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.)

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