As the success of 1997's Diddy Kong Racing and Extreme-G attests, players can't seem to get enough of racers filled with bizarre vehicles, fantastic courses and plenty of speed boosts, shields and weapons. Except for Acclaim's Extreme-G 2, though, the current N64 lineup is curiously bereft of such fun-filled fare. That's why the recent arrival of Ubi Soft's S.C.A.R.S. was such a pleasant surprise.
Set in the year 3000 A.D., S.C.A.R.S. (Super Computer Animal Racing Simulation) stars nine animal-inspired chariots racing around nine tracks, although at game's start you can only access five cars and two courses. The cockamamie backstory -- not that anyone ever buys a game like this for its riveting narrative -- has nine very bored supercomputers creating the vehicles, the weapons, and even the racetracks themselves as a way to keep themselves entertained.
S.C.A.R.S.' strongest point is its graphics. The game impresses with a high frame rate and plenty of details, even in four-player mode. The aptly named development house Vivid Image is to be commended for minimizing the flat, pixilatted scenery that is the bane of many a racing game. Although taking inspiration from the animal kingdom isn't the most original idea in the world, the cars themselves look cool. Headlights for night racing, explosions and electrified traps all look good, too.
The heart of the game play is the power-ups, which can be powered up by holding the Z Button. If you're coordinated enough to pull back the Control Stick while firing, you can whack rearward rivals. It's a nice touch that allows even front-runners to launch attacks.
You can turn off some or all of the weapons, but given the simplicity of the tracks you probably won't want to. Whether you're on asphalt, lava, ice or water, traction feels much the same. While altogether the tracks cover a wide variety of terrain, there's a bit too much sameness within individual tracks. The Canyon, for example, is pretty much a one-minute spin between ruddy bluffs.
The tracks are wide and forgiving, but if you cut a corner a little too close you'll flip over, losing valuable seconds. Idiosyncratic visual cues, such as cliff edges that you can't fall off, will have you first-timers scratching their collective heads. On the plus side, the mountain tracks impart a great sense of speed and vertigo.
For solo players, S.C.A.R.S. offers a four-circuit Grand Prix and a Time Attack mode. It's the high-powered weaponry, though, that makes S.C.A.R.S. especially fun as a party Pak. Oh, the sweet joy of dissing your pals just before whacking them with a heat-seeking missile!
A nice touch allows you to save your setup configuration to the Game Pak, so you don't have to reconfigure it every time you power up your game.
Contributed by Evil Ryu (49941) on Aug 01, 2006.