The Days of the Nintendo 64 (2013)
Please be advised that this feature contains strong language.
Technology always marches on with time. It’s a sad thing, but it’s inevitable. And so it was that the Super Nintendo, still in my mind the undisputed king of consoles, had to bow out eventually. But the omens were good: Nintendo’s Ultra 64 was on its way. A 64-bit machine! Far better than the 16-bits of the SNES and the Sega Mega Drive, and still double that of the Sony PlayStation, released in 1995! The Ultra 64, later named simply the Nintendo 64, was released in the US in 1996 and Europe in 1997, already facing stiff competition from the PlayStation following its terrific launch and capacity for 3D games.
If ‘console wars’ mean anything, we can conclude that the PlayStation really trounced the Nintendo 64, by unit sales of 102 million to 33 million. One primary reason for this is Nintendo’s insistence on the relatively expensive cartridge format, on a system which was apparently also difficult to program for. Sony, however, rather wisely decided to use cheap compact discs, sometimes multiples of discs for the same game. Storage space for voice-acting and high-quality music as well as full-motion videos was simply not available on cartridges, whereas CDs could handle them quite easily. It was not uncommon for PlayStation games to span multiple discs, as Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo 2 did. These are all shining examples of top-selling PlayStation 1 games, and examples of games that absolutely could not have been done on a single Nintendo 64 cartridge. The only real advantages that cartridges offered was a relative lack of loading times, but I always felt that, for most games, the loading times of the PlayStation 1 was played up and over-exaggerated, at least a little bit. Also a memory card was required to save progress on the PlayStation, whereas Nintendo 64 games could save directly to the cartridge. But memory cards weren’t even that expensive, and anyway the N64 came out with its own version, the Controller Pak, for some games and then adopted usual memory cards for the GameCube.
It was quite a nasty twist of fate that the Sony PlayStation, a mutated offspring from the planned SNES-CD (before Philips were brought in and the CD-i resulted) would sell more than three times the amount of units that the Nintendo 64, but that’s just business – opportunism at its finest, backed by useful cost-effective development and top-notch marketing.
Yes, it wasn’t terrifically easy being a Nintendo fanboy in those days. In Ireland, Nintendo 64s seemed an especially rare sight. I don’t know what it is; perhaps because it seems that people here attach themselves to the most popular thing if possible, which would explain why so many people in the country support English football teams. But is this wish to associate one’s self with the popular and accepted not a natural human social process? Whatever, it meant that the Nintendo 64 missed out on those aforementioned great games and had to make do with what Nintendo and third party companies could come up with.
Whatever about Nintendo’s strange decisions over the years, or their insistent and sometimes dogmatic views of industry trends, they did not disappoint us with games for their new 64-bit console. Even if there was a heavy reliance on Mario, a little bit on Link, and next to none on Samus, there were just about enough games to build a strong backbone of a games library. They were expertly aided and abetted by second-party UK-based developer Rareware, since departed to Microsoft and about whom the less said the better these days. There may have been long periods of time for N64 owners to endure before a new stellar game came out, and envy towards those PlayStation owners was understandable. Even the PlayStation’s demo discs were desirable, demo cartridges being absolutely unfeasible.
In choosing between the better of the two consoles today, I would pick the Nintendo 64 but that’s not a simple, throwaway fanboy opinion founded on nostalgia. Simply, I feel that the Nintendo 64 games, although quite a few look rotten today, have aged better as a whole – especially the Nintendo and Rareware ones which tended to go for cutesier, ‘kiddy’ looks, widely derided by PlayStation fans at the times. But I would not want to dismiss the PlayStation at all, if for no other reason than that I have simply not played as many PlayStation 1 games as I would like, my PS1 collection still being a fledgling one in need of bolstering. Young foolish readers of Nintendo Official Magazine like myself may have lapped up the constant propaganda and jingoism against the “Phony GreyStation” but it was and still is folly to dismiss the PlayStation like this, and it’s equally important to recognise the faults and limitations of the N64 in comparison. Here, I look at my somewhat lacking collection of N64 games, which has a few notable absences* but represents a fairly decent grounding of what the N64 was all about.
*Though I don’t actually own physical copies of the following games, I have played them through other means (filthy piracy, stealing and emulation, let’s be honest). To wit:
Yoshi’s Story – I always liked it but one playthrough is only 6 levels, and the full game is only 24 levels. So it’s nowhere near the Yoshi’s Island sequel that people were expecting. Still, it’s whimsical. And whimsy makes prizes.
Sin & Punishment – a sort of rail-shooter, they say it’s like Lylat Wars/Star Fox but it isn’t. I played through this mad shit twice and still had no clue what the fuck was going on. In one level you’re shooting a cat while a pair of eyes sometimes pops up and glares at you, then at the end you turn into a robot and play Missile Command against Planet Earth. It’s the type of LSD-fuelled bizarreness that only the Japanese could appreciate. Might get the Wii one, if it’s dead cheap. Get Bonus!
1080° Snowboarding (1998)
I can’t say I’ve ever seen snowboarding being shown on the telly. Formula One of course, lacrosse, curling, even archery. But never snowboarding. Still, perhaps following the success of Snowboard Kids, Nintendo thought it prudent to weigh in with their own snowboarding game and see what sales they could make (over one million, as it turned out). To see actual lifelike humans and a somewhat realistic looking world is a rare old thing in a Nintendo game, you know.
The basic premise of 1080° Snowboarding is to hustle your clumsy snowboarder down a mountain slope quicker than your opponent does. Landing your snowboard properly after jumps and dips so that your fatass rider doesn’t fall over is a frustratingly common and difficult task, and putting up with a damage meter is a bit of a drag. The game is better in the Trick Attack modes, where you do as many twists, tricks and turns possible to earn high points. This is a little bit limited, but still fun and addictive. Unfortunately to do the 360°s and other rotational moves you’ll have to put up with the Nintendo 64’s Control Stick, seemingly made out of dead testicle skin. But once you finally pull off your first 1080°, you’ll want to take it to the half-pipe and string together 1080° combos to achieve this high again and again, like ‘twere some kind of snowboarding flamboyance drug. I suppose the game has cult status now, aided by its release on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Consequently, it can be gotten quite cheaply. Don’t expect too much of an engaging or long-lasting experience, but see what fun you can have doing tricks all the way down the Golden Forest stage with its excellent theme tune (later lifted for use in Super Smash Bros. Brawl) blaring.
Banjo Kazooie (1998)
When Super Mario 64 came out, it showed us what three-dimensional gameplay was really all about, and how fun 3D platformers could be. Even considering how long it took to get that game’s 120 Stars, gamers wanted more. As they so often did during the Nintendo 64’s lifespan, up step Rareware to wow the crowd, with their unlikely combination of an easygoing brown honey bear named Banjo and a sassy red-crested “Breegull” named Kazooie becoming one of the N64’s must-haves.
