Review: Road Rash 64 (N64)

Road Rash 64 is a motorcycle combat racing game where two gangs and several solo riders bash each other as they try to reach the finish line first. We take a look at this old game to see if it’s worth playing still.

Road Rash 64 was released in 1999 and is a motorcycle combat racing game.

The objective in this game is to race to the finish line first in each race. Winning the race allows the player to earn money in Big Game mode (the main mode of this game). Money always goes to upgrading the players bike. If the player places in the top 3 of each race in the level and upgrades their bike, they player will progress to the next level where the opponents will also have upgraded bikes and the races will become, on average, longer.

Of course, this isn’t your typical racing game. The combat element of this game makes this game quite interesting. In each level, you are given a weapon. You can use your assortment of weapons to bash your opponents. Infrequently, you can bash them to the point of crashing them. However, if you get bashed enough times yourself, you can also wind up getting some face time with the pavement.

The player has two meters. The first is the health meter. The health meter indicates the health of the rider. If the rider’s health meter drops to nothing, then the player will wipe out. The second meter is the damage meter. Every time the player wipes out, the bike receives some damage. How much damage depends on the bikes durability. If the player has an empty damage meter, one more wipe out will cause the player to be “wrecked”. The player is then forced to go to a repair shop and pay for the repairs. If the player can’t pay up, it’s game over.

At the beginning on level one, the player can choose a rider (pressing up or down) and a bike (pressing left or right) in the bike shop menu. If the player chooses a crotch rocket type bike, then the player can join the Thrashers gang at the end of the level. If the player picks a Harley type bike, then the player will have the opportunity to join the Rumblers gang at the end of the first level. In each subsequent level, if the player switches from a crotch rocket to a Harley going into the next level, then the player can also switch from the Thrashers to the Rumblers (the converse is also true). In any event, if you join a gang, you’ll have to pay dues at the beginning of the next level (in later levels, the mount is incredibly trivial). This allows the player to get support from fellow gang members during the races. If the player decides, they can also race solo. It saves a few bucks, but you’ll also face opposition from both gangs. In the last level, it makes little difference if you join a gang or not because you’ll simply get almost exclusively opposing members of the gang anyway during the race.

When you race, you can get a small speed boost by doing a wheelie and hitting the accelerator at the very beginning. Only recommended for slower bikes though as faster bikes will cause you to flip backwards if you keep holding down the accelerator button.

Wheelies are also really handy when you’re about to run into one of the many cars throughout the game. If you do a wheelie right before a collision with a car, you can catch some sick air and land relatively harmlessly further down the road. This doesn’t normally work with larger vehicles like semi trucks or ambulances. You can still do a jump off of them, but only if you’re already in the air (typically easiest with an insanity bike while you’re still on the road).

The C right button allows you to perform a regular attack. The game automatically aims the weapon either left or right for you, depending on which opponent is closest to you. Sometimes, this can be a little buggy, but most of the time, it’s really convenient when you only have one button to press just to attack opponents. Cleft allows you to perform a kick attack. Great to use after you maced your opponent. C down allows you to perform a rear-facing attack. Great for opponents who are slightly behind you. Pressing both C right and C down will allow you to perform a deadly “spoke jam”. Essentially, you take your weapon and jam it into the spokes of an opponent, instantly crashing them if successfully. Doesn’t work for the chain weapon, nun-chucks, pepper spray, cattle prod, or taser though. Pool cue is most effective for this given the range it has. The downside is that you lose the weapon you have if you perform this attack successfully.

the bike itself can be a great weapon as well. One trick is to be slightly behind you opponent and steer your front tire into the opponents back tire and keep steering until your opponent spins out. An interesting way to rack up crashes.

A weapon is earned when the player advances to the next level, however, most weapons are picked up on the course. Find the weapon symbol on the course, drive through it and gain an extra weapon. I found that the sledge hammer and monkey wrench tend to be the deadliest weapons in the game if you discount the stun weapons in the middle of the city portions of the game.

Weapons aren’t the only things a player can pick up in the game. There’s also power ups to be had as well. If a player picks up the small wrench, the player can get a small amount of free repairs for the bike. If you are running low on the damage meter, these pickups can help you make it to the end of the race. There’s also the 2x and 4x damage items (shows up as 2x and 4x respectively) which multiplies the damage a player can deal to an opponent for a limited period of time. 4x damage can not only crash anyone in a single blow, but also send them flying pretty far as well.

While money can be earned from winning each race, combat during the race can help the player earn “combat bonus” money. It seems that each race calculates combat bonus differently, but typically, crashing opponents or simply hitting them are the two main ways a player can earn combat bonuses.

