Monday, December 22, 2008


To admire Oliver's Stone's President Bush biopic W. is to admire a few interesting trees in lieu of the gnarled and desolate forest around them. The film's overall narrative is insanely chaotic, messy, and structureless, trying too hard to be a character study to be an effective political exposé and trying too hard be a political exposé to be an effective character study, but there are a few individually fascinating scenes and a handful of solid performances.

The film is divided into two separate and intercut halves, one about W.'s personal life, alcoholism, relationship with Laura, and daddy issues, taking place from his Yale undergrad days through his election to the Texas governorship in 1994, and the other taking place from 2002 - 2004 and about his administration and the beginnings of the Iraq War (his dubious "election" to the presidency and 9/11 are skipped over). The political half is the more interesting of the two; Bush's alcoholism doesn't really grab me that much, his daddy issues with George H.W. Bush come across as 90% fictional extrapolation, and although I like Elizabeth Banks she's absurdly young to be playing Laura Bush.

It's in the 2002 - 2004 segment that the meat and potatoes of the film lie. That George W. Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States of America is indisputable fact and beyond questioning, and Oliver Stone thankfully doesn't condescend to us by drilling that in beyond what is necessary. He does toy with the source of this ineptitude, however. Bush is portrayed as a bumbling good old boy in over his head and controlled solely by his cabinet, and while I don't doubt the in over his head part is accurate, it's an unjust absolving of Bush's sins to act like he wasn't aware of what he was doing when he invaded Iraq. He's dumb but I don't believe he's that dumb.

Looking for heroes and villains, Oliver Stone foregoes any hint of subtlety, opting to depict Colin Powell an angel descended from heaven to take his place amid the villains of Bush's cabinet, a living saint who tried to fight the Iraq War to the end, and Dick Cheney as an evil overlord giving ominous, booming speeches in front of global maps about the need for an American Empire. You practically expect John Williams' Imperial March to start playing. Now, I respect General Powell for endorsing Barack Obama and I detest Dick Cheney as much as anyone, but I don't buy either of these depictions. Colin Powell gave that stupid speech about WMDs - there is blood on his hands too - and as bad as Dick Cheney may be the Emperor Palpatine-style depiction is just absurd.

However, despite the ridiculousness of their depictions, Jeffrey Wright and Richard Dreyfuss may do the best work in the film as, respectively, Powell and Cheney, which made me wish that more of the film took place in the 2002 - 2004 timeframe and less in Bush's booze-soaked background story where they never appear. Josh Brolin's Bush isn't half-bad either. He comes across as a little too intelligent as points but he does a good job more or less with the facial expression and voice and general vibe. No other performance in the film lingers in my memory in the least except for Thandie Newton's hideously bizarre, borderline grotesque depiction of Condi Rice, an absurd caricature so over the top that it wouldn't pass muster on Saturday Night Live. I don't know if she thought the movie was a comedy or what, but she surely deserves to sweep the Razzie Worst Actress award off its feet.

Now, there are moments of policy discussion, particularly one tense immediate pre-war conversation between Powell and Cheney, that I found fascinating. But it's unfortunate that looking back on the movie I can barely remember any of the pre-White House material that takes up half the film. Bush the man is just a pampered rich kid and frankly not that interesting. I think that more historical distance and perspective is needed before a film like this. The movie was engaging enough during its runtime but I am unlikely to ever watch it again and it will have no enduring cultural value whatsoever.

2 Stars out of 5

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sex Drive

Listen closely, America, for I shall let you in a minor cinematic secret: Sex Drive, the teen sex / road trip comedy from several weeks back that you probably didn't see (judging from its $8.4m box office haul), is actually a really good movie and one of my favorite comedies of 2008, right up there with Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. In fact it has an above-average shot at making the cut for my top ten favorite films of the year. Critical response was lukewarm, but film critics are in general spineless follow-the-leader lemmings, so who gives a shit.

I'll be first to admit that the skeletal plot is utterly generic: Ian, an awkward-yet-well-meaning high school nerd, is about to graduate a virgin, to his eternal shame. But a slutty girl on the Internet offers to have sex with him, so Ian and his two friends steal his brother's car to drive across the country so he can get laid, with his brother in hot pursuit to cockblock. Various road trip shenanigans ensue; car problems, angry rednecks, crazy hitchhikers, thieves, a pitstop in an Amish village, the characters getting arrested, etc., all in pursuit of the legendary pussy. Basically, a combination of the high school virgin plot and road trip plot you've seen a hundred times each.

But the immense charm of the movie lies not in originality, of which there is little, but in wonderful execution, specifically in surprisingly nuanced and really, really likable protagonists. The three friends who share the bulk of the film's screen time have solid comic rhythm and chemistry together and consistently great dialogue that's never too witty or cute or eye-rollingly vulgar just for the sake of vulgarity. And perhaps most importantly, outside of their grand theft auto they come across as genuinely good, warm, likable people with a believable friendship.

One of Ian's two friends and road trip companions is Felicia, a girl who he's secretly had a crush on for years, and it doesn't take a fucking genius to figure out where the direction of the story is going as the two longtime friends bond on their mission for Ian to sleep with an Internet skank he's never met, but again, the execution is charming and it's essentially impossible not to root for the pair.

The casting is superb. Ian is played by Josh Zuckerman, who I'd never heard of or seen in anything before Sex Drive, but he calls to mind the neurotic, awkward charm of John Cusack in his teen movies a couple decades back. His two friends are played by Clark Duke of Clark & Michael fame, who does ribald vulgarity (as all cinematic best friends must) with cheerful spunk, and Amanda Crew, who I also hadn't heard of but who has terrific chemistry with Zuckerman. James Marsden (of Cyclops in X-Men fame) plays Ian's lunatic homophobic older brother and is hilarious.

I also enjoyed the movie's depiction of the Internet; even in 2008 the treatment of modern technology by 95% of Hollywood movies is nothing short of embarrassing, and it was good to see a mainstream comedy comfortably, confidently, and more or less accurately incorporate instant messenger, blogs, and YouTube into the plot.

But ultimately what I enjoyed is that there's hardly a shred of cynicism in the movie. It's filthy as hell, yes, as a teen sex comedy must be; there's boners and blowjobs and piss porn and a scat fetishist and naked breasts aplenty, but it's nearly Capraesque in its unyielding faith in the essential goodness of humanity. Except for a couple thieves basically everyone our heroes meet on their journey ends up being good at heart and helping them on their way, from the psychopathic older brother to a seemingly homicidal redneck to prison inmates.

In that way it's basically the opposite of the shitty teen comedy College from this summer that was so inherently vile it made me feel positively grimy to watch. Beneath Sex Drive's cum-drenched exterior beats an idealistic heart. Not to mention it's funny as hell, not as hysterical as last year's Superbad, but a very fine teen comedy that I hope finds more success on DVD.

4 Stars out of 5

Friday, December 12, 2008

Body of Lies

The thing that surprised me about Body of Lies is that despite the pedigree of Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio it's actually a really, really conventional terrorism thriller. The trailer, for the first time in the history of movie trailers, actually deceives to make the movie look more complicated and nuanced than it really is, like it's about CIA corruption and Russell Crowe is the bad guy or something. It's really not; Crowe and Leo have a tense working relationship but the bad guys are Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and the main plot of the movie is Leo infiltrating and compromising their cell to get them all dead, and that's it. There's no anti-war message or anything and it could be easily be taken for right-wing jerk off fodder without much argument.

And I say good. I saw another terrorism thriller this year, Traitor with Don Cheadle, that tried to be supremely deep and have a powerful message about "not all Muslims are terrorists," "terrorists have motivation worth examining," "terrorists are people too," and so on and so forth, but not being a drool-soaked idiot I already knew all these things and the constant appeals to liberal guilt just felt heavy-handed and had me rolling my eyes. Sometimes you just want to see some terrorists get deaded and that's what Body of Lies is, albeit with pretty good acting and production values and a light political gloss.

A lot of the other reviews remarked on the density of the plot and said they struggled to follow the movie. I don't know if all movie critics are retarded or what but there's absolutely nothing difficult to follow about the story - there's a lot of technobabble and subtitled Arabic dialogue, I guess, but this isn't fucking Syriana; there's an evil terrorist leader who's obviously a stand-in for bin Laden and Leo spies and pulls some strings to infiltrate them, that's it. Like Traitor, the action scenes are relatively few and far between, quick, violent, and vaguely Bourne flavored.

I definitely respect the path Leo DiCaprio has taken with his career. After Titanic he could have sat on his balls or done any stupid crap he wanted but (thanks largely to Martin Scorsese) he's stuck with quality material like Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond. He's grown as a performer and made a solid secret agent here. No other performance in the movie is memorable, including Russell Crowe's strictly workmanlike coldhearted CIA director.

However, I did mildly enjoy it. There's some spying, there's some gunfights, there's some explosions. It has a dusty, dirty, gritty feel in the cinematography and production design that makes you feel the Middle East location. If you really wanna watch a movie about terrorism, you could do much worse.

3 Stars out of 5

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I have to disagree with the critical establishment when it comes to Ed Harris' new Western Appaloosa - I didn't hate it, but I found it rather plodding and jumbled with a lot of painfully dull stretches and an extended romantic subplot gone hideously awry. I suspect its fairly warm critical reception is due more to the Western genre being a sacred cow of American cinema than anything else.