The two seek to rid Banjo’s home of the evil witch Gruntilda and save Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Instead of 15 worlds of 7 Stars (and 15 more in the hub), Banjo Kazooie brings us 9 worlds of 10 Jigsaw Pieces (and 10 more in the hub). 120 does beat 100, but the wide variety of Banjo’s levels and the other things to collect (like the Musical Notes and the Mumbo Tokens) make it some very stiff competition indeed. Historically, there’s never been more than a gnat’s pube between this and Super Mario 64 for the title of the Nintendo 64’s best platformer. It’s worth noting however that Banjo Kazooie has aged better. And its rerelease on the Xbox Live Arcade, even if it adds very little, trumps the DS release of Super Mario 64. The two are almost dead even… I’d say Banjo just about edges it.
Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
I like adventure games and love racing games, so Diddy Kong Racing represents a perfect blend for me (Beetle Adventure Racing, also for the Nintendo 64, is apparently a similar blend of the two styles although I’ve yet to play it). The game is a typically strong Rareware showing that stars Diddy and… no other Kongs. Indeed, of the 10 playable characters only Diddy is an old face. And only Conker and Banjo went on to star in other Rareware games, plus a cameo for Tiptup. The setting is Timber’s Island and the player’s goal is to collect Golden Balloons by winning races.
There are 5 themed worlds in the Adventure mode containing 4 tracks each and a unique boss battle, as well as trophy races (the 4 tracks grouped together into a tournament) and unique multiplayer battle levels. Thematically and in gameplay terms, the tracks are very well designed, probably ahead of Mario Kart 64’s own efforts. The tracks make use of at least one of three vehicles – a kart over land, a hovercraft over water and land, and an airplane. Placing first in each race allows you to challenge that world’s boss. Beating the boss means you must then complete the Silver Coin Challenge, which involves finding 8 Silver Coins strewn about the course in hard-to-reach places and still finishing first. Along with the trophy races, this means you’ll be racing each track at least 3 times in the Adventure mode.
This does sound mind-numbingly repetitive, perhaps too much so for those ambivalent towards racing games. But racing fans will at least relish the challenge of the other competitors, who don’t fuck about and nor do they indulge in the insane rubberbanding that their Mario Kart 64 brethren do. They are simply very competent racers, which leads to a difficulty level that many would probably call “frustrating”, but masochists like myself would sooner call “desirable”. With an increased number of better tracks, more characters, more vehicles, probably superior music, a multiplayer mode about as good as Mario Kart 64’s (although lacking a great battle mode) and better, more cutesy graphics, it’s very definitely a Mario Kart 64 beater. Always worth a play.
Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
This one is a borderline case. To start with, it is a 3D platformer with a massive emphasis on collecting – indeed, it’s one of the most infamous examples of what has been dubbed a ‘collectathon’, which I always took as being a pejorative term. Already, we see that it is markedly different from the platforming trilogy of the SNES, although the second and third Donkey Kong Country games do have their own collection elements. Banjo Kazooie’s gameplay was quite manageable: you play as Banjo for the whole game, through all 9 worlds. Donkey Kong 64 has you playing as no less than 5 separate characters with very different traits: Donkey Kong the everyman; the nimble Diddy; Dixie and Kiddy Tiny and Chunky; and a weird stretchy-limbed hybrid orang-utan mess known as Lanky. You play through 8 vast worlds, each much bigger than Super Mario 64 or even Banjo Kazooie’s worlds; even with fewer worlds in total, there is a lot more ground to cover.
In these worlds you must collect a sizeable portion of 200 (201) Golden Bananas, 20 Banana Fairies, 18 new moves, 35 Banana Medals, 2 Special Coins (and hundreds of Coins of normal currency), 10 Battle Crowns, 40 Blueprints, as many as 3,500 regular bananas… you won’t beat this beast in a matter of a few afternoons. Even collecting all 201 Golden Bananas is a daunting task fit only for the borderline insane, to say nothing of the effort involved in getting every one of each of the five Kong’s bananas. I have a sneaking suspicion that there is nobody in the world, not even in Japan, who has ever done this – and I’ve heard of people levelling up to Level 100 in Pokémon Yellow before beating Brock, glitch-free. The autistic ambitions of gamers on the internet must never be underestimated, but even they’re not up for this one!
Aficionados of Banjo Kazooie who may have been left wanting more sprawling worlds and a greater variety in characters and abilities will eat Donkey Kong 64 up. Me, I prefer the more manageable worlds of Banjo Kazooie, which don’t necessitate frequent character swaps to collect every little trinket across the continent-sized worlds. That and the frustrating bullshit involved in the DK Arcade game, the Beetle races, the Stealthy Snoop mini-games, the Formula One races and those bloody Beaver Bother games eventually get too much for me. The camera seems a little irritable as well. Banjo Kazooie goes for a more focused, precise approach and I think it ends up a better game for it. But Donkey Kong 64 has soaked up dozens of hours of my life, and probably will do so again sometime in the future. Slower-paced, but still a good game. Just be wary of the collection aspect – it will make or break the game for you.
F-1 World Grand Prix (1998)
Probably one of THE most common games ever, especially for the Nintendo 64. Not to insult your intelligence, but it’s a Formula One game, and it’s got the names and courses and stuff. It’s no half-arsed job. In all seriousness, the game is actually pretty fun, although I am a fan of Formula One. Not watching it for real, obviously, I mean the crashes and being able to cause them in games.
Inputting the cheat for the Golden Driver and flying up Hockenheim’s straights is still absolutely thrilling, especially when you crash spectacularly and your wheels fly off, much to the disgust of your aggressive Scottish pit man. Also sometimes when your suspension gets bummed up he will inform you that “the suspension is fuckin’ bad”. Well, he says “lookin’ bad” with nasty static, but me and my brother swear he says the F-word. That clumsy anecdote aside, it’s an F1 game with all the right sounds, displays and tracks, which looks and controls decently enough today but is rather obviously outclassed by newer F-1 games. What more can you say? It’s still fun, to its credit, where perhaps other F-1 games of the era have become relics.
F-1 World Grand Prix II (1999)
An update to the previous year’s version with mostly the same tracks and drivers. Apparently only released on the Nintendo 64 in Europe. My copy of the game happens to be almost new, contained in the factory wrapping but for some reason ripped open on one end despite that. Still worth next to fuck all, I assure you. In fact it’d probably be the same story if it was fully sealed. But hark! The pit man, though still slightly Scottish, seems to have changed! He’s nowhere near as weary and cynical as he was in the original! Bollocks to that.
F-Zero X (1998)
The SNES original F-Zero was a fantastic game, even with its limitations, of which there were primarily four: no multiplayer mode, only 4 selectable machines, flat tracks and only 15 of them, quite a few being simple variations of earlier tracks. F-Zero X brings us 4-player multiplayer, 30 radically different machines, loop-the-loops, cylinders and half-pipes, and an infinite amount of tracks in addition to the 24 regular, varied tracks that the game comes with. Whoa! Talk about an improvement.
Even the speeds are much higher this time round, aided by the game running 60 frames per second at all times. To do this, nearly all unnecessary background graphics are sacrificed and the levels of pop-up and fog are just incredible. But since you’ll have to forego even blinking to keep up with the game during a race, this graphical deficiency matters not. Go for F-Zero GX if the graphics are that important to you. Going up against 29 other racers (some of them absolute pigs that seem to spend more time attacking others than placing well) at massive speeds on 4 different difficulty levels makes for some excellent races, and the brilliant X Cup that throws up 6 random courses each time makes for potentially infinite replay value. Like most F-Zeros, it’s one of the best racers out there.