If you find your rider running low on health, you can drive along the shoulders of the road. You’ll lose ground on your opponents in the process, but your health meter will gradually build back up too. This is a great strategy if you have too much damage done to your bike and don’t want to wipe out too many more times. In this game, unless you’re close to the finish, it’s not too hard to catch back up to your opponents.

At the end of the race, the player gets to see a “rap sheet” of all the things the player has done during the race. Some of the things the player can see are “batteries: x” (how many times you hit opponents), crashed x opponents (number of opponents you crash), punching bag (got hit by a particularly large number of opponents without crashing), lightening rod (got hit by a taser or cattle prod a particularly large number of times without crashing), cage rattler (hit a particularly large number of vehicles with your weapon – difficult, but it can be done as the number is quite high before you get cage rattler), master thief (number of weapons you stole off of opponents) and hit and run (number of pedestrians you hit) to name a number of things that can appear on there.

If a player wins a race, then the player gets the top prize as well as qualification status for that particular race. The player doesn’t have to follow the races in each level chronologically, but later races tend to amp up the difficulty. If the player loses a race by coming in, say, last, then the player can still earn combat bonus money, but can also be awarded “consolation prizes” which can be quite humorous. Examples of consolation prizes are a hip flask (empty), road map, refrigerator magnet, and an air freshener.

As suggested earlier, other riders aren’t your only obstacles in your races. You can have other vehicles that can suddenly appear out of nowhere and crash you (if your rider gets run over, you’ll get the message “your road kill”). Any immovable object in the game will also crash you (that includes road signs – no matter how fast you fly into them).

There are also two kinds of cops. The first is the motorcycle cops which park on the right hand side of the road along the rout. You’ll pass the officer, but it won’t take long for the officer to catch up and try and take you down. If a police officer hits you enough to crash you, you’ll not recover and you’ll get the “busted” screen. If you get busted in this game, you’ll have to pay a fine. If you don’t have enough money, then it’s game over. There is also the police cruisers that follow you and try and run you off the road. If the traffic is heavy, these cops won’t be too much of a problem because if the cop car crashes into another car, the cop car will stop dead in its tracks.

Pedestrians can be a hazard – especially in the later levels. In the earlier levels, you can hit them and sometimes gain combat bonuses, but they will slow you down. If the race is close, it can mean the difference of first place and fifth place. In later levels, hitting a pedestrian at high speed can cause you to crash. If you want to rack up hit and runs safely, I recommend you simply pull out your weapon and hit them with it. Instead of a “bump” message, you’ll get a “splat” message. You won’t lose speed or risk crashing, but you’ll still rack up the number of hit and runs.

One small feature in this game is the ability to “taunt” your opponents. I you’re ahead, you can press “L” to cause your rider to do small things to taunt your opponents. This will attract more opponents to you, but be prepared for a larger beat down if you’re not careful.

If you complete the game as a Thrasher, you’ll gain access to the “insanity” mode which features insanely fast bikes in Thrash mode. The game is not joking when it says they are insanely fast bikes, too. Large, typically impassible hills in the countryside instantly become merely ramps. Yes, it takes a while before you land your bike as well.

If you complete the game as a Rumbler, you’ll gain access to scooter mode. Nothing says “bad boy” quite like donning the leather jackets, shades and pummeling your opponents with a baseball bat while trying to speed away on ridiculously slow scooters. Great for a laugh.

If you complete the Big Game solo, you’ll gain access to “cop mode”. Essentially, you play a cop that tries to crash all the opponents. All it takes is crashing each opponent once to eliminate them from the race. Crashing all of them means you win the race. Difficult, but an interesting twist to the game. In this mode, “L” is altered so you can say the things the cops typically say when you see them (like, “put your hands up!” (???), and “drop your weapons now!”). Your rap sheet at the end of the race is also altered. Instead of the usual items that appears there, you’ll get things like, “perps busted: x”, and “You got x of them”. If all of your opponents are busted, then it’ll say “you’ve laid down the law”. If any of them finish the race, it’ll say “x perps still at large”.

One of the greatest features of this game is the use of interconnected roads. Instead of just a random track laid out in space, there’s actually a full blown island created complete with a full blown road system. Each race is placed in different parts of the map. There’s arrows to point you in the right direction and start and finish lines placed wherever the races take place. You are free to race however you like, but the large world remains the same. The only downside is that if you decide to freely ride, the traffic will not really appear on any of the non-race roads. If you crash your bike, you’ll automatically pop back on the race road. Also, if you take a particularly large shortcut and finish the race, you’ll get the “wrecked” status (presumably because the other racers gave you a nice sizeable beat down for cheating).

