Thursday, 28 March 2013

N64 Driving / Racing Games #3

Beetle Adventure Racing (1999)
By: Paradigm Entertainment / Electronic Arts Genre: Racing Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo 64
Also Available For: Nothing

There's no story so why the film strip?
Considering the apparent ease with which the mighty N64 was able to handle 3D game worlds, I always found it rather surprising that it didn't host more top quality racing games. There was the king itself, F-Zero X, of course, and a few other corkers such as the floopy Wave Race, but alternatives were few and far between. I thought I had found one when I saw a rather enthusiastic review in a gaming magazine of the day so I bought the game in question at full price only to find it sucked big floppy donkey dicks. No, I'm not talking about Beetle Adventure Racing - I'll review the actual culprit another time - but such was the horror I endured with the other title that I became far more hesitant to try any other N64 racers, and that's where the EA's Volkswagen-starring game comes in. It too received decent reviews but I was so scarred by my previous experience that I never dared to try it... until now.

Look! Look at all the nice hot-air balloons!
As you might've gathered from the name and the fact that it stars the Beetle, this game isn't exactly a hardcore driving simulation - it couldn't be more arcadey if it came bundled with a big, loud hydraulic cabinet! You can initially choose between one or two players with the former offering either a Single Race or Championship. The only car you can race as (or against for that matter) is unsurprisingly the one of the title but there are at least several different versions available (distinguished by their paint jobs) which differ in their top speed, acceleration, and handling. The Single Race mode offers three types of race - Full Grid (a normal race featuring eight cars), Duel (a one-on-one battle), and Time Attack (umm, a time attack mode). You can only choose between three Beetles and two courses in these modes to start with though - the Championship mode is the one to choose if you want to increase the selection which, like all the play modes, has three difficulty levels.

It's easy to get distracted by the lovely scenery...
All of the Championship modes feature races between eight cars and there's no qualifying so you always start at the back of the grid (shocking, I know) but the number of races depends on the difficulty. The first and easiest one has three races for which you receive points based on your finishing position. If you finish third or above you can move onto the next race and if you win the tournament you can move up the next tier which has four races, then the next which has five, and then you unlock the secret fourth level which consists of six races. Each tournament you win also unlocks new, faster Beetles up to a total of eleven as well, and you'll need them as your opponents go from being bumbling walkovers in the first few races to near-faultless pros in the later stages. Two player games can be contested over the normal courses or in a mode called Beetle Battle. These take place within enclosed arenas where you compete to collect six different coloured ladybirds (or 'ladybugs' as our American friends insist on calling them).

Less discreet tomb-raiding than Lara's variety...
The main courses are by far the most interesting things about the game though, and there are six in total - Coventry Cove (a hilly, British countryside course with waterfalls and castles and stuff), Mount Mayhem (a mostly snow-covered course filled with icy stuff), Inferno Isle (a dense, tropical, primeval place similar to Isla Nublar), Sunset Sands (set around/through various Egyptian pyramids and temples and all that stuff), Metro Madness (a large city), and Wicked Woods (a spooky wooded area which reminded me of Bree). What these courses may lack in their quantity they more than make up for in other ways. Each of them is unusually long for one thing - a three lap race on some of them can exceed ten minutes - but even more impressive than that is the amount of features and secrets packed into them including many alternate routes and short-cuts, some of which are obvious while others are less so.

Pretty snow falling on Mount Mayhem...
There are also loads of crates dotted around each course. Generally the least hidden type are blue Nitro Boxes which give a momentary-but-helpful speed boost once smashed and there are also Bonus Boxes which can reward you with continues in the Championship mode and can also help you to unlock a few bits and pieces. The last kind of crate is the Flower Box which is the least numerous and hardest to find but unlocks some special cheats! Happily though, this isn't a game that's so hard that you'll need to cheat to see the later courses. If anything it's a little too easy - I finished all three standard tiers of the championship on my first go with no prior experience of the courses involved, for example. As mentioned earlier, the opponents do get tougher of course, and as you unlock faster and faster Beetles, it's also more of a challenge to navigate the courses too.