It starts out promising enough with Profion Jeremy Irons running an evil gang that holds a small frontier town in a reign of terror. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are two freelance gunmen who roll into town and agree to uphold the law. I like all those actors (especially Viggo Mortensen, who brings immense gravitas and is the best thing in the movie), so so far so good. There's a couple gunfights, some dudes get killed, and they capture Jeremy Irons. They have to hold him in the jail cell until a judge can arrive in town and hold his trial, but before then all of Jeremy Irons' men are coming to break him out of jail with violence if need be. The stage seems set for badass Western action.

Then Renée Zellweger shows up and everything goes to shit, all the simmering tension drained instantly out of the movie and replaced with lovey dovey romance scenes between Zellweger and Harris, an awkward romantic triangle subplot, and the narrative going scattershot in every direction. Renée Zellweger is also just really, really annoying in the movie, whiny and prissy and unlikable; I think we're supposed to root for her and Ed Harris as a couple but I found her to be one of the most repulsive movie characters of the year.

From that point to the end of the film I never quite figured out what the plot was supposed to be; it goes all over the place, too introspective to be an action movie, too much movement be a character study, too much romance to be masculine, too much testosterone to be a chick flick, with little mood or tension to speak of. As I said, Viggo Mortensen is pretty badass all the way. And the movie ends in a gunfight between him and Jeremy Irons, which is cool and all, but by that point the engine had powered to a shuddering halt and I just didn't care anymore. If you want a badass Western, please just Netflix last year's 3:10 to Yuma instead.

2 Stars out of 5

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist seems to take place in some alternate, sanitized version of New York City where everyone is under twenty-five, attractive, and white (except for one or two non-threatening Asians), the Empire State Building is visible everywhere, and there's immediate parking available in front of every building. It's too cute by half, bleeding indie music and self-aware witty dialogue from its pores. But despite all this I found it immensely likable. It has to be approached with an extremely noncynical eye, but taken as a little character piece it is, while not as blisteringly laugh-out-loud funny as other comedies from this year like Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express, an energetic and (dare I risk my masculinity by saying it) cute little flick that put me in a cheery mood.

How well you'll like the movie probably leans 95% on how well you like Michael Cera, who is up to old tricks doing another turn at the wheel of his trademark comedically awkward, well-meaning, low self-esteem "George Michael" type previously honed in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Juno. If that's gotten old for you, then you can probably skip the entire movie, if you continue to like it, as I do (George Michael was always my favorite part of Arrested Development), you'll probably like Nick & Norah. Kat Dennings is perfectly cute as his romantic interest which is good since some 75% of the movie is watching them fall for each other, but Michael Cera has to do the vast, vast majority of the comedic heavy lifting. Thankfully for me, his awkward schtick continues to crack me up.

I also love that the movie was actually shot in Manhattan. I hate when movies and TV shows set in New York are obviously shot in "New York" (aka Toronto or Los Angeles), and Nick & Norah doesn't hesitate to pimp out its Manhattan location shooting at splatter it all over the screen with scenes set on Broadway, near Times Square, down in the Village, and so on (and as previously mentioned a lot of shots with the Empire State in the background). There's even a scene set at Broadway & 11th Street, across from the Blockbuster Video, which I thought was tight because I walked through that corner nine out of ten days for like four years. An exceptionally shallow reason to like a movie, yes, but I'm a sucker for authentic New York location shooting.

As I mentioned, the "indieness" of the music playing over every frame of the movie is a little sledgehammer (although a lot of it isn't half bad) and some of the dialogue is a bit too forcedly quirky (though nothing to the degree of Juno). But it has a brisk comedic rhythm, likable characters with pleasant if very familiar character arcs, Michael Cera being awkward, and Manhattan. I give it a seal of approval with a mild slap on the wrist to tone down the quirk a hair.

3 Stars out of 5

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye is cinematic gibberish on a level unseen since The Core, a heightened exercise in babbling nonsense and jaw-droppingly bizarre plot twists that will have you shaking your head in embarrassment if you aren't howling with laughter. That's not to say that it isn't mildly entertaining, because there's car chases and bus chases and airplanes and machine guns and rockets and explosions and robots and murder and a huge body count, the stuff great cinema is made of, but ultimately I couldn't help but be disappointed because the trailers made it look like a solid "wrong man, wrong place, wrong time" thriller.

I love those types of thrillers - Collateral is still one of my favorite movies of the decade. But while I guess Eagle Eye's protagonist is a traditional "wrong man," in this case receiving a series of cell phone calls from an all-seeing, all-knowing malevolent force trying to coerce him into aiding in a political assassination, the other interesting thing about a thriller beyond the wrong man and the action is the unravelling of the villain's conspiracy / plot, in this case some hilariously retarded science fiction nonsense with no more of a foot in reality than Men in Black.

Again, outside of the screenplay there aren't any huge problems. Over half the movie's runtime is probably someone running or driving away from pursuers or guns being fired or something blowing up, and director DJ Caruso handles all this madness just fine, not immensely memorably, but well enough that it would be acceptable amid a better story. The budget is all up there on the screen in exploding vehicles.

The performances are all good. Shia LaBeouf acquits himself well even though he's playing a very similar "troubled young man" to what he played in DJ Caruso's superior thriller Disturbia. Billy Bob Thorton is always entertaining. Most noteworthy to me was Michelle Monaghan; even though her character is a worthless cipher shoehorned in so Shia LaBeouf has someone to bounce exposition off of, she is incredibly naturalistic and engaging onscreen and I hope she continues to get major work in (better) big movies.

But ultimately, it's just too silly. I'm a big, big believer in suspension of disbelief, and I can go pretty goddamn far in accepting ludicrous plots in my TV shows and major motion pictures if it strings along the entertainment. But it's just too much here, even for me. I wouldn't accept swiss cheese that was more holes than cheese, and I can't accept a story that's more plot holes than plot. It may be entertaining if you can just absorb yourself in the action and spectacle, but turn your brain all the way off first.

2 Stars out of 5

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quantum of Solace

The 22nd James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is an occasionally messy, occasionally bold, briskly-paced adrenaline blast of entertainment that for better or for worse gets more experimental with the underlying Bond formula than any film since On Her Majesty's Secret Service gave us romantic montages and time lapses and Bond getting married 39 years ago. The movie falls short of joining Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Casino Royale, GoldenEye, The Spy Who Loved Me, and You Only Live Twice in the top echelon of Bond flicks, but for whatever gripes I may have it's still miles above and beyond Generic Hollywood Action Movie X.

Daniel Craig continues to embody Ian Fleming's original "blunt instrument" to a degree that no other 007 actor has. That's not to say that he has in any respect become the only 007; Sean Connery's dangerous, edgy cool is immortal and I continue to treasure even Roger Moore's eyebrow-cocking charm, but Daniel Craig is cold, brutal, and calculating while remaining defiantly charismatic in a way that truly captures what was on the page all those years ago. I'm a huge fan and look forward to seeing him in what is supposedly going to be three more movies.

I also have to give props to the nearly equally badass Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. As with Casino Royale his part is tragically small, but if the rumors that they are scouting New York City locations for Bond 23 ring true I hope that means we can see a massively-expanded part for the CIA and by extension Felix next time. He definitely warrants it.

The movie has a very steady stream of action from the opening seconds straight through to the end, which is often thrilling if occasionally a mixed bag. The fight scenes are pretty much all really cool - Bond's fight with Mr. Slate near the film's beginning packs almost all the brutality of Bond and Red Grant's fight in From Russia With Love into about 1/6th the time - but Marc Forster isn't really a born action director and overcompensates in certain other scenes by flirting with shakeycam and cutting what seems like several times a second. This can serve to actually obstruct some really cool stuntwork and choreography, such as one otherwise cleverly-conceived scene involving pulleys, more than enhance it. The smooth cameras of Martin Campbell's action scenes in Casino Royale and GoldenEye or Jon Favreau's in Iron Man are closer to the direction I would like to see the Bond movies take.

The Bond girls fare well this time out. Olga Kurylenko's Camille is a well-sketched character who manages to get in on the action without any of the aggravating "warrior princess" shit that plagued Halle Berry's character in Die Another Day, and although Gemma Arterton's Fields isn't particularly deep she's super cute onscreen and makes what she has engaging and funny enough to make me wish she had a bigger part.

But what really makes a Bond movie is the bad guy; the very term "Bond villain" rightfully carries a half-century of weight and expectation behind it. And unfortunately this is where the movie stumbles a bit even as it shows promise for the future. Dominic Greene, a classic Bondian evil capitalist trying to corner the market on a precious resource, is well-portrayed by Mathieu Amalric with sneering, condescending flair, but the script fails to make him a threat to someone as badass as Craig's James Bond. He is never given anything memorably evil to do onscreen - there's definitely no iconic Greene moment to stand up with Goldfinger's laser threats, Max Zorin's mine massacre, or Le Chiffre's sack torture - made more frustrating by the fact that he actually commits a few potentially iconic evil acts OFFscreen.

