Review: San Francisco Rush 2049 (ARC/N64/DC), The Greatest Racing Game Ever Made

So, because it was the Olympics, I was watching that a lot… on my HDTV, at least.  Often at the same time, I was also playing a lot of this game again for the first time in a  while on my CRT.  I have considered writing a review of Rush 2049 for a long time, but I’ve finally done it!  This review took a while to finish, and with how long it is, it’s easy to see why.  Yes, this is the longest review of a single game I have ever written.  This is an over 80KB text file!  I’m sure there are things that could be cut, but whenever I got back I just end up adding more, so I should stop now and just post it… :p

Also, sorry for all the bad screenshots.  Unfortunately I don’t have a way to capture them from real hardware myself.

This is the only screenshot almost certainly from an emulator that you will see here, which means the rest will look awful, but at least are real hardware. Check the video links out to get a better sense of the game!

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Controls and Handling
  • Arcade San Francisco Rush 2049: Drive the Future!
  • Home Console Rush 2049 – Rush 2049 for the N64 and Dreamcast
  • Modes and Options
  • Car Customization
  • Cheats
  • Graphics and Sound
  • The Modes: Race Mode
    • The Race Tracks In Detail
      • Race Track 1 / Marina
      • Race Track 2 / Haight
      • Race Track 3 / Civic
      • Race Track 4 / Metro
      • Race Track 5 / Mission
      • Race Track 6 / Presidio
  • The Modes: Stunt Mode
    • The Stunt Arenas In Detail
      • Stunt 1 / The Rim
      • Stunt 2 / Disco
      • Stunt 3 / Oasis
      • Stunt 4 / Warehouse
  • The Modes: Battle Mode
    • The Battle Arenas
      • Battle 1 / Stadium
      • Battle 2 / Melee
      • Battle 3 / Tundra
      • Battle 4 / Atomic
      • Battle 5 / Downtown
      • Battle 6 / Plaza
      • Battle 7 / Roadkill
      • Battle 8 / Factory
  • The Modes: Obstacle Course and the Obstacle Course Track
  • Conclusion

This might be my favorite Rush 2049 Youtube video.

Introduction

  • Title: San Francisco Rush 2049
  • Developer: Atari Games, aka Midway Games West (for the Arcade, N64, and Dreamcast versions)
  • Arcade Version Release: October 1999
  • Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast Versions Release: September 2000
  • Midway Arcade Treasures 3 [Dreamcast port] Version Release for Gamecube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2: September 2005; Port Developed by Digital Eclipse.

San Francisco Rush 2049 is a futuristic racing game, and the second, third, or fourth game in its series, depending on how you count.  It is the second full arcade game, third arcade release, and third console release, so I usually consider it to be the third game.  This fast-paced and high-flying arcade racing game is a classic ’90s arcade racer in its final form, with some of the best gameplay, graphics, and design ever seen in the field.  Rush game tracks are intricate and full of alternate routes and shortcuts, and this game has more and better on both of those fronts than any Rush game before.  In addition to exceptional level designs, the game also perfects the series’ controls, and has one of the all-time great videogame soundtracks as well.

I have written about S.F. Rush 2049 several times before, including a Game Opinion Summary of the game from some years ago, and an article about the version differences between the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast versions of the game.  I have not, however, written a full review.  I have usually avoided writing reviews of my favorite games, because praise is really hard to do well!  Criticism is, sadly, easier, though the two are at least equally important, and praise may be more important.  And I want to cover three different versions of the game all at once, so it’s a complex review to put together.  I tried to organize it reasonably, but I don’t know if there is an ideal way to review this with so much to cover.  But when you really, REALLY love a game, how do you write about it well?  And that is the problem I have here; I don’t just like this game, I adore it.  Rush 2049 is one of the true greats, a game which has a permanent place near the top of my list of the best games ever made and, as I have said before, “the greatest game ever made in which you drive a vehicle”.  It is that good.  This is the game I have owned the longest that I am absolutely certain I have played every single year since I bought it in early 2001, and playing it again now the game is still unmatched.  This game is quite likely my most-played console game of all time.  It surely does not come close to the amount of time I’ve put into my most-played PC games, most notably Starcraft (1), Warcraft III, and Guild Wars (1), but for console games it is on top of the list.

Indeed, not only does the game still hold up near-impeccably, it really does not have any competition; the more time passes, the greater Rush 2049 appears in hindsight.  Nobody makes games like this anymore, and indeed they haven’t since around the time of its release.  Rush 2049 is a near-perfect masterpiece, the combination of a base of work from one of the best arcade developers ever, Atari Games, by that point also known as Midway Games West.  The studio had been bought by Midway in 1996, and after a few years Midway renamed them, though the Atari Games name appears on the arcade machine.  The arcade version of Rush 2049 ended up being Atari Games’ final arcade game release, as Midway gave up on the dying arcade industry in 2001.  Midway Games West would be shut down in 2003 after making their last game, the 3d platformer Dr. Muto.  As for Rush 2049, the arcade game, it’s fantastic!  The game builds on my favorite arcade game ever, San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, in some great ways.  Midway Games West’s console team made the home versions of Rush 2049 for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, and both released in fall 2000.  They make significant improvements across the board over the arcade original, and this is the version I love the most.  This kind of game, with arcade sensibilities but the full feature set of a home console game, is something you got sometimes back in the ’90s to early ’00s, but you do not see anymore.  That is really sad, because that combination resulted in some of the most fun racing games ever, with this one at the top of that list.  Racing games of the past decade-plus do not even try to compete with this game, to their detriment.

But that’s enough background, on to the review.  This will be long.  I will start by discussing how the game plays.  After that I will cover the original arcade game a bit, before moving on to the home versions, including their systems, modes, graphics, music, and general gameplay.  Rush 2049 is a futuristic racing game set in the year, well, 2049.  The fairly silly backstory, which is only mentioned in the manual and never in the game itself as there is no in-game story, is that there has been a second gold rush, 200 years after the first one, and so San Francisco is a boom town yet again.  Sure, that works.  No story is needed in a game like this, but why not write something amusing for the manual?  So, the game is set in a familiar and yet futuristic city, with the major landmarks present but also futuristic elements as well.  It’s a fantastic mix which works great, and the choice to return to San Francisco, after Rush 2 was set across the USA, is brilliant; the city is just plain more fun to drive in in videogames than any other I have seen due to all its layout and hills.

As an aside, there is also a Game Boy Color version of Rush 2049.  It is an entirely different game, as you would expect, and plays in isometric 2d.  Unfortunately, it is very average.  If I review it, it will be covered separately; this is about the arcade and TV console game.

Track 4/Metro, as you head up a hill.

The Controls and Handling

I decided to cover this first because the controls and engine are the core of every game, and Rush 2049’s engine and San Francisco Rush 2049’s controls are great and engine just as good.  Rush games have a unique handling system which is divisive, but I love it.  The game is based around a physics engine, and it sticks to the physics.  This engine has its quirks, but the game won’t actually cheat you, it follows its physics model.  Indeed, Rush 2049 does not get the credit it deserves for its good car modeling; it’s not realistic, but it’s not supposed to be!  What it is is well-modeled, consistent, and challenging.  Cars in Rush games turn slowly and in predictable ways, and leave the air the moment they hit even the tiniest bump in the road.  All vehicles in this game have several stats which rate their capabilities, including speed, acceleration, and weight.  Each of the 13 starting and 6 unlockable vehicles has different starting stats, and they change on top of that depending on which parts you equip.  This is no sim or tuner game with a huge garage of options available, but on consoles you do have some car parts to choose from for your frame, transmission, engine, and tire type.  There are also visual customization options as well for your car colors and wheel rims.  In the arcade version you have fewer choices as you would expect, but there are still some.  

Before I continue though, while the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast or Arcade versions of the game mostly handle identically, there is one difference between them, to the Dreamcast’s advantage: on the DC the game has analog acceleration and braking on the DC controller’s analog triggers, while on N64 you have only digital on-or-off acceleration and braking since N64 controllers only have an analog stick, not buttons or triggers.  While you can play the game just fine by feathering the accelerator to replicate the same result as pushing that DC trigger down halfway, driving at less than full speed is easier to do on the DC, and this is to your advantage at times so the DC as a result does have slightly better control.  Otherwise they really are the same, though, and I do like the feel of the N64 analog stick a bit more than the Dreamcast one.

