Top ten N64 games: revisited

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Many moons ago, when blogging was still relatively new to me, I did what I imagine most games bloggers above a certain age have done and wrote a to ten N64 games list. It was a pretty indulgent thing to do but I nevertheless enjoyed it immensely.

Looking back on this now, I didn’t do the best job, not really justifying my picks in any detailed sort of way. Also, I have played a few other games since then which very much need to be taken into account. Therefore I give to you my latest attempt at singling out ten games, out of a plethora of good N64, as the ‘best.’

Naturally I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree, for that nice feeling of shared experience, or passionately and pointlessly arguing against someone else’s perfectly valid opinion.

  1. Super Smash Brothers

The game that launched a franchise which was destined to become one of Nintendo’s most profitable of all time, this game does not need much in the way of introduction. The success of this game was purely down to its simple concept of throwing together the most iconic characters that Nintendo could find and making them beat the crap out of each other. Not only did this settle some childhood arguments about the relative strengths of different characters, but it also allowed a whole generation to fall out with each other and sulk for days. Satisfying gameplay, simple controls and an addictive re-playability, combined with Nintendo’s triple A intellectual properties made this a smash hit paving the way for later instalments. Unlike most of the games on this list however, it doesn’t hold up so well now. Playing it after being used to its more polished, lightning fast successors really does feel both slow and clunky. Or maybe I’m just not playing it properly. Either way, Link for the win!

  1. Jet Force Gemini

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Perhaps one of the few on this list which could possibly be described as underrated (or maybe not, I just don’t know anyone else personally who owned it.) Nevertheless, this game really did show off the huge amount of talent that Rare had at its disposal. Not to mention that the concept of the game is so good. Space heroes, including a flying dog, out to save small bear-like creatures from the predations of giant ants? Yes please! Add buckets of ant-gore, satisfying action and that dark humour which become so synonymous with Rare, and the result is a really excellent third person action/adventure. The only issue with this is that in order to finish the game an incredibly long and arduous process of saving every tribal and finding all of the scattered space ship parts  has to be overcome and completely de-rails the flow of the game. Still an excellent experience though.

  1. Snowboard Kids

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Possibly a game doomed to fade away into obscurity, this game deserves to be on this list and it really was a coinflip between having this game at seven or eight in this list. This polished snowboard racer really does have everything; chaotic items and weaponry, excellent course design, a reward system for pulling off complex tricks, and one of the best soundtracks to feature in any game, ever. Seriously, neighbours could be forgiven for thinking that you were mid-way through a pretty good rave once this game gets dusted off. Really wouldn’t bother with the sequel though…

  1. MarioKart 64

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Does this game really need its merits explained? Well, lets go over them anyway, if only for the sake of thoroughness. Building on the huge success of the first instalment on the SNES, this game has to go down as one of the best MarioKarts to date. Fantastic track design, which really brings out all of the character of the Mario universe, coupled with frantic races, cheating computers and a battle mode, (not to mention the utilising of a number of Nintendo’s best characters) combined to not only create a good game, but ensured the long term success of the franchise. This remains one of my favourite entries to date despite some slight issues with the somewhat slippery handling. It would be reasonably safe to say that this game was a triumph for multi-player gaming, and has created fond memories and excessive combativeness for a whole generation.

  1. Donkey Kong 64

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Another piece of Rare magic, and another IP which made the transition from 2D to 3D seamlessly, this game took a classic and re-made it into a fantastic 3D platform adventure game. The inclusion of 5 playable Kong’s, the innovative and breath-taking worlds to explore, hilarious special powers, and fruit based weapons, and overall feeling of quality, made this an unforgettable experience. The bright levels, unbelievably good level soundtracks, and awesome boss fights ensured that this game was played over and over again (despite the part of the game which demands beating the original Donkey Kong to get to the final boss being SO FRUSTRATING!)

  1. Banjo Tooie

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Seriously, what was Rare on in the late nineties/early noughties and where can I get some? I agonised for a long time between putting this at the 5 or 4 slot on this list. This is definitely one of my favourite games of all time. As an adventure platforming game, this pretty much has everything. Great level design (particularly like Hailfire Peaks) most amazing, kick ass soundtrack (every tune will have you humming for days after), having a character that can split in two and or travel as a pair assisting each other with their respective skills was pretty refreshing for the time, the narrative was smart and, of course, that wickedly dark Rare humour just oozed out of the dialogue. Banjo and Kazooie have some hilarious and dark dialogue which still makes me laugh every time. This game misses out on being my favourite adventure/platforming game only due to the next entry…

