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.

No comments: