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25 years of N64, and I'm having a blast revisiting it. Nostalgia is pleasure, and low-poly pain!
Editorial by 
Editor
May 24, 2021, 06:13:50
 
Iíve been on a real retro games kick lately, which has been somewhat spurred on by a feeling of disillusionment with a lot of modern gaming practices (including even Nintendo), but thatís a whole other topic that I donít need to get into.

Until recently, the Nintendo 64 has always been in my mind as a bit of a ďlesserĒ console to me, with games that have aged somewhat poorly due to their low frame rate and low polygon count. But for whatever reason, Iíve been playing a lot of N64 over the past few weeks, and Iíve come to realize that Iíve been underrating this console. It didnít have a TON of games, but I tend to own around 30-40 games per system, and the N64 easily has that many quality titles if you know where to look.

I picked up a number of games from collectors and flea markets lately for decent prices. Hereís what Iíve been enjoying:

MARIO GOLF
"They should call it Wario Golf. You gonna love it!"


The original MG is impressive with how much it gets everything correct from the get-go, with lovely visuals and sound, excellent mechanics and physics, and plenty of modes to enjoy.

Now, youíd think owning Toadstool Tour would completely invalidate this one butÖnot really! One rather quirky thing that Camelot did with these early Mario sports games is make Mario himself this sort of legendary figure. As such, heís got quite a good drive and heís the sixth character you unlock. Strangely enough, many people will play Mario Golf without ever actually seeing Mario in-game. But I kinda like how heís sort of locked away; it makes me want to actually play as him!

When it comes to unlocking characters like Mario, the game is seriously challenging (only occasionally to its detriment). There seems to be more randomness in determining where the ball lands, and even unlocking a few of the earlier characters (like Wario, who frequently gets Birdies and Eagles) can prove to be quite tough. I like that the paltry (and strange) selection of golfers gives you something to work towards. I find the challenge to be frustrating at points but it keeps me coming back.

BLAST CORPS
"Time to get movin'!"

This early N64 title from the formidable devs at Rare feels almost like an indie game. Itís very quirky and somewhat barebones, but also has a lot of heart behind it and a truly original demolition-focused premise. I quite like it and will continue to make progress in it; the controls feel pretty tight although a few of the vehicles admittedly take some getting used to.

The only real issue with Blast Corps (outside of it lacking an extra mode or two) is that itís easy to get stuck in a particularly tricky challenge. Early on, the dump truck level was kicking my butt, and Iím currently having a devil of a time passing this TNT-pushing stage which can be a little finicky. Itíd be nice to be able to bypass a level or two with some sort of star/point progression system or something, but itís a minor complaint. N64 fans looking for something quirky and immediately gratifying should check out this semi-obscure gem.

WAVE RACE 64
"Follow that dolphin!"


I only rented this once back in the day, but this N64 launch racer is just plain cool. Itís got a sun-drenched vibe and some rather original ideas that set it apart from the plethora of other strong racers on the system. For starters, the waves themselves really are the star of the show, making each lap in the stages a bit different and giving your craft just a hint of unwieldiness that really sells the jetski illusion.

But the buoy systemówhich initially feels a tad restrictiveóis also clever. You can miss up to four buoys in a race without having to retire, so it becomes a game of where you can afford to take shortcuts and where you should stick to the route. Itís ultimately a pretty clever spin on an old concept, and the little tricks and stuff you can do add to the appeal. The only real downside is that there are a real dearth of tracks, but seeing as how you can find this for $15 or so these days, I donít think the lack of content is really an issue.

JET FORCE GEMINI
*chitter* *B-B-BOOM* *splat splat splat splat splat splat*

I played through this decades ago on my brotherís copy, and Iím finally giving it another go. Despite taking a bit to get acclimated to the controls, Iím really into this game once again. Itís certainly got its flaws, with a constantly rough framerate, a collection system that demotivates you from shooting wildly, and a janky aiming cursor that never seems to cooperate.

But just like Blast Corps above, JFG feels like it was made with a lot of heart and itís got tons of quirky appeal. Thereís a good sense of progression as you bulk up with weapons and health upgrades, the environments are varied and memorable, the whole thing has a sense of humor about itself, and thereís a surprisingly good co-op drop in/out mode. It's the kind of game where the opening hour or so can feel pretty uninviting, but it really grows on you and starts to get addictive once you get a grasp on how everything works.

And also, itís soundtrack is amazing.