And we need a return to great Bond villain henchmen (this gripe also applies to Casino Royale). Long gone seem the days of classic number twos like Oddjob, Jaws, and Red Grant; the last awesome Bond henchman was GoldenEye's Xenia Onatopp and that was thirteen years ago. Please, Bond producers, put ample time and effort into Bond 23's henchman.

And Greene's plot, a classic monopoly-grabbing that while certainly selfish and evil and certain to make him rich, doesn't have enough urgency to it. There's no "ticking time bomb" that Bond has to stop lest the world suffer the consequences. That's not to say everything needs to be as dramatic as nuclear war and space lasers like Bond films of the past, but Casino Royale had the threats of a terrorist attack on Miami Airport and terrorists receiving $150 million from Le Chiffre, both of which are grounded enough to be "real" but heightened enough to be "Bond." I hope Bond 23 can find an equally satisfactory balance.

Ultimately the villainy here is probably the Bond series' weakest since The Living Daylights, seven movies and twenty-one years ago, coincidentally for the same reasons - lack of onscreen evil and a relatively unthreatening ultimate plot.

However, I do think that the introduction of Quantum, a new SPECTRE-style global network of criminals and spies and assassins and terrorist financiers that has people everywhere, is brilliant. I couldn't be any happier about this development, and I think that if future Craig Bond films expand on this idea and up the stakes, Dominic Greene's plot will retrospectively play better when viewed as the launching point for something bigger, much as Bond films once considered small-scale like For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights became viewed more favorably years after their release.

As for the way the movie shifts the Bond formula, I have both praise and scorn. The way that the plot of the film unfolds, while occasionally a hint messy, is ultimately more satisfying than in the Roger Moore films of old where Bond's mission is explicitly outlined by M in nearly the opening scene; here, there is spying and improvisation on Bond's part as the various disparate pieces of the villain's plot come together. The film's sense of humor is also probably blacker than any other Bond film. Not that quips haven't been made at the expense of dead henchman before, but when the kills are as brutal as they are here these quips take on a twisted new meaning. I love black humor so I'm all for it.

There are certain alterations I protest though. I am all for dropping comic one-liners and sci-fi gadgets, and I can even make my peace with leaving behind Moneypenny and Q if the producers don't feel we need them in the rebooted series. But I do protest how little the 007 theme song is used in the movie, just a few small hints in the entire picture. I didn't mind in Casino Royale because when it exploded fully-formed over the end credits I assumed that Bond 22 would resume using it. I was unfortunately mistaken, and it's barely here. I just don't understand why; the 007 theme song is the most pulse-pounding pop instrumental of the 20th century, and imagining an aggressive version of it playing over the plane chase instantly makes the scene that much better. David Arnold remixed the theme brilliantly in Tomorrow Never Dies a decade back and I hope they let him unleash it again in the next film, because there is absolutely no reason not to.

And, if I may nerd rage for a moment, it is called the gunbarrel INTRO because it goes at the BEGINNING of the movie. Again, I liked what they did in Casino Royale by placing it at the end of the intro scene as James Bond "became" 007, and I assumed it would be back to normal here, but for some godforsaken reason they moved it to the END of film. No no no. This may be my equivalent of the Star Trek Asperger's brigade freaking out over the redesigned Enterprise, but when the dots and gunbarrel didn't open Quantum of Solace it left a sour and disquieting taste in my mouth through the entire film. You open a James Bond movie with the gunbarrel. Period. End of story. It's a half-century fucking tradition. Don't change it. Change it back the way it was for Bond 23 and never speak of this alteration again.

Speaking of: what are my hopes for Bond 23? Keep Daniel Craig as Bond the ruthless but charismatic killer, Quantum as the new SPECTRE, the black sense of humor, the quality Bond girls, the brutal fights, the grounded sensibility, the cool cars, and badass spying. Just ramp up the evil of the villain and the stakes of his plot, smooth out the cameras during the action scenes (I would be totally fine with bringing back Martin Campbell to direct), expand Felix Leiter's part, bring back the 007 theme song, and PLEASE move the gunbarrel intro back to the head where it belongs. Then we'll be in business hardcore.

3 Stars out of 5

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #8 - 1

8. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

Pros: Banjo-Kazooie is probably the all-time greatest Super Mario 64 rip-off, if also the most blatant. Rareware took Mario 64's exact formula - Mario explores several large 3D worlds interconnected by Peach's Castle, collecting coins and Stars to open up new worlds - and xeroxed it verbatim, replacing Mario with Banjo bear and Kazooie the bird, Peach's Castle with Gruntilda's Lair, coins with notes, and Stars with Jiggies. They even swiped the flying mechanic and replaced Mario's butt-stomp with an identical "beak-stomp." It's shameless, it's brazen, it's offensive. It just happens to be forgivable because the game is really, really good.

Name any element, and it's top of the line for 1998: The worlds are large but not aimless, full of variety and personality (my favorites being the beach level Treasure Trove Cove and the snow mountain Freezeezy Peak). The gameplay is an excellent mix of platforming, puzzles, action, and exploration. The graphics are gorgeous with enormous color and detail and zero fog or pop-up. The music is great. The control is smooth. It's challenging but always fair. It even has a sense of humor and characters with distinct personalities. Banjo-Kazooie is truly the best possible game about a bipedal honey bear who wears homosexual biker shorts.

Cons: Banjo-Kazooie was the first game I really noticed the doo-dad collecting in; it was present in Mario 64 but so well-integrated I never thought about it. In Mario you have to collect a little over half of the Power Stars to beat the game and the coin collecting is completely optional, but in Banjo-Kazooie you have to amass nearly every one of the hundred golden jigsaw pieces and nine-hundred notes. The notes are particularly brutal since there are a hundred spread through every world and hunting for just one missing note can take an hour. It's under control but it started Rare down the dark path of doo-dads that led to the excess of Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie.

7. Star Fox 64 (1997)

Pros: In a world where forest creatures walk on two legs, speak fluent English, and are involved in an intergalactic war against the armies of an insane madman, I wonder who the fuck came up with this unholy madness. In terms of gameplay alone I think that Star Fox 64 is the greatest on-rails shooter of all time - the pace, sleekness, and sheer frenetic madness of its shooting action will never be topped. It's wild entertainment and the bosses are awesome. But it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if not for the inherent absurd charm of its earnestly-presented story of military science-fiction, genocide, genetically engineered bio-weapons, betrayal, dead fathers, and personal angst all starring bipedal foxes, frogs, rabbits, and birds.

It's also the most quotable game in the history of the medium. Lines like "Do a barrel roll!", "If I go down I'm taking you with me!", and "Hey Einstein, I'm on YOUR side!" will haunt me even on my death bed. My last words will be "Sorry to jet, but I'm in a hurry!", leaving everyone present not in tears but utterly baffled.

Cons: "Fox! Get this guy off me!" SHUT UP SLIPPY.

6. Mario Kart 64 (1997)

Pros: Mario Kart 64 is not only the best racing game on Nintendo 64 but also among the greatest series reinventions in gaming history. Don't get me wrong, I loved Super Mario Kart back in 1992, but that game's flat Mode 7 tracks and relatively straightforward gameplay were shattered by the hills, peaks, valleys, terrain variety, obstacles, hazards, and corner-grinding madness of Mario Kart 64. It's an upgrade in literally every feasible way; it's like finding Internet porn after five years of whacking off to black and white Victoria's Secret models in the local newspaper.

Nearly every track is a unique experience. Some of them like the traffic-filled Toad's Highway are fun, wicked insanity and some of them like Mario Raceway are clean, fast, and perfectly constructed for time trials. In classic Nintendo tradition the game is super-easy to pick up and play but deceptively deep as it controls so tightly that the more you play the better and better you get. The multiplayer is just phenomenal, both the racing and the battles; party game brilliance that will cause friend to swear at and strike at friend, shatter relationships, and ruin lives. And that's what gaming's all about.

Cons: Unlike Star Fox 64, which remains the highlight of the Star Fox series, Mario Kart 64 has been one-upped multiple times over by Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart Wii, which trump it in speed, gameplay depth, visuals, character / kart / level variety, and in the case of the latter two, online multiplayer. It does, however, have more memorable music than any of them.

5. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (2000)

Pros: We come to it at last. The great RPG of N64's time. Sure, it's only competing in a field of five games - itself, Paper Mario, Hybrid Heaven, Quest 64, and Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, the last of which is only just barely preferable to most genocides - but it would be a really fucking good game stacked up against the library of any console in gaming history.

As a strategy RPG where you have dozens of characters, all of whom will likely have to get in on the action at some point between protecting your bases and engaging the enemy, Ogre Battle 64 is first and foremost a micromanager's wet dream. You'll have to customize the weapons, armor, classes, and alignment of dozens of individuals one at a time before organizing these soldiers into units and legions, giving it plenty of depth and endless number of nuances to tinker with even between battles.

It also has a pretty elaborate and entertaining high fantasy narrative, in classic RPG tradition starting off fairly small-scale but eventually expanding to encompass the fate of the kingdom and then the entire world, with plenty of engaging heroes and villains and enough plot twists to shake a cock at. It was also the first Nintendo game I remember where they regularly swore, and I would giggle whenever they said "shit," because I'm twelve. I will always be twelve.