  1. Super Mario 64

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For many, this is game that really launched 3-D platform gaming. On a personal level I will never forget the feeling of watching 3-D Mario leaping out of the pipe and then seeing Peach’s castle looming in all its glory. That’s all before you get inside; greeted by Bowser’s sinister laugh to see all the rooms and corridors sprawling off into the distance. This game, more successfully than others of the time, managed to make every world and course completely unique and engaging, including hidden secrets and stars to find and outrageous world bosses. Rather than go on, suffice to say that this game is pretty close to perfect and is held back only by the limitations of its hardware. Then again, would this really be improved with more technical power behind it? Not really, I didn’t like the DS version of the game anywhere near as much (mostly because trying to play a 3-D game on a D-pad is just dump, and don’t get me started on trying to control with the touch screen.) This game still features in many people’s lists of best games of all time, and deservedly so.

  1. Goldeneye/Perfect Dark

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To some, it may appear heretical to lump these two games together, particularly as they are both such outstandingly good titles. However, I really couldn’t call between the two in terms of my own preference, and they largely provide the same sort of thrills. Perhaps more than any of the others, these two Rare titles are the ones which have become synonymous with N64 quality. It is very difficult to say which the better game is. Technically Perfect Dark has the edge, utilising the expansion pack to give a more polished and graphically superior game. By all other standards though, they both are too close to call. Both offer superb and engrossing storylines and excellent FPS action. Goldeneye has all of the Bond charm of the movie; Perfect Dark captures the essence of futuristic government conspiracy. Both have great multiplayers (possibly slightly better in PD due to the ability to have extra NPC combatants.) The only clear difference between the two games is that the enemy intelligence is far better in Perfect Dark.

  1. The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

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This is the game that really launched my obsession with games and remains one of my favourites to this day. I’m sure there is no need to explain why this game is good; you almost certainly already know why (and if you don’t what was up with your childhood?) This game has literally almost everything. So why is it at second? Well…

1. The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask

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Building on what made Ocarina so good, this game delivers in spades. I know that putting this ahead of Ocarina might be an unpopular choice, but out of the two I really do prefer Majora’s Mask. Sure, it doesn’t have as many temples and the boss fights are a little easy in places, but apart from that I think Mask has the edge. The sheer overwhelmingly large amount of challenges and quests to complete, coupled with the darker, more mature content (dealing largely with loss, regret, fear and death) create a far more immersive world as you get so heavily involved in the lives of the denizens of Termina. The use of masks to give Link different skills and forms adds further depth to an already winning formula. Pure magic.

Awww snap – Pokemon Snap!

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Everyone has those games which they end up accumulating through various ways and means which never seem to get played. A while back I bought a bundle of N64 which contained a few classics, Donkey Kong 64 among them, which contained a few titles that I had little to no interest in playing.

One of these titles that just sat there gathering dust was Pokemon Snap; it’s not that I thought the game would be bad I just never really got around to trying it out. As it turned out, this was this was a mistake because Pokemon Snap actually is a bit of a gem. For those who are too young to remember, Pokemon Snap is an on rails photography game. Professor Oak is making a Pokemon report and has commissioned you to take photos to add to his report.

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Admittedly, this sounds terrible, but the game is actually both fun and addictive. You sit in a high-tech vehicle which travels through various terrains and your job is to take photos of as many different Pokemon as possible with points being awarded at the end for the quality of the photographs. Extra points are awarded for the subject being in the centre of the shot, the pose, the sizing and whether there are multiple Pokemon in the photo. It sounds easy, but it is actually quite challenging as they are fast moving and often hiding, attacking other Pokemon, etc.

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As you photograph new Pokemon, more levels are unlocked and items are awarded for use in helping to photo more Pokemon such as food to lure them to good locations, or Pester Balls to flush rarer Pokemon out of hiding. This makes the game more complicated than you might initially expect, and the frustration becomes so real when you just miss that perfect shot that would give you the highest score. It can be quite painstaking to lure multiple Pokemon to one spot for a perfect shot but the satisfaction of pulling it off is great, as is the lavish praise received from Professor Oak. By throwing balls and food you can also make the Pokemon fight, faint and evolve which prompts Oak to declare your photos as ‘very funny’ and give you extra points. Apparently Professor Oak has a pretty simplistic sense of humour.

