The racing game Beetle Adventure Racing should actually have been a Need for Speed

A surprisingly good racing game with a surprising protagonist

One of the joys of playing racing games is that you get the opportunity to drive cars that you normally wouldn't even be able to touch without being chased out of the showroom. Okay, we can say that even in 1999, when it was still really 'new', the VW New Beetle rarely figured in our automotive fantasies. That made the arrival of Beetle Adventure Racing for the Nintendo 64 even more of a surprise. A surprise that, however, was nothing compared to the surprise of how good the game actually was.

This underrated gem apparently started life as Need for Speed 64, before someone in a pinstripe suit at publisher Electronic Arts signed a licensing deal with Volkswagen, probably over a lunch so expensive it would bring tears to your eyes. The studio's development department then had to take a right turn, after which the game became a hot-knots racer with compact retro cars.

Why was Beetle Adventure Racing such a good game?

The surprisingly competent controls made good use of the advantages of the N64's analog controller, which is the core of what makes the game so playable. The design of the circuits was top notch and the addition of power-ups and other things gave Beetle Adventure Racing its own character.

The game took you to volcanic islands, haunted forests and a circuit called Coventry Cove. The simple fact that that was a glowing ride through an idyllic English landscape, and not an endless traffic jam in a post-war, brutalist nightmare of cast concrete, makes us suspect that the American game studio Paradigm Entertainment never actually visited Coventry at the time.

Beetle Adventure Racing is also there with another car in the leading role

A wonderful final twist to this story is the fact that this cult classic was released in Australia as HSV Adventure Racing. The leading role was not played by the Beetle, but by the Holden Commodore muscle car with a 5.0-liter V8 engine, which probably made the long walk to the checkout feel a lot less boring for Australian kids. Not that we suffered from childhood trauma or anything…