Cons: Ogre Battle 64 has multiple endings. By itself this isn't a problem; Chrono Trigger had a dozen endings and that's one of many things people recall fondly about it. But Ogre Battle's six endings range from mega-happy to depressing depending on how well you play the game, which means that once you're sixty hours in you probably have your ending set and it's too late to change it. It's frustrating to sink the equivalent of three days of your life into a narrative and not be able to see the mega-happy resolution without YouTube.

4. Super Mario 64 (1996)

Pros: Super Mario 64 is the greatest technological leap forward in the history of video games. It's been baby steps before and since, watching graphics, control, technology, and genres gradually evolve, but it needs to stand in history that Super Mario 64 was a ridiculously bold and risky leap into the unknown, Nintendo gambling their most bankable intellectual property and perhaps the fate of their new console on a fledgling genre - the 3D platformer - that they were essentially constructing wholesale from the ground up. It was a complete success. Super Mario 64 rightfully shook gaming at its very core.

I've slathered numerous other 3D platformers with praise for elements that Mario 64 pioneered - the variety of worlds and tasks and the mix of platforming, puzzles, and bosses - but the main reason Mario 64 still makes me pop wood all these years is the controls. There's a certain lightness to the control that's as tricky to verbally nail down as explaining why a food item tastes good. Not looseness - the control is incredibly tight - but Mario moves with a slick and incredibly fun speed both in the air and on the ground that no other franchise has matched. Twelve years later, the only two 3D platformers with smoother and more intuitive control than Super Mario 64 are Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy.

This is also the game that changed Princess Toadstool's name to "Peach," which weirded me out at first until I realized that since Toadstools are a race in the Marioverse her old name made about as much sense as a fictional President of the United States being named "President Human."

Cons: None.

3. GoldenEye 007 (1997)

Pros: Until I played GoldenEye 007 I didn't really like first-person shooters. Sure, I was primarily basing this opinion on Doom, but Doom was very popular and I figured that if I didn't care for the most beloved game of a genre I probably wouldn't care for the genre as a whole. It took one Agent 007 James Bond to show me the folly of my ways.

While GoldenEye has a few levels of pure run-and-gun action (and does them well because the engine is a lot of fun), the majority of the game is centered around stealthy spy missions. Sneak through levels while being silent as possible and keeping a low profile, sniping bad guys with silenced pistols or avoiding them when deemed prudent, disabling security systems and shooting cameras, stealing documents and hacking computers. It really makes you feel like motherfuckin' James Bond. The single-player mission is superb.

But that is, as we say in the old country, merely the tip of iceberg. It was this game's stupidly fun multiplayer death match mode that gave it years and years of replayability. It's simple as can be in concept, just dropping you in levels from the game and letting you shoot each other to death, but in 1997 it was about as much fun as four people could have sans orgy.

Cons: GoldenEye's multiplayer mode would eventually be trumped by Perfect Dark, but as a product of its time I have no gripes except that the single-player mode's storytelling is a little whack. It's a very, very rough recreation of the movie's narrative that you can follow if you've seen the 1995 film but otherwise I'm not sure it would make any sense at all. Also, despite playing as James Bond, no matter what button I push I can't convince any of the digital women to sleep with me. Fucking technology.

2. Super Smash Bros. (1999)

Pros: Between 1999 and 2001 I needed Smash like a drug addict needs heroin - constantly and right into my vein. It's funny; like with GoldenEye and the shooter genre, I wasn't particularly crazy about fighting games until I played Super Smash Bros. Sure, I played Street Fighter II some during the 90s, because you weren't no one if you couldn't bust out a Hadouken, but Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Virtua Fighter, and so on held no more interest to me than vaginas hold to a Catholic priest. But come 1999 I found a fighting game seemingly built for my heart.

Smash Bros., how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, it draws deep and shamelessly from a generation of Nintendo nostalgia, amassing in one game a large collection of Nintendo characters, locations, items, theme songs, and general iconography. I'm a Nintendo junkie, so I dug that. Two, each of the twelve fighters (except Mario and Luigi) plays completely and totally differently than each other, with completely unique attacks, jumping ability, speed, strengths, and weaknesses, leading to endless battle variety. And three, the controls actually resemble a Nintendo platformer more than a conventional fighting game, with none of the stiffness I typically associated with the genre.

It all adds up to a ridiculously crack-like multiplayer mode that headlined the "Holy Trinity" of itself, Perfect Dark, and Mario Tennis that my old N64 crew played nonstop from 1999 - 2001. I must have put a thousand hours into this fucking game. The folly of wasted youth... the joy of smashing Pikachu in the face with a baseball bat.

Cons: Super Smash Bros.' massive character variety is also its one downfall - there are a few fighters that stand very clearly head and shoulders above the rest and no matter how well you play some of the lesser characters, such as Yoshi, Link, and Donkey Kong, you will always be at a severe handicap. It's also, as I've mentioned with a few other games on this list, overshadowed by its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube. Melee's battles are lightning-paced and the original feels sluggish when you go back to it.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Pros: If 1985's Super Mario Bros. is the Citizen Kane of video games, taking every element available to its young medium and simultaneously surging every one of them forward in one package, then The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is The Godfather of video games, the culmination of a more mature art form that has had time to grow and experiment, an epic that revolutionizes while embracing the best traditions of its medium, sublime in every element. You could easily mount an argument that Ocarina of Time is not only best game on Nintendo 64 but the best game of all time.

The general format of Ocarina is typical of its genre - you explore towns and find secrets and gather items and most notably journey through nine monster and puzzle-filled dungeons. Between dungeons there are plot events and subquests and set pieces that open up the next dungeon, and so on and so forth up to the end - basically the same format as previous Zeldas.

But the execution is just flat-out better than any other game of its type. The dungeons are atmospheric, brilliantly designed webs of interlocking puzzles. The jaw-dropping, often massive bosses are terrific. The high fantasy plot unfolds with the streamlined beauty of myth. The artwork, design, and music are among the best of any console. The variety of items and weapons you get is without equal. The minigames, such as the fishing hole, are good enough that lesser companies might have released them as their own games. There's endless secrets and subquests. The game radiates an unparalleled at the time sense of style and elegance. You even get to ride a goddamn horse.

Total victory. Best game on the Nintendo 64 and certainly one of the top five games of all time.

Cons: There are exactly two imperfections in Ocarina of Time: I wish that the overworld music in the future was the classic Legend of Zelda theme song, and I wish that the final battle against Ganon was more challenging.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #16 - 9

16. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996)

Pros: I hereby declare Shadows of the Empire awesome and decree that all haters immediately report to my house to suck on my balls. Okay, okay, I'll admit it's flawed (and we'll discuss that in a second), but I first played this game when I was a little kid and Star Wars was the most important thing on earth. I loved it back then and that kind of warm nostalgia reigns eternal.

Even haters admit that the first and last levels - flying a Snow Speeder in the Battle of Hoth and facing off Xizor's Skyhook above Coruscant, respectively - are cause to jism. The Rogue Squadron series would later expand on these ideas. But I like the third-person shooter levels in between too. You face off against Stormtroopers, wampas, dianoga, an AT-ST on foot, and Boba Fett, fly a jet pack, hijack a train on Ord Mantell, and infiltrate Imperial strongholds - and it's badass. Except for the whale-sized dianoga you're forced underwater with in the Coruscant sewers, that was just horrifying and gave me nightmares for a decade. What the hell, LucasArts.

Cons: I'll agree with the haters on one thing - the play control in this game needed tightening. The jumping is looser than a six-time mother's vagina and makes platforming over bottomless pits a terrifying gamble with death every time, although finding the jet pack thankfully alleviates the issue. The storytelling is also a bit whack. I read the Shadows of the Empire novel so I understood everything, but for anyone else the cut scenes between the levels are vague enough to have you saying "What the hell is this? What's going on?!" Here's my guide to the complex nuances of this drama - Rebels: Good. Empire: Bad.

15. Paper Mario (2001)

Pros: The fourth of the N64's five RPGs (previously covered: Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, Quest 64, Hybrid Heaven) and the first must-play amongst them, Paper Mario glues Super Mario themes, characters, settings, jumping, and classic gameplay elements together with RPG-style towns, exploration, level gaining, and turn-based combat. Like chocolate and peanut butter, baby - the union was meant to be. And for some reason all the characters are flat like paper / Keira Knightley, which is unexplained but gives it a unique and vibrant visual texture. The game also has a refreshingly self-deprecating sense of humor, constantly taking the piss out of itself, Mario, RPGs, and gaming in general.

The turn-based battles themselves may have seemed graphically simplistic in 2001 - well into the post-Final Fantasy VII RPG age of having every attack accompanied by fourteen hours of FMV animation - but since everything moves lightning quick and is super streamlined you blitz through the battles; because of this the combat has arguably aged better here than in those PS1 Final Fantasy games. Clever boss fights, too.

Cons: I kind of like how all the other Mario RPGs introduce original villains - be they alien invaders, sealed demon gods, interdimensional beings, or whatever else - with worldwide stakes that eventually force Bowser to either sidekick with them or join up with Mario. In this game the plot is just "Bowser kidnaps Princess, go save her." Which is great for a sidescroller but a little lacking in an RPG. I'll also admit that the game is overshadowed by its superb GameCube sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, in basically every conceivable way.