There are also three handling options to choose from, Beginner, Normal, and Extreme.  On consoles you can change this as a setting, while in arcades specific cars are tied to each type.  I always play at the maximum Extreme handling setting, because it just isn’t Rush with anything less than the most challenging handling!  I, at least, like that the car fights you as you turn, as it tries to go straight most of the time.  This is not a drift game at all, it’s more traditional, series quirks aside.  As you turn you skid a bit, but there are no massive powerslides here, and there is no drifting beyond the bit of tire-squealing skidding you do during longer turns.  I love this, and once you learn the controls, you have good control over your car here.  With practice you will know when when you can stay at full speed all the time, when you need to let go of the accelerator to make a turn, and when you need to brake or handbrake to not go off the road.  If you don’t get your speed right or turn too early or too late it is very easy to go off the road on these complex courses, so there is a high learning curve here.  There are also several terrain types which you move over at different speeds, including pavement, dirt roads, and grass or dirt-covered off-road areas.  You want to stay off of that last type when you can, but sometimes you can successfully make a shortcut over some grassy areas.  Collisions are also done very well.  Cars bump into eachother fairly realistically, far better than many games of the time, and whether you crash or not depends on how fast you were going and at what angle your car was at when you hit something.  Brush against a wall and sparks will fly, or hit someone also moving and you will grind against their car.  It’s well done.  The game also makes great use of rumble, and a rumble pak or such is highly recommended for any console version of the game!  Most of the rumble elements are the usual, such as when you hit things, but the subtle rumble that starts when you begin a skid is useful during gameplay, it makes it easy to tell when you are fully in control and when you have started to lose it.

Aerial maneuvers also are fully controlled by the physics model.  The low gravity, and resulting constant high-flying jumps whenever you hit any kind of bump, is perhaps the Rush series’ hallmark feature and I love it.  However, being in the air is tricky, because you need to land!  As I said, the physics model controls you in the air as well, so like in real life, you cannot move around in the air like you could in, say, a 2d fighting game.  Instead, the angle and direction you were going when you left the ground is the direction you will go in.  You can adjust your speed a bit, and can twist the car around in the air with the cars’ wings if you are in a version or mode of the game which has wings, but you can’t redirect your line once you are already in the air.  Landing is also difficult, as you need to land flat, and not too fast.  If you’re tossed too far into the air even landing flat won’t help, you’ll explode on landing because you were going too fast; you’ll need to hope you land on a slope and land perfectly, to redirect your momentum that way.  Acceleration and braking is also a vital part of landing, as if you accelerate while landing you are much more likely to spin out than if you brake.  Whenever you don’t land perfectly, your car will go rolling and flipping around on the ground, more or less so depending on your speed.  Here again the brake button is essential, as you want to be stopping as you roll onto your wheels, not your roof; use the brakes, accelerator, and directions to nudge the car in the right direction.  While you will land on your roof as often as you land on your tires, it is possible to save yourself from difficult situations with skill and luck.  When you do land upside down, though, your car will explode.  I’ve always found the idea that Rush cars all have dynamite strapped to their roofs or something amusing.

Earlier, I mentioned that the cars have wings in some versions and modes.  In the first two Rush games, and in the arcade version of this one, there is no way to control your car in the air beyond the slight changes that changing your speed brings.  You get used to it, but having no control over your car in the air makes the games very challenging at times; you either get the jump right from the ground, or you’re doomed.  It makes for some great and challenging gameplay, but it can be frustrating at times.  Atari Games / Midway Games West realized this, and in a work of genius, the home versions of the game add wings to the cars that allow you to twist and rotate while in the air.  This feature is one of the very best things about Rush 2049, and is the most important feature that turned a very good arcade game into the best racing game ever made.  It does make landing easier, and I know some hardcore Rush 1 or 2 fans prefer that games’ lack of air controls to the wings of home Rush 2049, but I have always considered this an amazing, inspiring idea!  The possibilities it opens, for maneuvering your car through narrow spaces in the air, for flipping and spinning in the games’ Stunt mode, and more, are incredible.  I loved, and love, the “flying” winged cars of Rush 2049 so much that back in the early to mid ’00s, this game got me hooked on flipping TV remotes in the air like the cars in Rush 2049.  It took quite some time, and several broken remotes, before I finally broke that habit… but why not do that?  It’s such an amazing concept, executed incredibly well!

I very much doubt that the AI cars follow all of the physics rules, though, I must admit, as instead of having dynamic AIs, each computer follows one of the games’ pre-designed possible computer car routes.  Some of the resulting turns look maybe too tight without as much skidding as you might expect.  The AI has been much improved over the original Rush, however; there AI cars just followed each other in a line through the level, in a very close pack, so one mistake doomed you.  Here different AIs will do better or worse on each track, and they can mess up and crash as well, which is welcome.  When facing off against the computer your AI opponents are challenging, but those good at memorization may get used to their routes through the tracks.  I mostly don’t mind this, but there is one thing I find disappointing here: AI cars cannot enter shortcuts; bump one onto one and they will reset onto the track, even in Deaths Mode (described later).  While they are tough enough competition on the main roads that I’m fine with with them staying away from shortcuts as that would make the game even harder, it would be nice if they would stay on them if you bump them onto one, at least.  I’m sure this could have been done better, it is distracting and weird at times.  Ah well.  Still, your computer opponents in Rush 2049 will put up a tough fight, and I do think that the AI is mostly fine at it is; it’s plenty challenging, and each race will be different due to the random nature of what can happen during a race, both between AI cars and between you and them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKKnN04nXss
Arcade track 7, aka home track 6/Presidio. The shortcuts are not the same as on consoles!

Arcade San Francisco Rush 2049: Drive the Future!

This article is mostly a review of the home console versions of Rush 2049, and the Nintendo 64 version in particular.  The arcade version is an arcade exclusive and has never been released on any home platform, unless you emulate it and I haven’t, so while I have played arcade Rush 2049, it was for a relatively small amount of time, particularly compared to the hundreds of hours I have played the console versions.  But the arcade version is the core experience which the home version only builds on but does not significantly change beyond adding wings and modes, so I will start here.  Rush 2049 is the third arcade Rush game release, following San Francisco Rush and its enhanced re-release San Francisco Rush The Rock: Alcatraz Edition.  This game brings Rush into the future, and that was a great idea indeed!  Most of my favorite racing games are futuristic ones, so I love the choice to go futuristic.  The tracks are a mixture of Tron-inspired neon, modern cityscapes, and outdoor environments, and the three mix surprisingly well.  Amusingly, the advertisement billboards that are present all over the game include some for real companies such as Dickies and Slim Jim.  These are present in the home version as well.  I wonder if they paid to be in the game, or if Midway had to pay… you never know.  So, fitting the theme, the arcade version’s ad tagline was “Drive the Future”, and it’s a good line for sure.  The games’ machine and poster art is also fantastic stuff!  Oddly they don’t seem to have used that subtitle with the home releases, though they do use the same cover art.  Arcade Rush 2049 runs on a standard Midway arcade board, with fairly good but not mind-blowing graphics for a 2000 release.  

The original arcade Rush 2049 game is a very good, but straightforward, racing game.  Unlike the later console versions all you can do here is race in single races against AI or human opponents.  This being an arcade game, it is a stripped-down experience, perfect for a quick game.  I mentioned earlier the more limited car customization available in the arcade game, but the basics are still here, including different cars with different stats and handling types.  The core gameplay is as described above.  I have played the final revision of arcade Rush 2049 within the past few years, and it is a weird experience.  on the one hand, Rush 2049 for arcades is Rush 2049, a version of my favorite racing game.  The graphics look just like the home console game I will describe; the tracks are very similar to how I know them; the controls and handling are the same, absent wings aside; and the gameplay is fantastic and incredibly fun.  But… without the added modes of the home game, without the wings, with its slightly different variation on the games’ soundtrack, and more, I just do not unreservedly love the game like I do the home version.  San Fransisco Rush 2049 for arcades is a really good game despite that, though, and due to its differences from the console game it is absolutely worth trying if you ever see any Rush 2049 machine variant somewhere.

There are five tracks in the original arcade game, four new courses and one rehash, a redone version of the Alcatraz track from San Francisco Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition and the first two Nintendo 64 Rush games.  Tracks in Rush games are linear paths, but the many shortcuts, alternate routes, and wide trackside areas you can drive through give the game a very open feeling that most racing games of the time do not match, while still being focused on a single course.  I really love this concept, as I prefer racing games to have closed courses over open city driving, but it is also fun to have some choices along the way.  Rush 2049 is the perfect merger of those two track design philosophies.  I will cover the home versions of the tracks in detail later, but track one is a short loop, while tracks two through four are medium length.  All four are shorter than any track from Rush 1 or 2, though, and the choice to make tracks shorter was a good one.  The tracks have more jumps, thrills, tricky segments, tough shortcuts, and the like than either previous Rush game, packed into a smaller space!  This means that the long periods of normal-road driving from the previous Rush games is now mostly gone, if you wish.  I don’t miss them, and you can see some of that if you stick to the road, anyway.  Rush 2049’s tracks also don’t have many of the cheap moments of the earlier games, so expect very few blind walls sitting right in the middle of the track, and there is only one or two times where the real path is a side-area and the “main road” is actually a dead end.  There also are now switches on the tracks which modify things in interesting ways, to open shortcuts by moving walls, making ramps appear, or more.  Some switches stay lit when activated, while others are time-limited, so learn them all.  These are different between the home and arcade versions, though.  These are huge improvements which make this game a lot more fun to drive in than the previous two games; you still need to do a lot of memorizing to succeed, but it feels less cheap with these better-designed, more fun, and less unfair tracks.  The home versions alter the courses, as the locations of shortcuts are different between versions, but the main shape and layout of each track is very similar between home and consoles.  Track five, Alcatraz, was cut from the console versions though, as it had already been in both other N64 Rush games.  They added a huge amount of new content to those versions to replace the absence.

