It’s long and slick and olive green
I’m surprised it has taken me this long to talk about Road Rash 64. My affection for the title greatly outweighs its quality, but I played it during the N64 days, then rediscovered it with a roommate of mine after college. We had a time. Lyrics from its repetitive soundtrack worked their way into our personal vernacular (we often just referred to the game as “Mean Machine”), and many evenings were spent howling with laughter at just how ridiculous it is. It’s not that we were laughing at the game — okay, we sort of were — but it poked at the same part of our brains that had us clutching our sides while watching golden-age Popeye cartoons.
I’ve introduced many others to it in the years since, but I don’t think that others see the same thing we saw in it. In a way, it’s sort of our game, my old roommate and I.
Still, I’m going to try and explain to you what makes Road Rash 64 so amazing. It’s a game that stands out from the rest of the Road Rash series that started back on the Sega Genesis. In a lot of ways, it’s slapdash and feels thrown together, but not in a way that makes it seem like none of the development team cared about it. It feels more like they were more focused on seeing what they could get away with.
If you’re unfamiliar, Road Rash is a racing series where you’re allowed to beat the stuffing out of your competitors. Marrying violence to a sport is a pretty reliable way to make me interested. For example, I wouldn’t typically play a hockey game, but the brutality of NHL Hitz gets me on the bench. Similarly: Mario Strikers.
With classic Road Rash, however, the fighting seemed more for identity reasons. Your primary goal is to just win the race, and fighting was useful to achieve that, but not necessary. Which isn’t to detract from the classic titles, I’m just setting up for a comparison here.
Road Rash 64 is still about hitting the finish line first, but it really wants you to fight. I’d go as far as saying that it isn’t really that committed about the whole racing thing. You heard me. You need to cross first, but it’s more about whether or not you can survive that long, rather than if you’re the fastest.
Even if you wanted to focus on speed, you’re not getting past the strict rubber-band AI. Normally, I hate rubber-band AI with a molten-hot passion. However, I can’t imagine Road Rash 64 without it.
The goal of the hyperactive rubber-banding is to keep all the racers in a tight pack. It’s a bit ridiculous because every track keeps the roughly 10 racers bunched together at all times. If you jam a banana in the spokes of one racer, it’s a minor inconvenience; they’ll be rejoining in short order. The same goes for you, however, if you take a dive, you’ll find yourself rocketing back to everyone else.
The downside to this is that much of the race is inconsequential. If you want to drive at the stereotypical speed of an elderly motorist to preserve the structure of your motorcycle, you can still capture victory if you hit the accelerator a reasonable distance from the finish line. That’s not to say that driving skill doesn’t factor in, but if you think you’re going to be able to just climb to the front and sit in the lead, it’s a bit more precarious than that.
It’s one of the ways that Road Rash 64 differs from its predecessors. In the classic titles, you’d start at the back of the pack and slowly claw your way up the ranks, trying to reach first before hitting the finish line. It’s rather strange for Road Rash 64 to ditch that formula when there’s still a decent amount of its ancestor’s DNA sloshing around.
The track design still smells like Road Rash, and by that a mean a lot of gentle, sloping terrain. It’s all cut out of one big map, and occasionally there are incredibly dangerous 90 degree turns, but largely it’s open road. Don’t expect much from the scenery — a bridge, a city, suburbs, a cliffside, and a whole lot of empty plains. It’s as ugly as a particularly unspectacular butt. Even the bikes and the character models look like something that should be decorating a far-off setpiece. They’re like the high-detail close-up model hasn’t popped in yet and refuses to do so.
Hilariously, there’s a high-res mode enabled by the Expansion Pak, but it does little to make Road Rash 64 look pretty. This was late-1999 and it looks like a launch-window game. Pilotwings 64 looked better than this.
Sorry, I should stop shaming the game for being so dramatically unattractive.
The upside is that there are nearly a dozen riders on screen at a time, but the cost is a bit high. F-Zero X had 30 racers a year earlier. However, those racers just exploded. These ones will go sailing over the horizon.
Also, the soundtrack is incredibly limited and heavily features “Mean Machine” by Sugar Ray. Weirdly, the extremely repetitive soundtrack never began to grate on my nerves, but I honestly don’t know why. I couldn’t possibly tell you a situation where having hard rock Sugar Ray on repeat is acceptable, but I don’t hate it.
There’s a 4X damage multiplier you can pick up, and combined with a gentle kick will launch an opponent with incredible force. It’s Road Rash 64’s true strength: it’s ridiculous. The rocket kick is but one facet of that. Potentially the greatest facet if you witness it in multi-player.
No, there’s plenty of ludicrous mechanics to Road Rash 64. For example, observe the elegance of the spoke-jam, where you sacrifice a weapon to send an opponent end-over-end. It’s deadly, but not even a sure take-down, because sometimes the physics just sends the opponent flying. It’s funny and effective regardless of whether your foe survives it. It gets more amusing when you find you can do the same action with a sledgehammer or giant banana.
Then there are weapons that stun; mace, taser, cattleprod. They temporarily incapacitate an opponent, which isn’t that deadly until you give them a kick and send them sailing into a wall or over a cliff.
The main event is “Big Game”, which isn’t too far off from the typical Road Rash formula. You win races to gain money that you put towards bigger and better bikes. The biggest and best bikes are amazing. Barely controllable contraptions that travel at impossible speeds. For a disorienting time, try riding a few races on the slowest class of bikes, then switch it over to the fastest.
The very last race deserves special mention since it is just a straight stretch of road that ends in a wall that everybody plows into directly after passing the finish line.
Maybe I have bad taste, but Road Rash 64 is still a game I pull of the shelf occasionally. In fact, if you had me pair my N64 collection down to the bare essentials, there’s a good chance it would make the cut. It’s just chaotic, goofy, and fun. Grabbing a friend and turning on cheats can just enhance the whole experience. It might be the least Road Rash out of all the Road Rash games, but it’s also on a whole new level of entertaining.
I feel that Road Redemption, an independent homage to the Road Rash games must have drawn inspiration for Road Rash 64 in particular. It too is over-the-top and wacky. Sadly, it omitted the spoke-jam, but in its place, you can grab someone and drag them into traffic. So, there’s that if you can’t take the N64’s graphical haze and awful graphics, but, personally, I’d say it’s worth the cruise.