GoldenEye 007 (1997)
What with the relative limitedness of depth in the Nintendo 64’s library, its owners had plenty to be jealous about when they looked upon what their PlayStation-owning friends and schoolyard rivals were playing at the time: the lack of RPGs on the N64 was very conspicuous, particularly after Final Fantasy VII brought a terrific surge in popularity to what was previously an even more underground genre than it is now – this despite the strength of RPGs on Nintendo’s previous consoles, courtesy of Squaresoft prior to their flounce. These cinematic and also other mature games in the mould of Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil were also absent from Nintendo’s locker, until a far too late edition of Resident Evil 2 arrived on the N64. The PlayStation showed what it could do graphically and in 3D with Gran Turismo and Tomb Raider – neither of which have aged at all well but nor have many of the N64 games that strived for realism. Even Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie found their niches under threat by quality (but not top-quality) 3D platformers like Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and Croc. But GoldenEye 007, released early in the Nintendo 64’s life and enduring even well after its spiritual successor was released, was one 4-player intensely addictive shooter that the PS1 owners didn’t have, and one that was always capable of bringing out the green-eyed monster in them.
The game is considered by many these days to have aged particularly poorly. I have no idea why people mark it out so much – the AI was bush-league even back then. But in at least a charmingly funny way, like them outright refusing to notice your presence through windows or over gaps, never engaging in any hand-to-hand combat with Bond (not even a bit of slappers only), frequently blowing themselves to kingdom come with hand grenades etc. After that, the graphics come in for criticism, but there’s far worse on the N64 even in its later days. And the frame-rate, while distinctly dog slow when explosions and smoke are around, doesn’t get as bad as the Expansion Pak enhanced Perfect Dark, a game whose frame-rate is certainly criticised but seems to escape such close scrutiny. Finally there’s the controls, with free-looking being controlled by those crazy C-buttons. A C-Stick like the GameCube controller’s would have been ideal, but to GoldenEye’s credit, there are many control options, including ones using both controllers if ever you felt a little bit tapped in the head.
The game follows the excellent film closely, especially with regards to the layouts of the Facility and Archives levels. But even the liberties the game is forced to take are terrific as well, like the all new Silo level or Bond visiting the Severnaya Bunker. Add in a whole wealth of weapons (many of which can be dual-wielded, including Rocket Launchers and Shotguns), 18 levels plus 2 bonus ones, 3 sensibly adjusted and varied difficulty levels plus an unlockable difficulty modifier, a system that caters for both stealthy play and frantic running and gunning, and unlockable cheats for each level, a fun challenge which brings rewards even if many are simple weapons cheats that become rendered obsolete by the All Guns cheat.
What the game is really famous for is its multiplayer, which is admittedly very limited these days: inflexible weapons options, 11 maps (really only 9), only a few game options other than the usual deathmatch and no bots. The game is still worth it even if you can’t get friends together for a deathmatch; this will likely be your only option, as it’s highly unlikely this game will ever receive a retextured online edition à la Perfect Dark. The single player mode is good enough by itself. Remember when people played FPSs for the single player? It may not have bots in multiplayer, but neither does its vastly inferior reimagining of 2010/2011. If you have a Nintendo 64, you most likely have this game anyway. So give it another go. And pay no heed to those unenlightened ones who drone on about it having aged badly.
Jet Force Gemini (1999)
A less celebrated Rareware game that nonetheless has attracted something of a following. I can’t particularly see why, frankly. Jet Force Gemini is a third-person shooter with platforming elements where you play as two different characters, Juno and Vela, and Lupus their supporting robodog. You switch between these characters throughout the game and attempt to take down the evil Mizar, a madman hell-bent on taking over the universe. Aren’t they all?
It must be said that I have not played this game extensively, so it would be unwise and unfair of me to completely pan the game out of hand. What I would say is that the gameplay, controls and graphics wouldn’t exactly inspire, and there is apparently a bullshit move about having to collect all Tribals (cuddly little collectibles, but fragile and seemingly magnetically drawn to bullets) before getting a crack at the final boss. Some people rave about JFG, and I’m sure some more will do likewise when they finally discover it. But it’s not for me.
Legend of Zelda, The: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Long-time Nintendo fans will remember the huge anticipation generated by this game, rendered all the more ball-busting by the lengthy delays this game suffered. Its well the game did take its time, for upon its release in late 1998 it received rave reviews, and has become the most critically acclaimed game of all time. With Final Fantasy VII, Gran Turismo and the newly released Metal Gear Solid running rampant for the PS1 at this stage (and Final Fantasy VIII not far away), this game was just what the N64 needed.
Ocarina of Time is the fifth game of the Zelda series, coming after a fairly strong showing from the first two, a masterclass from A Link to the Past and another tour-de-force from the portable Link’s Awakening. It is closest to A Link to the Past in scope, except rather obviously in 3D. Another big change is the game’s focus on two different time periods, seven years apart. Time Travel via the legendary Master Sword means you will be getting through this game as a younger version of Link and a still-spritely Adult Link. Three Young Link dungeons, five Adult Link dungeons, a final castle and a few other mini-dungeons make up the bulk of the game, along with an engaging overworld. The presence of the evil Ganondorf and the influence he has on Hyrule after he seizes power can be clearly seen, which sells him as a devilishly good villain, rather than a simple princess-kidnapper to be destroyed. A wide array of items, excellent bosses, a fluid 3D combat system and tons of secrets make for a fantastic adventure that, like A Link to the Past, just doesn’t seem to get old. A Link to the Past just barely beats it, and even that is high praise. Zelda at its finest, or just about. And if the graphics are unappealing to you, there’s also the 3DS reskinning, still one of the best games of the 3DS and surely responsible alone for selling heaps of the systems. And that comes with the Master Quest as well, which doesn’t change much but still warrants another full playthrough. Quite honestly, one could talk about this game for days.
Legend of Zelda, The: Majora’s Mask (2000)
From the sublime to the ridiculous. I will be making sure to get onto this one in far more detail soon, you’ll be thrilled to hear. To be honest, I thought the day when I would complete this game would never, ever come. It was simply a gaming challenge that represented more difficulty to me than beating The Lost Levels, or F-Zero GX’s entire story on Very Hard. But, having been presented with the opportunity to acquire a copy in excellent condition at an agreeable price, the collector in me grew restless. So I took it home, and was delighted to find a file that had progress right up to the beginning of the Great Bay Temple, just a stone’s throw away from the furthest I had ever gotten in the game previously (after many attempts at a playthrough, each ending in a ragequit as the bullshit got too much for me once more). From there on, I finally beat the sucker, and was still left unfulfilled.
