While it is difficult to justify the N64 as being a golden age of gaming, it certainly produced more than its fair share of influential and challenging releases amidst many titles not worthy of displaying the Nintendo seal of quality. Support from UK developer Rare was a key ingredient, Goldeneye may receive most of the plaudits, but for many players Blast Corps remains just as special.
The catalogue of Rare releases contains some of the most memorable and groundbreaking titles of their time, especially during the Spectrum era. From Atic Atac to Knight Lore and beyond, the studio became a staunch supporter of Nintendo, who quite rightly recognised their talents. Blast Corps was released in 1997 when the studio also produced Goldeneye, Killer Instinct Gold and Diddy Kong Racing. Looking back now it seems a remarkable output across a period of just twelve months and one nowadays that publisher and marketing types would seek to avoid.
Blast Corps sees you up against the odds, trying to clear a path for a runaway nuclear weapon transporter. These defective missiles were set for detonation in a safe zone, but due to some technical glitch, the vehicle has set a direct path to the site. Instead of avoiding civilian and built up areas, the carriage now passes through such environments, taking the most direct route. While residents can be evacuated, the actual structures and hazards remain intact, and if the transporter should hit one of these then the nuclear weapons will detonate, with devastating consequences. So as a member of the Blast Corps demolition company you are tasked with clearing such obstacles by using a variety of vehicles.
The premise is beautiful in terms of its simplicity and execution. Time is the major factor here and Rare’s expertise for crafting a challenging game is very evident. The main focus of the game are the carrier levels that pit you against the slow progress of the wayward vehicle. The planned path is displayed and you must get to work immediately, using either your default bulldozer or taking advantage of any other machinery you may find. Thankfully its not just a case of storming through a level, blasting any hazards that you may find to rubble, Rare realised that this would soon become rather dull and implemented other gaming aspects to keep you occupied.
The introduction of blocks into a level demands more thought and planning from the player. Hazards are not simply structures but also gaps or holes that may result in a ground zero scenario anyway. Not content with this added ingredient, Blast Corps also asks the player to overcome multiple obstacles at times to place the blocks and other puzzles. Pitted against a strong difficulty curve and the temptation of the medal system (as seen in Goldeneye) to grade your performance, its a title that will continue to frustrate and challenge players, even today. Once a level is complete then you are allowed to return without fear of playing against a countdown, which enables to explore the area fully and introduce some experimentation.
For all the joys of the carrier levels, at times they could be extremely frustrating. A worthwhile distraction are the bonus levels that remove the need to clear obstacles and mainly focused on racing. Your selection of vehicle tied into your progress in the main mode, so most dynamic options do require a little effort and perseverance. Also thrown into the equation were bonus levels that allowed you just to destroy and as a mini-game these were good enough, especially to unleash some frustration.
Looking at the screenshots today, it’s hard to believe that Blast Corps was graphically accomplished, but it was at time. As with most early N64 releases of this era, the textures possessed that gritty quality, which become so disintictive until the additional memory pack was released later on. The graphics are proficient enough to allow you to visualise the task at hand and that’s good enough for Gamestyle, especially when the main draw is the wonderful game play.
While the industry has moved on, games such as Pilot Wings and Blast Corps retain their addictive qualities through excellent design and implementation. As an original intellectual property, it is a shame that Rare never followed up the promise of the original with a much-deserved sequel. Perhaps one day that will change, but for now Blast Corps is a must-have purchase for anyone with a Nintendo 64.