Metro Madness - the only remotely generic course...
That's not to suggest that the cars don't handle well though. Their turning ability often isn't great but they're grippy things which can be hurled around corners at good speeds. Indeed, I can't vouch for real Beetles but these ones can powerslide and perform impressive jumps, given the opportunity, and they don't lose much speed from driving on other surfaces such as ice, sand, rough terrain, or from veering off road either. As such, successful racing is more down to how well you take the corners and avoid the obstacles, and there are quite a few rather unique ones such as icebergs, falling columns, broken bridges, volcanoes, and even a T-Rex! The view of many corners is often obscured by trees, vegetation, signposts, boxes, barrels, etc, all of which can be driven through but this of course means you won't get much of a chance to react to whatever may lay beyond! It's also possible to fall off the track completely, such as off a bridge, or into water or lava, which will see your car repositioned, but if you get stuck in a corner or something, you can reposition your car yourself with the press of a button.

Yeah - racing stripes means speeeed!
Luckily there doesn't seem to be a limit to how many times you can do this, and you apparently can't destroy your car either (at least not permanently as far as I can tell), but repositioning it does obviously slow you down somewhat. This is most likely down to the officially licensed nature of the game (there's a special Volkswagen screen at the start) and that also means the cars don't show damage no matter how many walls, corners, or dinosaurs you smash into. Damaged or not though, they're not the best looking cars from behind either (which is of course how you'll see them 99% of the time) but this is the only less than stellar aspect of the visuals - the courses themselves are fantastic! With the possible exception of Metro Madness they're highly varied, they're all superbly designed, the draw distance is surprisingly good, and they're packed with detail as well.

Yes that's right, I'm driving around a volcano...
After all this splendour, the audio is a bit disappointing and probably the weakest aspect of the game. The engine noise is whiny and unpleasant (although I suppose we couldn't exactly have V8's rumbling through our speakers!) and the music, while noticeably spiffy on occasion, is largely forgettable too, which is a shame - a lively, catchy soundtrack could've made this game even more fun to play! The courses are definitely the highlight though - there are so many memorable sights and features and you're never quite sure what you'll find around the corner the first time you race each of them. Even after finishing the game multiple times you'll still be finding new secrets and short-cuts occasionally, and if you're like me you'll probably end up completing it many times! It really is enormous fun to play, for one player or two - the cars may all be Beetles but each one is slightly different to use; some of the later ones are very fast and there are plenty or ramps and jumps dotted around to make things even more interesting.

Smashing through barrels in what looks like Greece!
Surprisingly, none of the other drivers are very aggressive and get annoyed and start honking at you if you act aggressively toward them, but they're not generally too difficult to beat - this is definitely a game that's worth starting on the highest difficulty setting but even if you don't, keep away from the easy one! However you play though, there's no question that it's a tremendously enjoyable game, and one which I'd wager many gamers haven't played which is strange. As much grief as I give Electronic Arts for constantly releasing crap, or at least generic games, not to mention endless sequels, this game is far from crap and yet received no sequels; very unlike EA and a great shame too. Still, let's just be grateful this one exists, and what a wonderful surprise it's been too - it's quite amazingly and unexpectedly one of the most charming and addictive racing games I've played for a while. With just a bit more challenge it could've been one of the best arcade style racers ever.

RKS Score: 9/10


  1. Thanks for the review... After reading your post, I thought I'd give it a go (via emulation), and it really is quite a good racer. I remember buying Top Gear Rally for my N64 and being utterly disappointed with it (especially after spending £60 on it!). I never did find a decent car racing game for the console, although I wish I had seen this one now.

  2. Cheers, glad you like it! I went in expecting the worst but very soon loved it! You're right though, it doesn't have much competition...

  3. BAR feel almost like a 3D platformer mixed with racing game seeing how expansive the tracks are.
    The genre of arcade racing games is one of the strongest on N64 and BAR is surely one of the best.
    Cult classic.

    BTW I actually quite like Top Gear Rally.

  4. Hi again Mr Neogaf, I'm guessing you like racing games? :P My posts on that subject are not among my most popular but I'm glad someone likes them!

    I haven't played Top Gear Rally yet but the game I mentioned at the start of the review that horrified me so was Top Gear Overdrive (>.<)