An unfairly quick background on the game: it’s almost like an expansion pack to Ocarina of Time (indeed, that was the intention of Nintendo in the first place) except with a constantly ticking clock. You have 3 days to stop the Moon from falling onto Termina, but you can travel back in time when necessary to complete all of your objectives. Only 4 dungeons, and therefore 52 Pieces of Heart. There seems to be an increasing amount of people, online anyway, who have only positive things to say about this game. That’s fine, it’s great that we all have different tastes. But the best Zelda of all? Come off it. This one’s not even close to being redeemed by its admittedly enticing surreal atmosphere, or some of the cool masks that Link can wear, or even the soundtrack (the tracks that aren’t lifted from Ocarina of Time at least). But I could go on for days here, so look forward to the full review, assuming you’re sad enough to wait with bated breath.
Lylat Wars (1997)
The sequel to the excellent Star Wing, Lylat Wars is more or less the same deal as the SNES game but features alternating routes, a far better frame-rate, an excellent scoring system that encourages many replays and memorable voice-acting from every character. The N64 game came in a large box which also included a Rumble Pak, allowing ‘force feedback’ for consoles for the first time. The Rumble Pak itself required 2 AA batteries and was a bulky enough bastard to weight the controller down. So although the vibration is strong, it’s not really worth it. A useful experiment though, and it paved the way for vibration motors inside controllers as standard.
Lylat Wars is a fantastic game to this day, and a popular choice for 3DS owners with its rerelease. This rerelease updates the graphics and also, to the chagrin of fans of the original, the voice-acting as well. Even the music is revamped, unlike the Ocarina of Time rerelease. You’ll get great times out of either version – taking out the Star Wolf team in double-quick time, completing Katina without taking out any allies, flying through all the rings in the Meteo warp, the game is full of challenging and exciting moments like these. It has yet to be improved upon, whether by subsequent Star Fox games or other rail-shooters.
Mario Kart 64 (1997)
My very first Nintendo 64 game. It was quite magical playing this against my brother on Christmas Day 1997. Attempting to leave aside this nigh-unshakable nostalgia, does Mario Kart 64 improve upon its predecessor, and does it hold up today? No to the former, which remains all but unbeatable, but it is one of the stronger Mario Karts. It’s not without its limitations, however: only 16 tracks, a step-down from Super Mario Kart, although at least many are unique in aesthetics. And no Koopa Troopa! Instead we had Wario making one of his earliest appearances. Less notably, Donkey Kong Jr. is replaced by his daddy.
What defines Mario Kart 64 is its AI. I have never seen rubberbanding like it. You’ll almost never have a race fully sewn up. To give a classic example: try shelling someone in front of you, then spamming 3 Mushrooms or a Golden Mushroom assuming you’re lucky enough to get them. They will be back up your ass mere seconds after your Mushrooms run out, even if it’s a lard-arse like Bowser trying to accelerate. The box-art is actually terrifyingly accurate in this regard. The AI deficiency is further exposed by their inability to use most items – at least, those items that expressly fuck up the player. You will sometimes see them using Mushrooms (basic single ones only) and maybe you’ll get caught by their stray Green Shells or Fake Item Boxes. And the Thunderbolt, but that affects everybody. Red Shells and Golden Mushrooms are never used. Nor are everyone’s favourite, the Spiny Blue Shells, which sensibly travel along the ground like a regular shell rather than being employed as a spiteful and almost useless measure by the plankton in 7th place to stop the leader from winning.
The AI may do their best to hamper your progress with insane levels of rubberbanding but, unlike in Mario Kart Wii, you can rise above them most times, as you’re not being constantly bombarded with items. And, to be fair, the cheating of the racers in the SNES original was less common but far more objectionable. Races still come down to skill, as they should, and class always tells, as it should. Course design is some of the series’ strongest. And the game is a great laugh in multiplayer as well.
Mario Party (1999)
Adding Mario to anything at all seems to make its marketability increase tenfold, and that’s not just limited to games. We have seen this phenomenon with Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, Mario Teaches Typing, Mario Chemistry, Mario Forensics and Mario Quantity Surveying, but Mario Party was an odd one: a turn-based board game with Mario characters, with each turn ending in one of 50 minigames, which really make up the bulk of the game? How can this work?
It sounded excellent to me, at least, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. More proof of the brainwashing capabilities of Nintendo and their plumber. But what I did play was a revelation, at the time. I suppose this was because the only board games we had in our house when I was a kid were Scrabble and Monopoly. And neither of these saw much play as soon as I began outclassing my semi-literate beloved family in Scrabble, and as soon as my parents found out that I, like the ravenous child I always was, had eaten most of Monopoly’s houses and hotels.
Let me explain Mario Party’s premise a little further: after picking your preferred board and one of the six characters, you take turns in hitting a Dice Block (with 10 numbers rather than 6). You earn coins for landing on certain spaces and winning minigames. With these coins and through other means you hope to buy Stars. Whoever finishes up with the most Stars after a set number of turns wins, and becomes the Superstar! Yeah! But, and here is where Mario Party’s reputation as a friendship destroyer comes in, it’s not always plain sailing. You will grind your teeth, slap your knees and shake your head with a spiteful and harsh laugh as the wicked Bowser pops up on occasion and robs your Stars to donate to another opponent. Games change quickly in Mario Party, and I am sure that the mutinous AI are no-good cheaters in this regard. Prepare for immense frustration, a mauling at the hands of the Random Number God. If playing against a friend, then prepare for one person to be shit on by the other, through no fault of the latter’s own. The former person in turn must prepare themselves to have their heads given a glancing blow by a controller followed by a storming out and long periods of no talking. Mario Party is just that much of a wind-up merchant. In fact, I would state that there is no better friendship destroyer than this game, which is saying something.
I also gotta mention one of my favourite parts of the game, the Minigame Island. Almost all of the 50+ minigames in Mario Party are really fun; they are all varied, simple and last a minute or less in most cases. The Minigame Island presents you and a partner with a sort of SMB3/SMW-esque overworld where you get to the end by beating all of the Minigames, with a lives system and everything. I lapped it up. That is, until I found a crafty way of beating those evil minigames that required you to spin that fiendishly stiff Control Stick quickly: instead of leaving it to my puny thumbs to do the work, I felt it better to use the palm of my hand, given that my hand would be able to go in circles quicker and more freely. This was when I was 8 and 9 and therefore before masturbation was invented, just so we’re clear.
Yes, I ended up tearing a massive blister into my palm when trying to beat the superhuman AI at Bowser Tug o’ War minigames. And yes, it hurt like fucking crazy. A blister or a burn or something, I don’t know, but it wasn’t pretty. As might have been anticipated, it wasn’t only me that tried using palms to rotate the stick: enough unfortunate gamers did it and complained about it to necessitate Nintendo having to give out free gloves to players in order to avoid nightmare court cases. Dear, oh dear. And to this day, with Mario Party 9 out, I understand that minigames requiring control stick rotation, even on the far more pleasant GameCube and Wii analogue sticks, have been used sparingly or not at all. This is the reason Mario Party 1 never made it to the Virtual Console, whereas Mario Party 2 did.
I am a little disappointed that I only found out about these gloves in the days of Wikipedia. After all, a collectible, and something to wear, what a deal. I wonder would Nintendo believe my story today and furnish me with an old pair…? No, on second thought, pain is good. Pain makes the man. But did that blister and overall frustration of Mario Party 1, though I enjoyed the game hugely, cause me to skip out on buying any subsequent Mario Party games? It’s possible, you know. But they now represent big gaps in my collection. So even with 8 more mainline games across 3 consoles left to buy, I shall have to get around to getting them soon. A retro gamer’s work is never done, eh?