14. Blast Corps (1997)

Pros: Blast Corps rocks because it's totally original. There's absolutely nothing else like it. Basically, an unmanned nuclear missile carrier (gee, how could anything have gone wrong??) has gone haywire and begun driving relentlessly forward in a straight line through several populated cities. The missile is leaking and volatile and if the truck rams into a single building then it's instant nuclear holocaust - the only option is to lead it miles out of civilization into a safe area it can detonate.

So you must take command of bulldozers and missile launchers and giant mechs and a bunch of other vehicles and make sure the carrier's path is never disturbed, which typically involves leveling every single fucking building in its way. This is genius, allowing for a lot of super-satisfying mindless destruction in early levels but also requiring thoughtful analysis of complicated terrain in the later stages where you have to experiment and map out the quickest path. There's also puzzles, such as the carrier heading for a river and forcing you to line up boats for it to drive over. Action, shooting, puzzles, nuclear apocalypse - goddamn game has it all. Also, the giant jet pack robot ("J-Bomb") is just fun as hell to play.

Cons: My only complaint is one vehicle I don't really enjoy using but you have to in several levels, a dump truck called "Backlash" that you have to grind in fast circles to destroy buildings by pegging them with the back corner of the truck. It's tough to use and in a decade I still haven't really mastered it.

13. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (1998)

Pros: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is basically the poor man's Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I mean that in a nice way, though; being the poor man's Ocarina of Time is like being a less hot Scarlett Johansson - the fact that you've invited the comparison in the first place is a compliment. That's right, baby, I just meant that you're ugly in comparison, don't cry like that.

Like Zelda, Mystical Ninja is a fantasy adventure game where you travel across the world, visiting towns, crossing plains and climbing mountains, gaining new items and abilities, and most notably exploring dungeons and conquering the monsters, puzzles, and massive bosses therein. After beating one dungeon the plot opens up to allow you to reach the next one and so on and so forth. Adventure gaming 101, and in this case executed with panache.

And what separates it from Zelda, you ask, voice hoarse with anticipation? Well from a gameplay perspective not terribly much except that there are several first-person giant robot battles, which is hilarious and awesome. In terms of mood and aesthetic it's extremely different; in contrast to Zelda's dark high fantasy, Mystical Ninja is super-lighthearted and super-Japanese, with cheesy anime songs sung in undubbed Japanese and everything. The main villain is a theatre buff wearing all purple named Spring Breeze Dancin' who wants to turn the world into his stage. This is exactly as absurd as it sounds and it all just adds to the charm.

Cons: I may be getting soft in my old age, but I have no real direct criticism to offer. I could point out some matters of degree - the graphics aren't superb and the enemy design is sometimes bland, and most of the puzzles are pretty simple. But all in all I just think everyone who enjoys adventure games should play it, it's great.

12. Mario Tennis (2000)

Pros: I can't say enough good things about Mario Tennis. The multiplayer is more fun than doing blow off a hooker's tits. For a couple years it was part of what I call the "Holy Trinity" of N64 games that me and my old gaming crew played nonstop circa 2000 - 2001, and it never got boring in the least because following the basic Nintendo mantra of being easy to pick up and play but deceptively deep and difficult to master, you will just get better and better at Mario Tennis the more you play it. You'll be able to make the ball do things you had no idea were possible when you first picked it up, you'll master your trick shots and figure out how to psyche people out and maybe even how to ace them. And if you're playing the same opponents then they'll just get better and better along with you.

Unlike the relaxed experience of playing Mario Golf, a great match of Mario Tennis, with the ball rocketing back and forth and an unholy tension simmering, will have you drenched with sweat your veins pumping adrenaline. Mario Tennis is awesome.

Cons: Mario Tennis introduced Waluigi, who is such a goddamn loser I can't believe it. I am in awe that one character can suck so much. Waluigi is a child molester.

11. Bomberman 64 (1997)

Pros: I LOVE THIS GAME. Hudson Soft musta did some kind of game-making steroids before designing this because it's by far my favorite Bomberman game of all time. Chucking off the trappings of the series' typical enclosed rooms in favor of Super Mario 64-inspired large, open, elementally diverse worlds, Bomberman 64 has all the good stuff you could possibly ask for from an action-adventure game: Fun level design. Awesomely huge bosses. Puzzles involving logic and geometry. Power-ups. Secrets. Even great music. There's staggering variety and with just twelve levels and twelve bosses it's extremely well-paced while remaining quite challenging. I was obsessed with this game's single-player quest for like two months when I first played it.

And on top of that there's a wicked fun multiplayer death match mode, a Bomberman series staple. It's fucking lunacy, especially if you put the time limits on. When time begins running out stage hazards take effect - water starts rising, the walls start closing in, meteors raining down, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Real men play with the time limits on. And the same real men piss their pants and shriek like girls when the walls start closing in. That's gaming magic.

Cons: I have nothing bad to say about the single-player except for pointing out a minor bit of doo-dad collecting with the Gold Cards you have to find all of to access the final secret world. But I will say that the multiplayer, while an insane, chaotic, and fun party game, is trumped at least in terms of depth by Bomberman '93 on the TurboGrafx-16. The tight controls and degree of strategy in that iteration's death matches have not been topped.

10. Mischief Makers (1997)

Pros: If you ignore the kinda gay title you'll find in Mischief Makers an underlooked gem of a game and my personal favorite sidescroller on Nintendo 64. It has an entertaining (if very anime-esque) narrative with an unfolding rebellion against an evil empire, plenty of unique characters (a couple of whom even get killed off!), some plot twists, fun stuff. It also has great sprite-based visuals that I think have aged better than a lot of equally old 3D games, and the music is just superb the whole way through. The presentation is charming.

But it's the gameplay that makes it pop. Game developer Treasure (probably best known for Gunstar Heroes) is famed for frantic, satisfying action and awesome bosses, both of which this game delivers in spades. Unlike Gunstar Heroes you don't have a weapon; your character just grabs things. Grab the enemy, throw him into the wall or spikes or a pit or another enemy to kill him off. This hands-on approach to mass murder is satisfying as hell. The level design is wildly diverse, with nearly every stage tossing some unique twist or vehicle or puzzle or even new player character in with the action. And the bosses are staggering, showstopping events unto themselves. I love this game, I want to fuck it.

Cons: Honestly not much. I guess the story is kind of cheeseball and some of the voice acting is goofy, but if you like 2D platformers then there's absolutely no excuse to have not played Mischief Makers.

9. Perfect Dark (2000)

Pros: This sci-fi first-person shooter is Rare's spiritual sequel to the immortal GoldenEye 007; the setting and characters are original but it takes its wicked gameplay engine from GoldenEye almost exactly. Pumping bad guys full of lead is still super satisfying and it has clever level design with well-implemented stealth just like GoldenEye did. The plot, involving the gradual revelation of an alien conspiracy that could destroy the world, is also good fun. It wouldn't make for classic sci-fi literature but I don't think it'd be a bad Sci-Fi Channel movie either. It's also M-rated and has a lot more blood than GoldenEye; sometimes when you shoot a bad guy he cries out "I don't want to die!" Hahaha, that's awesome.

But while the single-player is a hell of game in its own right it's the multiplayer that defines Perfect Dark, making it the second game of the "Holy Trinity" I mentioned earlier. It takes GoldenEye's death match multiplayer and adds more levels, fully customizable weapons, and more advanced AI. The death matches are intense as hell but even the ancillary modes like capture the flag are fun enough to play for hours if you have three friends. Second best multiplayer on the N64 for my money.

Cons: It may trump GoldenEye's multiplayer in every facet but the single-player quest falls just short of its predecessor; a few of the missions have obtuse objectives and meandering design that may force you to look at a guide online to figure out exactly what the hell's going on. The Chicago Streets level comes to mind immediately - trying to get a grasp on what the deal was became a bit frustrating. Also, your hot female protagonist actually dresses like an agent would in black combat suits and bullet-proof vests and never shows any skin like a female gaming protagonist is supposed to. Why would you do this Rare.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #24 - 17

24. Space Station Silicon Valley (1998)

Pros: Space Station Silicon Valley is an intergalactic zoo plummeting towards earth and poised to annihilate all life unless you, a heroic robot, land on and stop it. You swap your microchip to take control of sheep, dogs, bears, elephants, kangaroos, camels, chameleons, turtles, penguins, vultures, lions, and so on as you platform your way through the various levels. Each animal has different attacks and abilities and means of mobility - I'm sure that you, not being retarded, guessed as much - which means variety out the asshole. Best of all, the levels aren't centered around collecting doo-dads, but a list of objectives ala GoldenEye 007.

The game also has a demented sense of humor: In the opening scene, a dog and sheep proclaim their love and eternal commitment to each other. Your rocket ship then crash lands on and kills the dog. You take his body and while wearing his flesh kill the sheep / his wife to take over her body. This sounds Hannibal Lecter-fucked up, but the dissonantly cute and harmless aesthetic the game presents itself with makes it the finest black comedy you can find in an E-rated platformer.

Cons: I said that DMA's other N64 game, Body Harvest, felt unfinished. Well Space Station Silicon Valley is literally not fucking finished. There's an item you have to collect in one level that they misprogrammed so you pass right through it. Because of this you can't get 100% and can't see the game's best ending without putting in a code. Quality control much, DMA Design? That's like printing and shipping a hundred thousand copies of a book without the last three pages. It's also the only N64 game I know of that suffers from lockups. It's super fun outside of these problems, but sheeeesssh.