That sentence was a standalone paragraph because I want to emphasize it. JFGís soundtrack is absolutely outstanding, channeling the grandiose sounds of a John Williams score, featuring tons of memorable and highly complex melodies that can feel militaristic, emotional, or just plain rousing. The bottom line is that itís atmospheric as heck and greatly contributes to everything in the game. This is a top 10 OST for me. Itís basically a follow-up to the original Star Foxís soundtrack in scope, feel, and quality (which is saying a lot, and I feel every SF OST afterward was a pale imitation in comparison).

Anyway, itís a good if flawed game bolstered hugely by its tunes.

Altogether, Iím having a great time revisiting these games, and might possibly play some other Rare games again in the near future. Iím only 3 away from having the entire Rare N64 collection, after all!

In general, the N64 is easy to collect for right now because most of its games are pretty affordable and I feel many are still very playable. So what are some N64 games youíve enjoyed that you feel donít get much mention?

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Posted: 05/24/21, 06:13:50  - Edited by 
 on: 05/24/21, 06:17:35    
 
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I just played some Yoshi's Story today! Loved it as a little kid and probably only saw a third of the levels, I had no idea what I was doing. I popped in my old cartridge today, and some of the high scores on there were from when I was four years old! Surreal.

It's a lot of fun. Too much sniffing, and the controls seem a little floaty for some of the precision platforming in the later levels, but anand's "Mario 64 in 2D" comparison holds up.

Once I had my fill of that, I pulled up Yoshi's Island on NSO, and that's great too! Having played the heck out of all the NES and SNES Mario games, it's refreshing coming back to this. It's weird, it's colorful, it has all these cool 3D effects. It really is its own thing! The Mario 64 comparison holds up here too; there's debate as to whether Yoshi's Island is a real Mario game, but it really is a missing link between Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. It's cool seeing how many ideas in Mario 64 started in this game. Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong '94 were like the two experiments that paved the way for 3D Mario.

I had to look up a guide to find the last four red coins in Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy. And you know me, I hate pulling up guides! Are there any more coins in this game as obtusely hidden as the ones in that level? I'll have to skip 100%ing this if so. Reminded me of the sniffing in Yoshi's Story...

I thought about popping in Diddy Kong Racing too. I replayed Banjo-Kazooie a couple years ago, and oh baby, that holds up. I have Jet Force Gemini but only ever played multiplayer as a kid, maybe I'll try that too. Is Conker worth playing? Should I finally trudge through Donkey Kong 64?

I wish I had played the Donkey Kong Country games one-by-one when they went up on NSO. Now I'm paralyzed by which one to play and want to keep switching between them. 1 is the classic, 2 is the pinnacle, and 3 is the weirdo.

Yoshi's Island seems like a good compromise.

But yeah, I'm there with you on wanting to go back and visit old games, T-bun. I've been replaying Fez and Sword & Sworcery on Switch, because somehow it's been 10 years since those came out. I just played through the Shadow of the Colossus remake a few weeks ago. A few months ago I played through A Link to the Past for the first time in nearly 20 years (controversial opinion: it doesn't hold up!), and I had a blast revisiting Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy in the 3D All-Stars collection.

When I was a kid, I'd pop in random games on my shelf and play them all the time. But as I got older, I started playing games, fully completing them, and then never touching them again. So now I'm at this point where a sort of reverse spaced repetition has taken effect and I'm perfectly primed to go back and play any game from the Wii or prior without remembering everything about them. It's fun! And kind of intimidating; I was just thinking of Zero's "nostalgia is pleasure... and pain!" line yesterday as Fez's soundtrack brought back so many memories...


Posted by 
 on: 05/24/21, 06:51:34  - Edited by 
 on: 05/24/21, 06:53:53
@Secret_Tunnel
I'm curious what I'd think of Yoshi's Story now that it doesn't have the weight of expectations on it (in the midst of a N64 drought, no less). It'd probably be a decent time but it's still hard to shake that initial disappointment. I did end up checking out all the stages in one way or another on a rental and it was pretty fun in its own right.

The final red coins in Touch Fuzzy are definitely among the most obscure in the game. Thankfully, very few other stages hide them that deviously (I'm having trouble thinking of any off the top of my head).

I replayed Banjo-Kazooie about a decade ago and it was still outstanding. One of Rare's crowning achievements for sure, and a balance they never quite matched again. Even later platformer OSTs by Grant Kirkhope (DK64, Tooie, Yooka-Laylee) couldn't reach the heights of this game's.