Rush 2049 was a success in arcades, so despite the industry’s fading popularity Midway started working on an enhanced version.  One of Atari Games’ last arcade projects before Midway shut down arcade development was Rush 2049 Tournament Edition, or Rush 2049 T.E., an enhanced release of Rush 2049 with two more tracks, conversions of the two race-mode tracks added to the home versions, and online play between machines in arcades across the country.  Unfortunately, it was cancelled after location testing, so few of these machines saw release.  However, several years after the original release, another studio got the rights to arcade Rush 2049 and released the Rush 2049 Special Edition, or Rush 2049 SE.  This is essentially Rush 2049 TE, but with the online functionality removed, and it is the final arcade version of Rush 2049.  I have seen this machine around, so it is out there.


The N64 cover. The DC cover is similar.

Home Console Rush 2049 – Rush 2049 for the N64 and

Released in September 2000, the N64 and Dreamcast versions of Rush 2049 both launched at about the same time.  Both versions were developed internally by Midway Games West.  The N64 version is exclusive to that platform, but the Dreamcast version later was somewhat badly ported to the PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, and PC in the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 collection.  The two versions are very similar to each other, though there are naturally differences between the two platforms.  I wrote an article last year about the version differences between the two editions of Rush 2049, so see that for a more focused comparison of the two versions, but I will cover many of those differences here as well.  Though most of my time playing this game has been with the N64 release, I will try to cover everything noteworthy about both versions.  First I will discuss the games’ modes, options, and features; then the graphics and music; and then the Race mode, Stunt mode, Battle mode, and Obstacle Course in turn; and last, a conclusion.

First, though, I should mention one odd little difference between the two versions: on the N64 tracks are named with a number, while on the arcade and Dreamcast versions each track has a name instead.   As I have mostly played this game on the N64, I will usually refer to tracks by their number, not their name.  I often do refer to tracks just by their N64 names, but give both names when I discuss each track in turn below.

A menu.

A menu.

Modes and Options

San Francisco Rush 2049 is a very full-featured game, impressively expanding greatly on the basic arcade title.  When you start either console Rush 2049 game, the main menu allows you to start a one to four player game, enter the Options, Records, or Audio menus, or on Dreamcast also enter the Video and Internet menus.  If starting a game, after choosing the number of players, each player can create or load a player save file.  These can be saved and loaded from any memory card or controller pak on any controller attached to the Dreamcast or N64, and each player will need a separate file.  Here you also can view and reconfigure the controls.  After that, all game modes that that number of players can play will appear, including Battle, Stunt, Obstacle Course, and the various parts of Race mode, depending; some Race mode modes are single player only, and Battle mode is multiplayer only.  You then select the race options for that mode, choose a track and car, and begin the race.

All four of those modes are the best or among the best ever in their fields.  Race mode has four tournaments of eight to 24 races with a points-based championship system, single or multiplayer single races, and a time-trial mode for racing against yourself and the clock.  It is the best racing game ever.  Stunt mode has four stunt arenas to unlock in what I consider the best stunt game ever.  This mode has no AI competition, unfortunately, but you can play alone for points.  Battle mode is a two to four player local multiplayer-only car arena combat game, where you drive around and blow up other cars with various weapons scattered around the games’ eight battle arenas.  It’s the most fun I have ever had in a car combat game.  And last, the unlockable Obstacle Course track is a very challenging linear course where you must navigate past numerous hazards as quickly as you can.  Comparing the arcade game, with just a single race mode with five tracks, only four of them new, and nothing else, to the plethora of modes and tracks in this game is impressive.  The game does require you to unlock a lot of things in the game.  I have no problem with this, but some might dislike it.  All three main modes lock most of the tracks and you must unlock them, and there are unlockable cars and car parts as well.  All in all, Rush 2049 sets a gold standard for arcade-to-home conversions that few get anywhere near matching.

As for the other main menu options below the main player select option, the Records menu allows you to view the many records the game keeps track of in each player file.  The game keeps track of the five top times on every Race track, with separate listings for forward and reverse; each player’s best lap and race time on each track;the number of minutes you have spent in each track, not counting races you restarted because you need to finish a race for the game to record miles-driven and time information; how many points you have gotten, your best points-per-minute total, your best stunt, and more, separately for each stunt arena, your total time and number of first, second, and third place finishes for each circuit, and more.  The amount of records kept is pretty great, particularly for a game released in the year 2000.

The other main menu options are sometimes useful.  Audio allows you to change both music and sound effects volume and listen to any music track.  I prefer to set the sound effects lower than the music, so that the great music is easier to hear.  Options lets you change game-wide interface displays.  Here you can turn on and off every single element on the on-screen HUD, and also change the interface language in the Dreamcast version and enable Metric, that is kilometers instead of miles, if you want.  I play with all interface options on except for the Metric option, which of course as an American I would never use.  In Race mode, the HUD includes your speed, your place in the race when racing against opponents, a radar showing rival cars near you, a map of the track with each cars’ location marked, your total miles driven in the race, a skull-and-crossbones symbol if you are in Deaths mode, and some more.  Stunt mode only displays your speed, the time, and your point total on screen, which is all you need.  Battle mode displays the score, your speed, and arrows that move around the screen, pointed towards each opponent.  It’s all well thought through.  The unlockable car parts and unlockable cars add to the variety as well.  As for those two Dreamcast-only options, Video and Internet, they aren’t very useful.  Video lets you align the screen and view a test pattern.  Thrilling.  Internet is a link to the Rush 2049 website, and also lets you check your mail.  It’s pretty useless today of course, unless you are one of the very few who still uses Dreamcasts online.  I never have, but I doubt these links work anyway.  Still, at the time it was a nice feature to include.

In the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 versions of the game, things are mostly similar, but downgraded: you cannot re-configure the games’ controls in MAT3, and can only save and load to memory card slot 1, not any slot.  Long load times have also been added between menus that do not exist on the N64 or Dreamcast.  Stick to the real N64 and DC versions, both of which have full control configuration!

Car Customization

Rush 2049 for consoles has a total of 20 cars available, 13 by default and 7 unlockable.  Each has a unique look, and most have their own designs though a few unlockable cars are reskins of starter ones.  On the car select screen, you choose a car, set the visual look you want, and select which parts you want to use in the car.  Four stats, Top Speed, Acceleration, Handling, and Strength, rate your current selection of parts.  Though with the same parts equipped two cars will appear identical on the car selection screen, their different shapes and characteristics will make driving a little bit different with each.  Four part categories affect your stats: car frames, transmission types, tires, and engines.  You unlock these parts with miles driven in Race mode, and there are at least a half dozen items to unlock in each of those part categories.  Each one will affect the displayed stats, so you can see how the car will handle when you change parts.  Now, the better engines are just plain better unless you like going slow, but tires, transmissions, and frames each have positives and negatives depending on what kind of car you like to drive.  I like the lightest frame and fastest engine, for the most height on your jump, but this does mean you will spin out more easily and may need to take some jumps a bit more slowly, to not hit dangerous ceilings that you wouldn’t hit with a heavier frame for example.  Still, I prefer it that way.  It takes quite some time to unlock the best engine, as you need 2000 miles driven in Race mode to unlock it, so you’ll be playing this game a while to get everything.  This is true elsewhere as well; you will not get everything in this game quickly.  I’m mostly fine with that, it adds to the replay value!  I do wish that Battle Track 8 didn’t require a full 1000 points in Battle mode to unlock, though; that’s a very high number.

Visual car customization options are reasonable, and better on N64 than Dreamcast.  To change each cars’ look, you can change the paint colors and wheel rims.  The N64 version has 21 rims available, or fewer without an Expansion Pak installed in your N64, while the Dreamcast has 24.  For car colors the N64 has a huge advantage, however.  Each car has three different paint colors that display in different parts of the car.  You cannot reskin cars, add decals, or such, but you can change your cars’ colors.  On N64, you can directly choose the three colors you want from a selection of about 16 colors, to get just the car look you want.  On Dreamcast however, all you can do is choose from eight preset groups of three colors that draw from that same palette.  So, on DC, you cannot customize your cars’ colors. I really find this quite disappointing, and it’s a big negative with the Dreamcast release.  Rush 2049 isn’t as fun when my car looks wrong, and it looks wrong on the DC (and MAT3) because none of those eight presets are the car colors I use on the N64.  The best I can do on DC is use a blue-and-green skin, not the bright green, dark green, and purple one I have on the N64.