23. F-Zero X (1998)

Pros: The primary selling point of Nintendo's flagship sci-fi racing franchise is its unparalleled sense of speed. The F-Zero cars are supposed to go something ludicrous like 700 mph, and it fucking shows - the game may not look like much in still screenshots, but in motion it zips by at a ragged, jaw-dropping, visceral speed that will have every vein taut with adrenaline and boner fully popped. And there's no missiles or items or tricks - just pure racing. There are boosts and you can muscle other cars around, but you have to have superb reflexes and just be better than the other racers to win, period. Gimmick-free, no-bullshit. There's like twenty-four tracks and thirty cars and the play control couldn't possibly be sharper and the hyperactive music is completely badass, perfectly complimenting the on-edge, high-tension experience of playing the game.


22. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000)

Pros: The Legend of Zelda is the greatest thing on earth outside of Star Wars, kittens, and tits. Everyone knows that. A well-designed Zelda dungeon is a perfect tapestry of interlocking puzzles and action, tied together with moody visuals and great music representing Nintendo at the height of their aesthetic power, taxing your brain and skills and topped off with an enormous and awesome boss. That's gaming, baby.

And Majora's Mask - although it's considered the black sheep of the series along with Zelda II - definitely has a few of those sublime dungeons and that magic Zelda vibe, even bringing back the absent-from-Ocarina of Time Zelda overworld fanfare. But it's also drenched in a creepy, cold, off-putting vibe that, while different, makes it probably the darkest of the series and the closest thing to a Zelda horror game, a welcome novelty. Zelda is inherently good; "Zelda" is synonymous with "good."

Cons: In Majora's Mask an evil moon is plummeting down to destroy the world in three days. But you can go back in time at the end of every third day and start over again; you have to plan your schedule just right to make time to do everything. But here's the thing (and I'm almost embarrassed to admit it): I really don't like this gimmick. I hate to be the person lashing out at innovative and clever game design, especially when this was universally praised as a bold breath of fresh air for the series, but I have to speak from my heart. I associate Zelda with exploring and adventure at your own pace, not stressful time limits. I like my Zelda pure.

21. Mario Party 1 - 3 (1999 - 2001)

Pros: Yes, I'm listing all three together, sue me. They're all the same thing: Mario-themed digital board games. You take four players, ideally all humans, and roll dice and move through the board, occasionally landing on traps or buying items and using them to help yourself and attack your opponents. You collect Stars at the end of the board. Every four turns a minigame is played, and there's dozens and dozens of super well-designed minigames flexing all types of gaming muscle in all genres. Stars are also awarded for who wins the most minigames. Whoever has the most Stars at the end wins.

The best part of Mario Party is the profanity. You see, in a normal multiplayer party game like Mario Kart or Smash Bros, the ebb and tide of victory and failure and thus the profanity and trash talking is constant. But in Mario Party there are minutes-long stretches of relative calm, pressure and tension quietly boiling, when suddenly someone steals a Star from someone else or the leader lands on one wrong space and loses all their shit and the whole game goes haywire, and suddenly everyone in the room is screaming "WHAT THE FUCK!!" and "HOOOLY SHIT!!!" and "FUUUUUUUCK!!!!" at the tops of their lungs and calling each other cunts in a cathartic explosion of emotion. Mario Party is best played drunk.

Cons: Single player Mario Party is as retarded as playing a board game with yourself. But why would one ever consider doing such a thing in the first place? CON NEGATED.

20. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998)

Pros: December, 1998. A time when Star Wars was still motherfuckin' Star Wars, and this ain't some Episode I nonsense like Battle for Naboo - in Rogue Squadron you play as Luke Skywalker and traverse the original trilogy in an action flight sim that's like the first Hoth level of Shadows of the Empire blown up to full-sized game with added cutscenes. Couldn't be a simpler or better concept: take command of X-Wings, Y-Wings, A-Wings, and Snow Speeders and do battle with the Galactic Empire across a dozen worlds. Protect cities from Imperial bombers, take out Imperial bases, topple Imperial Walkers, protect Rebel bases and Rebel transports - all the good stuff that an Alliance pilot did to earn his paycheck during the Galactic Civil War. The visuals were top of the line for 1998 and the game uses all the classic sound effects and a lot of John Williams music to lend to that retro Star Wars vibe.

Cons: Taken as a product of its own time, the only flaw is a minor sense of sluggishness. X-Wings may have sublight engines but here they don't seem to go much past 50 mph. I understand why - the game mostly revolves around tracking and precision shooting small targets. But it would be fun to be able to cut loose and F-Zero across the worlds with a Wedge Antilles "YEE-HAW!!!", a sad impossibility.

And taken outside of its own time, the GameCube sequel Rogue Leader overwhelms and outclasses its N64 big brother in every feasible way: better control, more ships, more enemies, bigger levels, incredible graphics, and music, missions, & voice acting straight from the films. Poor Rogue Squadron got upgraded like an outdated computer model. It's still fun though.

19. Snowboard Kids (1998)

Pros: One time all the N64 racing games got together for a Christmas party. Long story short, Mario Kart 64 and 1080° Snowboarding had a little too much to drink and bumped uglies sans rubber. Mario Kart got pregnant and turns out the bitch was pro-life and despite 1080°'s protests refused to get an abortion. Thus Snowboard Kids was born. She had her father's snowboards and stunts and airtime but her mother's cute and colorful aesthetic and focus on sabotaging your opponents with collectible items strewn across the track rather than simple outmaneuvering. She grew to be a beautiful game and I loved her dearly.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the best "Mario Kart" game that isn't Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 is Diddy Kong Racing. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Diddy Kong Racing is fun but it's such a flat rip-off that there's no reason to not just play Mario Kart instead; Snowboard Kids takes the item mechanic but plays differently and brings something fresh to the table. The gameplay isn't as deep or nuanced as Mario Kart but it's just goddamn fun.

Cons: The races emulate Mario Kart 64's three-lap structure, which is fine, except that you go down mountains instead of around circular tracks so at the end of each lap you have to grab a ski lift back to the top. Which would also be fine except that one time in thirty the game's collision detection farts and you bounce back and fall over from hitting the ski lift chair as if you've hit a wall, which can cost you five or six seconds - which in a racing game can cost you the race. Unfortunate.

18. Rayman 2: The Great Escape (1999)

Pros: Rayman 2 is pretty much a best-of-3D platforming greatest hits album, perhaps not bringing anything fundamentally new to the table but eagerly rehashing the genre's proudest moments and reminding us why we love it. You pretty much know the drill - there's big worlds to explore with jumping challenges, enemies and bosses to fight, puzzles to solve, items to fetch, and subquests galore. Avoid spikes and fire and pits, naturally, and be on the lookout for the occasional vehicle segment. The game also borrows Ocarina of Time's Z-targeting system where you lock onto and circle enemies in combat.

There's isn't five characters and a trillion items ala Donkey Kong 64, the game keeps it clean and streamlined and sticks with what works. The visuals also deserve shoutouts; thanks to the N64's RAM Expansion Pak the draw distance is enormous and there isn't a trace of fog in the whole game. It looks lush and beautiful even by today's standards.

Cons: The only real gripe I can think of is that in a post-Super Mario, post-Banjo-Kazooie, post-Jak and Daxter, post-Ratchet & Clank world, Rayman 2 might feel a little bit generic. Hella fun, but generic.

17. Wave Race 64 (1996)

Pros: Produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and the same team that would later be behind 1080° Snowboarding, this Jet Ski racer was one of the N64's very first games and a high "watermark" for racing games at the time. It was the combination of the speed, the graphics, the play control, and perhaps above all else the water physics - something most games today still haven't mastered - that made it more than just a "drop in the ocean." The way the waves flow and chop and become erratic and toss you about if you're not careful made a real "splash," and the water looks fantastic to this day. The play control is fast and "fluid," with a cherry-on-top system of stunts and tricks and even the ability to ride a dolphin. Wave Race 64 is a "river" of entertainment. There's very little that you will find "fishy" about this game.

Cons: Only eight courses and four characters means that you'll see all the game has to offer relatively quickly. Doesn't mean it won't take you a long time to master it, though; I've had the game for over a decade and Expert mode still makes me feel "wet behind the ears."

Top 64 N64 Games #16 - 9 should be coming on Saturday or Sunday, then I'll be taking a brief break from Nintendo before the final installment to cover the election. But don't worry, the end is now in sight. Sorry I had so many fucking racing games this time, what's that all about?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #32 - 25

32. Jet Force Gemini (1999)

Pros: I have extraordinarily bipolar feelings towards this game; I couldn't quite decide whether it should be ranked in the top 20 or down in the 50s. But let's start positive.

Jet Force Gemini is a third-person sci-fi shooter where you battle an evil empire of giant bugs. It's a high-budget, AAA title by Rare and it shows - the action is fast and intense (and has a co-op mode), with lots of different weapons and bugs of all shapes and sizes to kill. The graphics are detailed, sharp, and colorful, with no fog or pop-ups, and the music is great. You blast your way through jungles and swamps and caves, enemy space stations and battle cruisers, eerie ruins on an ocean planet, high mountain peaks, and bug palaces. It's fun and absorbing, with a Star Warsian pulp sci-fi vibe to it, and the first three-quarters of the game is late-90s 3D action at its near-best.

