Its always nice to look over old games and reap the memories they used to sow, just so we can see how much we have grown since those hazy times back when. Today I would like to talk about quite a special game to me; not only did it teach me that simplicity can be a great asset in a gameís concept, but it is also responsible for considerably lowering the overall grades of my GCSEís. Let me go back four years past. Im fifteen, sitting on my bed, stirring around trying to study for the exams coming up. Needing some kind of break, I remember that game I picked up for a fiver the other day. Blast Corps it was: Iíd read in a magazine that it was supposed to be really good, plus its made by Rare so it must be worth a shot. I reach down for my N64 on the bottom shelf - mostly unplugged since the Gamecube was released - and give it a go for the first time in ages.
Iíd be giving it a go for most subsequent nights from then on. I had one objective, and one alone that really mattered. Blow shit up. And it was fantastic.
I canít remember a game between this and Left 4 Dead, which so eloquently drops the player into a scenario, and simply tells them to just do something about it. Youíre a character and you have a gun. Your mission is to get from point A to point B. Oh, by the way, itís the zombie apocalypse out there. Do something about that please. Here: thereís a missile carrier traveling through town for no identifiable reason. It cant turn corners and likes to plot its route through buildings, so you have to clear a path for it by jumping in a bulldozer/giant robot suit/anything you can find, and making the cityís residents homeless until the carriers path is free. Also, if it touches anything even slightly itíll cause a nuclear catastrophe. What are you going to do? It plays on mans innate desire to destroy, just as its parallel Iíve highlighted plays on his desire to shoot undead monsters in the face. The simplicity in this respect are one of its greatest achievements: no thought process, just pure game, how the developers desired it. Screw the realism, I have entertainment.
Its clear that Rare had a single objective of their own while developing this game: to satisfy the player. And they did it, in many different ways. I cant think of one mode of transport in this game that it didnít feel utterly delightful to throw into buildings and watch them crumble to the ground (weíll get onto the arrogant Backlash later). From the first Ramdozer mission, hopping in and watching houses fall and the little people running about in confusion from the moment your vehicle collides, to taking out the humanoid J-Bomb and stomping towering cities to oblivion, everything was pure, unpretentious fun.
Questions? Yes, there is a giant mechanical robot thing called the J-Bomb which uses itís built in jetpac to fly above cities and crush them.. Yes, there is a bulldozer called the Ramdozer for reasons I cant decipher other than it sounds silly. And yes, it is the main point of the game to cause mindless destruction wherever you feel. Good, Iím glad weíre clear on things. Lets move on to the mission structure.
There are, as I count, four types of missions found in Blast Corps, which I will aptly name here the following: thereís the blowy stuff up ones, the racey ones, the puzzley ones, and the pac-man like bonus ones where you have to travel round a grid turning on coloured lights. Which are all cool in their own right. Each mission is timed, and it is possible to be ranked three levels depending on how fast you complete them. Simple, yet satisfying. Completing the entire world map with all the grey splotches etched out by medals is no easy feat. When I turned the game on recently, I noticed that I had a surprising amount of the game left to finish; mostly unranked on those pesky Backlash stages.
Now, the Backlash. The Backlash is possibly the most annoying thing to ever happen in the history of video games ever, in that itís the most impossible vehicle to control, but upon mastery makes you feel like some kind of destructive deity. I never mastered it myself, but there was the occasional spark which elevated me to the level of a true destructor. The deal is, youíre some kind of dumper truck, and the only way you can cause damage is with the steel shell on youíre back. Reversing into buildings wont do anything because you cant get anywhere near high enough speed, so what do you do? Well, hitting the right shoulder trigger during a run up will cause your vehicle to go into a skid mode, where you can use the analogue stick to swerve your car 360 degrees and smash its backside into anything in youíre way. Which is amazing! If it didnít feel the need to only work about ten percent of the time.
Grr, you're the last thing I ever want to press start for.
The Backlash causes the most frustrating moments youíll ever have with a game, but theyíre worth suffering through just so you can feel that spark of accomplishment when it eventually does manage to pull through. Otherwise, youíll just end up like me and through most of its missions, after giving up on swerving status spending ages just gently nudging into buildings, watching the tiny amounts of debris fall off with each bump until about a minute later its finally crumbled. Its sad when your inability to do something leads you to resort to tedious afterwork. The problem falls in the angles it takes to make it work. Everything in the equation must be perfect. The player must be driving at the right degree, reached the right speed, and began the skid at the right time to be able to smash down that building in front. There isnít much room for fault, so only players with a good skill in calculation will be able to truly harness the power of this beast. And I wonder, maybe if Iíd have studied maths a little longer that night if itíd have gave me a better chance!
I always really liked the Sideswipe. Just hit the trigger and two plates come thrusting out of either side destroying anything in their wake. Driving between rows of houses with this mark of brilliance was always a lot of fun. Also the Ballista, that motorbike thing with the rockets. It reminds me of one of my favourite levels in the game: Oyster Harbour. This tricky puzzle needed absolute precision and timing to finish, with a combination of rockets to blow the brightly coloured crates off the docks, and a crane to shift out some unblowupable stuff, all while time is trickling away with the advent of the missile carrier threatening your world. And that was only half the level. Fantastic! Words have to be said for the Cyclone Suit too: another humanoid exoskeleton which upon hitting the button will unleash a bunch of crazy ninja moves. You donít want to be in the way when that goes off. Similarly was the Thunderfist which rolls its way to victory, but that was pretty crap to be honest. Its saving grace though, was its music. I continue to play the stage of this one just because of the charmingly retro soundtrack it contains - Iím sure players of the game previously know which one Iím talking about. As for the rest of its musical score, its definitely reminiscent of Goldeneye, you can tell the same people worked on it. While not entirely memorable though, it is very good and fits nicely the mood of the game.
J-Bomb: In one of those rare moments of being static and rubbish looking.
And just when you think youíve seen enough content, Blast Corps decides to spring upon you one of gamingís greatest unlockable surprises. I love when these kinds of things happen; like the special zone in Super Mario World you never saw coming that first magical time it ws discovered, Blast Corps decides to build new colonies across the galaxy specially for you to destroy! With low gravity to boot! Absolute mayhem ensues: as long as youíre slightly off the ground in Blast Corps anything is a one hit trip to rubble town, and with the lack of gravitational pull holding you down its practically an all out pass to go nuts. I had so much fun with this mode, it just begs to be replayed to cut the seconds off your time!
Rare made some classics back in their day, this was their first on the Nintendo 64. And as that, its one of the only ones that hasnít over time gained a spiritual follow up: later on for the platform they made two first person shooters, two kart racers, and four collect-em-up platformers (Iím counting Conker for extravagance sake) but even in their years after Nintendo, theyíve never replicated the feel of the explosive destructathon which was shown here. Maybe it was that its simple nature at the time didnít give it the attention it deserved for a follow up; I know thatís how I felt about it at the time. Iím playing with 64 bits now, I want the massive platform adventure, not the top down thing that this was. Well, y'know, kids are stupid!
Still, one day Iíd like to see Rare revisit this lost ground; a sequel, an XBLA re-release - whatever. I know the charm of those giant polygons and murky textures wont put me off! And I hope no-one else too. Because a unique concept as entertaining as this deserves at least one more chance in the light, before the public decides its fate all over again.
Oh, and did I say you could play as the A Team van. Because you can!