Sometimes, the most enjoyable part of creation is destruction. The best part of setting up a row of dominoes is knocking them over. For some people, the most fun part of SimCity is unleashing the disasters. And part of building something with LEGOs is smashing it like Godzilla. Those clever Brits at Rare must have known this, because in 1997, they decided to skip the whole pesky building stuff and get right to the demolition, rolling out Blast Corps for the Nintendo 64.
On the surface, Blast Corps seems like a fairly simple concept: a truck carrying enough nuclear material to incinerate a city has gone haywire, barreling down the road, and the slightest nudge will cause it to detonate. You have to prevent this by clearing a path through each level for the carrier to roll through unscathed, and if that means cutting a swath through neighborhoods, businesses, factories, and shipping crates, well, it beats the alternative, and along the way, we’ll have to locate the six scientists capable of disposing of the Wienermobile from Hell.
You are assisted in your mission to prevent fission by a number of vehicles, each with a unique power you’ll have to master, from the straightforward Ramdozer, to the clunky Backlash (a dump truck that forces you to fishtail into buildings) to the awesome J-Bomb (a giant mech that leaps into the air and smashes structures with its shiny metal ass). Each vehicle has its own tutorial stage to help you grasp the basics, and there are oftentimes multiple vehicles in a level, some well-hidden, some not so much, as well as a handful of civilian vehicles scattered about that are facsimiles of other certain famous autos, such as the A-Team van, complete with Mr. T barking “get out of the way!” as the horn sound.
After you clear a level by giving the carrier safe passage, you can return to clear it entirely by smashing all the structures, freeing all survivors, who run out from the ruins you leave behind, and activating all the Radiation Dispersal Units (basically, little highway reflector things the light up when you get close to them. Completing a level entirely gives you a second gold medal towards your rank, indicated by a silly title and ultimately culminating in the highest rank of “You Can Stop Now”. You’ll also stumble upon little satellite dishes called Communication Points in some levels, which, when triggered, unlock bonus missions, usually a time trial race or a test of how quickly you can smash things in a time limit.
Of course, things don’t stay simple for very long. After the initial batch of easy levels designed to help you get comfortable with the various vehicles, levels begin to feel more like a puzzle game than an out-and-out action romp. You’ll start switching between multiple vehicles per level, use the Ramdozer to push TNT crates around to demolish buildings too stout to be simply run into, commandeer trains and boats to engineer makeshift crossings of rivers and train tracks, and use cranes to maneuver objects over impassable terrain, all while the threat of nuclear annihilation lumbers towards you. It really manages to strike an excellent balance between challenging you to think outside the box and demanding solid execution to complete your goals, and while there are a few missions that are complete bastards, the learning curve is set well enough that, by the time you get to those levels, you should have your shit pretty much together.
There’s quite a lot to see and do here, which adds to BC’s shelf life. Counting the side missions, there are well over 30 stages, and if you manage to score gold medals all throughout the levels, you’ll be able to unlock a new set of missions…IN SPACE, complete with low gravity, which manages to make the Backlash not a total bust, and should you manage to pass the space levels, you’ll return to Earth for a new set of challenges in order to win Platinum Medals, where you complete the original levels under a strict time limit.
Since you’re going to be here for a while, it helps that everything handles pretty smoothly. Most of the vehicles are pretty distinct from one another, so each time you switch vehicles, you are indeed switching tactics entirely. Only the Backlash stood out to me as a flaming ball of shite, to the point I would dread any mission that featured it, even in a secondary role, and the Sideswipe and the Ballista are a little wonky, as they require pickups for the batteries for the battering rams and missiles, respectively, so you can find yourself without any actual power if you’re not careful.
You see things from a sort of top-down view, and you can rotate the camera around, but you can’t angle it to look straight ahead at the horizon, so finding that last building to clear a level fully or knowing which way to go to find a certain vehicle can be tricky, especially on stages like Echo Marches that are intended to be more puzzle than action. You can also switch to a camera tracking the carrier, if it’s still on the level, which can help give you an indication of how much time you have to dawdle. Graphics are functional, though unspectacular, the vehicles are kinda chunky and polygonal, but to be fair, this was still 1997, and it probably doesn’t make much difference what a building looks like when it exists to be demolished anyway.
This being made by Rare, the atmosphere is going to be solid, obviously. Things feel frantic and harried, between the crunching explosions of buildings being knocked down, survivors running about and calling to the nearby helicopter to pick them up, the warble of RDUs flickering to life, and the occasional encouragement (or scorn) of your support team, especially if the carrier’s closing in and the music speeds up, definitely lend to the sense of being in a frantic situation that requires the most desperate of measures.
I do have some issues here, of course. If you couldn’t figure it out by now, I could’ve done without the Backlash altogether, and I didn’t see much difference between the Thunderfist and the Cyclone Suit, aside from color and the fact the Cyclone Suit tends to get too cute and smack into the carrier at the end of its little gymnastics routine. Also, there will be times where the camera is as big of an obstacle as the buildings themselves; I REALLY would’ve liked to be able to lay the camera parallel to the ground or have a first-person view to look around instead of having to drive around incessantly to find something. Finally, while I do admire the designers’ focus on creative problem solving and puzzles amidst the chaos, there tends to be one and only one correct answer for problems; if you see a crane in the level, you WILL be using it, and there’s something very specific you will need it for.
I feel Blast Corps is an unsung classic in the N64 lineup, on the whole. It’s hard not to like a game that allows you to demolish entire towns for the greater good, and the layer of puzzle solving adds an extra dimension to what could’ve been a pretty basic game otherwise. I would like to see a remake or a sequel at some point, although there’s certainly enough game here to last a good while. I’d definitely recommend Blast Corps to anyone looking for something out of the ordinary, just remember, you’re not the only person who struggles with the Backlash.
Well-blended action puzzle with a good variety of vehicles, and dude, you get to run over buildings with giant robots.
You will learn to hate the Backlash, and the camera tends to be less than helpful.