Cons: But then the doo-dads rear their ugly heads. What, did you expect Rare could just make a well-paced 3D shooter and have it stand on the merits of its action? Young fool. Only now, at the end, do you understand.

There are several hundred Ewoks (they call them "Tribals," but they are Ewoks) scattered across the game, hidden in obscure corners of giant worlds, behind scenery, up on ledges. Dozens on every single planet, in every single spaceship. And when you reach the main villain's palace, you are told quite clearly that fuck you, if you want to play the final level and fight the final boss, you have to comb through the ENTIRE game and collect every. Single. Fucking. Ewok. You have no device to track them. No indications of where they are. Twenty more hours are added onto your adventure and the pacing of the game is destroyed. God fucking damn it, Rare.

Imagine you spend a few weeks wining and dining some hot girl. You're making out with her and you're finally about to seal the deal. Then just when her underwear's about to come off, she tells you "I have hidden three-hundred tokens all over the city. Find them and call me first," then leaves. That's Jet Force Gemini.

31. Beetle Adventure Racing (1999)

Pros: Extended and shameless acts of product placement don't get much better than this, one of the N64's best racers. As indicated by the title you race exclusively in Volkswagen Beetles and the "Adventure" part comes in with the fact that, although there are only six tracks, they are absolutely colossal tracks - easily the biggest and most detailed in any N64 racing game - that take several minutes per lap and are full of dozens of shortcuts, alternate routes, secrets, and easter eggs. The game is technically superb, with enormous draw distance, visual detail that belies the N64's limitations, high frame rate, and a rockin' sense of speed. It also has a funky 70s soundtrack and in contrast to the "extreme" racers of the day doesn't take itself seriously at all.

Cons: Single-player races are you and seven other cars (standard), but for some reason in multiplayer races rather than you, your friend, and six AI cars it's just the two humans with no option to bring the computers in. Kind of lame.

30. Bomberman Hero (1998)

Pros: I'm actually in the minority in liking this game a lot; for all its limitations, it charmed me. It's a Bomberman game in name only - you play Bomberman and attack with bombs, but unlike the rest of the series it's a platformer with jumping, you throw bombs like projectiles instead of lying them, there's not many puzzles, and there's no multiplayer. But there's a beauty to the streamlined simplicity of the levels; they throw a good combination of tough but reasonable enemies, action, and jumping challenges at you, with cool jetpack and submarine segments and neat bosses. Not imaginative, perhaps, but simple gaming comfort food. When I rented it a decade back I pretty much played through the entire game in one weekend-long sitting.

Cons: First, the flat and workmanlike visuals of the game aren't even particularly good by 1998 standards. But more damningly the game suffers from pretty much the exact same shit I just discussed with Jet Force Gemini. There's a fake final boss, but to fight the real final-as-fuck boss you have to find twenty-four crystal orbs spread through the game, which isn't too bad since you can grab them all in an hour with a guide, and get an "A" score rank on every level, which IS REALLY BAD, because that means you will probably have to play every single level in the entire game over again. This is a very dire pacing problem that makes the game unbeatable to all except the extremely autistic.

Basically, if a game has X number of collectibles / secrets in it, the amount required to beat the game should never be any more than 2X/3, and it should never, ever be X.

29. Pilotwings 64 (1996)

Pros: The first N64 game alongside Mario and in September 1996 the most advanced flight sim on a home console, Pilotwings 64's best features are its variety and play control. You have three different "vehicles" (plus the Birdman wings) - airplane, jet pack, and hang glider - and each is a completely different gameplay experience that controls nothing like the others. My favorite is the jet pack because it's hilarious to fly your dude three miles straight into the air and then run out of fuel and fall like a minute to your death.

Tasks range from flying through rings to landing on floating platforms to popping balloons to missile targeting to taking photographs to time attacks to battling a giant robot, with nearly everything executed well and every vehicle controlling like silk, especially the super-responsive jet pack a.k.a. hilarious suicide facilitator. Landing the plane is a little bit tricky but since I've seen Air Force One I know that's true in real life as well.

Cons: As a very, very early 3D game the aesthetics haven't aged well, with smeared textures, a bizarre sense of scale where your characters are taller than houses, and elevator tunes. And the giant robot battles and missile targeting are kind of frustrating because your missiles don't aim very well. It would also be nice if after touching onto ground in the jet pack or Birdman wings you could walk around. But I feel like I'm just being an asshole criticizing such an early and innovative game. It's good. Don't worry about it.

28. Yoshi's Story (1998)

Pros: Teaching children everywhere about the joys of cannibalism, Yoshi's Story is an in-house Nintendo sidescroller that roughly emulates the engine of Yoshi's Island - same eating enemies, forming eggs, throwing the eggs, kicking to float through midair, and ground pounding. The only thing missing is baby Mario. As an in-house Nintendo game, it has super smooth control and interesting and fun level design, with the usual Mario series mix of grass lands, caves, lava lands, oceans, swamps, clouds, snowy fields, and Bowser's castle.

But where the game might stand out the most is in its aesthetics; Yoshi's Story is bar none the most gorgeous sidescroller on the N64. The game has a storybook theme and each level's terrain and background is composed of some mix of felt, patchwork cloth, paper cutouts, and so on. It's bright, colorful, detailed, and truly innovative.

Cons: This game is easier than a homeless crack whore offering to blow you for $3. Except for one or two tantalizing levels, you will not be pushed or challenged at any point in Yoshi's Story; it's a disturbingly simplistic cakewalk on a nearly unprecedented scale with easy enemies, easy platforming, and fucking pathetic bosses. You'll fly through every level in a couple of hours, a goddamn shame after the brilliant, perfectly balanced, and challenging Yoshi's Island. I understand that not every sidescroller needs to be Contra or Ninja Gaiden, but I gotta be met halfway here.

27. Goemon's Great Adventure (1999)

Pros: Think of it as the "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link" to Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon's "Legend of Zelda" - dropping the 3D roaming and Zelda-esque dungeon designs of its N64 predecessor, Goemon's Great Adventure is a good old sidescrolling action game where you take control of Goemon and his three friends Ebisamaru, Yae, and Sasuke, and blast your through level after level stuffed with bad guys and platforming action. Like Zelda II the sidescrolling levels are broken up by an overworld, have some nonlinearity to them, and most notably have you visit villages between levels where you talk to townspeople, shop, and solve puzzles. Two player co-op, an actual sense of humor, lush settings full of visual variety, and solid music don't hurt either.

Cons: As with Zelda II, the town segments are sometimes welcome, but sometimes break up the momentum a little bit if all you want to do is get back to fighting bad guys and you have to solve some town nonsense first.

26. Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001)

Pros: To my knowledge the only N64 game where a giant mound of feces comes to life and sings about flinging his shit at you, Conker's Bad Fur Day was conceived as a cute, G-rated platformer in the mold of Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, seemingly the ideal vehicle for Rare's adorable squirrel mascot. Then someone at Rare had a psychological breakdown or had their girlfriend break up with them or something and decided to repaint the entire game with blood, gore, profanity, vomit, shit, and piss. Tasks involve convincing a flower lady to expose her breasts so you can bounce on them to the next level, engaging in an ultra-bloody parody of Saving Private Ryan's opening scene except with squirrels, and wielding your urine stream as a weapon.

It arrived in the N64's last year and is perhaps the system's most technically advanced game, with graphics that already seem halfway-to-GameCube and more voice tracks than any other N64 game. And get this - it's a Rare platformer that does NOT involve going from world to world collecting doo-dads. I'm dead serious. The game actually flows reasonably from one level and task to the next. Rare, you're growing up!

Cons: Despite the game's claims that it is for "17 and up" gamers, the toilet humor would really best serve boys around the age of 11 or 12. Not that there aren't some laughs to be had, but farts only get you so far. But I don't want to chastise a game for trying something new and provocative, so I won't dwell on that. You could also argue that the sheer number of different gameplay styles it tries a hand at (particularly the somewhat awkward shooter segment) makes it a jack of all trades, master of none, but I also don't want to criticize a game for attempting variety. It's a good game, I don't have to much to say here.

25. Sin & Punishment (2000)

Pros: Now this shit is awesome. Sin & Punishment is spectacle of hyperkinetic shooting action paced quicker than that time you lost your virginity and lasted for two minutes, a wonderful translation of hardcore arcade gaming straight to your N64 (or Wii, since it didn't receive formal American release until the Virtual Console). Your dude runs forward on an on-rails path wielding gun and sword against teeming hordes of enemies, dodging their bullets and attacks and taking down planes and tanks and the occasional gigantic bioweapon. It's an adrenaline-pumping blast, and the art direction is so classy and unique that the game can even in 2008 produce an appreciative whistle of "damn, that look good."

Like with WinBack: Covert Operations, I'm not quite sure whether to count the ludicrous story - in this case a generic sci-fi anime yarn of giant robots and genetically engineered mutants - as a pro or con, but hell, it just adds to the charm, let's go for pro.

