Monday, 17 July 2017
10 N64 Games And What They Meant To Me
I wrote this for Forces Of Geek and it was first published on the site on Friday 8th July 2017
We recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Nintendo 64 here in the UK. The N64 was groundbreaking back in 1997 (or 1996 for you lucky Americans) as it was the bridge between 2D and 3D gaming for Nintendo and many of it’s releases set a standard for the industry.
For example, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time helped to bring vast, open worlds to consoles, something largely dominated by PC titles back then. Many of the camera movements in the game as well as other core N64 titles such as Super Mario 64 were also implemented throughout the industry.
Perhaps the only thing it wasn’t at the forefront of was the use of game discs as the N64 was the only console of its time to still utilise cartridges. Secretly, I think those of us who grew up with cartridges were grateful that one console was still holding on to them.
A truly innovative games console, I want to pay homage to Nintendo’s 64-bit central procession unit and so have compiled a list of my ten favourite N64 games and what they meant to me:
1. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Hailed by many as one of the best games of all time (and rightly so, in my opinion) this game brought Link and the land of Hyrule to life in glorious 3D. Finally I could see the character I had adored for so long in gorgeous, albeit blocky detail. When this game was released, I began drawing Link and soon my bedroom wall was adorned with my crude pencil sketches, covering up the various boybands and National Geographic tiger posters that had long decorated my room.
Riding across the vast plains of Hyrule on Epona as the sun rose in-game was one of my favourite things, the accompanying musical sting was just perfect. I couldn’t believe how big the map was and I was genuinely in awe of this game. No game since has quite replicated that feeling which is why I love this game so much.
2. Goldeneye 007
I didn’t even like the Bond films back then and to be honest, I still don’t but I love this game so much. You know that objective based first person shooter you’re currently playing? Well, Goldeneye 007 sort of did it first and they even had 4 player local co-op.
I still enjoy playing this game and during my university days, one of my housemates booted up his N64 and we spent entire evenings on it, reminiscing about the days when you could play multiplayer games on one console together.
3. Super Mario 64
One of the first titles I played on the N64, this game blew my mind. It’s worth mentioning I was 11 years old at the time and up until this point had only ever known characters in games to move from left to right or jump upward.
Multi-directional controls were confusing as hell to begin with, consistently walking diagonally by mistake or failing to think in terms akin to actual spatial awareness. It’s laughable thinking back to how difficult I found the N64 controls at first but as with all technology, I picked it up relatively quickly and was soon excitably exploring every corner of the map.
4. Perfect Dark
Built on the success of Goldeneye 007, this was another first person shooter and spy game from Rare with added sci-fi elements and at the time of the games release, I was really into The X-Files TV show and it appealed to me immensely.
I also enjoyed the stat system and the level of customisation in the game because this was at a time when these features were relatively new. Sure, it had some issues but I forgave it’s inconsistent frame rate because I loved the fact I was able to play a female agent. She might not have been Dana Scully but Joanna Dark was a badass operative with a flawless record. How could I not like her?
5. Super Smash Bros.
This game provided high-school me with many hours of cathartic adolescent rage release. I was young and hormonal, stressed out from copious amounts of homework and had nowhere to channel my emotional stress but as soon as Super Smash Bros. stepped into the ring, it all went away. The combination of various Nintendo characters across titles and addictive arcade fighting game mechanics was a thing of joy.
And who knew I longed to punch Kirby square in the face on Planet Zebes as Donkey Kong? Clearly, someone at Nintendo had picked up on something deep within my subconscious. It was also super fun and refreshing to play a version of Link that didn’t involve puzzle solving.
Who needs a dumb plumber and his brother when you can play as a dynamic duo consisting of an anthropomorphic honey bear and a brightly coloured bird? It was definitely quirkier than most other platformers, even Mario games.
If you think smashing blocks with your head to find coins, eating mushrooms to change size or jumping into sewage pipes is weird, Banjo the bear and Kazooie the bird collected puzzle pieces and musical notes in order to save Banjo’s sister from a witch who wanted to steal her beauty.
The game was a great alternative to Super Mario 64 for those who might have been suffering from Mario fatigue at the time but ultimately it was the fun, endearing and memorable characters that really stuck out for me.
7. Mario Kart 64
This game, along with Goldeneye 007, defined my adolescent multiplayer gaming experience. It was one of the only games that you could justifiably purchase extra controllers for (unless you were that kid with the weird looking, knock-off version of the controller which always ended up with a broken button).
Mario Kart 64 will forever remain my favourite in the series and I’m well aware I’m basing this purely on nostalgia. Regardless, it taught me much about myself in my early teens, mainly that I had a mean competitive streak that I hadn’t witnessed before but still possess today.
8. The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
This was the second Zelda game to be released on the N64 and was an amazing follow up to Ocarina of Time. A game like no other, Majora’s Mask was like the cooler, slightly aloof older brother I never had who let me sip on a bottle of beer stolen from my parents fridge.
It had a different vibe to its predecessor with a dark storyline of impending doom, repeating timelines and an overly creepy atmosphere. It was a game that awakened my appreciation of off-the-wall, alternative games and sparked my interest in Japanese culture through use of Japanese myths, fairytales, masks and Noh theatre.
9. Paper Mario
I know what you’re thinking and yes, there are a lot of Mario titles on this list but er…in case you hadn’t noticed, this is a list for a Nintendo console! You might think that creating a 2D game on a brand new console capable of 3D might potentially be a bad idea but somehow, it just worked.
Perhaps it was down to the incredibly cute, paper effects or maybe it was just a really solid RPG with interesting, dynamic battles. Sure it was the same storyline as practically every other Mario game before it but isn’t familiarity kind of Nintendo’s thing?
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Cue violins (or sombre, acoustic versions of 90s punk rock songs) because this game was the last ever cartridge produced for the N64. It was a direct port from the PlayStation version, the only real difference being a lack pixellated skaters.
This meant you could kick flip as much as you wanted and still be surrounded by good-looking environments without losing as much image quality. It definitely paved the way for skating games to come and the N64 version has long been my favourite of the genre. The soundtrack introduced me to so many awesome bands too!
Thanks for memories Nintendo and thank you for shaping my childhood. I offer my immense gratitude for bringing my beloved Link to 3D, encouraging my competitive streak and for giving me the chance to continue blowing onto cartridges well into the 2000s.
I would thank you for the innovative controller design but we all know that’s a hilarious joke and I’m totally the first person to comment on it. Seriously though…what were you thinking?
What are your favourite N64 games? Let me know in the comments!