Remembering the long-lost Nintendo 64 GT racing classic.
Andrew P. Collins over at Jalopnik wrote a little retrospective on a forgotten gem of a racing video game: Xtreme Racer Zero. That particular title was released for Playstation 2 in 2001. Reading the trip down memory lane got us thinking about obscure car games that we remember fondly.
One game in particularly comes to my mind: 1999’s World Driver Championship for the Nintendo 64.
A little backstory: I spent the early years of my life without a video game console. My parents got me a Nintendo Game Boy around 1992, and after that I was content with the handheld system for a time. When 1996 rolled around, having played the Super Nintendo system at friends’ houses, I was excited to get ahold of Nintendo’s newest technology.
Thus, the Nintendo 64 holds a place near and dear to my heart, despite the decidedly ambivalent reputation the console has in retrospect.
Having acquired my Nintendo 64 a few years prior, the game that dominated my summer in 1999 was World Driver Championship, a GT racing simulator from Boss Game Studios and Midway.
Right off the bat, it was clear that World Driver Championship would push the N64’s graphical capabilities. Although the game’s developers apparently didn’t acquire the official rights to the cars that appear in the game, the names hinted at their real-world identities. Options included lookalikes of the Lotus Esprit, Dodge Viper, and Porsche 911, with 3D models that were quite realistic for the time period. The tracks were equally scenic, transporting the player around the world to Portugal, Australia, Japan, and Switzerland, among other locales.
The game’s biggest strength, though, came in the form of its career mode. World Driver Championship placed the player in on an upstart GT racing team with an opportunity to move up in the world by winning races. The lower-tier teams couldn’t afford the best cars, so early-game wins required patience and strategy to overcome the limitations of the lesser vehicles.
Striving to keep winning and climbing the ladder proved to be quite immersive. Players who made a splash on the racing circuit would receive offers from racing teams, each of which was managed by owners with unique personalities. One team, for example, might have a powerful car but an insufferable owner. This dynamic offered racing realism even for players who weren’t familiar with the real-life GT racing scene.
As with most N64 games, World Driver Championship was flawed. The lower-tier vehicles suffered from sloppy handling and sluggish acceleration to the point that they were frustrating to drive. The game required patience and focus, which was sometimes in short supply among the N64’s primary demographic.
Even so, it deserves to be remembered as a quality GT racing sim that introduced some interesting concepts. At the very least, I’ll always recall it fondly.