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N64 driving games get up to speed

'NASCAR '99' puts you in your favorite driver's car for some crash and bang action   

November 11, 1998
Web posted at: 5:30 PM EST

By CNN Interactive Senior Editor Dave Ragals

Since its U.S. debut roughly a year and a half ago, the Nintendo 64 has steadily built a respectable list of available titles. Some of the most popular home video games, like "GoldenEye 007" and "Turok," are exclusive to the N64.

But one category of games has been consistently lacking. Most attempts to produce strong driving titles have fallen short. The disparity between the N64 and PlayStation has become even more striking with the emergence of "Gran Turismo" and "Need for Speed III" on the PSX.

Recently, N64 publishers seem to have turned their attention to this vacuum. In the last couple of months alone, four contenders have been released -- "NASCAR '99," "GT 64 Championship Edition," "Cruisin' World" and "F-1 World Grand Prix."

Gentlemen, start your engines

EA Sports has found considerable success on the PlayStation with its "NASCAR" series. This year, it also released "NASCAR '99" on the Nintendo 64. Anyone familiar with the series knows what to expect here -- a strong simulation with as much audio and video as EA can cram into it.

Unfortunately, that's one of the console's weaknesses. Cartridges can't hold as much multimedia as CD-ROM's and still be cost efficient. The result with this title is somewhat muffled music, less audio commentary and no live video sequences. As for the graphics, the cars look sharp, but as they get banged up during a race, the damage appears rather boxy. This is especially disheartening if you choose the cockpit view, as a damaged hood tends to significantly block your line of sight.

That's not to say this game is lacking. It still has the NASCAR license, which means 37 drivers and 17 tracks, including night racing at the always-exciting short track of Bristol Motor Speedway. And, best of all, it means full contact driving, with cars going door handle to door handle with plenty of flying debris.

In addition to single races, you can pick your favorite driver and compete in "Championship Mode," trying to rack up enough points throughout the season to be crowned the champ.

Given the option, your better bet is to get "NASCAR '99" for the PlayStation. But if you don't have that luxury, the N64 version will still provide plenty of fun and excitement for any racing fan.

Racing against the world

If international racing is more your speed, "GT 64 Championship Edition" and "F-1 Formula Grand Prix" may be worth a test drive.

'GT 64' features very impressive graphics   

Ocean's "GT" puts you behind the wheel of some of the world's fastest passenger cars. It features the strongest graphics yet in a racing title for the Nintendo. The cars and streets are well-rendered, and much of the boxy feel you often see on N64 titles is diminished. The audio is limited to engine noises and arcade-style music.

It may be tough for many Americans to get addicted to a game that features so many European and Asian drivers, but for pure driving fun, this one is tough to beat.

"F-1" from Nintendo carries the Formula 1 World Championship license and features F1 drivers and tracks. It, too, has strong graphics, especially the introductory fly-overs of each of the tracks before a race. It also has stronger audio than "GT." While it doesn't feature race commentary like "NASCAR," you do hear your pit crew chief give you updates over the radio throughout a race.

"F1's" controls are not as smooth as other games, and that can be frustrating, especially while negotiating a tight turn or lots of traffic. On the plus side, the game offers accelerator assist, which helps prevent wheel spinning, and brake assist, which automatically slows you down when you reach a turn.

"F1" is feature-rich. You can make more adjustments to your car than in any other title, including the amount of fuel, type of tire, gearing and suspension, plus a lot more. You can also follow a real F1 racing schedule, with Friday and Saturday practice runs before qualifying, followed by a final warm-up before the race. It makes for A great simulation.

In addition to single race and season modes, you can choose a scenario, which ranges from trying to advance a certain number of places to attempting to hold off challengers behind you to to overcoming trouble, like damage to your car or adverse weather conditions. It all adds up to more replayability than most titles.

Cruisin' along

'Cruisin' World' lets you choose from a wide range of automobiles through numerous cities around the world   

Nintendo's "Cruisin' World" is a sequel to, and significant improvement upon, "Cruisin' USA." Once again, you have your choice of numerous vehicles, including all sorts of sports cars, a nitrous powered three-wheeled vehicle, an ATV and even a truck tractor. This time, the courses take you across the globe from Australia to Russia.

The controls are pretty much limited to shift, accelerate, brake and horn (not that anyone's going to get out of your way if you use it). The courses are interesting, though not very challenging. In fact, you can pretty much hold down the accelerator the whole way and not worry about NOT making any of the turns. Of course, you could wind up going head-on into oncoming traffic.

"Cruisin' World" is short on simulation but long on arcade fun and is a good home version of the popular arcade game of the same name.

These titles provide more than enough diversity to satisfy anyone looking for driving fun on the Nintendo 64. In fact, each is quite impressive, you probably can't go wrong with any of them.

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