I was surprised by how addictive this game is; although the game only has about 7 or 8 levels the longevity is there as it really is hard to resist going back through a level to try and get the maximum amount of points and to flush out new Pokemon. In a way, I suppose the game also teaches you the rudimentary points of photo composition too, although some photos which are clearly amazing snapshots are rejected by Oak on the ridiculous grounds of being slightly off centre. I suppose the compulsion to maximise the points and discoveries is the same drive behind filling out a Pokedex within one of the main entries in the franchise. Perhaps that’s why I am such a sucker for this game; or maybe it really is just a bright and charming (and somewhat odd) addition to the franchise which I regret overlooking for so long.

To get an idea of what to expect, please find a link to the first level below, brought to you by Nintensoft.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BPhFYzX9TY

Majora’s Mask: Link’s Afterlife

With the hype building over Hyrule Warriors and the tantalising drip release of information concerning the open world Zelda, I decided to revisit my favourite Zelda game: Majora’s Mask.

I have spoken before about why I prefer this game over Ocarina of Time so I won’t go into too much detail on that. Suffice to say is that I think that the overall tone and atmosphere of the game just pops it for me. Obviously many would not agree with me on this.

A while ago someone passed on to me an intriguing article claiming that Link is most likely dead or in some kind if purgatory in the form of Termina. Upon hearing that, and playing through the game again, it is hard to come to any other conclusion.

The whole of Termina is filled with people living with crippling regrets and restlessness of spirit. Whether it is the fratricidal composer brothers, the Ikana residents unable to rest in their graves or Kafei cursed into a child’s body on the eve of his wedding; all the residents of Termina seem to be suffering and obsessed with regret. In addition to this, Termina seems to be infested with unquiet spirits and the restless dead. The endless three day cycle with the threat of impending doom really does have a strong sense of a purgatorial setting. The appearance of familiar figures from the Ocarina world, particularly the departed Koume and Kotake does nothing to dispel this feeling.

But if this true, what then does this make Link? Is he merely another restless spirit? Or something more? The obvious answers seem to be that Link is either being morally tested, or that he is some angel-like figure offering redemption and easing regret filled souls. I’m not sure what answer I prefer, but it is definitely an interesting question nonetheless.

Perhaps this is one reason why I really live this game. The content matter really is very dark and mature, but wrapped up in the colourful charm of the Zelda universe. All I know is that it will take one hell of a game to dislodge Mask as my favourite Zelda game. But an open world Zelda game could come awfully close…

I’ll Show You Who’s Boss! Top Ten Boss Fights

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Whether you love them or hate them bosses are an integral part of many genres of video games. There are many different ways to make a boss fight entertaining, climatic atmosphere, dramatic music, stunning visual effects or even just straight up difficulty (I’m looking at you Dark Souls.) In order to celebrate the art of boss battles, I have out together a list of the top ten boss battles from games that I have played. These are not necessarily the most challenging bosses that I have faced (although some are), but many are included in the list for their sense of drama, narrative qualities, visuals or, in some cases, out and out hilarity. Obviously, there will be many great boss battles from games I have not played that I can’t include in this list, but if you have any that you think rival or beat the ones in my list then let me know so I can give them a go!

10. Taurus Demon (Dark Souls)

As most of you know, this game is terrifying and unforgiving in equal measure, the slightest mistake resulting in swift death. This is doubly so at the beginning of the game when you are just getting used to the controls and the combat system and just the kind of combat technique that Dark Souls requires in order to be successful. So you fight your way through the first level (of sorts) dying many times until finally you reach the pinnacle of the keep with a bridge leading to sweet, sweet freedom. NO! Out pops a huge demon boss ready to smash your face in. And smash your face in he does. This boss fight is terrifying for those just starting out in the game. Not only is your foe huge and powerful, but the confined space makes it so hard to stay out of its way. The damn thing is as wide as the bridge and there is nowhere to run. Suffice to say on my first run through I died several times to this. It really is a hard boss considering how close to the start of the game it is. Very few gaming experiences will equal the triumph of defeating this boss though. You really do feel like a hero.

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9. Trevelyan (Goldeneye)

Trevelyan himself is not that hard to face down, but when combined with the rest of the level on the hardest difficulty, this can be a real pain. Trevelyan essentially runs around the cradle as his endlessly spawning minions shoot the crap out of you. They wear armour. They re-spawn. Their guns are powerful. It is actually all too easy to run out of ammo just trying to get near enough to Trevelyan to wear him down. Eventually, (assuming you live that long) he makes a break for the final showdown at the base of the level. There is a pretty good chance you will get shot in the back by minions on one of the narrow sections were dodging is impossible and distance makes no difference to enemy accuracy. Still, once you have him cornered its a simple enough task to shoot him off the satellite to his painful death. Unless your foolish enough to try and use the ladder to get to him. Then you die 100% of the time as one hit will see you off the edge. Beware.

