Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: No. 89, Blast Corps

There is much to love about this Rareware classic. Except for that dump truck.

I’m ranking the top-101 Nintendo developed/published games of all-time, and you can read about the thought process behind game eligibility and list construction here. You can keep up with the rankings so far through this link.

When someone mentions Rare — or Rareware, their old-school name — what’s the first game you think about? Maybe it’s one of the Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo. Or Banjo-Kazooie, Rare’s answer to the evolution of platforming that Super Mario 64 brought. Maybe Goldeneye, for its addictive four-player competitive mode. Or maybe Perfect Dark, if you have superior taste to the person who thinks of Goldeneye.

Regardless of which Rare title you would think of first or whether you took that bait, the answer probably isn’t 1997’s Blast Corps. While one of Rare’s best-ever games, the company’s second outing on the Nintendo 64 didn’t and doesn’t have the following of many of their platforming or shooting adventures, and that’s a shame. There is a pretty unique, off-the-wall game here, with the kind of concept that, if it released today brand new as a $20 cross-platform downloadable indie title, would probably take the internet by storm. It would fit right in to that indie world, too, since it was primarily designed by a team of just four developers.

The titular Blast Corps is a demolition crew with two primary goals: find and rescue all of the people in an area that is about to see demolition, and also, clear a pathway for the truck carrying broken nuclear weapons through this area. You discover where the people waiting to be rescued are the same way you clear a path for this weapon of mass destruction: by knocking over buildings with vehicles. These vehicles range from a bulldozer that is effective at slamming itself into smaller buildings until they topple and in pushing blocks of TNT into larger buildings, to a dune buggy that destroys buildings by hitting jumps that allow you to land on top of them, to a one-armed robot that tumbles into buildings and only has one arm because Rare’s developers ran out of space while making the game.

There is also a robot that ascends above buildings and then slams down into them, a long truck with powered rams on the sides and limited ammunition to power them, a motorcycle with a missile launcher, a robotic exoskeleton that destroys buildings with somersaults, and the vehicle everyone hates: the dump truck. That fucking dump truck, man.

The dump truck requires you to build up some speed and then swing the back end of the truck around while skidding. Everything you need to do with the dump truck can be done, but let’s just say it’s prescient that this vehicle is nicknamed “Backlash,” since that’s where most complaints about Blast Corps are directed.

The rest of the vehicles handle very well and intuitively, even in this era where looking at the instruction manual for how to do things was still prevalent. And that’s all to the good, because you don’t actually have much time in a given level to achieve your goals. Those nuclear weapons have places to be, you know.

Each stage has two medals to earn. The first you get by successfully clearing a path for the truck carrying the missiles before it crashes into something and blows itself and you up with it. Sometimes this is as simple as crashing/somersaulting/dropping down on the buildings, but other times, you need to push blocks of TNT with a bulldozer, or maneuver those same boxes with a series of cranes first, or get out of your vehicle to drive a train so that an empty train cart can be placed near a ramp that your vehicle can climb and then use said train cart as a bridge over a gap… things get involved, even in levels that play relatively short.

The second takes a little more doing, but luckily, time is on your side here: you get that medal by completing all of the other various objectives in a stage, such as rescuing the people, destroying every single building rather than just the ones in the path of the truck, or by lighting every one of the beacons in a level by going near it. In the initial play of the level, those are designed in part to help guide your path, but you don’t need to focus on lighting them all the first time around when you’re in a rush: you can save those, and the ones a little more off your path, for when imminent destruction is not on the schedule.

There are also communication devices to be found in some levels, and activating those opens up bonus levels, which are usually time trial events, be they straight races or a challenge for destroying a certain number of buildings before the timer runs out.

The standard levels also eventually become time trial stages once you’ve completed them to their fullest, and are a little bit modified from the originals. You’re mostly focused on destroying buildings within a set time frame, and are awarded a different value of medal based on how short or long of a time it all takes you. If you manage to achieve gold in every level, then that opens up the platinum medal challenge for each stage. These are ridiculously difficult, to the point that the developers put them in knowing players would struggle: the threshold for platinum medals came from the developers and quality assurance testers themselves, who spent hours and hours and hours repeating these levels to make sure it all worked and therefore knew and could executive every time-shaving trick going. The lead designer on the game earned just four of 57 platinum medals. So, good luck with that.

I’m a sucker for a game that doesn’t take very long to beat but where completion is another story entirely, and requires replaying. Games where you need to actually perfect your play style with repeated plays in order to successfully complete them. There’s an old-school sensibility to them that I lean towards over the more modern “what if we make the game 100 hours long by stuffing it with repetitive tasks no one really wants to do but their brain or a need for experience points forces them to do anyway.” Despite loving both for valid reasons, I feel more accomplishment and satisfaction from, say, playing PlatinumGames’ short, action-packed Vanquish on progressively more difficult settings that allow me to truly master the game and its elements than I do with the 70th length-padding fetch quest in the current-gen Assassin’s Creed games, is all I’m saying.

Blast Corps definitely is more in the Vanquish bucket: these additional modes are more about mastery than padding. The “main” game of Blast Corps has you just unlocking more and more levels until you’ve seen all 57 of them. But you also need to 100 percent each level in order to fully unlock more levels and modes, which then changes all of the levels you’ve already played into new versions of those same levels, and when you achieve mastery of those, an even more difficult threshold for success emerges.

You don’t have to go through all of that to enjoy Blast Corps: you can just get the initial two gold medals for demolition and completion, and call it a day, or even just finish the first version of each level while avoiding 100 percent completion of them and the unlocking of further modes. It’s still so much fun and so rewarding to smash your truck/robot/exoskeleton into buildings to make room for these defective and very explosive missiles on a truck that apparently doesn’t have brakes or a windshield you can see through.

I said Blast Corps would thrive if it were a $20 indie title, but it was absolutely worth its full retail price tag of the day, too. It has the spirit of an indie game, though, between the quirks and weirdness and blending together of genres into something risky and new. It remains an oddball in video game history, one worth revisiting or visiting the first time, whether you manage that via an ebay search or with the Rare Replay collection on Xbox One. Just remember that it’ll take you some time to master it all.


This newsletter is free for anyone to read, but if you’d like to support my ability to continue writing, you can become a Patreon supporter.