Quick history lesson, boys and girls. Once upon a time, before racing games all featured “Don’t Try This at Home” disclaimers and games like Manhunt made wanton video game violence not fun anymore, there was a little game called Road Rash, featuring motorcycle racers beating the bejesus out of each other (and the cops) in their effort to win races run on public roads with civilian traffic, as well as some of the cheesiest FMV cutscenes of the ’90s (and think of the ground that covers). People liked this two-wheeled romp, so a number of sequels were made, although none made it to a Nintendo system until pretty much the end of the millennium. But the wait may well have been worth it, as N64 owners were given perhaps the best of the Road Rash series, the obviously titled Road Rash 64.
RR64 centers around the Big Game, a career mode of sorts similar to the older versions, but with a few additions. You start out, as usual, as the new guy with a tiny bankroll, and make your bones by finishing third or higher in each race on a level. When you’ve qualified in every race, you buy a new bike and move up to the next level, lather, rinse, and repeat. The big gimmick in this version, though, is the introduction of two biker gangs, the Thrashers and the Rumblers. Y’see, you start out as a solo rider in the first level, and when you decide to buy your new bike, you’ll have a choice to make: buying a crotch rocket will earn you an invite from the Thrashers, buying a cruiser will win favor with the Rumblers. When you pick, you’ll be asked if you want to join a gang (for a small fee) or remain an indie biker.
Now, the biker gang dynamic was a pretty big selling point when the game was released, and could’ve been an awesome feature. The idea of having teammates to watch your back or help you dogpile on enemy bikers sounds awesome…unfortunately, in practice, it falls a little flat, to say the least. Instead of your fellow gang members actively assisting you or teaming up, it’s more of just them not attacking you, unless you take a swipe at them first, which you’ll probably end up doing anyway. Moreover, there’s no actual penalty for attacking your own teammates (aside from them just turning into an enemy), they never gang up on you or drum you out of the group, no matter how many guys you topple, smack, or kick into oncoming traffic.
Aside from that hiccup, though, everything else works pretty smoothly. Z accelerates, while A is relegated to wheelies, which you can use to launch yourself from cars or jumps and will prove infinitely useful in races with heavy traffic. Right C attacks a bit in front of you, Bottom C attacks slightly behind, and B serves as the brake you’ll use maybe a half-dozen times. There’s also allegedly bike tricks in the game, but odds are, if you execute one, it’s because something went horribly awry and you’re about to eat it anyway.
As for the combat, it’s definitely far improved from the Genesis/DOS generations. Here, you start out with a weapon (albeit a completely dinky one) and can obtain new ones either from advancing in levels, finding hidden ones tucked across the landscape, or the classic “throw a punch while someone’s assaulting you” technique. And we’re talking about more than just a chain or a stick here; there are pool cues that cause little damage but have tremendous reach, heavy weapons like sledgehammers and monkey wrenches that smash opponents, baseball bats that are good all-around, and my personal favorites, stunning weapons like Tazers and pepper spray that cause riders to lose control of their ride and become susceptible to a swift kick into traffic or a brick wall.
Another sign of progress is that the races aren’t held on disconnected stages, but one giant interconnected landmass with distinct areas like rolling farmland and industrial areas, and oftentimes, you’ll make your way from one to another in the course of a single race, which, aside from being just plain cool, can also give someone an advantage if they take the time to learn where tricky corners or useful pickups are and plan accordingly.
The soundtrack is definitely worth noting here, featuring an eclectic mix of thrash rock from bands like CIV and an actual, no-joke GOOD song by Sugar Ray, as well as awesome surf rock from luminaries like The Mermen that blends well with the mix of cruising down the coast and reckless aggression in the game. Points also have to be given to whoever chose the music for avoiding a soundtrack disaster of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater proportions by avoiding songs that would’ve been censored into oblivion or that the cartridge just wouldn’t be capable of handling.
As for the rest of the graphics, they’re not bad, but cars and buildings suffer from blockiness, the aforementioned farmland often looks like a giant hunk of green with the occasional haystack or cow tossed in, and biker animations are a bit off; on the upside, the kicking animation doesn’t look like your rider’s attempting to relieve himself mid-race, on the downside, it now looks like he stepped in dog poo and is trying to get it off his shoe by flicking his entire leg. And thankfully, you’re not forced to be a biker masquerading as a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, you can pick a character model that wears leathers and jeans like an actual biker gang member…although if you so choose, you can still pick a jumpsuit that looks like it just rolled off the assembly line at Willy Wonka’s factory.
RR64 isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously. For example, each weapon has a different verb that pops up when you get hit, like “Zapped by Gary” if you get tasered or “Embarrassed by Olin” if you get hit with the giant banana. Oh, did I mention this game features a giant banana as a weapon? Well, it does. If you start to wipe out, your biker will start flailing about while “Oh $[&!” pops up on screen. There’s one race on Insanity level called The Wall, which is a straight up drag race with a wall just after the finish line that everyone slams into at 250+ miles per hour. And if you finish the Big Game, you can unlock Scooter mode, where everyone’s bikes are replaced by Vespas that putter along and can barely climb hills. Also, after every race, you’re presented with a Rap Sheet that lays out what kind of damage you’ve done over the course of the race (and if you’ve been smacked around yourself).
If you’re not quite in the mood for the Big Game, there’s Thrash mode, a single race option that allows you to run any race you’ve already unlocked, although you’re confined to choosing one of the bikes from that particular level, although you do have the option to change the number of opponents, as well as their skill level, traffic density, the number of cops you have to contend with (who’ll arrest you if they knock you off your bike instead of catching up to you after you wipe out), and how many pedestrians are about. Due to cartridge limitations, you can’t max out every option, but this shouldn’t be an issue. There’s also a multiplayer feature allowing you to play Thrash Mode with a buddy or pick from a handful of other modes (like Ped Hunt, where you battle to see who can run over or weapon smack the most pedestrians…yes).
I do have a couple negatives that need to be pointed out. First of all, the difficulty level ratchets up CONSIDERABLY towards the end, and not in a “my opponents are better” type of way as much as in an “I can’t stop wiping out” sort of way. Quite literally, by the time level 5 rolls around, you’ll end up smashing into various and sundry objects because your bike is just too fast for you to react if you wind up in an ugly situation, and assuming you survive long enough to afford one of the Insanity level bikes, be forewarned that running flat out will get you killed, and you’re better off just pumping the throttle. This game also features rubber band logic, which, granted, a lot of racers have to keep things competitive, but when half the point of the game is to wreck other racers on purpose, it’s a bit of a downer to wipe out half the field and then have them immediately able to catch back up to you.
Altogether, this is a very solid and enjoyable game. It’s an underappreciated title, to be sure, but it’s definitely on the better end of the N64 racing collection, and it’s exactly the type of stupid fun you need every once in a while. There’s enough variety in weaponry and tactics to keep the fighting aspect fresh, and it runs fast and handles smoothly enough to stand as a pure racer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hop on a motorcycle and attempt everything I’ve seen on the game because it never told me not to.
Quality racer/combat hybrid with a good sense of humor, a soundtrack that managed to stay intact, you can’t not like a game where you can spray someone with mace and kick them in front of an oncoming truck…
Rubber band logic rears its ugly head at the worst possible times, graphics are a bit chunky, and be prepared to wipe out A LOT near the end.