Cheats

Like many ’90s Midway games, Rush 2049 has a great selection of cheats available.  This has both some pretty amusing or useful cheats, and also quick unlocks for the impatient, or those who do not want to wait for some of the maybe too high point totals required for some unlocks, such as needing 1000 battle points to unlock Battle Arena 8 or needing 1 million stunt points to unlock the Obstacle Course.  Unfortunately neither the menu nor anything on it saves, so you’ll need to input the pretty tricky codes every time you turn the system on, but they are fun stuff to mess around with; I really wish you could unlock the cheat menu options permanently, because those codes really are quite tough to get right, at least for me.  I’m sure people much better at things like QTEs or long button combinations in fighting games would have no problem here, but I find them hard, particularly with the very tight timing requirements you have; what the cheat lists in the links below don’t say is how fast you have to input them.  

And that’s disappointing, because again, a lot of these cheats are really interesting!  You can unlock all cars, parts, and tracks, sure, but you also can change the fog color, turn on big-wheels mode, increase gravity so you don’t jump as high (boring…), make all cones or all cars mines so if cars touch at all they explode, disable the brakes, stretch the screen horizontally with Frame Scale, an option that is great for making the game look better on modern widescreen displays without needing to play it with bars on the side to preserve the 4:3 aspect ratio; increase cars’ maximum speeds with Super Speed; make the cars or track invisible; disable car collisions; enable a Battle mode paint shop; and some more.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  GameFAQs has nice lists of all the cheats; the buttons differ by platform, but the cheats themselves are identical.  N64 cheats: http://www.gamefaqs.com/n64/198529-s…sh-2049/cheats DC cheats: http://www.gamefaqs.com/dreamcast/19…sh-2049/cheats


This video is a nice direct comparison of the N64 and Dreamcast versions of Race Track 1.

Another video comparison, this time also with the Xbox version of Midway Arcade Treasures 3 included.

Graphics

Visually, Rush 2049 for the Dreamcast is a near-perfect port of the arcade game.  Everything from the arcade game is here, and it all runs in 640×480 progressive scan with a high frame rate, as well; the game sticks to 60fps most of the time.  The polygon counts per frame are only average so the game probably is not really pushing the hardware, but the texture work is great and environments are large and detailed.  Weather permitting you can see to the horizon at full detail, so if there is any distance texture reduction going on I can’t tell.  The game may not be the most visually advanced for the system, but it does look really nice and run great.  As for those weather effects, it’s really only darkness, in tracks four and six, or fog, in tracks 1-3 and 5, but as this game is set in San Francisco, fog is the right effect to use!  There is a slider for fog distance, and at full fog you can barely see anything.  Even with all the time I’ve put into this game, full fog is hard to survive in some tracks.  But regardless, I love the look of Rush games’ large, wide tracks, with their fantastic amounts of verticality, width, and secrets.  And of Rush tracks, these are the best and best-looking tracks in the series!  Every track has a unique look to it, but all have a great mixture of normal and futuristic buildings to look at, of trees and giant loops and jumps.  It’s really cool for the time how you can see big buildings, and then actually go over there and drive past them!  It’s a really cool looking game with a great visual aesthetic.  So, DC Rush 2049 doesn’t get anywhere near pushing the DC’s polygon count limits, but with its great art design, high resolution for the time, and great solid 60-fps framerate, the Dreamcast version looks great.  The DC version of this game still holds up very well visually and looks good today.

On the Nintendo 64, while the graphics are obviously downgraded versus the arcades or Dreamcast in many large and small ways, for the hardware the game is an absolutely incredible accomplishment!  With some of the best graphics on the system, N64 Rush 2049 has always been near the top of my list of the most impressive-looking N64 games.  Now, this game does require the Expansion Pak for many features, including access to track 6 and the Advanced and Extreme championships because Track 6 is too large to fit into RAM otherwise, in-race music (you want this!), some of the rims, and moving obstacles in tracks such as cable cars or fighter jets, so make sure to have one for this game; it’s pretty much essential.  The graphics themselves look pretty much the same with or without the Expansio Pak, though, and they are as close to the source material as you could get on this system.  The N64 version runs at a lower resolution, 320×240 interlaced; the N64 version seems to use a few less colors on screen, though this is a very minor difference; textures are lower quality, though they look great for the system; texture detail reduces noticeably a distance into the screen, so lines on the road will pop into higher focus as you get closer to them for example; the game runs at a lower framerate than it does on DC, though the mostly 30fps framerate is good for the N64 and the game sticks to that framrate well everywhere except for maybe Track 6, where I do think it might be a bit lower sometimes; it is missing some special effects, such as real projecting headlights on the cars on the night tracks and some cones of light coming out of certain buildings or the vertical connecting cables on the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of track six that pop in very close on N64 instead of being visible to the horizon; there are a few rare occasions where if you are looking into the horizon in certain tracks, such as tracks 5 and 6, where you may notice buildings pop in in the distance; and three and four player races in race mode have been removed, though stunt and battle modes are still available for up to four players.

There are also a few other very minor changes, but otherwise N64 Rush 2049 is the exact same game as it is on Dreamcast.  That may seem like a lot of changes, but considering that this is a previous-gen port of a game designed for more powerful hardware, it’s really not.  This isn’t an N64 game up-ported to the Dreamcast, like Star Wars Episode I Racer, it’s a DC/arcade game down-ported to the N64… and the N64 version is every bit as good, or better, than games made for the N64 first like Episode I Racer or Rayman 2!  And if you compare this game to Atari Games/Midway Games West’s previous N64 racing games San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA, and California Speed, the visual improvement going from those games to this one is stunning.  Those games have pop-in covered by fog; this game has no fog except as a weather effect and you can see to the horizon in almost all situations.  Those games have huge, blury textures; this one has some blur, but you can make out the textures much better.  Those games’ level geometries look somewhat simple when you look at it, while this games’ tracks are impressively complex.  Midway and Atari Games did a spectacular job with this port.  The game is not at the top of the list of the N64’s best-looking games, to be clear, it’s no Battle for Naboo, but it’s a great-looking game and one of the best showcases for the system’s capabilities.

In multiplayer the graphics take a hit, of course, but the game still looks good.  On both the N64 and DC the two player mode does play with a large sidebar with a Rush 2049 logo in it, so it is not in full screen, perhaps to maintain the aspect ratio, or keep the framerate up.  Three player mode has each player in a quarter of the screen with a logo in the last quarter, so no player has a half-screen view and thus an advantage.  The framerates hold up well in multiplayer on both the N64 and Dreamcast.  That is not the case for that Midway Arcade Treasures 3 version for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, however; it is the has some serious framerate problems particularly in multiplayer, and even some in single player as well.  And I mentioned the un-reconfigurable controls and long load times previously, for more problems with that release.  MAT3 is ported badly on all platforms, so avoid it.  This isn’t a review of MAT3 though; look up my past writings on that disappointment for more.

Music

The game is as impressive aurally as it is visually.  Rush 2049’s soundtrack, in its somewhat altered N64 incarnation particularly, is one of my all-time videogame soundtracks, and indeed the N64 Rush 2049 soundtrack is one I listen to fairly often.  The game has a pounding videogame techno soundtrack, and I love it.  Every music track on this cartridge is incredible!  It’s a massive step up from the weird and sometimes mediocre stuff of most earlier Midway N64 racing games like Cruis’n USA or the first SF Rush.  I like techno music a lot, and this is great.  I also like how there is a song dedicated to each level.  The game doesn’t just randomly play music while you drive, each map has a song that always plays there; this is a style I much prefer over newer racing games which just have a random playlist of licensed songs.  You can set the game to only play one specific song if you want, though, by selecting that song in the Audio menu.  This also serves as a sound test, but remember to return the setting to Default after using the sound test if you want different songs to play during races.  The music adds significantly to the presentation.  Most songs throughout have a strong main core beat and are very catchy.  Indeed, the music is a factor in how I got hooked on tossing remotes like the ‘flying’ cars in the game; the music, particularly the Stunt mode tracks, fits perfectly with the high-flying, flipping gameplay!