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8. Krauser (Resident Evil 4)

This is one of my favourite games of all time, and Krauser is just a pretty entertaining, hilarious friend turned enemy. This battle is not especially difficult, but it is a lot of fun. The first encounter is done entirely through cut-scenes and quick time events, which at the time was very innovative, and is incredibly tense, one wrong move seeing Leon stabbed viciously to death. The dialogue between these two former friends is great and full of emotion. The second encounter sees Krauser morph into a powerful and quick mutant with a huge claw. Going toe-to-toe with Krauser at this point is great, using quick time events and doges to avoid his powerful strikes before catching him off guard and putting a few rounds into him. His attack patterns are varied and quick enough to catch you off guard many times. This is by far one of my favourite parts of this game.

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7. Fyrus the Fire Demon (Twilight Princess)

I think that this game is underrated generally, the visuals are great, the music is fantastic and the dungeon design is some of the best that I have seen. Yet people seem to have a real downer on this game and I can’t understand why. Sure it doesn’t have the same charm as Ocarina or the absorbing weirdness of Majora’s Mask, but it is still a well designed and entertaining game. The dungeons are fantastic and the bosses are very well done. My favourite though is the Fire Temple boss. A huge, possessed Goron elder this boss just looks so menacing and beautiful that it really deserves a place in this list. It also has more than a whiff of a Balrog about it which for me only adds to the overall awesomeness of this boss fight.

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6. Mr Patch (Banjo Tooie)

If i had to try and list my top 5 favourite video games ever, this game would almost certainly make the cut. I love it that much. Its one of the best adventure platformer games out there. The boss fights are all good, but I have chosen the fight with Mr Patch as the best of them. The witty dialogue between our heroes and a self-important, smug inflatable dinosaur is hilarious and there is something inherently fun about flying around inside a big top circus tent shooting egg grenades at a dinosaur. There is also a certain degree of satisfaction in watching the boss slowly deflating to a humorous paaarrrp noise before exploding.

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5. The Bounty Hunters (Metroid Prime 3 Corruption)

This game is brilliant but, way, way too short. That being said the boss battles are beautifully designed, a visual feast and always challenging. My favourites though are the battles against your former bounty hunter allies. I absolutely love seeing the way that their Phazon corruption has altered their forms into twisted, energy charged versions of their former selves. The friends you knew are gone, time to take them out and give them peace.

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4. Ganon (Ocarina of Time)

So, you have fought your way through Ganondorf’s keep, killed his minions, climbed his tower and beaten the crap out of the evil sorcerer and freed the princess. You are feeling good at this point, just starting to relax after a job well done when suddenly a huge monster erupts out of the wreckage of your enemie’s ruined castle, wielding two enormous swords and angry as hell. Oh, and he takes your sword away and traps you in a ring of fire. Great. This boss battle looks fantastic. The figure of Ganon was designed so well, he looks evil as anything and really is huge and threatening. More than that, though, is the feeling of pressure which comes along with this boss, the feeling of being suddenly put upon and attacked is very real at that point. When you finally retrieve your Master Sword and drive it into the King of Evil’s face…..priceless.

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3. The Star Magician (Golden Sun 2 GBA)

In my opinion, this is one of the best RPG’s ever made, I love it so much. I may do a separate post about this game so I won’t say too much here, but suffice to say that it does so many essential RPG elements well creating an absolutely fabulous game. It was a toss up between the final boss and the Star Magician for this spot on the list. The final boss certainly feels dramatic and climatic, but I have gone for the Star Magician because it really is just so challenging. He possesses numerous attacks and spells that can wipe out most of your party’s health in one go, but he can also summon familiars to aid him. Some of these attack you with magic, others just straight up explode for huge damage; but worse than these are the healers. They can heal almost all the bosses health back in just a few turns of combat, making all your work up to that point useless and essentially restarts the combat. This means that you have to really fight tactically and oh so carefully. You need to strike the right balance between attacking the boss, killing the familiars (he can summon these many times) and not leaving yourself vulnerable to counter attack. You definitely need to have at least one party member spamming party heals every turn just to stay alive. This sounds frustrating; it isn’t. it’s very fun, and the sense of reward is proportionate to the difficulty of the task.