Conker's Bad Fur Day is very much worth playing! Well, assuming you have it--it's definitely one of the more expensive N64 carts (although nothing compared to the priciest, say, Sega Saturn games or something). It's renowned for being raunchy but it's also quite fun and clever in a British way, with a lot of sequences feeling fairly Monty Python (it's not just a barrage of swearing or whatever) and Conker himself having a wry Bugs Bunny sense of style about him. The gameplay is pretty varied and quirky, with lots of different scenarios designed around a context-sensitive pad that lets you do all manner of crazy things. And the whole thing looks great, plus it has an excellent soundtrack thanks to my boy Robin Beanland, Rare's most overlooked composer, who also provided that awesome JFG music I mentioned above. And the multiplayer is excellent too, unorthodox, varied and fun.

Donkey Kong 64 is a game I loved as a kid but I had trouble going back to it in this day and age. When I tried, it led to me making a pretty negative Top Ten about the game. I think if you're not in the mood for a very large and convoluted adventure, you may find yourself growing impatient with how DK64 parcels out the good stuff between lots of padding. Even so, there still is definitely some good stuff there; it's an ambitious game that looks and sounds nice (although I'd argue the B-K style soundtrack doesn't quite fit the DKC vibe), its multiplayer is actually pretty fun, and its final boss is quite the spectacle.

Just go through the DKC games in order. They're all enjoyable; 1 will give you your bearings, 2 will improve on 1, and 3 is if you crave more DKC and want to have a little more exploration in it (as Rareware games started to go at the time).

I definitely get the feeling about going back and playing older games we haven't beaten in the last century. It can feel pretty fresh, and I imagine I'll be on a GameCube kick a few years down the line, replaying things like Super Mario Sunshine and Tales of Symphonia.


Posted by 
 on: 05/24/21, 16:51:01
I'm sorting to prepare for my big move and realizing that I have all of these old games I'd love to play again and don't really know the easiest way how on modern TVs and all of that. But I want to figure it out!


Posted by 
 on: 05/24/21, 18:12:49
@Zero

I have an older HDTV from a decade ago that I picked up when looking into which TVs have the least input lag. It works pretty well for older games, although I do tend to hit the meter slightly late in very precise stuff like Mario Golf. I suppose bringing in my CRT TV from the garage would work best, but it's just so chunky and takes up so much space that I'm not sure I want to commit.

Someone really needs to do a Kickstarter or something for a flat-screen, mountable TV that has no input delay and can run Duck Hunt...!


Posted by 
 on: 05/24/21, 18:18:20
Ah, the N64. One of the worst Nintendo consoles IMO. But when the system plays host to instant classics like Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time, can it really be called bad?

And strangely enough? Iíve recently been dabbling in some 64 stuff too! Hereís what Iíve been playing:

Starcraft 64 - This was an odd choice for a port back in the day, but I gotta hand it to Blizzard. They made it work! Itís a cool strategy/resource management game, and is one of those rare N64 games that has FMV. Pretty neat!

The New Tetris - Not much to say about this. Itís...Tetris. But itís a good version, with some fantastic music! And I didnít realize this before, but this is actually exclusive to the N64!

Resident Evil 2 - This is one of my favorites from this generation, and still holds up fairly well as a survival-horror game. The newly added analog stick controls makes this the best way to play this old classic. At least, IMO.

Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine - A surprisingly great port of the PC original, from the good folks at Factor 5. The olí N64 never got a Tomb Raider game, but traveling around the world having fun archeological adventures as Dr. Jones more than makes up for it, I think. This one game is honestly better than all of those old PSOne Tomb Raider games, if you ask me.

Iíve got a small collection of others I mess around with as well, but those are the main ones. Oh, and I should mention that I keep one of my favorite racing games of all time on constant rotation too; the remarkable (and N64 exclusive) RUSH 2: Extreme Racing USA!


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 00:10:47  - Edited by 
 on: 05/25/21, 00:12:07
@GameDadGrant

I like how your list is entirely third-party stuff!

I feel that The New Tetris is actually one of the best Tetris games, largely because I think I like this game's gimmick--fusing similar pieces into a square to make Silver and Gold bricks that contribute more lines (and junk). It fits right in with Tetris's theming and is enough of a cool wrinkle to give the game its own identity. The 4P mode in this is outstanding as well!

Was Indy a Blockbuster exclusive? It's fairly valuable.

I played my brother's copy of RE2 N64 just last week and walked away impressed. I may have to borrow it from him at some point. This older RE game isn't as clunky as I expected and the static backgrounds don't look bad nowadays.