The game features different modes as well. There’s the thrash mode which allows players to race single races. There’s also multiplayer (allows you to play one player in these modes) which features a host of other riding options. One mode is called “Ped hunt” which allows you to race a normal race, but with the objective of hitting as many pedestrians as possible. Particularly amusing on scooters when all you do is just tip pedestrians over with a gentle nudge. There’s “tag” which is basically a Road Rash version of playing tag. Crashing whoever is “it” gains you points. There’s also lap races where the player can set a limited number of laps of special courses. Most of these courses are either race tracks or underground locations separate from the normal racing scenario’s. I also found that the giant banana weapon is only available on special modes of racing and in the various arena tracks. I could never find a giant banana weapon in the Big Game mode.

Personally, there are very few games I have ever played that I had this much fun playing. A game like Worms:Armageddon would rival it. The crashes, the combat, the racing, and the race results are just a handful of ways this game really shines. Even when I lost a race, I found myself enjoying the game with the consolation prizes and the “go away!” sound you hear. The different messages you get like landing something you probably should have crashed from like “360 endo” or the messages you get when you either crash someone or you getting crashed (like “[ridername] says ouch” or “[ridername] went thud”) really made the game that much better. Even if the game offered no challenge whatsoever, I’d still have fun with this game. The later levels really challenges you to try not crashing and avoid the “wrecked” status between the objects, traffic and your opponents. By the time you get to level 5, you’ll know that risk very well. Then there’s the spectacular crashes. You could hit certain objects and all you see is the rider flying all the way through the air at ridiculous altitude if you have one of the faster bikes. I’ve personally beaten this game several times over and it really doesn’t get old. Hours and hours of solid entertainment in my books.

I also thought it was impressive how many different riders you have to choose from. You could spend several minutes just scrolling through all the characters in the selection screen and eventually find one you like. I also like how you had a choice between four bikes in each level. The only three exceptions woudl be the insanity bikes (all stats maxed out and you are given a choice of two), cop mode (only the cop bike) and scooter mode (which only has the one simple scooter available). Still, the selection is half decent between bikes.

The graphics is one of the things many people disliked about the game. Personally, the graphics didn’t bother me that much. Yes, they did have that faded look to them as if everything had a layer of grey laid over top of it, but I think the textures was really the only pitfall of this game. Unlike most games made at the time like Cruisn USA and even Super Mario 64 which relied heavily on 2D sprites to help carry their games, there was a real concerted effort to keep 2D sprites to a minimum. The only 2D sprites I saw were the powerups and some of the fencing. Everything else was pretty much a 3D object in the game. While the colours didn’t pop, it makes up for that by making almost everything a 3D object. Not bad for a semi-open world concept at the time. Besides, when you’re going 170MPH, how much of some of the objects can you appreciate besides large buildings anyway? The only other criticism I would have, besides the textures, it the complete lack of hands for the riders. All the ride have is these stumps for arms, but again, I’ll give credit to the developers for not making this immediately obvious.

The music was something I also noticed being criticized. Here’s the thing about that: very few games available for the N64 actually had music on them that was previously commercially available in a non game environment. Top Gear Overdrive had music from Grindstone and Wipeout 64 had music from PC Music, Fluke and Propellorheads. I can’t think of any other game off the top of my head that had music like that. A vast majority of the games available on the N64 had music that was made specifically for that game. The music is basically a manipulation of a limited set of samples and played out in-game in an effort to save room. Road Rash 64 didn’t do that and got music from Sugar Ray, The Mermen, Full On The Mouth, and CIV (never heard of CIV until I played this game to be honest) to play in the background. In all, there were seven tracks which is on the lower end of number of tracks for your average N64 game, but there is enough variance to keep things interesting. Besides, are you playing the game to hear the music or are you playing the game to play a game? Worst case scenario, you can always turn the music off in the menu system and start playing your own music, but I thought the music selection was decent and never found it to be all that repetitive due to the decent gameplay. If I wasn’t enjoying the game, maybe the looping of the music would be more noticeable, but I was too busy enjoying the game to notice the music looping. The sound effects were really well done. The bone snapping, the people getting hit, the cop sirens, the ambulance sirens, the crackling of the cattle prod, and a whole host of other sound effects really gave this game a boost.

Overall, an incredibly fun game. It’s totally worth playing. One of the games with highest fun factor I ever played. It may have spoiled me with other games available.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Beat the game numerous times and played around with the various modes for several hours.

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

Overall rating: 90%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.


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