Beetle Adventure Racing
For some reason, the powerhouse that is Electronic Arts (not counting EA Sports) has shied away from the N64. The company has released a ton of kick-ass PC and PSX titles, but they just have never touched the N64 -- until now. I think I can say with utmost certainty that the wait was worth every second, because their first game, Beetle Adventure Racing (BAR), may very well be the best racing game on the system to date. They enlisted the development expertise of Paradium Entertainment (of F1 fame) and released a game that puts some of the second- and third-generation titles to shame. All this, and it does not even use the RAM Pak.
The game has the Volkswagen license (hence the name Beetle) and you race a bunch of hopped-up VW bugs. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? I didn't think so either. However, once you get out there and start flying through the tracks, searching for shortcuts, it quickly becomes apparent that this is one of the best-designed arcade racing games around. Get over the fact that they are VW's and let the races begin.
So my first thought, as is almost everybody's, was "How much fun could a game based on racing VW Beetles be?" I thought this was a huge mistake on EA's part. You can't just give gamers one type of car, especially a car that is not thought of as a racing machine. People are going to scream about this, I thought. So going into the game, I feel I was a little jaded. I started up that first race and by the time I was a quarter of the way through the first track, I was hooked. It did not matter to me that I was racing in a VW Bug any longer. Hell, I could have been racing around in a Big Mac with wheels for all I cared. It became very apparent that the cars were not the highlight of this game. With that said, I still think it was a little lame that you only had one type of car to race -- but once you unlock some of the faster cars, it really does not matter that the cars all look the same.
I really did not care much for the Rush series. I thought it was pretty good, but not great. The reason I bring this up is because BAR has some similarities to Rush, but I just enjoyed the game so much more. Both games have some serious high-flying jump action, power sliding and shortcuts galore. There was just something about this game that made it stand out above the rest.
Let's talk about these shortcuts for a minute. When I say that the game sports shortcuts, do not underestimate what this means. I don't mean that the game has an occasional branching path or side route. Nope. Let's put it this way -- I raced one track at least six times and found a different route each time. There are that many secrets. The best part about it is the fact that not all the alternative routes actually help you in terms of race time. Some of the routes are actually slower than taking the beaten path. This added tremendously to the replay value of the game. I actually got to the point where I would race on a track just to scout out all the different routes and decide which were time savers and which were not. I can honestly say that I have never paid this much attention to track layout on any other game.
Aside from the shortcuts, the tracks themselves varied from snow to sand to caves to lava and everything else in between. Even if you race the tracks and try to stay on the normal path, the tracks are all a blast. There is just the right combination of straightway, sharp corners and insane jumps. There are actually jumps that will shoot you so high up that you will hit the roof of a cavern. It is a total blast. If you are looking for realism, you will be very disappointed. If you are looking for outrageous arcade-like tracks, you will be in heaven.
I want to jump back to the cars for a minute. As I mentioned above, your only option in cars is a Volkswagen Beetle. Each of these cars is not created equal, however. As with every racing game, the cars are ranked by top speed, acceleration and handling. As you progress through the championship mode, you will unlock faster cars that handle better. The handling of the cars is pretty good, but can be frustrating at times. One of the first things you will need to master is the hand brake to help you power-slide around the corners. This is where the frustration comes in. I can't tell you how many times I hit the hand brake and started sliding sideways, only to be stopped by slamming into a wall. On a positive note, they did a great job of making the cars handle and react as you would expect on the different conditions. For example, you will slide forever on snow and ice. You can't get good traction on sand. These are the types of details a lot of game companies just overlook as though they are not important, but I have news for you -- they are!
The last thing I really found cool about the game was the bonus system. Well, this is not entirely true. The way the bonus system worked was cool, but the reward was not that exciting to me. The reward was opening up multiplayer arenas, and since I really don't play much multiplayer on the consoles, I would have rather had new tracks or different cars. I still really liked the way that the system worked, though. There were boxes with numbers on them. As you smashed through each box, you received the number of bonus points stated on the box. Each track had a total of 100 points worth of boxes and you had to get the entire 100 points to open the bonus tracks. Talk about damn impossible! First off, the boxes were always someplace off the beaten path so you had to go looking for them as well as worry about winning the race. This was quite a challenge. The thing that I liked best about these boxes was that they were clues to shortcuts. They would either mark the hidden entrance to a secret area, or you would see a box way above your head and it would let you know that there had to be a way to get the box. The challenge was figuring out how to do it.
My only real complaint with the game was that the tracks were a bit on the long side for my tastes. Even though there was so much to do on each track, I found myself starting to drift a bit on the last lap. I mean, races can be as long as eight minutes each, which is a long time to race on the same track. Other than that, I can't really think of anything to complain about.
How they are getting away with the graphics in this game without using the RAM Pak, I will never know. It only makes me wonder what it could have been had they used the extra memory. WOW! As it stands now, the graphics are top notch. No fog, no drawn in, no blur. The cars can look a little jagged up close, but that is just nit-picking. The racing environments are just awesome.
This has to be the best racer on the N64. I can't explain how much fun this game is. Sure, it sucks that you only race VWs, but you will get over that very quickly. If arcade style racing games are your bag, you will really enjoy this game. I just hope EA does not wait another two years to release a game.
Review Posted On 9 April 1999.
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