Friday, October 10, 2008

Top 64 N64 Games #48 - 41

48. Rocket: Robot on Wheels (1999)

Pros: An underrated entry in the ever-present genre of N64 platformers, Rocket: Robot on Wheels actually has a couple elements that set it apart from the rest. For one you have this little mini-tractor beam that lets you pick up and move around basically any object that isn't bolted down (think Syndrome's zero-point energy beam from The Incredibles) to solve puzzles or defend yourself with.

And two, it has what was by 1999 standards a pretty sophisticated physics engine. For example, a round object put at the top of a hill will actually roll down and pick up speed while it goes, whereas a square object will sit still and a semi-rounded one will bounce down awkwardly. You also have unusually realistic momentum and different objects have their own buoyancy. With a lesser emphasis on fighting enemies and platform jumping in favor of lots of puzzles involving these unique elements, it's a thinking man's platformer.

Cons: Let's see... a 3D platformer that came out after Super Mario 64... gee, I wonder if this game involves roaming a series of worlds in search of doo-dads that will open up other worlds? Just kidding, no I don't, of course it does. Way to think outside the box, guys. Also, the entire game and every world has a circus theme, which is all well and good except that this means that the only music in the entire game is hyperactive circus tunes. I'm sorry, but this game is aural torture. Play it with the sound off.

47. Castlevania (1999)

Pros: The first attempt to bring Castlevania into the third dimension is similarly structured to its 2D brethren. You start in a forest outside Dracula's castle, fight your way through the undead into the castle, past various bosses and traps and puzzles, up through the clock tower, and finally battle Dracula himself. The game is roughly linear; there's no reason to backtrack once you reach a new part of the castle but each individual section has plenty of exploring to solve puzzles, doors to open, passages to roam, treasure to find, and so on, a nice balance that keeps the pacing focused but not constrictive.

Also, special shoutouts to the hedge maze where a giant Frankenstein monster with a chainsaw chases you down and murders you if he finds you. I've played through all of Eternal Darkness and Resident Evil 4 stony-faced, but that made me shriek like a little girl.

Cons: Woe is the controls. Loose and floaty, with a lack of any sense of weight to your character, every time you make a jump is a literal leap of faith. Which wouldn't be too bad if the game didn't have dozens and dozens if not hundreds of leaps to small platforms across bottomless pits. You will fall and you will die countless times, and you will feel frustrated because not being able to stick the landings feels like the game's fault, not yours.

Koji Igarashi, the producer of Castlevania, has publicly stated that he prefers making 2D games, and I gotta agree with him. No 3D Castlevania has ever really surpassed "pretty good," whereas I thought 2005's 2D Castlevania, Dawn of Sorrow on Nintendo DS, was one of the best games of the year. Keep it sidescrolling.

46. WWF No Mercy (2000)

Pros: With over sixty wrestlers and eight arenas and a plethora of moves, props, weapons, and hidden wrestlers to unlock, this game's variety is matched only by its homoeroticism. You can also create your own wrestler from scratch and edit his or her gender, facial features, costume, and moves. The graphics are pretty damn good and the control is free from any lame button combos that make other wrestling games (particularly in the pre-N64 days) feel like watered down fighting games. While I freely admit I am no wrestling aficionado I have read other people on message boards saying this is their favorite wrestling and / or N64 game of all time.

Cons: There's really nothing outside of some occasional slowdown for me to actively critique. Any problems I have with the game are just problems of taste; like I said, I don't care for pro wrestling so the fairly authentic mood and vibe and atmosphere and aesthetics of the game do nothing for me. Also, you can play as Chris Benoit, which is awkward since he turned out to be a real-life murderer.  Oh, ho ho... murder.

45. Mission: Impossible (1998)

Pros: A very loose adaptation of the Tom Cruise movie, Mission: Impossible is a stealth-action game that merges a lot of different gameplay styles into one package. A few levels are straight-up sneaking to get past enemies to the goal, spray painting security cameras and copying / wearing the faces of guards and so on. A few levels are pure action - run through and kill everyone and stay alive. A couple are pure puzzles with no action to be found. One level involves hanging from a fiber-optic wire and dodging lasers and in one level you have a sniper rifle and have to cover a guy from agents trying to kill him. No lack of variety here.

Cons: It definitely feels low-budget, featuring kind of dull visuals with a ton of fog and pop-ups and somewhat loose, floaty, and imprecise controls that call the N64 Castlevania to mind. The bullet detection is also kind of bizarre, with guards that sometimes take two seconds to react to being shot. Stick with it beyond technical limitations and there's certainly a nugget of goodness to be found, but as far as stealth-action goes it's a far cry from Metal Gear Solid.

44. Pokémon Puzzle League (2000)

Pros: This is a straight-up port of Tetris Attack on the Super NES with a Pokémon coat of paint slapped on it. In Tetris Attack blocks of different colors rise up from the bottom of the screen and you have to match them in combinations of three or more to keep the stack from touching the top. And let's not mince words - I fucking love Tetris Attack. In fact, it's one of my favorite puzzle games of all time and while I admire the innovation and impact of the original Tetris I love Tetris Attack even more as a game. It has a lot of depth as you learn to perform chains and combos and the multi-player is ridiculously fun.