Mario Tennis (2000)
Mario, Mario, Mario. Well, all I can say is that, for a sport that I have no real interest in and am far too unfit to play, it’s actually pretty good. Damn good, even. Lots of selectable characters, courts… a crazy Mario Kart-esque mode where you can use items… But if you’re after a straighter game of tennis, albeit with Mario characters, then here it is.
I had thought that all tennis games bar Wii Sports Tennis would be clag, judging by the Super Nintendo’s Super Tennis. But Mario Tennis is good enough to make even someone as dogmatic as me reconsider. Plus it marks the introduction of the devilish Waluigi! I’d like to try 2-player soon, or even doubles 4-player.
Mischief Makers (1998)
Another game that is frequently cited as one of the most underappreciated of the Nintendo 64’s library, I must admit that I haven’t yet played this game as much as I should but I hope to get around to it. What I can tell you – and for once, with absolute confidence – is that this is a 2D platformer with a typically Treasure sense of humour that encourages exploration to find hidden Gems in the levels.
Released to little success and average reviews, I do feel that there is potentially a compelling game down there. But one could hardly say that it has achieved cult status. Maybe some day, we’ll see what Mischief Makers can do. Until then, I can say the early signs are decent.
Paper Mario (2001)
Another Mario game? Yes, and again it’s one of the best. We never got the Super Nintendo’s excellent Super Mario RPG here in Europe. Well, not until the Virtual Console brought it to us during that delightful ‘Hanabi Festival’ business they sometimes did. As a result, this is the first Mario-themed RPG we got. The style is recognisable instantly by its 2D paper sprites in 3D cartoony backgrounds, similar to PaRappa the Rapper. Calling upon a diverse range of Mario characters for partners and enemies, Paper Mario’s sense of humour and quirky papercraft tricks were popular enough to spawn 3 sequels so far, and also surely brought about the naissance of the Mario & Luigi RPGs on portable systems.
The sharp and witty dialogue really carries the game’s story, which is the typical ‘Bowser being a mite anti-social’ shtick. Although I must say, Bowser’s plan to build one of his castles directly under the foundations of the Princess’s own castle before launching both castles into space is a truly marvellous method of kidnapping someone. It probably isn’t cost-effective (although I’m told Bowser has dabbled in forged Coins in the past) but it really works a charm. Also he’s nicked something called the Star Rod which balls things up for the seven Star Spirits, who sort of serve as deities of the world. So Mario has to round them up, go into space and tell Bowser to sling his hook. Beautiful stuff.
The battle system is founded on action-commands, just like Super Mario RPG. It is a little simplistic, but it’s fun and made varied with badges. To be honest, I wanted this game so badly that I used to look in every shop for it, and even online for it (back when buying things online with a credit card was considered a massive risk akin to playing with fire). But I could never find it, and sometimes I cried over it. Yes, I was 9 or 10 years old at this time. First world problems, before they were a thing. I called up a games shop once and asked them if they had it. Success! I asked them to hold it for me. In I went and… gone. The serpents had sold it on me. Shit! Maybe the telephone manner of a 9-year-old just wasn’t decisive and demanding enough.
I tried to put the game out of my mind until I chanced across a few copies of it on a game shop’s shelves, not long before the GameCube came out. Yes! Surely this was my last chance. Problem: I didn’t have the money for it myself, being a kid and all. Nor had my parents at that precise moment. In fact, Christ knows if I ever even paid them back for the game. Thanks parents! This all makes me sound very spoiled actually, but on we go. In any case, I near-forced them to go back the next day to get it for me. And this they duly did. And I remember my sheer joy that day vividly.
As one of the N64’s final games, it has become a somewhat uncommon and pricy game, helped by the success of its sequels. And of course, I would have to have lost the box and manual long ago, wouldn’t I? Double shit! Terrific game though. The soundtrack is almost unashamedly MIDI, and I think it’s lovely stuff. Making your way deeper into Mt. Lavalava volcano with the cowardly Kolorado, English gentleman and Koopa archaeologist, is the highlight of the series – he’s tremendous value, a real card. This and the GameCube sequel The Thousand Year Door are both fabulous, both well worth playing. This one just beats out the sequel for me. Close one, though.
Perfect Dark (2000)
Quite simply the best FPS that I’ve ever played. Admittedly this endorsement is from someone not overly enamoured with the genre as a whole. I only really enjoy GoldenEye 007 (N64 version only), this, the Timesplitters games and 007 Nightfire at a push. And all of those bar Nightfire are made by similar teams. The likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield? Certainly not. It wasn’t always that easy for Perfect Dark though. We were all dying for a new and improved sequel to GoldenEye and finally Rareware promised us one. Maybe it’ll be based on the following Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies! But no, from out of the blue comes a futuristic plot with conspiracy, alien races and even – gasp – a female protagonist. It taught us all the meaning of the buzzterm ‘spiritual successor’. Quite a radical change from the old simplicity of Bond, I would say. And I don’t like change.
At first I can say I was not too impressed with the game. Poor weapons, I felt, a bad single-player mode with hardly any real clues on where to go or how to complete the missions and an unengaging story. I feel it is a game that requires time investment. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of a game, especially when many of us have dozens in the backlog already, and don’t see fit to make room for a shooter over a decade old. But Perfect Dark seems to be a special case. 20 full missions like in GoldenEye 007, plus unlockable cheats. Very varied weapons from different races of creatures (humans, nice aliens, evil aliens) and even the ability to unlock many of GoldenEye’s most prominent shooters. A decent but unpolished story; a vicious challenge on tougher difficulties – this being a real man’s FPS, you needn’t expect pussy checkpoints or regenerating health here; far improved AI with wonderfully British in-house voice-acting as standard; a firing range; a soundtrack at least as good as GoldenEye’s, and all original as well. A Combat Simulator (multiplayer) mode allowing for as many as 8 AI Bots (or ‘Simulants’) with variable and equally impressive AI. And, to improve from GoldenEye’s afterthought multiplayer, many maps, fully customisable weapon sets, rules, characters and handicaps. There are also 30 tough scenarios in the Combat Simulator to complete.
Two players can take part in co-operative play through the main missions, or even play what I imagine is a unique counter-operative mode, where Player 1 as Joanna Dark attempts to beat the mission as normal whereas Player 2 assumes the role of weak mooks in the level, attempting to stop Player 1 in their tracks. Some possible complaints can arise about the cryptic and sometimes samey level design in the main missions, which takes learning on the part of the player. The frame-rate can often be very slow as well, although this is fixed in the Xbox Live Arcade version. People like myself who loved GoldenEye heretofore may be left lukewarm or cold by this game at first. But the allure of something more than GoldenEye’s obvious albeit charming limitations gives Perfect Dark a second chance that gamers would do well to take. Pick it up for an absolute song, and expect to get years of play out of it.
