When thinking of the Nintendo 64 and Rareware, the most obvious games that spring to mind are surely Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye 007, or even perhaps Diddy Kong Racing. However, few people will likely think about this one -- Blast Corps. Released early in the system's life, Blast Corps is Rareware's second game for the Nintendo 64, after the launch window port of arcade game Killer Instinct 2, Killer Instinct Gold. It was also one of the earliest N64 games ever shown in video form, dating back as early as 1995 at the Shoshinkai Video Game Show in Japan, under its Japanese title of Blast Dozer. As it turns out, the visuals didn't change that much between this first showcase and the actual release. Unfortunately, though, it didn't make the launch of the console, and was instead released later, in early September 1997 in Europe. Was it any good though? Cubed3 dons its retro goggles and checks it out.
The Blast Corps are a team of specialised destroyers. They live for the sole purpose of destroying things and they make a living out of doing so. Recently, a carrier that was transporting two nuclear heads to a place where they would be safely disposed of was badly damaged and is now unable to be stopped. A mere shock to the carrier could trigger an explosion that would kill millions of innocents. The only way they found to prevent this catastrophe was to call for the Blast Corps unit to destroy everything in its path, clearing the way to avoid any collision between all obstacles.
This happens in the form of missions. Each has players clearing a path for the carrier transporting the nukes. The vehicle progresses through the level in a straight line without ever stopping (not unlike a Lemming actually) and anything it comes into contact with triggers a nuclear explosion, and the failure of the mission. This means that the player, controlling one or several vehicles, has to do everything possible to clear a path. Obstacles can be buildings, farms, fences...basically, anything goes. Don't worry about the inhabitants, as they will be seen fleeing from their soon-to-be destroyed homes, heading to the Blast Corps rescue helicopter. Succeeding in clearing a path, while achieving various secondary objectives such as collecting RDUs (Anti-Radiation units, or so says the instruction booklet), will clear the mission and grant a medal according to the total score attained and/or the time it took to clear the stage.
Additionally, scientists must later be found, hidden inside certain levels on the world map. Their knowledge is required to abort the nuclear catastrophe for good. This prompts the searching of every corner of each level, adding to the game a sense of exploration that helps to vary gameplay even more.
However, the most interesting part is the vehicles at your disposal. The most prominent ones are the engineering vehicles. These include the Ramdozer, which is a typical bulldozer that is needed to ram into buildings to wipe them out, but also to push certain objects, like TNT crates that explode after a few seconds, giving off massive damage. The Sideswipe is another one; a weird vehicle with arms on both sides that extend to destroy everything on both its sides. Each use of those requires batteries, though, so their use can be limited overall. Finally, the Backlash (a haul truck) is sometimes the only means for destroying things. The only way to effectively cause damage with it is to make it power slide through buildings. This is the trickiest move to pull off in the entire game of Blast Corps, and will be a great cause of frustration to those who have the most problems with mastering it. Other machines used to cause chaos are giant robots; the J-Bomb, Thunderfist and Cyclone Suit each have their own way of destroying things, and control differently. The J-Bomb, for example, has a rocket belt attached and will pound giant buildings from top to bottom.
More vehicles exist, which are even more varied and which you wouldn't expect. The Ballista is a motorcycle that requires rockets. Think of Chuck Norris in Delta Force, except here players actually have to mind their aim. This one can be used to clear a path for the carrier when it is on a track that can't be accessed directly, allowing for long-range destruction. The Skyfall (a dune buggy) can instantly destroy anything it lands on from above.
Lastly, cars can also be controlled and used either in regular stages, for moving faster across a level, but not so much for destroying things, or in time trial levels that are devoid of any destruction elements and merely involve a race against the clock. Several different cars exist, including a police car and a van, the latter bearing a resemblance to the van of the A-Team so uncanny that it can't be a mere coincidence. Each of these has different statistics in terms of speed, off-track moving capabilities, and so on.
Think that's all? There are even more vehicles that defy the basic rules of the game, like trains, boats, and cranes that can't be used for destroying things, but rather to help players carry another vehicle from point A to point B. Some trains can only be boarded by getting out of the current vehicle. Indeed, the main character can also travel around on foot. Getting off vehicles and switching between them is essential for progressing through the game. One might find the speed of the little character to be very slow, but this is to draw comparison with the speed of the vehicles. Indeed, everything appears small on screen, including the buildings, so having a character running around at 60mph might not have been very realistic (though the game isn't very realistic to begin with).
All of these ways of destroying things and moving around are mixed around in dozens of ways across the whole of Blast Corps to help make every level feel very unique. Though at first, in a way to let gamers grasp all the ins and outs, you are put right next to the carrier in the level, later on players will have to rush across the level to reach it and start clearing a path, making huge detours. The game mixes things around in so many ways that there is no sense of repetition in the short-term. New missions are unlocked as the readily available ones are cleared, but they unlock in a rather non-linear way, as paths are extended all across the globe. The last couple of missions even include far off planets, where gravity is different from that of Earth, for even more variety, if that was even needed at all.
All this is thrilling action is helped by good looking graphics for the time, although the blurry textures of Blast Corps have aged terribly, even more so considering it's not rich in colours like some of its later released Rare peers, like Banjo-Kazooie. The soundtrack is also rather forgettable, but it does the job of conveying the mood of the game. At least you won't get the urge of turning the sound off when playing. Strangely, it doesn't have that “sound” that is common to a lot of other Nintendo 64 Rareware games. Graeme Norgate, whose most prominent work at Rare is undoubtedly GoldenEye 007, succeeded in composing a soundtrack that mixes very opposed genres, like country music, heavy on banjo, violin and even Jew's Harp, with much more serious sounding music that sounds like it could very well be taken straight out from the aforementioned first-person shooter, though that one was released later.
While the basic premise of a destruction team roaming environments, destroying everything as they go, might not sound like the most original or intricate of concepts, Blast Corps turns out to be a far deeper and involving experience than expected, requiring some fast reflexes and even sometimes careful thinking. In a sense, the way it puts gamers in control of a large variety of vehicles in open 3D worlds with an objective to fulfil is somewhat reminiscent of Pilotwings 64, though here vehicles are in greater number, and each mission can have players step out of one to hop into another one, bringing even greater variety to the gameplay. That is where the strength of Blast Corps lies: in the variety of things to see and do. It gives a huge feeling of accomplishment after succeeding in a difficult mission. Many developers didn't succeed with the transition from 2D to 3D as well as Rareware. As one of Rare’s lesser known original franchises, Blast Corps unfortunately never saw a sequel, despite its lead designer Martin Wakeley stating that he had ideas for one. With Martin Wakeley not being part of Rareware anymore, along with the many changes made to the structure of the company and departure of much of his original staff since the purchase of its shares by Microsoft, it's hard to picture the team bringing this lost franchise back in the near future. One can only hope...and Cubed3 surely does.
this one looks as rough as a badger's backside nowadays - really needs a remake.