As for the original arcade and Dreamcast soundtrack, it is higher fidelity than on N64 and there are more music tracks available, but it has a sometimes different sound to it I like less.  The N64 version has 12 music tracks, and it’s sort of actually ten, because two, Battle 1 and Battle 2, are very short little clips that appear to be unused in the game unless you enable them in the Audio menu, which might not be great considering that they do not loop so you’d only have music for maybe the first 30 seconds.  Meanwhile, the DC has 21 music tracks, with a separate one for every course in the game.  The music was all put in a different order on the N64 too, so almost every course has different music on the Dreamcast than it does on N64.  See the table below for all the changes; music tracks with the same name are different versions of the same music track, excepting only Internet (DC) which becomes Title on the N64.  That’s a big advantage there, but comparing song to song, I prefer the N64 soundtrack, myself.  I’m sure nostalgia is a part of that, but also I think that the lower fidelity actually benefits the music here, and the sound is a little more unique on N64.  The Dreamcast music also seems to have some more of that mid ’90s Midway audio weirdness that the N64 version stays away from.  The DC soundtrack is still fantastic though, and I love some of the tracks just as much as any from the N64 edition.
So, my overall favorite music track in this exceptional soundtrack is the N64 version of Stunted.  The DC version is good too, but the N64 one sounds better overall.  After that, Retro, one of the N64-exclusive tracks, is easily among the best here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX-V2DKG4Cs . I guess it’s sort of like an 8-bit techno song gone 5th-gen? Great stuff. Title (N64) / Internet (DC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2xXXe8SqAE is also really good, I can listen to that loop almost endlessly without it getting old.  Stunted and Flier’s mix of ‘flight’ sounds and techno works really well and make Stunt mode better; I link those later, in the Stunt section.  Trancey is great too, I really like how it has this long minute-long buildup towards the full pounding techno section of the song.  And on the DC/arcade, I like how the first four tracks have music track names which match the settings of those courses, that’s a great touch.

The Music Tracks: A Comparison

Dreamcast
———
Race Track (N64 Name) – Music Track
———
Menus – [Unnamed Menu Music] (not in N64 ver.)
Post-Race Time Tables – High Score [Music track not available in Audio menu music test]
Online Web Browser Mode – Internet
Marina (Race 1) – Morning (not in N64 ver.)
Haight (Race 2) – Noon (not in N64 ver.)
Civic (Race 3) – Sunset (not in N64 ver.)
Metro (Race 4) – Night
Mission (Race 5) – Garage
Presidio (Race 6) – The Rock (not in N64 ver.) [This was used in the The Rock track in arcades, repurposed to Track 6 on DC.]
The Rim (Stunt 1) – Stunted
Disco (Stunt 2) – Flier
Oasis (Stunt 3) – Wingey (not in N64 ver.)
Warehouse (Stunt 4) – Trancey
Stadium (Battle 1) – High (not in N64 ver.)
Melee (Battle 2) – Vice (not in N64 ver.)
Tundra (Battle 3) – Starsky (not in N64 ver.)
Atomic (Battle 4) – Robo (not in N64 ver.)
Downtown (Battle 5) – Bassy
Plaza (Battle 6) – Speed? (Not in N64 ver.)
Roadkill (Battle 7) – Warrior (not in N64 ver.)
Factory (Battle 8) – Speed? (Not in N64 ver)
Obstacle Course – Hidden (not in N64 ver.)
Track unused in game and not present on the disc or cart, but you can find it on Youtube: Morning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPZX7hkgopw

Nintendo 64
———–
Menus – Title [this is actually the track Internet from the Dreamcast soundtrack, NOT the DC or arcade menu music]
Post-Race Time Tables – Credits
Race 1 (Marina) & Battle 1 (Stadium) – Bassy
Race 2 (Haight) & Battle 2 (Melee) – Garage
Race 3 (Civic) & Battle 3 (Tundra) – Seventies (N64 exclusive music)
Race 4 (Metro) & Battle 4 (Atomic) – Night
Race 5 (Mission) & Battle 5 (Downtown) – Trancey
Race 6 (Presidio) & Battle 6 (Plaza) – Retro (N64 exclusive music)
Stunt 1 (The Rim), Stunt 2 (Oasis), & Obstacle Course – Stunted
Stunt 3 (Oasis) & Stunt 4 (Warehouse) – Flier
Tracks unused in game unless you enable them, but they are short and do not loop like normal tracks do: Battle 1, Battle 2

When you list it all out like that, isn’t it interesting how different those soundtracks are, both in the songs themselves and in which songs are used where?  There are more changes than you would usually see, but the results on the N64 work great, so I’m not complaining!

The Modes: Race Mode

Now, on to more detailed descriptions of the game modes, starting with Race mode.  I covered the basics of Rush track design earlier, in the section on the arcade game, so I will not repeat that here, but instead discuss how this mode works here on consoles.  Now, in Rush 2049, the first thing you do is select the number of players you are playing with.  Next, you enter a menu where you select a mode.  This list has all Race mode modes listed separately, along with other modes such as Stunt, Battle, and Obstacle Course, so unlike those others Race mode is not a specific mode, but instead a set of modes.  The game manual and marketing focus on the three-modes concept, though, so I will consider all of these similar modes as being a part of Race mode.  In single player, Race mode consists of Single Race, Practice, Ghost Race, and Circuit modes.  In multiplayer, it consists of Single Race and Practice only; Circuit and Ghost Race modes are single player only.

Race mode is the traditional racing game part of the game, and it is where most people will put most of their time.  It has six tracks, the four original tracks from the arcade game plus two new tracks designed for the home consoles first.  You start out with only four tracks unlocked, but unlock the last two by beating the initial tournaments.  Again, the first track is short; tracks 2-5 are medium length, the ideal length for a track in this game I would say; and track 6 is long, as long as any track from Rush 1 or 2.  The first mode is Single Race mode, where you choose a track, car, and settings, including AI difficulty and fog amount, and go, racing against five computer racers.  Next is Practice mode, where you can just drive around any course for as long as you want, perhaps hunting for the collectible coins hidden around each track.  There is no lap counter, lap limit, or AI opposition in this mode, you have free run on the track.  Practice mode is a great way to look for shortcuts as well as find coins, without the pressure of a race.  There is also Ghost Race mode, where you race around each track alone, in single player mode only and without AI opposition.  You are racing against the clock here.  Once you finish a lap, you then will race against your previous laps.  Unfortunately you cannot use wings on the cars here, unlike all other Race and Stunt modes; there must be a reason for this, but it has always led to me rarely touching Ghost mode, no wings is a huge negative here!  Also you can only save ghosts on the Dreamcast.  They take up a lot of VMU blocks, but it lets you do it.  Unfortunately, on N64 you can’t save ghosts at all, which is really too bad.  Still, considering how big the DC ghosts are, that is only limited use too, and I don’t think I have ever saved one.  Without ghosts you are just racing against the clock and the ghosts of laps you just completed.  It’s still fun, but isn’t quite the same.  Still, since there are no wings in Ghost mode, honestly I don’t care much; the absence of wings is the real problem.  I should note that on the Nintendo 64, with an Expansion Pak you can race against more ghosts at once than you can without one.  And last but not least, there is Circuit mode.  It has four tournaments available to play, one after the other.  It’s a good selection of modes and covers everything I could have wanted, a few minor features like ghost saving aside.

Circuit mode is the main draw for sure, at least for me. As in single races, you are in a field of six cars, you included.  This is reduced from the eight cars per race of Rush 1 or 2, or arcade Rush 2049, but it is enough.  In Circuit mode you start with the Beginner circuit, a short 6-race tourney through the four new tracks of the arcade original, both forwards and reverse.  The second circuit is 8 races, the third 12, and the last, the Extreme championship, the full 24.  Each circuit is harder than the one before it, so while unlike Single Race mode you cannot set AI difficulty in Circuit mode, the AI is pretty tough on the Extreme circuit so you shouldn’t need it to be even harder.  You get points based on your finishing position in each race, and the racer with the most points at the end of the circuit wins.  I love this setup, because it means that you don’t need to win every race to progress, you just need to be the best overall.  It’s the ideal design for a racing game. All championships can be played either normally or in Deaths mode, a mode that the previous N64 Rush games also have which only gives you one chance per race — blow up once and you lose. You can retry races in Deaths mode if you pause immediately after dying and choose the handy Restart Race option, but you only get one chance. After playing this game for a while, I decided to mostly play tournaments in Deaths mode because it makes things a lot more exciting when one mistake means failure.  Fortunately you can take the AIs out too, though! It’s tough, but so, so rewarding when things go well and you make it through that tough shortcut or win a race you were struggling in when some tough enemy crashes.