Pilotwings 64 (1997)
A perennially rented game in our household. Remember renting games? Wow! Another Dark Age trait of video gaming history, albeit one that I don’t really miss. The Pilotwings games, of which there are now three, only ever really struck me as tech demos: 3D flight simulators, released as launch titles for their respective consoles in order to showcase the graphics and controls. They tend to be products of their time as a result, and nowhere is this more evident than in the blocky, jagged world of Pilotwings 64.
But I don’t mean to wail on the game so much, because it can be quite fun piloting the gyrocopter around the islands, with either relaxing or chirpy music in the background. But it’s hardly one that’s full of lasting appeal.
Pokémon Stadium (2000)
Assuming you weren’t living under a planet-sized rock in the late 1990s, and assuming you turned up to school for at least one day of one of those years, you surely remember the craze of Pokémon when it took the schoolyards by storm. I don’t know how the advertisers and marketers do it so well, but I remember seeing ads on Sky for the upcoming Pokémon anime and making it my mission to get it taped so that I’d be able to watch it on my return home from school. I knew my beloved Nintendo were behind it, particularly as the Game Boy games were being released in tandem with the anime series (in reality, the games had been out in Japan almost 4 years and the anime lagged a year behind). The games come out, and cue seemingly everyone in school having a Game Boy and a copy of either Pokémon Red or Pokémon Blue. It was just staggering. You had to have the game, or that was it for you. And this heinous social pressure really brought the multiplayer facets of Pokémon to life, namely battling and trading between the two versions to get all 150 (and later 151) Pocket Monsters in our Pokédexes. Needing one or both games (or even three, when Pokémon Yellow came about) was a complete swizz, of course, but we lapped it up. Take 151 Pokémon of 15 different Types and strengths, give players the ability to pick up to 6 for a team and the ability to teach their Pokémon 4 moves each, and off you went on a quest to earn the 8 Gym Badges, beat the Elite Four and finally become the Pokémon Champion. And once you’d done that, then it was time to battle your friends or trade for better Pokémon. A timely process, and you’d run out of people to battle eventually, as the games’ popularity began to inevitably wane.
Finally, up steps Pokémon Stadium. Best thought of as an assistive game for what are usually called the Generation I games, or Pokémon RBY, Stadium two unique selling points were: a. Being able to see your Pokémon battle in full 3D with impressive models, and b. Demonstrating the capabilities of the Transfer Pak, a doodad that you plugged your Pokémon game into which in turn plugged into the controller, like the Rumble Pak. This was how you uploaded your team onto the big screen, but you could also play the Game Boy on the television (and unlock ways of speeding it up, emulator style), look through your Pokédex with additional information, and store Pokémon and items for trade purposes. The game itself also had a whole wealth of tournaments of differing Level requirements to beat as well (although I don’t care what anyone says, the AI pigs fucking cheat mercilessly in Stadium, so watch the fuck out). For those nerds like me who got just a little too much into Pokémon, its battle system and its mechanics, Stadium is the perfect tonic. If you think you’re a useful RBY battler, just wait until you take on Lass in the Pika Cup. Doubly so on Round 2, the unlockable hard mode of the game. More than once did that fucking demonic bitch nearly make me bite my controller. Intensely frustrating game at times, but perfect for the Pokéfreaks. Anyone else will have a torrid time of it.
Pokémon Stadium 2 (2001)
Fuck me, and I thought Pokémon Stadium 1 cheated. Your Pokémon will flinch, be stricken by Paralysis far too frequently, miss their 90%/95% Accuracy moves while the opponents’ Blizzards and Thunders (both 70% accurate) strike with impunity, and you’ll be battered by Critical Hits at all the wrong times – even under the new reduced Critical Hit formula for Gen II. And may the Lord save you if Accuracy or Evasion modifiers ever come into play. Even the Metronome move, ordinarily an ill-advised crapshoot, becomes a nightmare in the hands of the AI. You’ll laugh like a clown gone mad as the bulky Clefable Encores your Hypnosis, then Metronomes a Safeguard for itself (non-Pokémon fans needn’t worry themselves with all of the proper nouns in this paragraph so far; just recognise that foul play and unfairness is afoot). Essentially, you, the player, are hated by every single Hitler-spawn trainer in the game. You are loathed most of all by the Random Number God. Chance does feature quite a lot in Pokémon battles. And as ever, it turns out to be a fine fucking thing in Stadium 2.
With that well-deserved rant out of the way, I’d better at least describe the game. It’s the same premise as Stadium 1 but with added support for the second generation of Game Boy Pokémon games (Gold, Silver and Crystal) which in turn means 100 new Pokémon models. To this game and the first game’s credit, the models of all 251 Pokémon look very good for Nintendo 64 standards. Fans were unhappy that these models were still being used in 3D Pokémon battlers of later generations like the Wii’s Pokémon Battle Revolution, but I think it’s cute. The Expansion Pak can be used in this game, but I’m unsure if it actually has an effect: any texture or model upgrades are minimal at best. With a new Generation comes new cries, a readjusted battle system, dozens of new moves and new animations, and different cup competitions with their own stadium backdrops. The other trimmings from Stadium 1 are there, like Free Battle mode, the GB Tower, the Gym Leader Castle and (inferior) Minigames. Some new features include a room to decorate and an informative Pokémon Academy. Again, obviously one for the fan who tends to remember a little more about Pokémon than Charizard, Mewtwo, Zubat and Ash dying in the first film. Just be aware of the AI’s skulduggery in this one. I’m aware of the confirmation bias. But you’ll quickly learn, always to your cost, about how little Lottery-esque odds matter to the hateful AI. I prefer Gen 1 battling anyway.
Pokémon Snap (1999)
And now for something completely different… Yes, it’s a whole game centred on you taking pictures of Pokémon. Obviously released just at the height of the Pokémon craze (I mean, let’s face it, at that time we kids would have let a Nintendo representative shit on our faces if we’d been told the turd would resemble Psyduck), Pokémon Snap turned out to be a tremendously fun (if short) distraction – I don’t know how it did it, but many people who’ve had a taste of this seemingly insane concept have been left clamouring for a sequel, which doesn’t seem to be coming. A shame, because as much as I love this unique game, it is quite limited: of the 151 original (stil da best) Pokémon, only 63 make it in. Not 64 for some odd reason, just the annoyingly uneven 63. Also there’s only 6 stages plus one bonus final level. Still, even if they may not seem worth the money, games that can be completed in about an hour can sometimes offer immense replayability, and Pokémon Snap does exactly that.
To explain the concept further, you play the role of protagonist Todd Snap, who I’m certain was plugged in an episode of the anime. For some reason, the bossy Professor Oak orders you to take pictures of all of the Pokémon on the island. It’s an on-rails game, and you proceed through the levels in some sort of Pokémon army vehicle that can go on rails, sail, even just fly through the air, but only at the game’s behest. You unlock the abilities to throw enticing apples, harassing Pester Balls or play the Pokémon Flute, all of which can make certain Pokémon react in certain ways for better pictures. After reaching the stage’s end, you pick one picture only of each Pokémon, all out of your possible sixty snaps (this is when cameras had physical film) to show to Professor Oak, who will evaluate them, as if he was some sort of authority on pictures of the things. More points are awarded by Professor Oak for having the Pokémon centred in the focus, having them face you, getting them up close etc. There are certain situations in the game which can be exploited for high points, like trying to hatch Articuno or getting many Charmanders together, all demanding more food from you.
