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Blast Corps

A series of transportation vehicles are carrying defective nuclear missiles, which have leaked, killing off their drivers and causing the carriers to follow direct co-ordinates toward the Blast Corps disarming sites. As the transports are following the most direct, efficient path possible – a straight line – entire cities happen to be blocking their paths. So it’s your job to decimate the many concrete jungles and prevent the planet from entering into a catastrophic nuclear winter. In order to save civilization you must first destroy it.

It’s as good an excuse as any for blowing things up. As a pilot in the Blast Corps explosive weapons unit, you’ll be given access to a range of interesting mission-specific vehicles. Some of the vehicles are self-explanatory: the RamDozer is a bulldozer used for ramming and the BackLash is a dump-truck that is most effective when its backside is slid into a building. There are also robots. Most memorable is the J-Bomb robot – fitted with a jetpack and the ability to drop from above buildings, the J-Bomb is capable of demolishing whole sections of buildings in a single drop.

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Typically the level structure doesn’t vary too wildly. You escort each carrier down their pre-destined path, demolishing the buildings marked with arrows. Once it reaches the explosives experts at the end of the path, you’re taken to a performance review screen and awarded a medal based on several factors. If your performance was unsatisfactory, you can return to the level and without the transport no longer being a concern, destroy the remaining buildings off the beaten path. There’s really no reason for destroying them, but you’re a hero and can rack up inconsequential sums of money (used only for score) for each structure dropped. There are also quite a few communication beacons spread throughout each course that are registered as they’re driven over, survivors whom are rescued from the buildings by the Blast Corps chopper, and numerous vehicles scattered about the levels for you to jump into. In-between all the escort missions are time trials. They serve as formulaic lap-based races, complete with ghost data.

At these times, it seems like Rare may have been in the process of cooking up a R.C. Pro-Am-esque isometric racing game with weapons and realized that by making these weapons the primary focus, a much more interesting result could be achieved. That’s how I imagine it coming together anyway, as Blast Corps bears a striking resemblance to Rare’s aforementioned NES racing series. It pays homage to this formula, while establishing its own identity in the process.

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The controls for each vehicle are appropriately loose for the lighter cars and tighter for the heavier ones. While the core concept here is that of a puzzle game, the gameplay is drawn out through various racing/action-adventure elements. Sometimes that works in its favor, providing tense situations where there’s a clear win/lose situation and a short window to clear out huge fields of buildings. It’s consistently fun throughout, with the incentive of returning to levels to achieve maximum ranking likely keeping obsessive-types busy for days on end.

One of the main problems with Blast Corps is the BackLash vehicle. It’s not very well communicated exactly what portion of the backside needs to slam against a building for it to crumble inward, or how to maximize bumps in the environment to send yourself hurling on top of a building. Maybe it’s that all of the BackLash’s mechanics are displayed in an early tutorial and it felt unfamiliar by the time I needed it again, but the vehicle has always felt unwieldy to me. This makes one of the levels (Diamond Sands) a chore that falls somewhere between daunting and seemingly impossible.

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There isn’t a lot to complain about in Blast Corps. Despite being criminally under-rated in contrast to Rare’s lineup of other Nintendo 64 releases, this 1997 nuclear puzzler happens to rank amongst the developer’s best work. It’s got a lot of installed nostalgic appeal, both in the perspective, unwavering attention to placing action over story, and the terrific visual presentation. This is the sort of concept you’d wish more developers would pay attention to. The fact that it never tries to be anything more than a game is refreshing. There are some great ideas in Blast Corps; it’s one of the few relatively unpopular Nintendo 64 releases that are worth your while.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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