I can recall a few moments of pure joy when playing video games, where the enjoyment of a game transcends the game itself and pure, unrestrained fun ensues. Notably, I remember laughing uncontrollably while playing Road Rash 64 with an old roommate or getting sucked into the franchise mode of NHL Hitz 2003 for hours and hours. Destruction Derby 64 is like that for me. My family and I rented it way back and dove into multi-player, staying up into the night. We eventually bought the game, since it was such a big hit with the entire family.
I haven’t played the PlayStation’s original Destruction Derby, and that may be okay. Destruction Derby 64 was developed by Looking Glass Studios, the company behind Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock, and they seemed to have gone their own way with it.
DESTRUCTION JUNCTION, WHAT’S YOUR FUNCTION?
The Destruction Derby games seem to largely be about banger racing with some good ol’ demolition derbies thrown in. Different parts of your car could be damaged, changing the way it controls and accelerates. It was pretty advanced for its time, the first having been released in 1995 when PlayStation games were still coming out in horrible cardboard boxes.
Forget that, though. Destruction Derby 64 mainly keeps the banger concept of the game. There are still demolition derbies and time trials, but the racing has been replaced by a mode that sets you on a collision course with a subset of drivers; the goal being to accumulate the most points by crashing into them. It’s stupid. Gosh, is it stupid. But it’s the best.
The demolition derbies are much the same way. You just try to smack into cars and hope that they die before you do. You accumulate points, and that’s what counts. It’s not about being the last one standing, it’s about dealing more damage than you’re dealt.
DEALING MORE DAMAGE THAN YOU’RE DEALT
My family and I used to focus on the demolition derby portion of the game, playing the same track over and over and over. We didn’t have a memory card for the N64 at that point because you only sometimes needed one, and this was one of those cases. You unlock more cars and tracks by playing the game’s three championships and running time trials.
The amount you start out with is pretty meager, but hear me out: the bonus cars aren’t balanced. There are some that are clearly better than others, like the hot rod that is both faster and more indestructible than the other cars. So, if you want to use these cars in multi-player, someone’s going to wind up with a handicap. You’re better off sticking to the default cars when dealing with friends.
The extra tracks are definitely appreciated, however. The extra bowls are just more arenas to bash each other in, but the variety of race tracks is pretty nice. There aren’t really all that many compared to some other racing games, but considering you’re just driving head-first into each other, it’s not like you need that much selection.
Like any racing game from the era, Destruction Derby 64 shows its age. We live in a video game world where car damage is getting more and more realistic, and I just expect to be able to wreck my million dollar supercar against a barrier. San Francisco Rush ruined me. Slight bumps had better turn my car into a twisted wreck or what am I even playing for?
Destruction Derby has deforming car models, which was pretty cool for the time. You could lose your trunk or your hood, and when you hit your fender against something, its texture changes to have wrinkles. As mentioned earlier, this doesn’t actually affect how your car drives, so you can still drive with a crooked engine compartment or an hour-glass figure.
The driving physics are also not very special. There’s some simulation in the suspension system, I think, but you can’t exactly adjust it. The cars have a bit of tangible weight to them, but it doesn’t really play into collisions much. An ambulance still bounces as easily as a Volkswagen Beetle. Like I said, it’s a dumb game. Take your cars and smash them together about sums it up.
TAKE YOUR CARS AND SMASH THEM TOGETHER
That’s fun, though, right? It certainly can be with the right people. Even single-player is enjoyable if you’re willing to turn off your brain. The problem is there’s just no finesse to the whole package. In the championships, there are no time trials, so the only mode that takes any real skill isn’t even accounted for. I mean, there’s probably some strategy to bashing into other cars, but it’s not like you have a lot of time to adjust for the perfect collision.
Even then, it seems almost arbitrary how many points you’re awarded. Head-on at high speed: 50 points. T-bone at top speed: 20 points. Nick their rear fender: 160 points. I can’t say there’s no rhyme or reason, as it does feel like you generally get rewarded more for good, firm smacks, but every once and a while, you brush against a car and are rewarded heavily. I can only manage a shrug.
RUSH HOUR IN L.A.
Generally speaking, Destruction Derby 64 is still a fun game, it’s just dated and dumb. It’s fun for an afternoon, but then it goes away and is largely forgotten. It’s not going to challenge you. It’s not going to drive you to hone your skills and master it. It wants to let you smash cars together and that’s it.
Which is great. It was pretty cool during a time when a lot of racing games just involved cars that behaved like boxes and would shrug off the harshest collision. It’s still a reasonably fun multi-player game, but it’s lost some of its novelty next to modern games like Wreckfest. It’s maybe not top-shelf like Beetle Adventure Racing or Star Wars: Episode 1: Racer, but it can at least hang out at the same lunchroom table.
This review was conducted on an N64 using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.