it’s a lot better than a lot of game music.  It even features two Sugar Ray songs from before they sucked!

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And despite the word “Setup”, this part of the menu just shows you the controls.  You can’t actually change them.  But they are pretty decently laid out, and that Z trigger for accelerate is nice.

The main part of “Road Rash 64” is the “Big Game”.  This is a circuit race through all the games courses, which are just segments on a 3D rendered island full of roads, streets, trails, buildings, hills, mountains and much much more.  This was the first racing game I ever saw where you could basically drive anywhere you wanted to.  There are no invisible walls here – just water you sink in and mountains you can’t climb up with your bike.  Oh, and if you cut across a track too sharply and gain too much time on your opponents, the game will end the race then and there, tell you that “cheaters never prosper”, and make you lose for your effort.

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Like other versions of “Road Rash”, you need to buy a bike before you race.  There are a few choices available in your price range, and there are three attributes you need to consider when choosing.  Acceleration is speed, handling affects how your bike takes those sharp turns, and durability affects how many times you can crash out before you lose a particular race and have to start it again.  If you can learn how to handle these bikes, then go with the fastest.  This game honestly has the best driving and steering controls of any racing game I have ever played.  There are reasons why I keep coming back to play it.

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After you buy a bike, you will get an offer to join a certain gang, which changes depending on which bike you’ve chosen.  If you pay your admission fee and your dues, you’re in, and the gang will protect you as you race.

This is how its supposed to work, but it doesn’t actually work in the game.  Sadly, I think this aspect of gameplay is just broken, so it’s best to just ignore the gang part and save your money.  You get beat up just as hard whether you ride solo or as part of a gang.

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Then you get to go race, but you can actually choose which race to ride, and you can ride them more than once if you want.  One advantage to this is that you can make a little extra money and buy level 2’s faster bike while your opponents are still on level 1 bikes, for instance.

Another advantage is picking up weapons.  Unlike other games in the series, “Road Rash 64” places weapons like power-ups along and just off the track so that you can pick them up just by riding through them.  So if you miss getting the nunchuks at the top of the ramp and silo in the first race, you can go back and get them again.  The nunchucks fucking rule, by the way.

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Before you begin, you can insert the rumble pak.  The game will send shocks down to the gamepad when you get hit or when you crash, which adds a nice layer of depth to the gameplay.

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And here we see the basic view, with the weapon and damage status at the top left.  The top bar is your personal damage, the bottom bar is the bike’s. The bottom left shows the distance between you and the next rider.  Green means you need to catch up, red means they’re behind you.  The speed indicator in the bottom right completes the view.

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You can also see that the selected weapon and my place in the race appear near the top left.  The weapons available in this game are your fist, bat with spikes, tire iron, metal bat, billy club, sledge hammer, pool cue, monkey wrench, cattle prod, tazer, mace, nun-chucks
and a chain.  Not only can you hold all of these at once, but you can hold up to four of each of these at once.  That’s pretty realistic while riding a motorcycle and racing and fighting other riders, right?
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The fighting in this game is damn glorious too.  You can hit forward and back, and you can kick too.  Which side depends on where the nearest opponent is.  Also, a quick tap of the button will result in a quick punch rather than your weapon being drawn and used.  This kind of attack is useful when someone is very close to you and you need to get them away fast.

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You can also jam rigid weapons like the pool cue into someone’s front tire and watch them go flying.  It takes timing and you lose that weapon, but damn it’s a hoot!

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To advance from level to level, you need to “qualify” in each of the 8 races.  To qualify, you need to get either first, second or third place in a race.

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And after each race you get to see a rap sheet (accompanied by delightful collision and slamming sounds) that show you how much damage you’ve caused (or has been caused to you).

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Then the score is tallied up, and you can see how beating up on the other riders really pays off.

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Then it’s off to the second race, or back to the first if you want to get some extra cash or pick up extra weapons.

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The races start off very easy and short, and eventually things like traffic and cops are introduced.

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And even I crash into telephone poles when I play this game!

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Some weapons are worth going out of the way for, like that monkey wrench flashing red over on the right by that farm house.

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I got it.  And the quickest way to recover from this position off the track is actually to crash.  Unlike other “Road Rash” games, there is no time spent watching your character trot back on foot to go get his bike, stand it up, get on and then ride from that position again.  Admittedly, that is way more realistic, but it sure is a drag.

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“Road Rash 64” puts you back on your bike automatically after you crash.  And those crashes are spectacular.  The physics in the game are great for driving, exaggerated for jumps and just out to fucking lunch for crashes.  The first dozen or so times I played this I laughed out loud at the way the bike and rider would be sent flying in random directions after a crash.  It’s so goofy and unrealistic that it can’t help but put a smile on my face.

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Along with the weapons you can get, there are actual power-ups, which will multiply the strength of your weapon hits by 2x or 4x.  Here I am approaching one now.

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And here I am with 4 times the clubbing power.  This poor cop doesn’t know what’s about to hit her.

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And after you qualify on all races on a level…

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Time to buy a new bike.  Again, I’m going with the fastest.

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And again, I’m going to decline this dude’s offer.  If there were some way to ask for a refund after the race was over, I might consider it.

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Yay!  Note the “password” code to get to level two from the game start.

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There are some spots on certain tracks where you can literally cut corners.

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The game will notice when you’ve done it, and it will send you a message.  But other than that there is no effect.  You can also see that I’m about to hit a pedestrian.  The game keeps track of how many pedestrians you’ve struck per race, but they don’t add to your cash, and they actually slow you down, so it’s best to avoid them.

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Here’s me catching some air.  I don’t think this would be a very good idea in real life.  The jumps in this game are actually crucial to avoid oncoming traffic that suddenly approach when you can’t see them coming.

