Review: Destruction Derby 64 (N64)

In this review, we check out effectively the third game of the Destruction Derby series, Destruction Derby 64. We find out if this entry in the series gets this game right where previous installments more or less failed.

This particular installment of the series was released in 1999 and was released after Destruction Derby 2, but before Destruction Derby: Raw. Contrary to what the Wikipedia may suggest, Destruction Derby 64 is a completely different game than the Playstation version of Destruction Derby.

We already reviewed Destruction Derby and found the game to be above average, but nothing special. We then reviewed Destruction Derby 2 and that game failed to impress. So, we wondered if the 64 version will actually save this series.

In a similar fashion to the previous two games, the main mode of play is the world championship mode. By entering this mode the first time, you are greeted with four levels of difficulty: novice, amateur, professional, and legend. If this is your first play through, only novice is accessible. From there, you can select from a huge variety of cars. All of the ones that are available in the beginning have identical statistics, but they all have different and varied paint jobs that give them their own personality.

In each race, the main objective is to earn points. Collision points is where you earn the most race points in each race. You can earn up to 100 points for each collision. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the collisions tends to net you anywhere between 8 and 50 points. However hard it is, I did manage to get in a collision so severe, it netted me the 100 point cap. This, however, only happened once. Collision points seemed to be earned based on how much damage you do to an opponents vehicle, so the harder the collision, the better. For every kill, you earn a nice sizable 20 points. A major factor introduced in this game is the use of a timer. You basically spend a good portion of the race, trying to feed that timer in order to keep racing. Checkpoints throughout the tracks are where you can get an extra amount of time, but for every checkpoint you cross, you gradually gain fewer precious seconds on that clock. For every 30 points you gain in collisions, you gain an extra 10 second time bonus. So, collisions can be crucial for the last lap or two you can race on each track as you find yourself constantly with that timer with less than 10 seconds left. Running out of time ends the race and kills your chances of earning any more points. One last thing to note is that each checkpoint you cross gives you a nice helpful 20 points. The race ends if you either destroy your car, you run out of time, or every opponent in the track was defeated and you cross a checkpoint. Ideally, you don’t want your car to be destroyed early in the race because all surviving opponents are given the opportunity to keep racing and earn points (though this process only lasts a few seconds as the computer seems to just calculate how many points opponents would likely earn in the remainder of the race).

After each race, everyone in the race is assigned circuit points based on how many race points they earned compared to each other. If you earned the most points, you’ll get the most circuit points (15). Second place nets you 12. 3rd place is 10 points, 4th is 7 points, fifth is 5 points, sixth is 3 points, 7th gains 2 points and 8th will earn a measly 1 point. Finishing below 8th place will not earn you any circuit points and there are 12 cars (including you) in total for each race. You may note that at the beginning of each race, you’ll be shown what place you have to finish to advance to the next race. This is all based on circuit points because each race has requires you to have a certain number of circuit points to advance. How many ultimately depends on which difficulty you have selected in the world championship mode. Failing to earn enough circuit points at any point will end your championship run. Strangely enough, the circuit points system only applies to you. I find that if you are on the Legend difficulty, simply qualifying all the way up to the end will pretty much always means victory because, more often then not, other players never actually earn enough circuit points that would otherwise allow you to qualify to continue on, but they can race anyway. If you played the previous two Destruction Derby games, you’ll note that the division system was completely scrapped. Given how this game was built, I’m actually not sad to see it go, personally.

As you advance to harder difficulties, you’ll basically unlock more tracks. Often, it’s a set of tracks and an arena track that you unlock. In total, there are 12 tracks which includes 4 arena tracks. Each time you unlock a new world championship difficulty, you’ll also unlock a new vehicle. Beating the game on legend unlocks the most indestructible vehicle in the game: the ambulance.

Each unlockable car has its own unique characteristics. Some are designed for speed while others are designed for ramming into other vehicles. Some are more all about defense while others are all about offense. You’ll get to see this in their statistics screen on the vehicle select screen. While you can earn four vehicles by playing the championship modes, every other vehicle you can unlock is earned by beating the fast times in time trial mode. Fortunately, one of the vehicles you earn in the championship mode is a faster one, so use that to your advantage as you unlock others. The single best vehicle in the game, I found, was the hot rod. That is earned by beating the fast time on the last race course you can unlock. Trust me, though, it’s worth it.

An additional mode you can play is arcade. All that mode is about is simply picking a vehicle, selecting the difficulty, then selecting a race difficulty and playing. No worries about circuit points. I never really utilized this difficulty much as I found the championship mode more than enough for single player, but it’s nice knowing that it’s there.

The final mode is multiplayer. Depending on how many many human players there are, different types of games are available here. There’s death match which is essentially a normal arena match with multiple human players involved (and possibly fewer computer opponents as well). Another mode is a destruction race which is simply one of the races you would normally encounter that’s not in an arena. The other two modes are unique to multi-player. There is capture the flag which is basically you and a few computer players on the same team as you trying to pick up a flag on one part of an arena track and putting it into the matching portal. Colliding into an opponent with your flag will allow you to steal back the flag. The team with the most flags captured wins. The fairly unique and very fun mode, though, is bomb tag. For every second you hold onto the bomb, you earn points. For every pass of the bomb, extra seconds are added to the fuse. However, if you are holding onto the bomb and the clock reaches 0, your car is destroyed and the bomb is reassigned to another player. The player with the most points at the end of the match wins. Interestingly enough, in both capture the flag and bomb tag, collision damage is disabled.

