My first thought was where did this game come from? Published by the makers of the hit series, Need For Speed, Beetle Adventure Racing is a totally unexpected release. Gone are the muscle cars, the rally vehicles, and the crazy collection of authentic automobile licenses. Even the traditional racing elements I've come to expect from racing games are missing or de-emphasized.
The graphics are excellent and certainly some of the best of any racing game on the Nintendo 64. Each stage is huge and filled with detailed backgrounds, each incorporating a high polygon count without a hint of slowdown. Paradigm went to work to create huge environments that are further appreciated once the action really starts. Like any racer, one has to be the first across the finish line to be proclaimed the winner but the focus has been changed from how fast I race to how I got there.
On each track were a number of alternate pathways to the finish line. Each one was strategically placed along the track and the only way you could find them is to actually search them out. I found this a bit of a challenge at times but it was always worth the effort. With every risky crash and turn off the beaten path, I was rewarded with all sorts of different experiences, many of them outrageous. For instance, it wasn't unusual for me to find myself going through a series of totally unrealistic high jumps trying to get across a lake or river or cruising through a jungle only to swerve at the last minute as the gigantic head of a T-Rex snapped at my car. The shortcuts and the over-the-top jumps and stunts performed on each stage are the stars of the game. Ordinarily, levels in a game serve only as a means to end but in Beetle Adventure Racing they are the end. They are the focus and it all works out great.
Paradigm paid close attention to detail when it came to the cars. All the Beetles control convincingly. The physics model never feels totally real but it serves its purpose for this type of game. Crashes and brushes with other vehicles, while extreme at times, are still relatively realistic. The power slides feel real and the handling on the tracks feels pretty instinctive. It makes it all the more fun controlling everyone's favorite little "Love Bug". The game's got personality and it is a perfect fit in that regard.
However Beetle Adventure Racing's strength is also it's weakness. While the use of the new VW Beetle is a fun diversion, the selection of cars is just too limited. Paradigm, to their credit, did get a lot out of the Beetle, but the difference in vehicles becomes negligible rather quickly. After a while the game feels like it's missing something. To combat that, Beetle Adventure Racing has included some powerups and has strewn bonus point icons about the track. These bonus icons allow you second opportunities to finish the race or simply tally the highest score in terms of bonus points. It is a racer after all and when I came back onto the track, everything just looked boring again and I was back looking for another diversion. It was probably this kind of feeling that Paradigm knew would pop up that prompted them to go the distance with the multi-player mode. Tired of the same old car? Well now I could do some serious damage to them with rockets, mines, and even magnets. Beetle Adventure Racing just seems to offer up all the off-the-wall fun lacking in so many home versions of arcade racers.
Beetle Adventure Racing is definitely a great game. Sure there is a lack of choice in the vehicles but that was easily forgotten once I played through one level trying to find all the secret paths and hidden icons. Diversions are everywhere and boredom is easily suppressed by the many objectives from each course. Beetle Adventure Racing managed to take me out of the stale racing format and threw me into an exploration game. This is a feat that no one has really pulled off this successfully. Beetle Adventure Racing offers a true playing experience.