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2. Bowser (Super Mario 64)

Earning enough stars to climb the endless staircase and confront Bowser for the last time is a hugely fun journey. It was, and remains, one of the best games ever. The level leading up to Bowser with its dramatic and tension building music is just perfect. It really creates the atmosphere of a reckoning, an evil doer about to face justice through a final confrontation. It manages to successfully impart the feeling that every action in the game so far has been leading to the pivotal moment, this final clash. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

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1. Ornstein and Smough (Dark Souls)

This is probably the most intense moment in a video game that I have experienced so far. Cliche as it sounds, this boss battle really will have you on the edge of your seat as you desperately try and stay alive. Either one of the two enemies alone would be manageable, but together they are a brutal and remorseless boss fight. One huge and powerful, the other quick and deadly. Focusing your efforts on one of them while avoiding the other is the only way to go if you want to survive. You kill one of them and think “Success! One down, this is going to be easier now!” Wrong. The surviving boss pulverises the body of its former ally and absorbs its energy, mutating into a massive version of itself. It’s debatable which one is worse to face as a mega boss, but I always ended up with Smough, and it was hard. Its so nerve wracking, knowing that if you fail (chances of that are pretty good) then you will have to do the whole thing all over again. Even killing one of these foes can be health sapping. Then there is just mega Smough to deal with. Already big and powerful, he becomes only more so, and is quicker than you would expect, with a huge reach using that giant hammer of his. A tough battle then, but its hard to get anymore enjoyment out of a video game than this boss battle offers.

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Honourable mention: All the bosses from Jet Force Gemini (N64) they are all just hilariously fun.

Top Ten Video-Gaming Moments

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Several weeks have now passed since the chaotic releases of the now current-gen consoles, to rather mixed receptions, some glowing, others less so. The main gripe that people have had so far revolves around the lack of hard hitting exclusive games on each platform. This is not terribly surprising since launch titles are never usually the best a console will offer. As we head towards the New Year and a 2014 filled with brand new gaming experiences I’m sure that both platforms will step up with a whole host of games filled with exquisite gaming moments. In honour of the occasion I have compiled my top ten gaming moments, moments which remind you why you love gaming in the first place. This list is obviously only my opinion based on the games I have played but I would love to know which moments make your top ten.

10. First exploration of Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64

This is one of the first games that I owned on the excellent N64 and remains a favourite to this day. The game is filled with many great moments but for me, the most stand-out moment is entering Peach’s Castle for the first time. This is one of the first games to use a 3D explorable hub as a means of moving from level to level and, I must say, did it beautifully. The sense of space and scale was incredible. Seemingly infinite rooms branching off in all directions, massive gardens (filled with Boos) and basements to work through, and huge Mario themed artworks festooning the walls, all enjoyed to the backdrop of a regal musical accompaniment. The levels themselves are perfectly designed, but the addition of the hub lends a wonderful cohesiveness to the game.

9. Arrival in Oblivion/Skyrim

I have put these two together because the positives that they have are identical. As you emerge from the sewers (damn sewers) or dragon ravaged towns to emerge on the main world map, the feeling of freedom within the game is brilliant. You are given vague directions towards a main goal but equally you are free to just wander off wherever you like. Not many games have done this as well as the Elder Scrolls games. In Oblivion you are faced with a vast beautiful expanse full of colour and burgeoning possibilities that just demand to be explored. It is the same for Skyrim although, of course, the world seems harsher and starker, but no less beautiful. Both games offer a huge and, at first, seemingly overwhelming amount of freedom and choice, and this is most apparent when you first venture out into the vast wilderness.

8. Finding the last mask in Majora’s Mask

This game was slated by many fans of the series for being too small as it only contains 4 traditional Zelda dungeons. However, this game was far from small. Every mask that you had to collect involved the telling of a mini story, which gave a real depth to the world of Termina and its inhabitants. They became real people with real problems and not just irrelevant NPCs to interact with. By the time that you have found the last mask out of 20, you have completed 20 mini side quests, helped dozens of people, performed a complex array of tasks, and travelled back and forwards in time more times that you could possible count. You have changed the world of Termina for the better. The attainment of the last mask is the end of a long and immersive journey, and never fails to feel well earned.

7. Defeating the Elite 4 and Lance the Dragon Master in Pokémon HeartGold

Defeating these opponents feels hugely satisfying. You started out with one weak level 5 starter Pokémon, but through innumerable battles and showdowns you have raised it and at least 5 other Pokémon from humble beginnings to fully evolved and strong Pokémon. As such you really care about the Pokemon under your command and the sense of achievement is strong as you face down and defeat the very toughest trainers that Johto and Kanto have to offer to take your place in the Hall of Fame.

