A short while ago I reviewed World Driver Championship, a game I played in an attempt to find out if the Nintendo 64 ever had a Gran Turismo killer. Although I’ve come to really enjoy World Driver Championship, the game that caused me to start this quest was GT64 Championship Edition. I had played GT64 through an emulator quite a few years ago, but due to limitations in the emulator I never really got into the meat of the game. After acquiring a real cartridge I felt it was time for me to fire up the console and give the game a play through to see what it contributed to the racing video game genre.
The first thing I noticed was how similar the GT64 and Gran Turismo title screens are, with GT64 even seeming to be trying to upstage Gran Turismo. After pressing start it’s time to select a mode, of which there are three, along with records and a very sparse options menu. The main part of the game is the Championship Mode, which is pretty self-explanatory, but there is also Time Trial and Battle Mode. Both of these modes will pit you against the clock, except in battle mode with the added competition from AI or another player. Once the mode has been selected it’s time to pick your car. The game tries to trick us into believing there are fourteen to choose from, but there are really only six different licensed cars. Twelve of the fourteen teams are real 1997 All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship teams, the other two are there to represent the game developer and publisher.
After you’ve selected the mode and chosen which car, team and style of transmission you want you’re given the option to modify the Com Team Entry, a feature I didn’t bother much with after I found out I couldn’t fill the field completely with the exact same car. Next you’ll be allowed to select your racing parameters in the form of which level you want the AI to compete at (Easy, Normal or Hard), how many laps (3, 6, 12 or 24) and how you wish to qualify (3 Laps or Special stage). Special Stage puts the player on the track with a singular warm up lap and a singular timed lap to determine where you’ll start. The three lap option gives the player three laps to make the best time. If qualifying is available in a racing game I usually forgo it to get to the action quicker, that’s not possible with GT64. You must qualify and that’s all there is to it.
If you thought now was when you would be allowed to qualify and finally get to race, you would be wrong. The next menu is where the player is given the chance to adjust their car’s setup, do some testing on the track in free run, start qualifying, load a car setup file from the memory card, or quit out completely. Allowing a car setup to be saved and loaded from a memory card felt the most like a Gran Turismo feature throughout this game. Something to keep in mind is that you can adjust Transmission, steering, brakes, tires, front and rear suspension, front and rear downforce and gear ratio, but only in a very simplistic way. Each item has a set of numerical values at the bottom of the screen, which is essentially just a more complicated slider, that explains how each number selected will affect the car. After dialing in your car you can test it in free run or qualify as-is.
Finally, we’re on the track and ready to go, and let me tell you, after a few weeks of playing World Driver Championship I have to say I can’t remember the last time I played a racing game that made me battle the car more than the AI. In World Driver Championship drifting could be used as an effective way to overtake or corner any given turn, not in GT64. Just as turning seems to be effective enough to make the corner your car throws itself into a drift that nobody asked for and will remain as such even when you let off the gas, causing you to wrestle for control to get the car pointed straight ahead again. At first I was frustrated but I eventually started slowing down at each corner, to the point I thought I was losing time for sure, and feathering the throttle until my car hooked and could make it through. Although I felt I was going too slow, apparently the game felt that was the perfect tactic, and it works. Sadly the fun that I learned to start having was short lived as there are only three tracks with a few variations. That’s not to say they’re not fun, but it wouldn’t have hurt to add a fourth or fifth track.
The visuals of the game look nice, I wouldn’t say they are top notch but I feel they would pass for a mid-life PS1 game in terms of quality. There is some pop up on items in the distance but finding my way around a track was never an issue. I did believe, for a short while, the fog to blur the render distance was pretty bad, later I realized that was only that particular race’s weather conditions and not always the case. Car shapes look fairly decent, even though half of them are merely rectangles with rear spoilers attached, but they do represent that vehicle pretty well for the time.
GT64 Championship Edition started out with noble intentions, but like so many other games it missed the mark. In my opinion World Driver Championship is the superior game between the two, but GT64 is still a decent racing game, once you learn to handle the car. If you took the good qualities of World Driver Championship and combined them with the good qualities of GT64 Championship Edition I think that game may be remembered today as a decent Gran Turismo clone. Even a simple combination such as choosing cars and rise through the ranks like in World Driver Championship coupled with the ablity to adjust the car’s settings before a race like GT64, probably would have been something remembered fondly today.