Review: California Speed (N64)

In this review, we check out a racing game called California Speed for the N64. We find out if this is one of those games worth revisiting.

This particular game was released in 1999.

This game centers around the US state of California (as the name implies). There are numerous races that take you through many major landmarks of California such as Silicon Valley, Mount Shasta, and Los Angeles to name a few. While that may make the game sound somewhat interesting, the game takes things to an interesting extreme. Along the way, you’ll find yourself turned into a micro-sized version while racing along circuit boards. You’ll also race through the inside of a UFO, on top of a roller coaster, and in a “really big mall”. I thought that taking things to such comical extremes when it comes to racing locations really helped give this game a certain amount of personality.

You’ll also get a choice of a select number of vehicles. Some of them are about average such as a Honda Civic and a Ferrari, but the more stranger vehicle possibilities include a forklift and a golf cart (both obviously heavily modified to keep up with the rest of the competition). This is another way I thought this game had it’s own interesting personality.

There’s also different modes of racing. There’s the light, sport, and heavy classes. Each of these have a certain number of races each week. If you finish a week in the required ranking, you get to move on to the next week with all the points resetting to zero. Finish all of the weeks and you complete the class. An additional mode is the cup where you race a certain number of courses. The player with the most championship points wins. The really unique mode is the State Race. Instead of championship points, you race to have the smallest amount of time counted against you. For some reason, if you gain a little bit of extra lead, then every computer player has a default 4 minutes counted against them. I wished this game better calculated the times counted against computer players so it provides an interesting challenge, but the concept of taking the cumulative time of all the races and determining a winner from all of that is a really intriguing concept to say the least (not a concept I see that often in a racing game).

The only other things to note is that the races are all based on a checkpoint system (you gain a certain amount of time each time you pass through one. Run out of time and you lose the race). There is also traffic found on many of the roads. So, if you manage to get ahead of the competition, it isn’t exactly a clear road ahead for you.

Having said that, I do note some downsides in this game. I think the biggest one for a lot of gamers is the complete lack of realism in this game. Having played San Francisco Rush and Rush 2 – Extreme Racing USA, I was kind of expecting a decent level of realism with the physics. Instead, cornering involves subtle and strange fishtailing. If you rear end another vehicle, that vehicle will slow and and, well, do more severe fish tailing (or sometimes spin around once). There are major jumps found in the game. If you get some good hang time, you’ll notice the physics engine struggling to figure out what to do with your car (and it ultimately just shakes the car from left to right). Cornering seems to have little impact on how much ground you gain or lose on opponents. You can just as easily overtake a car on the outside lane as you can on the inside lane. In fact, the racing style of this game more closely resembles the style of Cruis’n USA more than the other Midway titles. You can only drive one direction and, although the tracks are long and rather varied, it looks like some parts were put together like Lego blocks. Thankfully, this is far from the worse instance I’ve seen of this on this platform, but there is notable areas that are like this in the game.

Graphically, this game is hit and miss. The volcano portion of Mount Shasta? Hit. Silicon Valley circuit boards? Hit. Alien space craft? Hit. The road that is mostly split in two and has a rock barrier in between? Miss. Los Angeles highways (non bridge section)? Miss. Some of the car designs? Miss. Victory circle? Miss. It really depends on what elements of the game you are looking at that can determine your impression of the graphical nature of this game.

The music was a real highlight. A lot of the rock themes found in this game were quite well done. I could listen to some of these tracks over and over again outside the game itself. Full marks on that. The sound effects, however, were about average. A lot of the sound effects were simply re-used from the companies previous games (like the Rush series). So, average score there.

Overall, this game has a lot of highlights and lowlights. There’s a number of great visuals throughout the game. The concepts of some of the styles of events were interesting. The physics there not that great. the music was great. The personality of this game was there. The sound effects were recycled from other games. At the end of the day, this game was an interesting game to play the first time around. I’m able to get through the whole game without too much of that grinding feeling. Unfortunately, there are better games out there to play that were released in this era. This game seemed to be about 2 years too late.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Completed all of the series events and unlocked all of the unlockables.

General gameplay: 13/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 58%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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