6. Defeating the first boss in Dark Souls

This game is littered with amazing moments so picking just one is particularly hard. I initially thought that the showdown with Lord Gwyn at the end of the game, but after reflection settled on the killing of the first boss. At this point you are new to the game, still finding your feet, cutting down hollows and knights, but still dying a lot. At first the demon boss occupying the bridge seems to be an unbeatable foe, but after many attempts you learn the skills to take him down and kill him in a furious and hair-raising struggle that leaves you out of breath and exhausted but full of triumph. If you haven’t played this, go do so, you’ll see what I mean. The sense of victory against impossible odds is great.

5. Becoming adult Link in Ocarina of Time

After opening the Door of Time Link steps forward and grasps the Master Sword, and makes videogame history. The moment that Link awakens and realises his adult self is stunning as you transform from a child to the Hero of Time, Master Sword in hand, is one that I, and many others I’m sure, will never forget.

4. Defeating Bowser for the final time in Super Mario 64

After climbing the previously infinite stairway, the final confrontation with Bowser awaits. You have explored numerous worlds, collected 120 stars, and defeated countless numbers of Bowser’s minions. The moment when Bowser starts moving towards you to attack sent a thrill down my spine. You have chased him across worlds to this point, but you both know that there is no escape for either of you at this point, it’s the final confrontation. The feeling of elation when you throw Bowser into a bomb for the last time is huge; the last act in an amazing game against the most iconic villain in video-game history.

3. The village scene in Resident Evil 4

Like Dark Souls, this is a game which is crammed full of great moments, but for me the best moment has to be Leon’s first trip into the village. So far only a handful of Ganados at a time have been attacking you and you’re thinking, this OK, nothing I can’t handle. Then you go through the gate and suddenly a whole village is after you, your safe refuge being broken into by a huge maniac with a chainsaw and a bag over his head, intent on beheading you. This was shit scary the first time. It feels as if there is nowhere to hide from a whole village full of pitchfork wielding locals all trying their very best to kill you. This scene exemplifies the qualities that make this game great, it’s fast paced, action packed, scary, brutal, and makes you feel terribly alone against overwhelming odds. Surviving it makes you feel like a hero. Only 900 more Ganados to go, eh?

2. Killing Trevelyan in Goldeneye

This is the climax to one of the best games ever and really feels that way. You have finally cornered this shadow, this phantom that you have been pursuing for the whole game. The race through the cradle is brilliant, and, is actually still tricky on the higher difficulties. The enemies are numerous with powerful weapons, infinitely respawning. You have little ammo and limited health, and all the while you have to keep pace with the fleeing figure of Trevelyan, trying to damage him enough to make him take his final stand and trying to keep yourself alive. It’s not easy. Hence the elation when you finally blast him off the satellite. How many times did you die before figuring out not to use the ladder?

1. Ganon Attacks! (Ocarina of Time)

So, you have freed all the sages, cleared all the temples, stormed Ganondorf’s castle and tower and defeated the man himself. So its over now, yes? No. Just as you go to make your escape the figure of Ganondorf emerges from the ruins of his castle and uses the power of the Triforce to transform into the monstrous Ganon, revealing the actual final showdown of the game. It’s a huge moment in video-gaming and was actually surprising the first time through, his appearance enough to quash the triumph that you were feeling at defeating Ganondorf. The Master Sword is knocked out of Link’s hand making you feel utterly defenceless against this huge monster. Perfect.

A Rarity Indeed

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There have been several articles that have caught my attention lately about the sad decline of games company Rare since its sale to Microsoft almost ten years ago. The quality of the company as it stands has been blamed on both the direction set out for it by Microsoft and a number of the creative talent leaving to pursue other companies and projects. An analysis of this, however, is not the purpose of this post. The articles written on this subject made me remember just how large a part of my childhood the games made by Rare actually were. At least half of the triple A titles on the N64 were created by Rare; Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing and the slightly less well known, but equally good game, Jet Force Gemini.

 

Most game producers have a few well loved hits to their name, but the achievements of Rare in this relatively small period of time dwarf the efforts of others by comparison. Rare seemed to be able to produce hit after hit after hit. I think that one of the most impressive facts about this herculean feat of game production is the sheer variety of games that they made. They seemed capable of making an outstanding game in almost every genre; first and third person shooters, racing games, adventure platform games, action games and fighting games. Many companies specialise in games of a certain genre; Rare seemed able to turn its hand to pretty much anything and do it well.