Besides the multiplayer mode, which is hours of fun, what really makes this game work is the fact that 2 thirds of your computer opponents actually face the other direction. Given that points are given out based on damage you do to other players, there are often constant opportunities to earn points in each race. Between the clock and your opponents, the game in single player mode is constant action.

Perhaps the one of the only real critiques I would give this game is the fact that it can be a little too easy to beat the harder difficulties since you can get hugely advantageous vehicles early on. Still, even with this advantage, it’s more than possible to have get a major challenge out of this game because if you try one of the “normal” cars on the harder difficulties, it can be quite hard to make it all the way to the end. So, the difficulty really doesn’t factor in in this game.

What does impact the game a little is the fact that the track design, after a while, gets a bit repetitive. The earlier easier levels have some interesting elements thrown in like the cavernous areas of Seascape Sprint or the tire from an airplane in Terminal Impact. There’s even an interestingly large intersection in Destruction Junction. Unfortunately, in many later levels, there’s the standard design of making the map look like some sort of splat mark. So, you’re drawn into tracks that simply turn left, right, left, right, left, and right over and over again. The features make this less noticeable like overhead passes and a few shortcuts/alternate routs here and there, but more could have been done to make the track designs a bit more creative then that.

One positive element besides what is already mentioned is the fact that the road conditions vary quite a lot. You have the smooth pavement of the Seascape Sprint in one moment, then you have the icey conditions in Alpine Ridge the next. After that, you could find yourself navigating the dirt roads of Bayou Run. All of these conditions impact your ability to drive and it really adds to the overall gameplay.

I think the biggest standout of this game, though, is just the pure fun this game has to offer. I found myself playing this game over and over long after all of the unlockables have been earned. I even tried beating the game on legend difficulty with just about every unlockable vehicle in the game just for fun. It’s actually how I figured out the exact way the scoring system works because vehicles with poor offense nets you fewer points in each collision on average. Hatchback is a great example of this.

Graphically, this game looks very good. When you consider the pure number of different environments, this game is actually amazingly well done in this department. You can have the snowflakes falling down in Alpine Ridge, the belching smokestacks of Metro Challenge, the large flood lamps in Urban Mayhem, the moving equipment of The Junkyard, the and the sun shining in Sunset Canyon to name a few examples. There ultimately is a lot to see in this game. To add to this are the huge variety in vehicle designs. They all individually look pretty good, but, again, the hug number of vehicles you can choose from make the graphics pretty impressive. To add to this is the unique kinds of damage each vehicle can get in the race. If you look at each vehicle after they are destroyed, they all retain characteristics of what they used to look like even as they are smoldering ruins. This goes above and beyond what other high profile racing games have such as Rush 2 – Extreme Racing USA which has simply one smouldering ruin for every car. So, I’m going to call it and say the graphics were top notch here.

The audio, so far in the series, has been notoriously average or worse. The music has always been a major contention for me in this whole series that I’ve reviewed so far because in both the first and second game, it was common to hear basically the same kind of music over and over again with little to differentiate between each track. This game, however, is nothing like that. This game had amazing music. Some of my favorite tracks were Bayou Run and The Junkyard. The only time I ran into repeating music seemed to come from Aztec Ruins and Sunset Canyon. I actually think they are both the same tracks, but beyond that, each track had its own interesting sound to it, so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal given how many tracks there are in the game. What shortcomings were found in the music was more than made up with what was also notoriously bad in this series: the announcer. The announcer in this game not only broke up the sounds of car smashing quite well, but also actually gave this game a great and fitting personality. Even though you’ll eventually end up hearing the same lines repeated, the huge variety of things the announcer says makes this less noticeable. If you lose the hood, for instance, the announcer can either say “You didn’t need that hood anyway” or “Oooo! There goes the hood!”. A decently hard collision can cause the announcer to say something like, “Man, I hope that car is insured!”, “This reminds me of rush hour in LA!”, or “Jeez, he’s gonna feel that one in the morning!” If you happen to be in a vehicle with poor defense, collisions that cause you a lot of damage can cause the announcer to say, “Get the jaws of life!”, “Ooo! That’s gonna leave a mark!”, or even, “Man! That’s REALLY gonna leave a mark!” If you are close to dying, the announcer can say things like, “Man! That is one bashed up car!” or “Houston? We have a problem!” Multiplayer has its own set of lines like in bomb tag. If you have one second left on the bomb and you pass it along to another car, the announcer could say something like, “Oooo! What a handoff!”. Suffice to say, the library of lines are quite extensive and the way the announcer says those lines really adds a good level of humor and fun to this game.

Overall, this game was an absolute blast to play. For me, it has seriously renewed interest in the series for me and I’m actually looking forward to trying the next Destruction Derby game. I hope this doesn’t mean that this series is peaking on this game, but I do say, it’s going to be a very tough act to follow. A nearly perfect game!

Overall

Furthest point in game: Unlocked everything and beat every level of the world championship mode several times over.

General gameplay: 24/25
Replay value: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 98%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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