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Here’s an example of why this game never won any awards for looks.  This is the inside of a building, with part of my tire sticking through the building wall under the name “Pops”.

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This game can be a little ugly in some spots, and the best looking thing about it is actually the road.

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The scenery changes up a bit for some variation, but you’re not going to see a lot of stunning vistas, well-known landmarks or grandiose landscapes.

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And here’s another short cut between two buildings.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve smashed into that building on the right…

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Yes game, but look, I’m 153 feet ahead of Dez!

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And just for fun let’s do some off-roading.  Where did all the textures go?

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The problem with going off the track is that even with the direction arrows pointing the way, it’s very hard to know exactly where to go to get back.

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So it’s faster to crash and start again on the track.  Note the sky-blue digital void that I’ve torn away from reality… I hope this world doesn’t end because of it.

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Here’s the end of a race, though not the one where I went off the road, that was a lost cause.  I like the skid marks that stay visible, and the fact that the cows moo when you jump over them.

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Another level, another bike.

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And sometimes at the end of a race, when the riders come to a halt near each other, you can swing your weapon at one who’s stopped next to you.  If you’re within striking range you can hit them and crash them off their bike, and get points for it even though the race is over.

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And of course you need to avoid getting crashed off your own bike by the police.  Too much of this and you won’t be able to afford the next bike or worse.  If you run out of money completely it’s game over.

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Now we’re playing with power.  The game starts off pretty fast, but each level gets faster and more hectic as bikes have more speed, traffic gets more congested and more cops try to spoil the party.

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There are two courses in particular that feature an overwhelming number of cops, and this changes the gameplay drastically.  The object of the game for these courses is basically to survive the cops.

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Remembering that getting crashed off your bike just once ends the race, I’ve found it’s best to just kind of hang back and let the cops do their thing ahead of me.

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And I was the only one who survived.  I like this stage.  It’s tough, but it gets the adrenalin pumping.

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Here’s some more air!  “Oh Shit” is right – sometimes I don’t land this jump.

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Now we get to the final bike for the final level.

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There is one more bike actually, but it’s so expensive that you need a cheat code to get it and it’s so fast and uncontrollable that it’s not worth riding.

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Another race with way too many cops!  wish there was one like this on every level.

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Level five is hard as balls, but I know all these tracks off by heart, and I also know that it’s best to ride behind the pack until just before the end to avoid getting beaten into a pulp.

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And as a consequence, I did no fighting.

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Just a lot of hard racing.

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This is the elaborate winning screen… not much to it.

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And after you’ve beaten the game once, you can race as a cop.  If you beat the game twice you can race in “scooter mode” which unlocks these small, slow and funny scooters you can ride.

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“Road Rash 64” also has Thrash mode, which is just straightforward racing & fighting.  The weapons in this mode appear more frequently and more directly in your path.

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You can customize the options for racing, including the strength and number of opponents, the number of cops, traffic and pedestrians.

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There is also Cop Mode which allows you to race as the cop and bust other racers.

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You can leave the default cop look or change it to one of the other couple of dozen pre-rendered looks.  Is that sexy or what?  Her face looks like the sole of a shoe with makeup.

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This can be kind of fun for a change, when you’re sick of hearing the sirens after you all the time…

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…turn the tables and club those riders yourself!

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Not bad.

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A summary is shown after the stage.

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The Multiplayer mode of gameplay can also be played by one player, and it has some interesting and fun ways of playing this game that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Of course there is straight up multiplayer.

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You get a split-screen view and select your appearance.  Bike speed and attributes are all evenly matched in this mode.

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Had this been two-player, the screen would be split horizontally.

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Also in Multiplayer mode are the 1 Lap, 3 Lap, and 7 Lap arena races.

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These take place in separate tracks that don’t feature in the Big Game or Thrash modes.

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This first one is a figure-8 track with counter-clockwise turns.

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The object here is the same as Thrash – race and fight.

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Weapons appear randomly throughout the track, and can be picked up by anyone.

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Short and sweet.

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You get a rap sheet in this mode too.

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The next track is an indoor mezzanine.

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This one is narrow and tricky.

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At least I found it tricky to stay on course while trying to knock other riders around.

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It sure looks like you can drive through that, doesn’t it?

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Next we have some kind of underground sewer type area.

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Or maybe just some water drainage area.

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I’m not too sure but there are a few cool jumps.

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After that comes the same figure-8 as before, only with clockwise turns.

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And finally a giant sandbox.

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This one’s like taking your big motorcycle out to a nasty mess of a dirt bike track.

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You can get the highest jumps in the game in this track, as you can see ahead of me.

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I scared the hell out of my rider, it seems.

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To round out the Multiplayer mode, we have “Ped Hunt”, which is about hunting pedestrians.

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As before, you can select some options, then you race and beat opponents while trying to strike the most pedestrians with your bike.

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Then there is Deathmatch.  Each rider knocked off a bike is 1 point.  First one to 7 points wins.  These take place in the arenas.

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Finally… good old Tag.  You start as “It”, and take it from there.  These also take place in the arenas.

And there you have the finest racing video game ever made.  That’s my opinion, of course.  And I’m judging this only on the amount of fun I have while playing the game.  I’ve seen this game overlooked and disrespected because of the way it looks, and I really think that’s a shame.  This game has so much to offer, and I do think it’s one of the outstanding titles that the Nintendo 64 should be remembered for.

If you’ve never played “Road Rash 64”, check it out.  The cartridge can be had fairly cheaply, and so can the N64.  You can also try it out on an emulator if you want.  I use Project 64 version 1.6 to play my N64 games.  There are some different choices as far as Nintendo 64 emulators go, so read up on them to see which one might work best for you.

Either way, you have to experience this game.