It’s true that in 30-60 minutes you will see almost everything this game has to offer, which is a great shame. But those occasional playthroughs are glorious, and the game demands great skill and control. Pokémon fans would do well to give this a try if they haven’t already – it’s inexpensive in both physical form and from the Wii’s Virtual Console. Bring on a sequel with all 649 current Pokémon (plus additional Formes, and every Unown as well just to be spiteful) and levels from across all 5 regions of the mainline games, and then we’ll be in Snap heaven. With the new Wii U’s controller possessing its own camera… who knows?
Shadow Man (1999)
It’s a 3D action-adventure game where you play as a sort of voodoo shaman who travels to the Deadside and defeat ‘The Five’, which includes villains like Jack the Ripper. Actually, it’s a bit unfair of me to even go near this game since i have barely played it. It garnered very good reviews back in the day and sold well. I had always meant to get it but only got round to doing so recently. The 3D graphics, which commit the same cardinal sin as the early Tomb Raiders in trying to look realistic, could not possibly have aged any worse.
And the controls are awkward, particularly the jumping and the targeting system, not a patch on Ocarina of Time’s targeting system of a year earlier. You’re never really sure what way to go. Straight ahead, into the fog? Or maybe right towards a lump of brown polygons that almost looks like it’s trying to be a mountain? It is apparently non-linear as well, which I imagine would frustrate gamers immensely. But I shouldn’t rag on it too much like this, having not given it a proper chance. Maybe there is a good game here, lying in wait.
South Park (1999)
A quick note on South Park the cartoon first: South Park’s revenue and seemingly popularity have gone from strength to strength in the last five or six years. But in fact, the viewing figures for the show were at their highest in the first three seasons of South Park, and have been declining steadily (it is still a Comedy Central juggernaut, of course). And like most series that stretch for many years, the focus and writing does tend to change, usually for the worse (see the Simpsons and Happy Days for classic examples). Perhaps the discourse is different in the United States but here in Ireland it seems generally agreed that the later episodes of South Park are in fact superior to the earlier ones. Ever the contrarian, I never agreed with this, preferring instead the older seasons with their cruder animation and less popular culture-centric plots. The cartoon was popular enough back then to spawn 3 Nintendo 64 games. As its mature content was a big deal at the time (after all, a sexualised cartoon with swearing children! Even Beavis and Butt-head was never that far out of control!), so too was the fact that games based on the series arrived on a Nintendo console.
This one, simply entitled South Park, is a quirky FPS that is usually derided as an absolutely God-awful game. I always did have a certain affection towards it, however. It has voice acting from all the right people, Isaac Hayes included, and there is a unique plot which nonetheless borrows elements from early South Park episodes like turkey invasions and the presence of aliens causing the cows to turn vicious. It’s a tough game made fun with cheats – and by God would you need cheats to defeat Ultra Mega Mega Man at the end, where the collision detection, already fucking dreadful throughout the game, really turns rotten as he heals himself for fun. The two player mode features a wide range of South Park characters and is a decent laugh. The weapons are the coolest part of the game: piss-soaked snowballs, an egg-firing live chicken used as a sniper rifle, Terrance and Phillip dolls used as grenades that expel fart gas, a cow launcher that dumps cows on opponents’ heads rectum first… certainly not worth going out of your way to play it, but I like it. For 20 minutes, at least.
Super Mario 64 (1997)
It may not be the first ever 3D platformer (or indeed, anywhere near) but Super Mario 64 is the one people recognise as being the earliest example of how powerful the genre could be. Nintendo are certainly accustomed to not only setting almost impossibly high standards but also consistently surpassing them. They’d done it, in my opinion, with Super Mario World. They even came damn close again with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. But this was a radical genre-shift from their comfort zone of 2D get-to-the-end-of-the-level platforming. Indeed, this launch title for the N64 was an experiment for the console itself. How fun is this three-dimensional gameplay lark? How good can this new console be?
Super Mario 64 had the answers: it was an almost perfect conversion of the Mario formula from 2D to 3D. Instead of dozens of levels, we had 15 wide-ranging worlds to collect Power Stars in, for a total of 120 Stars. This represented a very meaty game, one that would take weeks for gamers to complete. In general I do prefer 2D platformers but Super Mario 64 consumed me so fully that I used to relish properly speed-running through the game, something I never deign to do. It rarely runs out of tricks and the levels have some very interesting themes, particularly Tiny-Huge Island and the Hazy Mazy Cave. Some courses like the Dire, Dire Docks and Snowman’s Land are a little generic, but collecting the Power Stars almost never becomes dull, even in these levels.
The controls were perfect for the time – and Nintendo knew how to demonstrate it, by having us run up the spiralling mountain in the game’s first course, Bob-Omb Battlefield. It must be said that the camera holds up fairly poorly these days, worse even than the first Super Mario Galaxy, and that does hamper its legacy a little. You would have to say, in fact, that both Galaxy games have now completely outclassed this precursor, which I mean as no insult to this game (for it is still probably better than Super Mario Sunshine). Perfection, or even something adjudged to be of the highest quality, must endure. Only too well aware though I am of my previous rant about GoldenEye’s detractors, I still must say that Super Mario 64 is showing its age by now. Or at least, it has been shown up completely by the Galaxy games, and even Super Mario 3D Land. But it is still a marvellous game, even if in days gone by it was more than marvellous – almost flawless.
Super Smash Bros. (1999)
I received this game as a very kind donation from a friend. Thanks, friend! The first of the Smash series, it still surely sees some play today among die-hard fans. Really, you would have to say that, although it is a fun game, it is simply a prototype to the two following Smash Bros. game, both of which are simply seminal. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it is a fighting game that features a wide range of characters from Nintendo’s franchises (12 in total show up in this game). Instead of life bars, damage increases your percentage number. The higher your percentage, the further that hits will knock you flying. Flying too far into the sky or off the edge of the stage will cause you to be KO’d, which might mean you lose a life, or a point, depending on the rules.
With Nintendo characters, stages and even a wide array of items determining the outcome of matches, the gameplay becomes frenetic and perfect for multiplayer. It is easy to see why the series has become seriously popular. This is a very fun game, but these days is more worth looking at for historical purposes. That is not intended to discredit this game at all, because it was always fun and still is. But Super Smash Bros. Melee ought to go down as one of the shining examples of a vastly improved sequel. Among fans, Smash Bros. 64 is still popular but the opinions of the fans are really divided over the later two games. Melee? Or Brawl? I say Melee, then Brawl, then this. But I still see this game as the cool older brother. After all, the series had to start somewhere, and as starters go, this is pretty good.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (1998)
I know I’ll seem a massively hypocritical nostalgiafag, but here’s an FPS that has aged. Even with its Expansion Pak compatibility, the fog and choppy frame-rate of Turok 2 is pretty staggering – it makes Perfect Dark look smooth. Which is a shame, because the weaponry and other tools used by Turok in this game are amazing. You’ve got the infamous Cerebral Bore (capable of firing projectiles that bore into an enemy’s head and cause their brain to implode), the Firestorm Cannon which is, for all intents and purposes, a minigun, the Scorpion Launcher which launches three rockets at a time, the fan-favourite Tek Bow which fires explosive sniping arrows…
Where I feel the game lets itself down is in how it does the levels. GoldenEye and Perfect Dark had 17 manageably sized ones, and 3 bonus ones. Turok 2 has 6 levels which could not possibly be any bigger. And since your only real goal is pick up a few trinkets and get to the end, it’s not as if you’re encouraged to replay them. The game does deserve kudos for its atmospheric levels, sometimes impressive graphics and arsenal of weapons, but that’s all the kudos it really gets. Put in the megacheat (BEWAREOBLIVIONISATHAND) and have some fun. Don’t try to play the game seriously. If you do, get maps or walkthroughs for the levels.