I get a great amount of satisfaction from playing races and circuits over and over, trying to get better times, win with fewer restarts in Tournament – Deaths mode, and more, but there also are collectibles here which also add to the replay value.  Both previous Nintendo 64 Rush games had items to find in the tracks and this game is similar, but this time there are more of them to find, and more things to unlock by doing so.  As I mentioned previously, on each track, there are eight gold and eight silver coins to try to find.  You unlock a car for getting all eight silver coins on all six tracks, a second for getting 24 golds, or half of the total from all six tracks combined, and a third vehicle for getting all of the golds.  There are three more unlockable cars as well, unlocked by meeting those same requirements in Stunt mode, except with 16 golds needed for the half number because there are only four stunt arenas.  You can collect coins in single race, practice, or tournament modes, and the game immediately saves any coins the moment you collect them, so even if you restart a race, while your times, and miles, will not count, collected coins will, thankfully.  Also collected coins vanish, so if you want to collect that coin again you’ll need to make a new player file.  The collectibles mechanic is a fantastic one because coins are mostly hidden in hard-to- reach places, only accessible by making challenging jumps from just the right point, executed perfectly.  Silvers are easier to get than golds, generally, and some are found on the ground hidden away in corners of tracks, but some of them are a challenge to collect as well.  The number of collectibles here is just about right; there are enough coins to add a lot of play-time to the game if you want to collect them, but not so many as to overwhelm.  As much as I love the game I never have gotten all of the coins, because I’d rather just have fun, versus try the sometimes frustrating jumps required for certain coins over and over until I hit one perfectly.  I have unlocked some of the vehicles, though, and one unlockable car, the GX-2, is my favorite in the game.

The almost entirely different music choices between the two versions are interesting, I wonder why the N64 changed things so much.  Those changes were mostly for the better, but moving Bassy and Trancey into Race mode, adding the new tracks Seventies and Retro, and switching Garage from track 5 (where it is on DC) to track 2 are big changes.  

The Race Tracks In Detail

Here, I’d like to say a bit about each of the six tracks. I won’t cover the arcade-only Alcatraz track here, but for anyone who remembers it from the previous games, it plays just the same as it does there, just with a visual overhaul.

Race Track 1 / Marina – The first track is a short figure-eight course near the Golden Gate area, but not on the bridge itself.  This is by a wide margin the shortest track ever in a Rush game, and it’s a fun little loop.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t challenge you at all, though, because there are a few tricky points in each direction.  When racing the forwards version, that last hill before the turn to the finish line is probably the hardest part; it’s easy if you are lined up right, but get just a bit off line and you’ll hit something along the sides of the track and explode.  This track has some fun shortcuts in it too, including the easy-to-find subway system underground which has several exits depending on direction, and more.  You’ll see switches for the first time here, and they open up some of the shortcuts, for instance for a transparent tunnel only accessible by a switch.  It can be tricky to stay upright in, though, so I usually don’t use it.  More interesting are the switches needed to access a giant loop in the middle of the course.  It’s easy to see, but tougher to get to!  Another interesting thing about this track is that when driving the track in Reverse mode, you need to take a detour around the first large hill from Forwards, which makes things a little trickier that way.  It’s a good beginning track, and a welcome break in Extreme championships from the harder other courses.  Aurally, on DC and the arcades the first four tracks have names themed to the times of day each track is set in, but on N64 that is gone.  I actually prefer the N64 music choices though, so I don’t mind this much.

Race Track 2 / Haight – This track goes through a more downtown area, and optionally through a large building under construction.  Though all tracks are urban, some have more wooded areas than others, and this one has some grass and trees in spots.  This is a pretty fun track and it’s not too hard.  The one tricky bit at first is that when driving the track forwards this track has the one instance of somewhere where you need to make a turn in a place where it seems like you can go straight, but you can’t; straight ahead is an eventual dead end, you’ll need to turn around and go back.  So, at that point be sure to turn.  Optionally you also can take a ramp here for a shortcut, though it requires a perfectly-timed loop in an obstacle-laden tunnel to get through without crashing.

Race Track 3 / Civic – Track 3 is an interesting track in an area with more trees and a lake, as well as a built-up section which goes down a steep hill.  This track has a giant tunnel that shoots you out a volcano as well as many shortcuts which allow you to stay off of almost all of the main track, if you can handle the sometimes-tough jumps on that path.  There are some cool sights here, such as the part where fighter jets buzz the course at one jump so low that you might hit them if you fly too high!  Otherwise the track is just plain fun, apart from Deaths Mode where you need to avoid that tunnel to the volcano because it tosses you up too high to usually survive.  This is a good track; it isn’t the best one, but all tracks in this game are really good and this is no exception.


Race Track 4 / Metro – The hardest track from the original arcade game, Track 4 is a night race through downtown future San Fran.  This track has tight turns, big jumps, lots of buildings, interesting shortcuts, and moving obstacles such as cable cars and trains.  And all of this in the dark!  It’s a fun track, once you can survive it, though.  It’s also fun when AI opponents do things like drive into cable cars.  It’s great that their AI is not perfect, it makes this game so much better than it otherwise would be!  Even so Track 4 can be imposing at first, with its many 90-degree turns and steep hills, but with practice it gets easier and lots of fun.

Race Track 5 / Mission – This track goes through a part of the city along an inlet.  Unlike those lakes you can drive on earlier, though, this water is mostly just an obstacle, apart from one little park fountain you can drive through.  This is an average course for this game, which means it’s fantastic but not the best track here.  I like the shortcuts here a lot, though; while all tracks in this game have a lot of shortcuts, some are easier to access than others.  This track has some long ones that are both not too hard to get to and are fun to drive on, including loops, jumps, branching shortcuts, and more.  It’s great fun stuff.  I particularly like the tunnel under one hill, as it’s easy to get to, faster than the main track, and ends/begins, depending on direction, with you driving over a lake… something you can do full-speed here.  Usually you slow down over water, but in certain shortcut areas you can go over water at full speed. Fun stuff.

Race Track 6 / Presidio – This track goes over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then through the park and city streets nearby.  Significantly longer than any other course, this track is every bit as long as any Rush 1 or 2 track, but as complex as any Rush 2049 one.  And it’s a night race as well, so it’s a bit darker than most tracks.  This all means that yes, it’s hard!  This track covers some very hilly ground, so it’s loaded with huge jumps over twisting city streets, as well as curving banked turns in darkened areas of the wooded park.  The track is visually impressive due to its scale and size, and there are some clever shortcuts.  There are two challenging 90-degree turns right after jumps, but with practice you get used to them, and all turns are marked with nice big arrow signs so they are not a surprise, unless the fog is up in this track high of course.  In high-fog races here it can be nearly impossible to actually finish, but still, it’s a great track and I’m glad it exists.

Additionally, the new music track here on the N64, “Retro”, is fantastic! Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX-V2DKG4Cs It is a fantastic track, easily one of the very best in the game.  This is the best song of all Race mode track songs; my other favorite tracks in this game are the Stunt songs and the N64 main menu theme.  On the Dreamcast, however, the music is “The Rock”, a decent but not amazing song that doesn’t stand out from the rest of the soundtrack. Replacing that with Retro was a fantastic move on the N64 port team’s part! Huge upgrade there.


The Modes: Stunt mode

Stunt mode in Rush 2049 is one of my favorite experiences in videogames.  Yes, I have spent many times more time playing Race mode, but Stunt mode is a fantastic change of pace, ten minutes of pure fun as I drive around driving off of jumps and flipping around in the air.  I have never played much of or enjoyed games like Tony Hawk, highly technical stunt games with tricky button combinations and aesthetics I dislike considering I have never liked skater culture; for me, Rush 2049 is the perfect stunt-focused game experience.  The game is simple and yet complex, easy and fun and yet challenging if you want to get the coins.  It’s the best short, chill gaming experience around.    

Gameplay in Stunt mode is fundamentally similar to Race mode, but here you drive around moderate-size arenas, going up jumps which fling you high into the air, and then spinning and flipping around in the air as much as you can.  Once all four wheels are on the ground for a second the stunt ends, and you get a score displayed on screen, along with the total number of individual tricks you did, broken down by type.  You will not score any points by staying on the ground; this is an air-focused mode.  There are about ten different kinds of tricks, including left and right spins, left and right flips, a wheelie for when only two of your wheels are touching the ground, rotations, and more.  Each trick only scores a few points, so the key to higher scores is the multiplier, which increases depending on the number of different tricks you do in a single stunt.  These multipliers increase as you do more tricks in a stunt, so doing only two tricks gets only a 2x multiplier while doing seven or eight can get a 40x multiplier, rocketing your score up into the ten thousands for a single trick.

Now, if you just land straight you may be more likely to land and get points, but the game rewards riskier driving, as those flips and spins you do as your car rolls around on the ground after an imperfect landing all count towards the current stunt.  Those rolls and wheelies at the end can add a lot to your final score!  Of course actually landing those stunts is difficult, but when you do it’s worth all that effort.  Sometimes it’s more fun to land something which actually gets you points, though, so knowing how to land better, with angles and braking, is useful.  Either way, that contrast between the very simple base gameplay and the high challenge of landing good stunts work together to make Stunt mode both fun and compelling.  Stunt mode is very easy to pick up and play, but has a high skill ceiling for those who stick with it.