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 00:19:16
@TriforceBun

Yeah, not sure if Indy was only sold at certain places. Bought mine from a local re-seller and it wasnít too expensive, IIRC.

And yeah, most of my games are 3rd party. Just kinda happened that way. I have to admit, most talk of the N64ís library revolves around 1st party stuff, and I feel thatís been done to death. 3rd parties need attention, too! (And thankfully, the games are actually quite good!)


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 01:06:59
I've been wanting to revisit JFG on Rare Replay for a while. I remember that game's graphics just being the coolest when it came out, as Rare was starting to do more with realtime lighting. It definitely felt like a "AAA" hype worthy game at the time. It was like "Yeeeaaah, this is why I have an N64 instead of the PlayStation."


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 01:39:45
Well, I decided to just load up an N64 emulator on my Wii because heck, I already own all of these games, so like... whatever.

Replayed Star Fox 64, again.

It still rules.


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 08:13:49  - Edited by 
 on: 05/25/21, 08:14:12
@Zero

That one's a classic!

I'm always at odds with myself about whether to replay it on N64 or 3DS. I really like all the improvements and QoL things they did for the 3D remake, but there's something...intangibly intriguing about the N64 original.

They are both good for different reasons, IMO. But awesome to play no matter what platform!


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 16:42:36
The N64 has both my favorite single-player and multi-player experiences ever, and so it shall remain my favorite console. It was magical time, with Nintendo re-inventing their classic franchises in 3D at arguably the company's game-design peak, and 4-player multiplayer with some tremendously fun games made the N64 the system of choice amongst my friends. I grew up in an "N64 town", for sure.

And I just love the level design of early 3D games, I'm an absolute sucker for it. The idea of trying to replicate some semblance of "real world" space but lacking the technical ability at the time to come close to making it happen, developers had to get creative and I love many of the bonkers levels that came out of that. I feel that as visuals have gotten more realistic and lifelike, level design has trended towards being more "boring". I still long for the creativity of mid/late-90s era 3D level design.

I think the THQ wrestling games on the N64 developed by AKI don't get mentioned enough for how great they are. I mean, No Mercy often gets recognized as the best wrestling game, but I feel that each of the four games deserve more credit for being great videogames overall. Wrestlemania 2000 is right up there with Smash Bros. and Goldeneye for most hours spent playing multiplayer, and many of my friends weren't even wrestling fans. They were just really well-made, fun videogames in general. When I think back on the N64, for me it's the Zelda games first and foremost, Goldeneye, Mario 64 and then it's those four wrestling games.


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 17:16:20
I played some Waverace 64 last night too, that game still rules! But wow, it is limited on courses! IIRC some of them change based on the difficulty level and such but still. Needs a lot more courses!


Posted by 
 on: 05/25/21, 17:47:28
I just got myself Mystical Ninja Starring: Goemon. Yes, the cartridge cost me $100. I might be an idiot.

But....Iíve never played this game before so whatevs.


Posted by 
 on: 05/26/21, 12:04:07
Well, the good thing about buying older games used is prices don't fluctuate much so you can always buy it, play it, then resell it for about the same price you bought it. Or just keep it, your choice!


Posted by 
 on: 05/26/21, 23:54:11
@Zero

True, they donít fluctuate *that* much. Unless the game is rare or whatever. But whatís more interesting is that Mystical Ninja may have my new favorite ďboot upĒ theme!


Posted by 
 on: 05/27/21, 21:21:00
TriforceBun said:
It's the kind of game where the opening hour or so can feel pretty uninviting, but it really grows on you and starts to get addictive once you get a grasp on how everything works.

And also, itís soundtrack is amazing.

This is my standard review of JFG. Hunting for alternate exits, character upgrades, all whilst blasting bugs to on of the best soundtracks in gaming is super fun.

Replaying this game was my main motivation for getting Rare Replay (and thus getting a Xbone) which I've rather shamefully barely touched outside of Rare's collection. Ah well.

GameDadGrant said:
Ah, the N64. One of the worst Nintendo consoles IMO. But when the system plays host to instant classics like Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time, can it really be called bad?

No, it can't be called bad. Or one of the worst Nintendo consoles. Repent your heresy!

That's the first Mystical Ninja you're playing, right? I never played that one, but the second game is a super solid 2.5D platformer.


Posted by 
 on: 05/29/21, 06:17:18  - Edited by 
 on: 05/29/21, 06:17:49
Shadowlink said:
[quote=TriforceBun

GameDadGrant said:
Ah, the N64. One of the worst Nintendo consoles IMO. But when the system plays host to instant classics like Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time, can it really be called bad?