Wave Race 64 (1997)
An early Nintendo 64 racing game, also apparently a sequel to a Wave Race game on Game Boy. I was not aware of that! You race against other competitors on jet-skis, but you must make sure to drive (Glide? Float?) in and out of buoys around the track, otherwise you are disqualified and the game tells you where to go in no uncertain terms.
Other modes include multiplayer and Stunt Mode. It’s not bad, and back in the day its water graphics were hailed as jaw-dropping, amazing. These days though, you’d be better off playing the GameCube sequel, Wave Race: Blue Storm. Or, you know, a more traditional racing game.
World Cup 98 (1998)
Back when FIFA was good. Or FIFA World Cup in this case. It’s a football game with laughably dated graphics, comprising the full squads of all 32 qualifying teams of the France 98 World Cup plus 8 of the best teams who narrowly missed out on qualifying, which includes the Republic of Ireland. Nice one, EA Sports! Such a warm gesture does not go unappreciated by we fans of the boys in green. Commentary comes courtesy of the wonderfully bumbling John Motson, with a few other lines for Des Lynam. There is a surprising amount of unique sound clips on the N64 cartridge actually, almost as many as Lylat Wars. The controls and their responsiveness are actually alright, not too guilty of the torrid delays that plagued FIFA 64.
To win the game, pick Brazil and pass to the brilliant Romario or Ronaldo, then fire off a rasper of a shot from just past the halfway line. Watch it go in 7 times out of 10, even on World Class difficulty. On that note, do not play against Brazil on World Class. And if you do, do not let them into your box under penalty of an immediate goal past your now hapless goalkeeper. In general, don’t be above hacking opponents down, even for red cards. Also, if timed right you can press C-Up to simply bunnyhop over diving goalkeepers, ball and all, enabling a simple tap in – a golden rule for one-on-ones. Sometimes when the camera focuses on the keeper of the losing team, he’ll launch a flying scissors kick at the camera with more athleticism than Cantona. I felt that odd detail warranted a mention.
Another nice feature is the Cup Classics mode, where you can play 8 previous World Cup Finals, with the proper squads of the times and the correct old brown medicine footballs. Commentary in these Finals is still provided by Motty of course; after all, he’s been around since the Industrial Revolution. It’s still a nice football game, just generic enough to be left buried by the sands of time. It’s the only World Cup game I’ve bought actually… I wonder is there an option to turn on Vuvuzelas instead of commentary in World Cup 2010? What? I’d certainly have bought it.
WWF No Mercy (2000)
Peer pressure is a powerful thing when you’re a kid. Everyone I knew was wrestling mad, with figures and video games and constant pretend matches in our local field. I didn’t rise to the pressure bait too much – only on two occasions. The first was asking my mother to buy me some figures to play with. This she did with great fondness, fond enough for me to attach this special significance to. Perhaps she was almost relieved to buy me a couple of figures because they were cheaper than games or Nintendo magazines. The two figures were Test and Albert, and they came with a wrench. And their hands weren’t magnetic. But I still got a bit of joy out of them, even if I didn’t really know what I was meant to do with them.
The second was this game for some Christmas, the year 2000 I’m thinking. Still celebrated as one of the best wrestling games of all time, it certainly had the names (sorry, Superstars). But I can’t say I was too much of a fan, beyond the cool Create-a-Wrestler mode, the ladder match, battering people with staircases, going backstage, getting people in the Tree of Woe, constantly Rock-Bottoming Kurt Angle and… actually, it was a good game. And maybe I just pretended not to be fan of this strange sport. Maybe the game was actually one of my guilty pleasures. Maybe it still is.
In all seriousness, it does play fairly well. Except on harder difficulties where your every punch is countered in a weird way, almost like a counter-dance. And I was always disappointed at the TitanTrons. I had always blindly believed, to the last, that the Nintendo 64 was far more capable than the PlayStation 1 in every department. Imagine my surprise when I saw the static pictures of WWF No Mercy’s TitanTrons with sometimes pale imitations of the entrance tunes, in comparison to the almost real versions on the PS1’s WWF Attitude. Also, early copies of WWF No Mercy, which includes my own, are afflicted by a super glitch which periodically and randomly destroys all of the save data on the cartridge. You used to be able to send it in to get fixed or replaced, but God knows if anyone can do that for me now. I have to say, that is a fucking amazing glitch to slip through unnoticed.
V-Rally Edition ’99 (1999)
I would have thought this game to be an attempt at toppling the strong sales of Colin McRae Rally (God rest the poor bugger) on the PS1 but in fact this game made its debut on the PlayStation before McRae. It apparently sold well but McRae went on to do far better and spawn more sequels. This slightly updated Nintendo 64 port came afterwards, in 1999. It is very of its time. Not bad, not unplayable, and the graphics still serve. Challenging though. One or two bad mistakes and you can forget about first. And driving on the snow of Sweden makes any car handle like wet soap. Which I suppose is probably accurate, even for rally cars…? Cheat your way to the Lancia Stratos for quickest results.
Those are my games, and they comprise a decent percentage of the games worth owning for the Nintendo 64. Having mentioned only 31 in full and 2 others quickly, that seems a depressingly small amount of games for a console’s library. But really, you could pick an incredibly solid Top 10 out of those games, even if many have already been trumped (like F-Zero X and Super Mario 64). I am also aware of other notable omissions like Mario Party 2 and 3, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Banjo Tooie, perhaps even Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and Harvest Moon 64. Maybe in the future we can get round to them.
It was a system left hamstrung by dismal support from third-parties, thanks to its difficulty to program for and the cartridge format. Token efforts late in the system’s life to make the switch to CD formatting, in the form of the 64-DD, were ill-fated to say the least. Ultimately it was the PlayStation that ‘won’, but I feel the Nintendo 64 has aged better – just about.
Back in those days of bitter console wars, you had to pick one console and stick to it (rich shitheads who had both were plastic fans, not worth debating with). These days, with Nintendo and Sony still locked in a triple threat battle along with Microsoft, it’s left to us former fanboys to look back at what they missed out on. Both the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 1 hardly look great in general these days, with so many games insisting on 3D environments very prematurely. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to carve yourself out a top 10 list of games from each console, a list which will certainly keep you occupied for a long while even today.