The good to great level designs add a lot to the game as well, as the arenas are all designed to have a nice variety of different jumps to aim for.  I like arenas two and four the most because those two have the more fun jumps and designs, for me, versus arenas one and three, but all four are great.  They do a great job of having jumps large and small, from angled walls and little bumps on the ground to huge boost-pad jump areas.  Even if the basic act of driving around and jumping off things is similar, going off different jumps, towards different things, from different heights, keeps things fun and varied.  Thanks to the good level designs on top of the great gameplay, just driving around and having fun sometimes will lead to great, or amusing, results.

I find the basic gameplay here infinitely replayable, but there is some progression here as well.  First, as in Race mode, the later arenas must be unlocked.  You start with only the first arena, but unlock the others based on points.  Once you have 500,000 total points on your file you’ll have all four.  Beyond that, as I mentioned previously there also are coins to get in the Stunt arenas, and three cars to unlock by getting all silvers, half of the golds, and all golds.  Getting all the stunt coins is a serious challenge which requires a lot of skill and luck.  I have most of them, but not quite all.  Again I mostly prefer to just play the game, and not spend lots of time trying to get coins, but it is fun sometimes to try to get one, and with enough trying you can often do it.  The coins give you a goal to shoot for, and seeing those coins hovering there is tantalizing and definitely works at making the player hope to get them eventually.

Aurally, as the list above shows the N64 has two songs in Stunt mode and the Dreamcast four, though the N64 does re=use one of those other two tracks in Race mode. All four are fantastic, among the best around.  Comparing the versions of each, you can hear the similarities and differences. Stunted DC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEdT46sjTnk N64: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPk7yMxEnh4 is the first song, and those flipping sounds and airy but very techno feel fit the game perfectly.  Flier, the second track, is very nearly as great, and also sounds perfect for a stunt song.  DC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG9EBCDsUEk N64: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgckQNEvLJg  Both versions of both songs are absolutely amazing, but because of nostalgia or just the differences in composition the Nintendo 64 version of Stunted is one of my favorite songs ever in a videogame.  Flier isn’t too far behind.  And yes, Trancey is also great, on DC or N64, where it’s in Race mode of course.

Spinning through the air in Stunt Track 1.

The Stunt Arenas In Detail

Stunt 1 / The Rim – The first stunt arena is a simple design, good for an introduction to stunt mode.  This small arena with a futuristic theme has a large four-sided jump in the center with boosts on it to toss you higher into the air, surrounded by a larger two-level ring with supporting posts that break it up into sections.  The two raised levels of the ring can only be reached by jumping to them, but actually landing on one is difficult and unlikely, as you will be moving quite fast by the time you get there and the upper level has scattered speed-pads on them.  The arena is surrounded by some little jumps around the edge and angled walls.  This arena is fun for a little while, but the very simple design has little variety; the other arenas have a lot more different kind of jumps to go off, while with this you’re mostly just going over this one big jump over and over, in different directions each time.  Still, that doesn’t mean that the course is easy; some of the coins are actually pretty hard to get, as they require very precise speed and angles to get.  I still haven’t gotten a few of the golds here, particularly some of those on the top level of the ring.

Stunt 2 / Disco – Stunt arena two is a fantastically great medium-sized rectangle full of jumps of all sizes.  Three boost-pad jumps dominate the arena, one on a raised area near one end which has this long platform you jump over, one huge four-way jump in the center of the arena, and one more big two-way jump near the back.  There are a bunch of medium and small things to jump off as well, including several spires and a multi-angled pyramid.  Beyond that, most walls in this map are curved, to allow you to go up the walls if you wish.  All of these options are awesome, and the track looks cool too, as the futuristic, neon-filled aesthetic from the first track returns, amped up for this more varied environment.  Everything about this arena is near-perfect, I cannot think of anything negative to say about this arena’s layout, except that for scoring, Stunt 4 allows for higher scores due to its even more object-rich environment.  I probably like the visual look of this arena the best, though.

Stunt 3 / Oasis – Stunt 3 is an odd outlier from the other three arenas. In this outdoor arena, you drive around on a mostly off-road desert surface, jumping off of some small and medium-sized jumps arranged around this desert pit-like arena.  There are no boost pads and no giant jumps here, so scores will be lower.  Speeds are lower too, since the mostly off-road surface reduces driving speed. I do like some things about the layout, including the look of the tiered water-covered area on one end and the clever design of some raised areas with edges curved to route you away from them, so you need to find some other small jump to go over at just the right speed to make it onto those areas, but for the most part this track is far less interesting than any of the others.  Play it a bit once you unlock it, get the coins, and move on.  Fortunately I found it easier to get the coins here than on any other course, and do have all of them.

Stunt 4 / Warehouse – The final stunt arena is the most complex one of them all, and probably is the overall best as well.  Aesthetically I do prefer the sci-fi neon look of Stunt 2 over this track’s somewhat drab indoor warehouse design, but in terms of jumps, scoring potential, and variety of things to do, this track blows away the other three.  The course has a multi-level floor with three raised platforms you can drive to, all with many small jumps off of them.  There also is a mixture of angled walls and straight ones, and there are some VERY tricky jumps as well, particularly those to get a couple of the silvers high up along one of the walls.  Some jumps on this stage require you to rotate in mid-air to face the other way in order to continue forward on the next part of the jump, a really cool concept you also see in a few shortcuts in the main game, and in the Obstacle Course as well, but not in the other stunt arenas.  And yes, if you want a high score this is the place to go; my best single stunt on this track is 136,000, a score achieved by a many-trick stunt that finished with a long wheelie grind along a wall.  The trick is, it’s still building up stunt points even if two wheels are on ground and the other two on a wall!

Battle mode, with two players.


The Modes: Battle Mode

Battle mode is an interesting one.  On the one hand, this game is one of the most fun car combat games I have ever played.  The mixture of Rush’s incredibly fun gameplay with car combat is one which works exceptionally well, and as a result Rush 2049’s battle mode is one of the best ever!  However, this is an EXCLUSIVELY multiplayer mode.  There is no AI on offer here, so there is no solo battle mode whatsoever; indeed, this option only appears on the menu if you select multiple players from the main menu.  With AI and some kind of tournament structure this could have been one of the best car combat games ever, but as it is, it’s only one of the best multiplayer car combat games, and that is a huge downgrade considering how infrequently many players, particularly today, are going to be able to play Rush 2049 in multiplayer mode.  And even when you do, will you want to play enough of Battle mode to unlock everything?  As in the other modes though, you have to unlock stuff here.  You start with the first four battle arenas, and unlock the other four. The problem is that you need fairly high point totals to get the later ones. I did play Rush 2049 for the N64 semi-regularly in  multiplayer in college through the ’00s, but we mostly played Stunt and Race modes, so I only got about 300 battle points on my save.  This is enough to unlock arenas through the sixth one, but not seven or eight, which require 500 and 1000.  That’s a lot.  Also, all battle arenas have in-town settings, so there is less visual variety here than in Stunt or Race modes; you won’t see any trees or dirt in Battle mode.  A bit more variety there would have been nice.

Anyway, battle mode in Rush 2049 plays great, when you have the people around to play it.  Arenas are on the small side, perfectly sized for two to four cars driving around and shooting eachother.  All are complex areas, with walls, and often also platforms, ramps, multiple levels, and more.  They are identifiably Rush 2049 areas, but designed for combat first, and they’re all very well thought out.  Control-wise, you cannot use wings in this mode; instead, what is usually the Wing button now is the fire button for your car’s weapons.  You will mostly be on the ground instead of in the air in Battle mode anyway, as it’d be nearly impossible to hit anyone while jumping, so as much as I love the concept of wings on cars this isn’t really a loss, it’s just a change that fits with the style of this mode.  Each player has a health bar now, and weapons to fight the other players with.

Your default weapon is a basic low-damage gun; you want to get a collectible weapon as soon as you can, pretty much, this is nearly useless.  All weapon pickups are limited-use, and replace your basic gun while they last so you only have one weapon at a time. Each pickup has a small cone of colored light emanating from the top of it, and each one has a different color so you can tell what they are from a distance.  Also, once someone grabs a weapon it is gone until they grab a new weapon or it runs out of ammo, so there is some strategy to your weapon choices.  If you die, blow up on your own, or run out of ammo, you will respawn somewhere randomly in the arena with only the basic default gun.  You win once someone reaches the set winning point total, which defaults to ten but can be set anywhere between one and 20.  It all plays a bit like a Rush 2049 spin on Mario Kart Battle Mode combat, and it’s fantastic!  The weapon pickups available include the Ram, which kills anyone you hit instantly but requires you to actually run into them to attack; homing missiles, which are really good but limited in quantity and do explode if they hit walls; a machine gun which shoots quickly; a gun which shoots fairly powerful green bolts which can kill a car in just a few hits; and maybe more.  There is also an invisibility powerup which makes you hard to see and a healing powerup to restore your car’s health.

