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NASCAR 99

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Reviewed by Scott McCall Although some might contend NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is America's most popular sport, one would be hard-pressed to say that. One could say NASCAR is America's fastest-growing sport, though. A testament to the sport's incredible popularity is that NASCAR 98 on the PlayStation was the 18th best-selling game of 1997 on any system with over 600,000 copies sold and was undoubtedly fueled by many of the system's older and more casual gamers. Now EA Sports has decided to bring NASCAR 99 to the N64, and it even came out a few weeks before the PSX version. I could start off my review with a rant, questioning how so many could enjoy watching cars go around and around a circle 200 times. But I will respect other people's opinions to enjoy the fender-to-fender action of NASCAR. However, I believe you can trust my consideration and listing of facts for what others might think. And, of course, I will mention once again how I'm not a realistic fan of racing games, although I should note that NASCAR 99 is much easier to get into than F-1 World Grand Prix. First of all, let's discuss the control. It's pretty easy to pick up NASCAR 99, especially compared to racing games with all these complicated techniques nowadays. The A button accelerates, the B button is brake, Bottom C changes views, Left C toggles HUD displays, and the L/Z and R buttons downshift and upshift. And you have your choice between using the Control Pad and Control Stick. Here are two miscellaneous notes about the control: One, you have to get used to tapping the brake going into bends. Two, the actual "feel" of the control is great, particularly the feel of downforce and speed. The real plus of NASCAR 99 is the options. Here are the Game Options: You can configure the controller, you can toggle the music and sound effect volumes, you can switch between stereo and mono, and you can turn commentary, split time display, and best line on or off. Now let's take a look at the NASCAR Options: race length, which can be changed from 3% to 100% of the actual number of laps (3% would be anywhere from two to ten laps); damage, which can be switched between limited (auto repairs after a few seconds), off (no damage whatsoever), and on (perpetual damage for each race that can make a car undrivable; not available in the two-player mode); equipment breakdown, which gives you the possibility of mechanical failure if damage is turned on; yellow flags, which require you to slow down and hold your position, can be turned on or off; the choice between MPH and km/h; speed comp., which enables catch-up logic in the two-player mode; and computer cars, which can turn computer competition on or off in the one-or two-player modes. Think that's it? Not yet. NASCAR 99 lets you play around with the Physics and AI Settings, too. EA Sports has said that it purposely designed the N64 version of NASCAR 99 to have a more "arcade-like" feel than the PlayStation version. Don't fret if you want realism, though, because you can choose arcade, simulation, or custom settings. If you decide to go with a custom setting, you can change percentages from the following: opponent strength (overall performance levels), drafting effect (wake of air created by the car in front of you so you don't have to expend fuel and power cutting through the air), horsepower (increase or decrease your car's output), car balance effect (reduce for loose running, increase for a tighter suspension), and speed sensitive steering (set low for easy steering at any speed, high for difficult steering at high speeds). There are several gameplay options to choose from in NASCAR 99. You can play a Quick Race with current NASCAR options and can randomly choose a driver and track by pressing the R button. You can choose a Single Race, which gives you all the options you need for a weekend race at a NASCAR track. This also contains NASCAR 99's two-player mode. And there's actually computer competition in the two-player mode! You and your friend can race against six CPU cars for a total of eight on the track at once. The Championship mode (only for one player) is the heart and soul of NASCAR 99. It follows NASCAR's scoring system and even lets you build a career made up of multiple seasons. There are a total of 20 cars on the track, too. Driver & Car Info lets you read about the current NASCAR cars and drivers. This is one area that is much, much better on the CD-ROM format. The still pictures and text just don't cut it. Game Options have already been discussed in detail. Track Records shows all of the records in the game. You acquire them in a one-player single race. Last but not least is the Credits option, which has scrolling text to show the companies who produced the game (EA and High Score Productions) and the company who ported the game to the N64 (Stormfront Studios). Much like the recent F-1 World Grand Prix, NASCAR 99 is a very faithful representation of its sport, as evidenced by the numerous options you can adjust. But it goes even further. First of all, there are 37 NASCAR cars and drivers, including some NASCAR legends to commemorate its 50th anniversary. They are hidden in the game and can be unlocked in the Season mode as long as you race at least 50% of the laps and finish in the top five on certain tracks. Second, all 17 actual tracks are included, including the two "road" tracks. Third, like in real life, you'll find night racing at Charlotte, Bristol, and Richmond. Fourth, there are comprehensive pit strategies. You also have complete control over you car setup. You literally have to tweak your car's performance before each race. What's nice is that you can tweak your car, pick practice and race around the track, come back and tweak it some more, go back and try out your settings again, and so on until you got something you want. First, you can choose your transmission -- automatic or manual. Then you can tweak the rear spoiler (increasing downforce makes it easier to hold a line through turns but reduces top speed), wedge (stabilizes car's suspension; you increase it as banking increases to distribute the weight to the corner of the car doing the most work), tire pressure (increasing it increases your handling but tire wear is greater), and gear ratios (low ratios increase acceleration, high ratios increase top speed). There's a little performance bar graph at the bottom of the screen that shows you how top speed, acceleration, handling, and pit distance are affected as you make changes. Graphically, NASCAR 99 consists of trade-offs. The game moves quickly enough, there are 20 high-res cars on the track in the Championship mode, there is a good two-player mode with eight cars on the track, there are tire skidmarks that can be left behind, smoking cars can blind you for a second, and the cars take damage with parts flying all of the place. On the downside, the track and surroundings look quite low-res and blurry, there is a fair amount of pop-up in the distance, and overall, there aren't as many cars on the track and it doesn't look as good as NASCAR 99 on the PlayStation. The game doesn't look as bad as a first-generation game, but it isn't up to par with some of the second-generation N64 games now available. Aurally, NASCAR 99 is also a mixed bag. Here's another example in this game where the expanded CD-ROM format would have noticeably helped. There are, amazingly enough, MIDI renditions of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Scuttle Buttin'" and Joe Satriani's "Surfin' with the Alien." And even more amazingly enough, the music in the game (both those two songs and the original music) is in full stereo sound. Of course, there had to be a catch: The quality isn't very good with extreme muffling. I must say that it sounds better in stereo than mono, though. Additionally, there is race analysis and color commentary by Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons that can get repetitive quickly ("Man, oh man!"). There's also crew chief and spotter audio assistance. Furthermore, all of the other car sound effects are good. NASCAR 99 on the N64 is all about gameplay. The presentation isn't as impressive as the PlayStation version or as the N64's F-1 World Grand Prix. What NASCAR 99 does bring to the table, however, is a realistic, addictive, intense racing experience -- with a rewarding learning curve -- that can be tailor-made to the tastes of any racing fan. Moreover, NASCAR 99 is a realistic N64 racing game that actually has a good two-player mode with plenty of computer competition. So if the N64 is your main gaming platform, and if you're itching for a more realistic racing game, don't hesitate to get NASCAR 99. It has more than enough options, drivers, tracks, technique, and challenge to satisfy any racing fan.

Graphics: 3.7 out of 5 Sound: 3.6 out of 5 Control: 4.2 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.4 out of 5 Lastability: 4.6 out of 5 Overall: 4.0 out of 5

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