 

So how did Rare manage to achieve this level of success? Obviously the design talent at the company was outstanding, but there is perhaps more to their success than that. Rare were an incredibly secretive company and had very little to do with the wider games production community. Therefore they were not influenced much by gaming trends or following from the production habits of others. This possibly made it easier to create games from an almost outsider viewpoint and make games from the perspective of gamers rather than businessmen, allowing for greater innovation and ingenuity. Perhaps it is because they don’t take themselves too seriously; many of their games are laced with the humour and personality of the developers. Often this humour is poking fun at themselves or established gaming conventions. The dialogue and story in the Banjo series and Conker’s Bad Fud Day particularly are good examples of this. It is possibly this style that has endeared the company to so many and still causes so many to call for Nintendo to buy back Rare. Despite the many amazing childhood (and indeed present day) memories that Rare are responsible for, I am not one of those who wish for their return. A large amount of the talent has left Rare; and in this next gen gaming setting it is harder and harder to innovate in games. This would inevitably lead to disappointment in those people who would be expecting Rare to make games which create the same level of impact that the N64 era games did. Despite this, I will always have a soft spot for Rare. The games they made in their hey-day were phenomenal and I still play many of them to this day. It is also worth noting that some of the creative talent left Rare near the end of the N64’s life cycle to form a small independent company called Free Radical Design. This company was responsible for the excellent Timesplitters 2 and a relatively obscure game called Second Sight which made fantastic use of psychic powers and a lovely design style which combined to make a wonderfully unique game. Happily, despite being under a different name and being diffused across several companies, the ethos and spirit of Rare has lived on. However, a huge thank you to Rare for many fantastic games.

Halloween: Quake Revisited

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So, another halloween has come and gone without any particular significance. One thing I did gain from Halloween was a perfect excuse to revisit the very first game I ever played: the original Quake. This game came with the first computer we ever had (an old Packard Bell) alongside other such classics as Swiv 3D, MDK: Mission Laguna Beach and Adiboo. If you don’t know what this game is then no words can possibly describe this game to you (try google or youtube.) First of all lets get one thing clear; I have no idea what my parents were doing letting me play Quake when I was six years old. To me this smacks of irresponsible parenting. Apparently, they were fine letting a six year old blast his way through various undead minions, wading through a bucket of gore. And oh yes, there is gore. Massively pixallated gore. There are some games which age beautifully over time. This is not one of those games. The visuals look bad even compared to other games of the same time period. Does this detract from the terror and fun of the game? Not at all. If anything its hilarious to watch your enemies explode into pixallated globs of red blocks. None of this realistic death stuff, they really explode. Which, thanks to the graphics, is funny rather than nauseating. In addition to this the visuals actually can add to the tension of the game. The enemies can almost appear out of nowhere with barely any warning whatsoever. The game-play still holds up rather well, with pretty decent level design and plenty of interesting minions to destroy. So the game is still fun, but is it scary? Actually, yes. For me this is down to the audio in the game. The music in some parts of the game is haunting to say the least. Perhaps even more terrifying however, are the moments of silence. This reveals the sound of nearby enemies moaning, screaming or grunting; present but unseen as you creep carefully forward to spring their trap. There really is a small surge of fear as an enemy unexpectedly flies out at you screaming and attempting to dig a chainsaw or foot long talons into your face. The noise of water dripping off walls, sepulchral chanting and distant zombies moaning really does create an excellent atmosphere. The weapons all feel suitably satisfying to use, from the classic double-barrelled shotgun to the not-so-classic quadruple-barrelled nail gun. The game is a pretty decent length and offers a fair amount in the way of replay value as each level contains secrets and hidden chambers which reward careful replaying of levels. On the higher levels of difficulty the game really does offer a challenge. To those thinking of giving the game a go, if you want slightly sharper graphics, go for the PC version rather than the console version. Either way, the game is well worth playing. With the lights turned off and the sound cranked up this game definitely can still provide some great scares. Check out the awesome trailer below and tell me that you aren’t tempted!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WzyVjx-SXMImage

Top Ten N64 Games- A Shameless Indulgence

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Since starting this blog a few months ago I’ve tried extremely hard to avoid doing a top ten N64 games post. I thought it to be the type of post which has been done a million times before and is shamefully self-indulgent. However, curiosity has overcome my reservations. I am very interested to find out whether people will agree or disagree with the choices that I have made or will think me a total lunatic for not including their favourite title on the list. Please look over my list and comment if you agree or disagree with the titles listed below.

  1. Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask
  2. Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time
  3. Goldeneye/Perfect Dark
  4. Banjo-Tooie
  5. Super Mario 64
  6. Donkey Kong 64
  7. MarioKart 64
  8. Snowboard Kids
  9. Jet Force Gemini
  10. Super Smash Brothers.