Finally, remember that on Dreamcast battle arenas mostly have music tracks exclusive to that course, while the N64 re-uses the race and stunt music in battle mode.  Because I mostly play Race and Stunt modes, I almost prefer the N64’s approach, because on DC a full seven or eight music tracks are locked into Battle mode where I will rarely hear them, including the DC rendition of Bassy, the music the N64 version uses in Race Track 1.  Considering how great this soundtrack is, it’s too bad you can’t hear all of it more often!

 

The Battle Arenas

Battle 1 / Stadium – This simple, and small, oval arena has a variety of walls and barriers around, but is easy to navigate.

Battle 2 / Melee – This map has a central area surrounded with some ramps that wrap around to become raised upper roads. It’s fun and chaotic.

Battle 3 / Tundra – The closest thing to an “not-city” track, this one has a river in the center with several large bridges over it.  There are also raised areas at each end of this medium-sized oval. It’s a pretty good arena, though there is less cover than some of them.

Battle 4 / Atomic – This cloverleaf-like level has a central water area with four round pods around it.  It is a decently fun stage, though it doesn’t have multiple levels, it’s fairly flat. There are quite a few large pillars to hide behind, though, for cover.

Battle 5 / Downtown – This requires 100 battle points to unlock. This rectangular track is on a steep hillside in the city.  There’s a raised area at the bottom and some ramps at the top, and buildings in between on the hillside.  The angle makes for different battles from the previous four arenas, so this is well worth unlocking.

Battle 6 / Plaza – This requires 250 battle points to unlock. This level has several tiers of ground, providing lots of cover and areas to hide in.  The areas include a tunnel section underneath part of the map, the multi-level main ground, and some raised areas.  This is a good map worth unlocking if you like battle mode.

Battle 7 / Roadkill – This requires 500 battle points to unlock. This larger arena full of big buildings and underpasses feels sort of like arena 5, but on flatter ground. Is it worth the time 500 battle points takes? If you have people you’re playing a lot of battle mode with, sure, but it’s not essential.

Battle 8 / Factory – This requires 1000 battle points to unlock.  That’s a lot, and that is unfortunate because this is a fun little arena.  It’s a smaller arena, but this multi-level arena is fun to drive around and has some nice places to hide in as well.

An early version of the Obstacle Course track.

The Modes: Obstacle Course

The Obstacle Course is a not too long, but very challenging, track.  This mode only has one narrow and entirely linear course, but it is the games’ final challenge of sorts, as you need to have earned one million points in stunt mode in order to unlock it.  Once you do get it, you’ll see why they require so much play-time to get it:  this track is HARD!  Your goal here is to make it past a series of challenges as you try to reach the end of the track in the fastest time possible, or at least before the five minute timer runs out.  That’s all the time you get per run, so while you have infinite restarts from before each challenge section, the clock is always ticking and you will need to learn all of them to be able to finish.  As with the other sub-modes there is no AI opposition here, but it’d never work anyway; the opponent here is the clock, and either your best times, or other best times you may find looking around the internet.  You’d need to be a great driver to get through this without any mistakes, but I’m sure some people can do it.

While the Obstacle Course isn’t my favorite part of Rush 2049, I do like the track.  The challenges you will need to get past include a gauntlet of swinging wrecking balls, jumps where you need to flip around in the air to continue driving on a ramp faced the opposite direction in the air, moving walls to avoid, jumps where you need to spin in the air to get through a narrow gap, and more, but it is punishingly hard.  On the N64, “Stunted”, from the first two stunt arenas, plays in the Obstacle Course.  On Dreamcast, “Hidden” plays.  Several newer PC games, including Nitronic Rush and its spiritual sequel Distance, were inspired by Rush 2049’s Obstacle Course mode.  However, while Nitronic Rush, which is a free game, and its still unfinished retail digital-distribution followup Distance are fantastically fun and two of the better racing games of recent years, they don’t replicate the sheer challenge of this mode, at least not in their main content.  The main tracks aren’t as hard, and the changes they made to the controls ease up on some of the difficulty too.  Both do have user-created tracks that seriously up the challenge, but the controls are the same throughout.  I do love those games, but this game is better.  For anyone who played and liked either of them, Rush 2049’s obstacle course is a recommended challenge!  The concept is a good idea executed well, and it’s worth your time to finish, even if it will be quite frustrating along the way.  

The back of the N64 box hypes the game up, but it’s all true!

Conclusion

In conclusion, Rush 2049 is one of my favorite games ever made.  I consider it the best game ever made in which you drive a vehicle, and the game has a permanent place in my top five best console games ever made.  The game does have a few flaws here and there, but they matter little compared to its unbelievable greatness in almost every way.  To list some negatives that apply to both versions of the game, there is no AI opponents available in Battle mode so the mode is multiplayer only, requiring 1000 battle points to get the last battle arena is a bit much considering there is no single player, the Alcatraz track from the arcade version is not present on consoles, and since the Stunt mode also has no AI single player mostly consists of hunting for coins or competing with your own best scores.  Also, maybe most importantly, the controls are fantastic, but take a lot of getting used to for those not used to Rush series controls.

However, there are so many things about this game which are absolute genius!  Best of all, the core controls, gameplay, and concepts are exceptionally well thought through and done just right.  But that’s not all, there is a lot more to praise here: the game looks good on Dreamcast and almost as good overall and incredibly great for the platform on the N64; has a fantastic techno soundtrack I still like listening to; the game has four modes, each different and among the best ever in their respective genres of racing, stunt driving, car battling, and car obstacle course driving for a game with some of the most variety and depth ever in the genre; all six of the Race mode tracks are incredibly well designed tracks that are among my favorites ever in a racing game; the Stunt arenas are nearly as great, with two epically incredible ones in 2 and 4 and two other pretty good ones too; there are a lot of collectibles and unlockables to keep you playing for many hours; and I love how many stats the game keeps track of.  It’s very cool to know the number of minutes you’ve played on each track, even if the number is low because restarts do not count towards this record.  Trying to beat your best times and point totals is great fun too.

Comparing the versions, while the Dreamcast version has better graphics and a few more features such as saving ghosts and 3 or 4 player multiplayer available in Race mode, it also has worse car customization since you can’t choose your exact car colors, and the soundtrack is not quite as incredible as the N64 soundtrack is.  Meanwhile, the N64 version looks worse and doesn’t have analog acceleration and braking, but does have those two advantages.  So, there is no “perfect” version of the game; both versions have drawbacks.  The Dreamcast version probably is the best overall, but the N64 version is more impressive for its hardware and my favorite version for sure.  The Midway Arcade Treasures 3 version is badly ported and should be avoided, though, again, if you have any other option.  I know that as a PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube game it is on newer platforms, but stick to the original N64 and Dreamcast versions of this game.  Midway Arcade Treasures 3 as a whole is probably a D+ game in my book, maybe C- at the best.  Its version of Rush 2049 is maybe C-grade, but with all its issues, pass on it in favor of a better version!  And those better versions aren’t just better, they are the best racing game ever.

So to conclude, Rush 2049 gets an easy A+ rating for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast.  This is not a perfect game, and I would not give it quite a 100%, but it’s close enough to get the A+ regardless.  I cannot say enough superlatives about this must-play game, anyone who can should play it!  As for the other versions, the arcade original gets an A.  It’s a great game, but the absence of wings and modes hurts it.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
This entry was posted in Arcade Games, Classic Games, Dreamcast, Full Reviews, Modern Games, Nintendo 64, Research, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Review: San Francisco Rush 2049 (ARC/N64/DC), The Greatest Racing Game Ever Made

  1. Guy says:

    Best Racing game… i play with a friend the battle mode for near 10 years, once a week. Tant de merveilleux souvenirs.

  2. Thomas Peter says:

    AMEN!!! This game is amazing! All of the RUSH series of games for N64 rule and I bought a Dreamcast solely for the reason that the RUSH 2049 looks absolutely amazing, even better than the N64. The controls leave something to be desired though, N64’s are superior. Did you know that the stunt and battle levels were created by Ed Logg? He is the same Dude that wrote the original code for the arcade versions of Super Breakout, Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet just to name a few. I am proud to say about 6 months ago I purchased a pair of the original arcade games and I am in the process of getting them 100%…… we are about at the 90% mark right now. Thank you for the great review!

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