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.

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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…

Nintendo Adventure Books

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Does anyone else remember the Nintendo Adventure books? I had completely forgotten about them until I stumbled across them by chance on another blog. Looking back on it these books formed a fairly large part of my reading roster as a child. For those who haven’t read them, the Nintendo Adventure books are a great series based around stories set in the Mario and Zelda universes. In a style similar to that of the Goosebumps books (another childhood favourite) the majority of the stories incorporate an element of choice into the story telling. Each decision leads you to different pages and ultimately to different endings. The choices that you make can literally make the difference between character’s living and dying. If they die its game over and you have to go back to an earlier point of the book and try again. I really loved them because literature was a love of mine long before video-gaming was, so it was great to read books which contained my favourite video game stars. The element of choice in the books was also entertaining and allowed you to feel more involved in the story, and as such made you feel more immersed in the gaming universes. My particular favourite in the Mario series involves a story where Mario needs to be shrunk so that he can rescue Luigi from Yoshi’s stomach. As far as I can remember Yoshi had eaten Luigi at his birthday party, possibly mistaking him for cake.

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Thinking about these books has made me realise that I very much enjoy reading stories or comics about gaming characters. They add an extra element of depth to many of the characters, and this helps to bring them to life. A good example of this would be the Sonic comics that I used to collect as a child. I honestly have no idea if they are still in print (I suspect not) but they were fantastic. They not only had great story lines and lovely artistic style, but they also managed to give more life to many of Sonic’s supporting cast, many of whom remain pretty anonymous in the games themselves. If you can manage to get your hands on either the books of the comics, do so. Obviously they will be a tad too simplistic for an adult audience but are nevertheless worth a read, at the very least any kids/nieces and nephews you have will love them.

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Gaming Addiction

Video game addiction: how I’ve missed you. Since the age of seven I spent most of my time hurrying back from school or other such tedious chores to continue another adventure in whatever gaming fix I had at the time. My first gaming experience was Goldeneye on the N64 (a game which lives up to the fame and fondness in people’s memories) and after that my love of games was kindled. So, the majority of my childhood/teen years were probably what most people would see as a textbook case of misspent youth and hardly what most people would describe as productive This may or may not be true but the fact remains that there is a certain pleasure to immersing yourself in a gaming experience; defeating the villain, completing the quest, catching them all. Iconic moments experienced by a whole generation immediately come to mind; stopping the moon from crushing clock town, Joanna Dark’s showdown with the Skedar leader, sneaking through Goldeneye’s Facility, Link opening the doors of time and, of course, choosing between 3 Pokemon in Professor Oak’s lab. However, in the last few years something unexpected happened. Gaming fell by the wayside, lack of time and money contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for the next gen consoles. No longer was I taking the role of a plumber or a bear with a bird in its backpack. I was worried that I had lost forever the total immersion and enthusiasm for games that I once had in such abundance. Happily in recent days three games have come along to rekindle my gaming passion: Pokemon Heart Gold (by no means a new game but one which I somehow missed first time around), Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls. The quality of these three games is outstanding; RPG’s at their finest. The world created in the Elder Scrolls universe is so detailed and compelling that you find yourself completing menial tasks which, in the real world, would be ridiculous but in the context of the game are hugely enjoyable (usually fetching or finding for reasonably ungrateful people). Dark Souls manages to be outstanding in a completely different way; the combat is streamlined and sublime, the world is beautiful and fascinating and the difficulty level is genuinely tough. The first defeated boss really does create a feeling of utter triumph and skill. Similarly, defeating the Elite Four with a band of Pokemon which you have raised from New Bark Town all across Johto to Indigo Plateau is no less compelling after nearly 20 years of Pokemon. Now that my love of games has been re-ignited, suggestions for new games would be appreciated.