Cons: While Tetris Attack had a fairly innocuous Yoshi's Island motif with a few Yoshi avatars on the side of the screen and some Yoshi tunes, Pokémon Puzzle League's motif is much more aggressive with every chain or combo accompanied by voice clips from the Pokémon anime of Ash shouting "Good job!" and Pikachu talking and Jigglypuff singing and I don't know what the fuck. I like Pokémon, but let's be honest: If you're fourteen years old and say you're playing a cool game called Tetris Attack, no one bats an eye. If you say you're playing a cool game called Pokémon Puzzle League, you're just begging to get your ass kicked.

43. Banjo-Tooie (2000)

Pros: I have immense fondness for Rare's Banjo-Kazooie (I'll be discussing that game later) and many of the things that made that game sensational stand true in its sequel. It's fun to control, has a lot of worlds with a huge amount of variety (the half-lava, half-ice Hailfire Peaks is particularly cool), tons of moves, one of the smoothest flying mechanics on the N64, puzzles, a few neat bosses, truly excellent graphics that still look clean and colorful and attractive today, good music, and a lot of humor and personality. If you like 3D platformers then it's probably a must-play.

Cons: I'm just going to copy-and-paste this from my Donkey Kong 64 review a few days back: "Super Mario 64 wasn't designed around doo-dad collecting, it was designed around high-energy, fast-paced 3D platforming. You aren't meant to aimlessly poke around for the Stars; each Star is an explicitly telegraphed goal and a self-contained platforming level. The collecting was the cleanest and easiest way to facilitate the platforming, not vice versa. And the smaller worlds weren't a design flaw, they were exactly the size they needed to be to be full of novel challenges and interesting design elements and have each Star take a couple minutes to get.

In [Banjo-Tooie], however, the platforming seems merely to facilitate the endless collecting. There's just so much shit you have to collect that it gets frustrating, and the reason that the worlds are massive is because there's huge amounts of negative space."

Rare was a company that knew what they were doing with the N64's hardware; they knew how to produce outstanding graphics and music and giant worlds. But they sometimes as in Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie got too caught up in size at the expense of gameplay. Walking into a world that makes Super Mario 64's biggest look pocket-sized is visually impressive and produces a brief rush of awe, but it makes gameplay feel like a chore when it takes fifteen minutes at a time to get anywhere.

42. Shadow Man (1999)

Pros: Shadow Man has all the good stuff Nintendo typically frowned at back in the day - mass murder, serial killers, occult horror, apocalyptic themes, zombies that explode into gory chunks, profanity, sexual situations, swimming through lakes of blood, fun for the whole family. A highly nonlinear zombie-shooting adventure through the land of the dead, it'll take at least a few dozen hours to beat and with a formula where you find items that enhance your abilities, allowing you access to new areas with new items that enhance your abilities, and so on, it plays almost like the N64 Metroid that never was. 

The graphics are outstanding for 1999, with highly detailed settings and no fog to be found. It also has a bona-fide storyline with an hour or more of cutscenes, character development, and a plot twist or two. It's much less famous but I would personally say that as far as horror games go it's aged better than the original Resident Evil.

Cons: It has a ton of backtracking, and while there is a warping mechanism that substantially aids this, it can get a little exhausting. The controls are also a bit on the stiff side (this seems to be a running theme for this portion of the list) and turning around in particular is a huge pain in the ass. Pushing back on the control stick will just make you walk backwards, and if you want to turn around you'll have to push to the side and slowly swing around, which takes two or three whole seconds - kind of annoying when an enemy is behind you mauling you.

41. Wetrix (1998)

Pros: Now THIS is what I'm talkin' about. No vaguely repainted port of Tetris or Tetris Attack, no tile-based puzzler that could have easily been on NES or Super NES, but an actual, original, full-blooded puzzle game that could only have been made on 3D hardware. In Wetrix you have a board. Falling down upon this board for you to control the orientation and landing point of are "uppers" that raise the floor to create dams, "downers" that flatten it, water that must be contained (if a given amount goes over the edge you lose), fireballs that vaporize the water for lots of points, and deadly bombs that ruin your hard work and you have to aim at the least harmful spot. It's lightning-paced, requires both a lot of thought and fast reflexes, and has solid water physics; a good player can keep a single game going for half an hour. Awesome.

Cons: The camera isn't great, occasionally zooming in and cutting off the corners of the board from your vision. It would have been better if free-roaming camera controls were mapped to the C buttons.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with many of your comments towards some of these games, as well as their place in the rankings. I am quite sure many would back me up when I say that Pokémon Puzzle League is clearly the best Pokémon game that isn't an adventure-RPG(besides Stadium 2). Sure, it's not a kickass game but it can be challenging/relaxing and an overall enjoyable game to play with your friends. Perhaps Tetris Attack is better in many ways but that's up to opinion as well. Also the NES and all its games are a rare find so they are not available for everyone.

Tim Kraemer said...

"I am quite sure many would back me up when I say that Pokémon Puzzle League is clearly the best Pokémon game that isn't an adventure-RPG(besides Stadium 2)."

Hell, I'd back you up on that. But of course if you look at all other non-RPG Pokemon games that's damning with faint praise.