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.

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