Three pads. The collective price of Rare's Blast Corps among my circle of school-friends. Three pads, their triple prongs shattered, their analogue sticks hanging floppy, detached from their housings by countless forceful smashings. Three pads, added to the exorbitant price of an N64 early-era release. Three entire pads, ruined, all for this game. Was it worth the expense and the disapproving parents? Worth it for Blast Corps? Totally.
A bit of context might be necessary. It's 1997! The Nintendo 64 has made its debut! It's world-smashing, and synapse-blowing! It's not actually any of those, but bear with me for now. For expectant players, there's the genuinely, truly, unquestionably classic Super Mario 64 and there's...! Well, there's not much else. As a compulsory-education aged proto-fanboy, I was desperate for N64 software to prove my obvious superiority over my friends who'd had the temerity to purchase another company's product. Those morons! Did they not know? Sixty four bits! SIXTY FOUR!
So, obviously, any new cartridge, no matter how dodgy, was jumped on as the next saviour of gaming. Exercising my hyperbole muscles, I extolled the virtues of a host of lazy ports and rushed cash-ins. Reading previews of Blast Corps, I warmed them up again, ready to defend the indefensible, a concept that read like something scooped from Michael Bay's wastepaper bin, something like this:
There's some missiles, right, all nuclear and stuff, and they're on a sort-of lorry thing, and that lorry is going in a straight line and stuff. The slightest knock will detonate both missiles, but, ack, there's loads of houses and junk in the way. So, to stop all that stuff being destroyed by atomic explosion, you've got to, umm, destroy it. In bulldozers and trucks and...giant flying mecha suits! Yeah!
As games go, it's so high concept it needs methadone treatment, but crikey, it worked. And it worked because Blast Corps did, and still does tread the line between total frustration and sheer relief more effectively than almost any other game.
Clint Hocking argued in his speech at GDC this year that as soon as a player has total mastery over their game-world, the experience is ruined. On paper, Blast Corps, with its city-playground levels, most stuffed to the rafters with structures to knock down in tantalisingly tactile ways, is a serious offender. At times, this is certainly on the verge of being the case.
Part of the game's lasting appeal is its characterisation. As is to be expected from the product of a remarkably small development team, parts of the game don't quite tie in - video messages appear from unnamed members of the corps with zero explanation, the game's 'last' unlockable level is a dump-truck race on Neptune, etcetera - but the vehicles the player is handed are, by-and-large, particularly memorable. None more so than the cartridge's cover star, the jet-powered J-Bomb.