RetroGrade Review #7: Blast Corps (Nintendo 64 — 1997)

Blast Corps, released in 1997, is a game born from whichever mind at Rareware decided to test the Nintendo 64’s specs by cramming as much carnage and destruction as possible into one cartridge. It opened to high critical acclaim but low sales – its Metacritic score of 90/100 is among the top fifteen Nintendo 64 games of all time, but it failed to crack the list of 42 Nintendo 64 titles that reached or surpassed $1 million in sales.  The game can sometimes feel like an engine test, and the graphical stylings have not aged as well as some of its contemporaries.  Nevertheless, Blast Corps remains what it always has been – a wild and fun video game which never loses sight of the fact that it is, after all, just a game.
The game tasks you with clearing a path for a truck carrying two live, defective, and leaking nuclear warheads as it travels along a pre-set route to a pre-set location at a pre-set pace.  Short and sweet, if this truck is jostled even the slightest bit, it goes kaboom and everything else goes bye-bye. Whoever is in charge of this debacle has called the Blast Corps Demolition Company to ensure the warheads’ safe arrival to the aforementioned pre-set location.

The gameplay, however, does a not rather poor job of making this backstory believable.  With no real direction other than what appears on the screen when a new game starts (clear a path, gather collectibles in the form of lighting up the “RDU’s” scattered throughout levels, and locate six scientists), you are dropped just walking distance from the giant, leaking, radioactive capsules of doom as they ever-so-slowly creep towards a backwater country town.  Your only choice is to barrel on in the Ramdozer (a bulldozer the size of a small building) until you see the first structure you are supposed to destroy.  If this is a building in the missiles’ path, you are instructed on how to proceed through the level.  However, if the first thing you flatten is a “peripheral structure,” the game does not condemn you.  Instead, it reminds you that destroying is fun!  You should flatten everything in every level!  You can only fully complete the game if you do!  Did we mention that destroying is fun?

Blast Corps’ narrative continues to fall short with the optional goal of rescuing “survivors.”  First of all, nowhere anywhere are you told of any scenario these hapless individuals would have needed to survive prior to the incidents in the game.  Second, one would think that their “survival” would be accomplished once the aforementioned doom-capsules have exited the area.  This is not the case.  These unfortunate folks are “freed” once the buildings in which they reside are collapsed around them by whichever mechanical building-collapser you are operating at the time.

And so the game continues onwards with machines built for demolition that range from the quasi-realistic to the certifiably epic, each with its own way of causing massive devastation.  In addition to the Ramdozer, Blast Corps provides you with the Backlash (for when you want to drift-turn a giant truck into buildings), the Skyfall (because who said buggies couldn’t be outfitted with a rocket booster and an armored bottom heavy enough to flatten farmhouses and grain towers?), the Ballista (for those of us who want to drive a high-tech motorcycle but can’t simultaneously lift two missile launchers), and the Sideswipe (if you’ve ever wondered what a flailing temper-tantrum looked like in the form of a truck).  In addition to these are three giant robots that made nearly every child of the 1990’s look at this game and say, “Gundams!  The game has Gundams in it!”  These are the Thunderfist (the one-armed heavy robot that clumsily somersaults into skyscrapers and then Shoryukens them out of existence), the Cyclone Suit (built for tumbling, cartwheeling, back-flipping, and cannonballing through entire city blocks), and the J-Bomb (no real bombs included, just the ability to fly above buildings and stomp them into nothingness).

Not all of Blast Corps’ fifty-plus levels requires these marvels of made-up engineering.  Many levels simply revolve around completing laps around a track as quickly as possible.  To accomplish this, the game gives you four cars – two American muscle cars (with one decorated in an American flag, because patriotism, hooyah), a police car (with a working siren), and the A-Team van.  Additionally, some levels are gimmicks (like a giant pool-table where you push blocks of TNT into the pockets with the Ramdozer) and later levels require actual puzzle-solving while you frantically try not only to clear a path for the missile-carrier, but create one as well.  Perform well enough as you progress in the game and you unlock time trials where you have to clear the path as quickly as possible.  Continue to perform well enough and you earn the ability to travel to other parts of the solar system (just imagine the Backlash soaring through the Moon’s low gravity before it careens into the side of a lunar structure).  These different objectives and level designs turn Blast Corps into a gamer’s playground, and the time trials give a much-needed sense of replayability.  The level design falls short, however, when it comes to exploration.

Most levels, like the game itself, are massive.  But with the limitations of the Nintendo 64, it would have been impossible to fill each part of each level with defining landmarks, leaving sprawling spans of screen-filling grass and water where the player can easily become lost since every detail looks exactly the same.  Additionally, some secrets in later levels are almost too frustrating to get to, both because of the intricate processes required to reach them and the lack of useful camera control.

Finally, while the game’s soundtrack was praised at the time of its release, it, like the graphics, has not aged well.  It is simply too repetitive at times, and I frequently find myself turning down the TV.  The sound effects, however, remain as explosive and immersive as they were back in the day, and the “A-Team,” “Dukes of Hazard,” and “Starsky and Hutch” allusions give those of us who are familiar with older television programs a decent laugh.

Blast Corps is a solid game that has withstood the test of time well, though not quite as well as other games of its era.  I do recommend it, however, to anyone who is looking for a fun game to pass some time.  If you don’t have an Xbox One, check it out on an emulator that allows controller support.  If you do have an Xbox One, stayed tuned for the release of Rare Replay next month, in which this game is included along with twenty-nine other classic and not-so-classic Rareware titles.

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