 

The thing that I find most interesting about lists of top ten N64 games is that all of them are 5 star games. For the time (and to some extent even by standards of gaming today) they are all very high quality games indeed; and the reality is that there are a host of other games which could just as easily have made the list which are of an equally high calibre. Off the top of my head Pokémon Stadium, Turok 2, Paper Mario and Lylat Wars could arguably be on anyone’s top ten list. The staggeringly long list of AAA titles is pretty impressive considering that many consider the N64 to be a bit of a flop. For the record, choosing which Zelda title was going to occupy my top spot was insanely difficult and could pretty much have gone either way. Comment and let me know what you think!

R.I.P N64

The other day I booted up the old N64 to finish my play through of Banjo-Tooie and to play some of the mini-games on Pokémon Stadium with my friends, only to be greeted with a blank screen and a complete lack of the gaming excellence that I had come to expect. After going through the usual ritual of blowing in the cartridge and the game slot (we’ve all done this at some point) and replaced the input cable, I had to admit that my N64 was dead. Obviously, a new N64 can be bought rather cheaply on many used games sites these days but nevertheless I felt a strange sense of loss. That N64 has been with me for over a decade. It was blue with Pokémon on it and everything. And, as often happens in these situations, I found myself thinking of all the things I still love about the N64. Despite the fact that it is seen by many to be a relative flop in the European market, the N64 provided first class entertainment with a dizzying array of quality titles, many of which literally were the first of their genres, mapping out the genetic code of games for generations to come. It makes me sad to think that some people may never actually play on one of these consoles and play the games which have come to define gaming up to the present day. Many new gamers or the younger current gamers may look at the 64-bit graphics and weirdly proportioned controller and scoff before turning back to their current generation games. There is so much more to the N64 than that though. In a way I often feel that the lack of graphical power forced developers to be really creative with the games that they made in order to ensure an immersing gaming experience. Many games on this console remain the paragons of their genre simply because their developers put everything into making sure that they achieved perfection in their goals rather than focusing on trying to make games more like real life. Many of these games feature genuine humour, witty dialogue and character development and a sense of whimsy and charm which is lacking from many modern titles. Hyper-realism has its own advantages; but the focus on achieving it often means that the quality of gameplay and development of a games personality are somewhat neglected. Very few modern titles make me fall in love with them compared to the N64’s use of genuine Nintendo humour, character creation, primary colours and amazing soundtracks. I sometimes worry that new gamers will not have the same level of excellence to be found and enjoyed in retro gaming. In any case, once you get past the graphical quality of the N64 (which I personally don’t see as a problem) then you will find a wealth of gaming quality. If anyone reading this has not played before, I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed. As for me, well, I guess I’ll be in the market for a new N64.Image

Gaming Escapism?

While discussing the relative merits of Skyrim a few days ago, a friend said something to me that got me thinking about the way that some people view games and gamers. To boil it down to just a few sentences his argument was that in order for a game to be judged good or worthwhile it needs to break ground as a game, offer something new; but also should strive to be a work of art, and in a sense should better the person playing it. My response was that, given the nature of games being a mode of entertainment, shouldn’t the measure of a game’s success merely be judged on whether it is enjoyable to play? Games can be works of art, but they don’t have to be to be good games. Obviously, games breaking into new ground can be wonderful, but then a hugely enjoyable game built using familiar stories or scenarios are not therefore automatically bad games if they are done well. RPG’s are a great example. It could be said that most RPG’s are pretty similar; wandering around doing tasks to level up and make a few numbers go up. But this misses the point entirely. What makes many RPG’s great is just how fun and engrossing they are (whether down to fun combat, exploring etc) despite the fact that the overall formula is highly familiar. As for betterment I felt that this is missing the point of gaming somewhat. The argument was then made that if all it took for a game to be judged ‘good’ is whether it is enjoyable or not, then there is merely a sense of escapism about gaming. To a certain extent this may be true, but I prefer to think of it in more positive terms. Rather than escapism, games can be just a way to relax, a mode of enjoyment which does not need the sense of betterment that is so often pressed upon us in other areas of our lives, such as to look good or to strive for success at work or through academia. Games, like films, offer us the chance to experience and live out scenarios that just are not possible in the real word; such as lands riddled with small monsters that you can catch and raise; or entire worlds that you can explore and are full of elves and goblins magic and so on. Games are often something of a guilty pleasure for me, something that is done in time which I know should usually be spent writing my dissertation or picking up extra shifts at work. If this is to be a guilty pleasure then the most important thing I want from my game is a sense of enjoyment and gripping excitement. If the other values mentioned above are also present, then this is a bonus.

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