No, it can't be called bad. Or one of the worst Nintendo consoles. Repent your heresy!

That's the first Mystical Ninja you're playing, right? I never played that one, but the second game is a super solid 2.5D platformer.[/quote]
Eh. You really wanna put the N64 up against the SNES or GCN? Maybe Wii U is lesser...but that Virtual Console helps it a lot. I dunno.

And yes. The first N64 Mystical Ninja. Just finished my first mech battle. This game is bonkers! LOL


Posted by 
 on: 05/29/21, 15:56:33
GameDadGrant said:

Eh. You really wanna put the N64 up against the SNES or GCN?

Yes

SM64 > SMW or SMS
OoT + MM > ALttP & WW
MK64 > SMK or MK:DD
SF64 > SF and SF Assaulut.

I know others are going to chime in with stuff like DKC, Super Metroid, various RPG's on the SNES...and the Prime trilogy, Eternal Darknes etc on the Cube .... But up against that I'd put Rare's stellar output: GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo...

IMO most of the N64 versions of Nintendo's main franchises stand above the SNES and GC counterparts, and the other gems of the N64 lineup can hold their own against what the other two have to offer as well.


Posted by 
 on: 05/29/21, 16:50:02  - Edited by 
 on: 05/29/21, 16:52:17
Shadowlink said:
Yes

SM64 > SMW or SMS
OoT + MM > ALttP & WW
MK64 > SMK or MK:DD
SF64 > SF and SF Assaulut.

I know others are going to chime in with stuff like DKC, Super Metroid, various RPG's on the SNES...and the Prime trilogy, Eternal Darknes etc on the Cube .... But up against that I'd put Rare's stellar output: GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo...

IMO most of the N64 versions of Nintendo's main franchises stand above the SNES and GC counterparts, and the other gems of the N64 lineup can hold their own against what the other two have to offer as well.

Interesting takes! Some of these I absolutely AGREE with you on. Nothing really beats Starfox 64 (Which is both a good and bad thing, IMO. Like seriously Nintendo? You can't seem to figure out how to top a game that came out in 1997?!? C'mon. But on the other hand, IT'S SO GOOD) And yeah, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask are fantastic and I agree are more fun than A Link To The Past as well as The Wind Waker. (Fine games as those may be)

Games I DON'T agree on are like Mario Kart 64 is beaten by Double Dash!!. CPU doesn't have that bad rubber-band racing in single player (or is at least toned WAY down), the course designs are better (Wario Colosseum FTW!), there are unique karts for different weight classes, unique special weapons for the characters, there are MORE characters than ever before in a Mario Kart game, and an expanded and improved Battle Mode. Not to mention LAN mode which was a blast.

I will say Super Mario 64 is superior to Sunshine, but better than World??? Ehhhhhh....I dunno. It's close, but I guess that's up to personal preference.

Here are some games I feel ended up better on GCN over N64:

Melee > Smash 64
F-Zero GX > F-Zero X
Blue Storm > WaveRace 64
The Thousand Year Door > Paper Mario
Pokťmon Colloseum/XD: Gale of Darkness > Pokťmon Stadium 1/2

And here are some I think are better on SNES:

Donkey Kong Country > Donkey Kong 64
Yoshi's Island > Yoshi's Story
Kirby Super Star > Kirby 64

And that's just first-party stuff. Both SNES and GCN had much better third-party support than the ol' 64. But I don't want to seem like I'm dunking too much on "Project Reality." Despite all my grumping about the system, I still love it. I have fond memories of it, love how it basically introduced the world to the analog stick, standarized four controllers on the system at the start, and I'll always appreciate no load times. Even if it meant we weren't always treated to some of that sweet, sweet FMV. LOL.

N64 is still a great system, but (IMHO) one of the lesser Nintendo consoles. And the one thing that kinda puts the nail in the coffin for me?

SNES & GCN: Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player, respectively.

N64: NOTHING. *sad trombone*


Posted by 
 on: 05/30/21, 15:23:36  - Edited by 
 on: 05/30/21, 15:25:14
@GameDadGrant

I did say most...

I'll give you your examples (especially Smash!) But (again with the exception of Smash) those are the B-tier franchises. I'll take the console with the best Zelda, Mario etc over the one with the best Wave Race or F-Zero. ...Racing fans may disagree though.

All the consoles have their highpoints and strengths, N64 just hit far more of my happy buttons than the others did. Peak local multi.


Posted by 
 on: 05/30/21, 18:14:11
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