Cons: There's a lot to keep an eye on at one time - your character's right-to-left movement, dodging obstacles in your path, jumping over pits, moving your aiming cursor, marking and shooting at the enemies, using the right weapon, and dodging enemy bullets and attacks. It's kind of like the gaming equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach while hopping on one foot, and while most of the levels do balance this well there are one or two segments that throw everything at you at once, upon which the gamer may be excused for letting loose a single "FFUUUUUUCCCKK!!!!" at their inevitable death.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #40 - 33

40. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (1997)

Pros: Imagine, if you will, a long-lost time called "February 1997." The concept of first-person shooters on home consoles was still twinged with exoticism and the genre largely synonymous with Doom. Then along came Turok, the N64's first first-person shooter, to shake things up. The game's wide-open outdoor jungle levels flew in stark contrast to the enclosed labyrinths of Doom and as you bloodily cut your way through evil soldiers and dinosaurs and giant insects and lizard men you also blazed new ground in gaming history. The control system of using the C buttons to move and the control stick to look and aim is roughly emulated to this day.

Cons: Some games stay perfect and timeless forever - when the aliens take over Earth in 2200, Super Mario Bros. 3 will still be awesome - but in a genre that has evolved as quickly as action-based first-person shooters, Turok looks like a dinosaur (PUN MASTERSTROKE) when compared to your modern Halos and whatnot, not just in terms of its foggy and repetitively-textured graphics, but in terms of control smoothness, weapon variety, level design, enemy AI, general storytelling, style, aesthetic, and scale (and of course its lack of multiplayer). It would probably be hard for someone who got into gaming today to go back to and enjoy. It's a piece of history, like a Chaplin movie, if a Chaplin movie had more T-Rexes and geysers of blood.

39. Harvest Moon 64 (1999)

Pros: All the fun of farm maintenance with none of the soul-crushing, back-breaking toil, Harvest Moon 64 is the third game in the ever-ongoing life simulation series. The game opens with your grandfather's funeral and your subsequent inheritance of his farm and from there on out it's like an RPG if it were nothing but the minigames - you have to grow and maintain crops, go to festivals, woo and marry a pretty lady, build bridges, go to horse and dog races, go fishing, improve your house, and acquire and care for chickens, sheep, and cows. If one of your animals gets sick and dies then you're greeted with a funeral scene where you bury them next to your grandfather, which seems normal until you realize that you're burying a chicken next to your grandfather, upon which it becomes fucking hilarious.

Cons: Like all Harvest Moon games it operates in a strict cycle - every day you wake up, clear weeds, feed animals, water plants, harvest plants, and hit the shops, in cycle dozens and dozens of times. Now, this is part of the appeal for many people - whether or not it's repetitive or Zen bliss is entirely up to you.

38. Snowboard Kids 2 (1999)

Pros: Snowboard Kids 2 is basically the original Snowboard Kids' engine lifted exactly - same graphics, same controls, same item and weapon engine, everything - and given nine new courses to race on. Only a few of which actually take place in the snow; mostly you're "snowboarding" through beaches or the ocean or castles or space stations or I don't know what the fuck. And I love Snowboard Kids. Everything good about this game is also good about Snowboard Kids, so we'll save that conversation for later.

Cons: It's more an expansion pack than a full-blooded game, declining to really expand on the ideas of Snowboard Kids beyond adding a tiny town for you to walk around in between levels (kind of pointless) and "bosses" that you have to race every three levels (which I wasn't really crazy about in Diddy Kong Racing or here, they kind of break the momentum). The engine also has some inherent flaws but again I'll save those for when I talk about the first one. Don't wanna blow my Snowboard Kids wad; that sounds like a one-way ticket to jail.

37. Resident Evil 2 (1999)

Pros: Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield find themselves trapped in the bloody, apocalyptic chaos of Raccoon City amidst a zombie invasion, and do what any desperate person would in the same situation: solve puzzles involving pushing statues. Ok, there's also zombie-shooting. 

Upping the ante from Resident Evil 1 in pretty much every way - horror, graphics, puzzles, action, and thankfully voice acting - Resident Evil 2's N64 port was the first of the PS1-originated series to hit a Nintendo system, and through some arcane and forbidden black magic managed to shove on a cartridge not only all the prerendered backgrounds of the Playstation original but all the FMVs too. All that while doubling the in-game resolution and adding analog control. Sweet!

Cons: After the glorious cum fiesta that was Resident Evil 4 it's a little hard to go back to the first three games - not the graphics, which I don't care about, but that goddamn camera that sets itself in predetermined, static positions and you constantly have to readjust to. Of course I realize the first three games had no choice, because they didn't actually have polygon-constructed locations, just prerendered background images that your polygonal characters move through, but it's still aggravating. And the pre-Resident Evil 4 controls were also always on the stiff side.

36. 1080° Snowboarding (1998)

Pros: 1080° is an in-house Nintendo game so a certain degree of polish and production value is implied, and it's hard not to compare it to Nintendo's other "realistic" N64 racer, Wave Race 64, especially given that both were produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and programmed by Giles Goddard and Colin Reed. 

Whereas Wave Race had the realistic water physics, 1080° has an unparalleled sense of speed as the snowy levels blur by, music by Kenta Negata (of Mario Kart 64 / Double Dash fame) so rockin' they included some of it in Smash Bros. Brawl, tight, responsive controls, and a plethora of tricks to perform during your substantial airtime. It's just a sleek, polished racing game, and probably the best of the (admittedly few) realistic snowboarding games I've played.

Cons: The game was evidently made in only nine months (like a baby!), and while this doesn't show at all in its physics or control or graphics it DOES show in the fact there are only six tracks. You can blitzkrieg through this fucking game. It'll be a fun experience but it'll climax when you feel like you're just getting started, like how it must feel for girls when I have sex with them. Wait what

35. Mario Golf (1999)

Pros: This game is about as relaxed as multiplayer gets. Oh, it's hard, no doubt; you have to adjust for wind and weather and terrain and obstacles and determine which club to use and where to hit the ball, not to mention the button press-timing game every time you swing. A mistake can send you right into the rough. But there's always a minute or two after your swing to watch your opponent make his or hers, and during your own move you're doing more squinting and studying and "hmm"ing then anything else. The relaxation is only aided by the game's aural combination of elevator tunes and Mario music. It's a game that makes you feel like you should be sipping tea and eating biscuits while playing. A pleasant lazy afternoon sort of game.

Cons: Single-player Mario Golf is boring.

34. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (2000)

Pros: Kirby has never quite been a "prestige" Nintendo franchise to the same degree as Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, but I think Kirby is the motherfucking shit. Anyone who has played Kirby Super Star and doesn't think Kirby is the motherfucking shit should immediately report to my house for mandatory euthanasia. He runs and flies around and sucks you up and steals your power and it's awesome; there has never been a bad Kirby sidescroller.

Kirby 64 throws a unique twist onto the formula. There are seven basic powers to copy - Burn, Ice, Needle, Bomb, Cutter, Stone, and Spark - but each can be combined with another to create a total of twenty-eight super powers. Ultra-special shoutouts to the Spark + Cutter combo, where Kirby literally busts out a yellow double-bladed Darth Maul lightsaber and starts spinning it around and slicing down enemies, fulfilling nerd fantasies from sea to shining sea. Hoooly shit that's awesome.

Cons: Here's the thing - I LIKE sprites. I understand that polygons are way easier to animate since you don't have to draw a fresh sprite one frame at a time, but I would have much rather seen Kirby 64 with high-res, top-of-the-line sprite artwork ala Playstation's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night than the colorful but vaguely bland polygon graphics we got. Polygonal sidescrollers just don't get my retro gamer blood pumping the same way. It's a good game but my favorite Kirby games still remain, by far, Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star.

33. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)

Pros: Hahaha, Rare is fucking shameless. I mean, I love 'em, but let's not kid ourselves and just go ahead and call this game Mario Kart With Rare Characters. In Mario Kart With Rare Characters, you race in go-karts around colorful levels, grinding your way around corners, and picking up items strewn about the track that boost your speed or fire projectiles to knock out other racers or lay traps. It plays a LITTLE bit like Mario Kart might if it had Rare characters in it.

The difference lies in the fact that it has a one-player "adventure" mode where you have to explore the courses for doo-dads (oh, Rare!) and race bosses, which seems like bells and whistles but at least it all ties back into racing. There are also hovercrafts and airplanes for water and sky races, which is a neat twist, and a fair number of secrets. Also, "I'M BAAANJO!!! WHOOOAAAA-AAAOHH!!!!!"

Cons: With eleven years retrospect it's kind of funny to distinctly recall people calling Diddy Kong Racing the Mario Kart 64 killer when it came out. And while it's true that this game's single-player adventure has more levels and stuff to do and variety than Mario Kart 64's single-player, in the actual races, your control over your vehicle's cornering and acceleration and movement is only about 80-85% as precise as in Mario Kart. And while 80-85% is a decent score on your English test, in gaming terms it means that Mario Kart's racing and multiplayer is objectively deeper and better and that's why people still love Mario Kart to this day but you don't hear much talk about Diddy Kong Racing anymore.

(Also, Diddy Kong joined the Mario Kart roster in Mario Kart: Double Dash, so I guess even he agrees.)