Atari Games has gone the extra mile to ensure a quality conversion.
Developer: Atari Games
Oddly enough, the two best racing games on Nintendo 64 (Top Gear Rally and San Francisco Rush) both come from a third-party publisher, Midway Home Entertainment. Unlike Top Gear Rally, though, Atari Games' San Francisco Rush puts more emphasis on catching air, finding secret areas, and good old-fashioned exploration.
San Francisco Rush originally started out as an arcade game, and an impressive one at that. The game had pretty graphics, interactive control through the use of a force-feedback steering wheel and lots of jumps, ramps, and secrets to keep gamers busy. Using the Hard Drivin style of driving realism and feedback, the game took on even more hurdles, so to speak. Also in the arcade game, exploration was limited to how much money a person was willing to spend, as straying off track was likely to cost another quarter due to time constraints, and the short-cuts were risky.
Gameplay is simple; players race through six tracks (each with different degrees of difficulty) and try to rank as highly as possible. Seven computer-controlled opponents swerve in and out of player's paths in attempts to foil a qualifying finish. Quick turns, cliffs, jumps, dead-end walls, and every other obstruction known to man has also been included for added enjoyment. The control is well-balanced and the car physics are realistic, despite the fact that the gravity in the game is not. For example, hitting a ramp at 100 mph may send a player's car soaring into the air and onto the roof-top of one of the surrounding buildings. Not likely to happen in reality, but we don't play games for a dose of reality, do we?
While a standard racer is certainly imbedded in SF Rush's core, secret paths, keys, jumps, stunts, loops, rolls, caves and even skate parks make up the world beyond the track, and this is what separates and boosts Rush above the average racer. In any given track there are a number of hidden alternative paths, some of which are even short-cuts that house secrets and gravity defying jumps.
Atari Games has also included a 'hidden keys' option exclusive to the Nintendo 64 version. In a nutshell, there are six to eight hidden keys in each track. If players find half of them, one of two secret cars will be unlocked. If all keys are obtained, the second secret car is revealed. Keys, however, aren't easy to find. Some are hidden behind walls or inside buildings. Others are suspended hundreds of feet in mid-air. Players have to find a part of the track that might, when used, launch them high enough into the air to obtain the key. Lots of strategy, luck and fun will ensue. Using a memory pak, keys are automatically saved so that players needn't look for them again.
Practice mode, another Nintendo 64 exclusive, gives players 1,000 seconds to simply explore each track to the fullest. See a suspicious path while racing? Go into practice mode and check it out. By including this option and numerous others, the development team has managed to pull off a game that has much more replay value than the coin-up version. In trying to obtain all the keys, we spent many hours in practice mode and in doing so accidentally discovered numerous hidden paths, jumps and other various secrets. Hidden items are everywhere, but they aren't obvious. It's almost as if Shigeru Miyamoto himself decided to sit down and make an arcade racer.
Graphics in Rush are above average, but won't blow players out of their seats. Of course, everything is mip-mapped and Atari has even thrown in some nice car reflections for good measure, but the lack of texture space has definitely had its impact. A typical blurry look special to the Nintendo 64 is present and texture detail is minimal. Luckily, clever level design and a strong 3D engine hides most of the texture short-comings very well. And, as we found with all of the game s shortcomings, the illustrious gameplay obliterates them all.
Players have the option of viewing the action from a number of different angles, which is something both the arcade and home versions include. There s an in-car view, a dashboard view, and an outside view.
What keeps Rush from getting a perfect score is its sound. Really, we're not sure what the sound designers were thinking, but it couldn't have been good. Maybe they thought that screeching, high-pitched cartoon vocals would lure gamers in for a quick race now and again. Or possibly sub-par western themes and eye-watering guitar riffs were meant as incentive to keep playing. We're not sure, but we are certain of one thing: If you value your ears, as we all do, play this game with the sound effects up and the music off.
Rush comes packed with loads of options, including a fully configurable control scheme, lap settings, drones, backward tracks, wind levels, fog levels, difficulty, handicap, and deaths (if you crash once the game ends). Display options can even be modified. Nearly everything is customizable. And then there are the cheat options, which we ll be revealing on a daily basis (check our codes section).
Rumble Pak support has also been included, so every time players collide with an opponent, crash, or land with a thud the pak will give off a buzz.
And finally, there is a two-player mode -- an extremely fun and necessary part of any racing game. A slight frame rate decrease is noticeable, but it's really no big deal. The screen splits in half and players can have a go -- either in a regular race (yes, the computer controlled drones are still there) or in practice mode, in which case both players can explore to their heart's content. We have to admit that when Rush first arrived, nearly everyone in the office was playing against a friend in two-player mode. It's fast, fun and the interactivity is excellent. There's nothing quite like besting your friend in a few races, slamming him into a wall and then laughing in his face as he grumbles for another match. (Try using a pink-colored car to humiliate your opponents!)
Atari Games has gone the extra mile to ensure a quality conversion for Nintendo 64 with the additions of new tracks, cars, keys, and a practice mode. The game excels in nearly every aspect and proves to be, without a doubt, the best racer on Nintendo 64. In fact, the game was envisioned so well and is simply so much fun that we feel it rounds out the top three best games on the Nintendo 64, only second to Goldeneye and Super Mario 64. Racing fans must buy this game.