Thursday, September 29, 2011

Random Shots: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Platforms/Release:
    • Nintendo 64: 23 November 1998
    • Wii (DLC): 26 February 2007
  • Genre: Action, Adventure
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Battery/3 files
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • N64 (Gray cart): Common (US $5-20)
    • N64 (Gold cart): Moderate (US $20-30)
    • Wii: N/A (US $10)
Back when I was still unemployed and desperately needing something new to stave off cabin fever, I decided to go back to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  I did love this game when it came out, despite having to wait quite a while to rent it.  However, I was mellowed by the fact that there was no multiplayer.  Just imagine using all the famous tools to wail on opponents, GoldenEye-style.  Ironically, I don't play a lot of multiplayer, so I wouldn't even have used it.  Bear in mind that this was my first Zelda game: I didn't know how the original game or A Link to the Past, so I had no idea what to expect.  Besides, this game provided a tankerload of iconic and memorable moments, so I should probably go back in time and tell myself to stop complaining. Now, I'm not doing a formal review for this game, although if I did it would easily get some kind of A.  The only question is how A, which I haven't decided on yet.  Instead, I'll write down some of my random thoughts from replaying the game.  They could be stuff I remembered from the first times, or things I'm realizing for the first time.

The first time I played this game, I missed out on getting two things: the Magic meter, and Epona the horse.  It turns out that while you don't need the horse to finish the story, you do need magic.  (i.e. Entering the Shadow Temple and in the final battle.)  For those who want to know, you first get magic powers at the Death Mountain summit, any time after clearing Dodongo's Cavern (level 2).  The path to this spot stands out rather well, so I'm surprised at myself for not having found it sooner.  All that time I had Navi saying the same thing to me every time I called her!

As for getting Epona, the race to win her was way tough, which at first kept me out of completing many sidequests.  However, I was unaware of a trick:  As Young Link, go to Lon Lon Ranch, meet Epona in the middle of the horse ring, and get out your Ocarina in front of her to learn Epona's Song.  Then return as Adult Link, and when you do the "test drive" before the race, play Epona's Song to call and ride Epona.  She's faster than the stock horses and is the only way you can beat the race - although it's still tough.

And what sidequests are impossible without Epona?  The big one is the trading game for the Biggoron Sword.  At some points you're given ingredients which must be delivered to their destinations within a few minutes each.  Even though you learn warp songs, you can't use them for some reason (the fourth dimension is a cruel mistress).  And some shortcuts which would help you greatly are blocked off as Adult Link, such as the one from Zora's Domain to Lake Hylia, which is frozen over.  And there's no way to un-freeze it.  I remember this being involved in one of the game's many urban legends, but now I accept that there's no way to un-freeze Zora's Domain, that you can't get the Triforce in-game, and that there is no playable Temple of Light.

Aw, man, there were so many other sidequests, too...  Collecting Heart Pieces and Gold Skulltula tokens were the big ones, because there were so many of them (IIRC, 36 and 100 respectively) and I really wanted to get their rewards (increased max health for the former, larger wallets and cash for the latter).  Being so jam-packed with this kind of stuff while not detracting from the core gameplay experience is one thing that made the game so great.  And then there's the Z-Targeting system.  If you would take the time to imagine playing the game without this luxury, it could be a lot more frustrating.  So yeah, tip of the hat again.

When I first did the timeskip and started playing as "Adult Link", the world that had to live seven years without a hero was a scary place.  Most shocking was the first "new" locale I encountered, Hyrule Castle Town.  In short, Biff Tannen would be proud.  In long, it's gone all derelict, with not a shred of life apart from the Re-Deads, rather annoying "zombies" which can freeze you by looking at you and then hump your chest to attack. 

Another scary moment: For those unfamiliar with enemies in the Legend of Zelda series, Wallmasters are giant disembodied hands which warp you to the beginning of a given dungeon if they catch you.  In this game they first appear in the Forest Temple (level 4), and the way they pop up on you (rather, they drop down on you from the ceiling) was just so scary.  Maybe it's the whooshing sound that warns you of their impending enterance, maybe it's the fact that they're invisible until you get the Lens of Truth.

I understand that later printings of the game changed the music from the Fire Temple (level 5).  Apparently, it used a recorded Islamic chant and, due to how touchy some people can be, they had it replaced.  My copy of OoT an early gray-cart version, and contains the original music.  As far as I could tell, the chanting is distorted enough that I couldn't make out what they were saying anyways.  If I were the same kind of person I am in real life, except a Muslim-American, I might not be offended, but that's just me.  And for what it's worth, bear in mind this was before 9/11.

A lot of people hate the Water Temple (level 6), and I understand why.  Progressing through this dungeon requires stopping at random points all over the place to raise of lower the water level, as well as going to the pause menu to switch on/off the Iron Boots which let you sink in deep water.  I'll admit I still get annoyed at the Water Temple, if not to the point of insanity.  The worst part of it for me is that messing up, say, forgetting one step along the way, means you have to start the process all over again.  I hear the 3DS version makes this a tad easier, with the ability to take the Iron Boots on/off through the touch screen, so if that's how you're going through the game, more power to ya.

Speaking of the 3DS, I am aware that OoT got ported there a couple of months ago.  If I were to get a 3DS of my own, I'd be somewhat interested in picking it up, only for the Master Quest version built-in.  Unfortunately, as I've read, you have to beat the original game first in order to unlock it.  And since I just beat it again within the past year, I'd have to wait quite a while for it to seem fresh again.  Incidentally, I've been debating with myself whether I want a 3DS or a PlayStation 3 for this Christmas and having weighed my options, I'm going with... the latter.  And believe it or not, the clincher that made me decide was not the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3.  I actually had my eye on a download game for the DSi/3DS, Shantae: Risky's Revenge, another long-awaited sequel.  However, I only recently heard news that a port for the iOS is being planned, and since I own an iPod Touch, there isn't much for the 3DS that I want and can't get somewhere else.

So that wraps it up for N64 Month.  Since I've set this post to be sent out automatically on midnight EDT on 29 September, allow me to be the first in the country to say... Happy Birthday, Nintendo 64!

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

N64 Month: The World Is Not Enough

NB: The previously scheduled review, Jet Force Gemini, has been postponed.  Sorry, I just feel like I have too little inspiration and time.  Don't worry, I will get back to it soon.  But with one other game left which I have more to say about, I might as well get something done by the end of the month.  In other words, I just pulled a Moonraker on ya.

007: The World Is Not Enough
  • Publisher: EA Games
  • Developer: Eurocom
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1 November 2000
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Players: 1-4
  • Save: Controller Pak, 2 pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate (US$5-15)
I have let slip before that the James Bond series is my favorite fandom, so with that in mind it might seem odd that I haven't reviewed any of the movies yet.  Well, apart from feature films not being my specialty... yet... I was thinking of doing something bigger.  That's why I'm proud to announce that in honour of the first movie's (Dr. No) 50th anniversary, 2012 will be "James Bond Year" at the SDP!  What that means is throughout the whole year, I'll attempt to review all of the James Bond movies in chronological order.  However, that does not preclude me from reviewing any of the tie-in video games, including one which I find unappreciated among all the Goldeneyes of the franchise: The World Is Not Enough for Nintendo 64.  (NB: There were similar tie-in games also released for PlayStation and Game Boy Color, however they are so different that they would require separate reviews, something I have no current plans to do anyway.)

Nintendo and Rare's Goldeneye 007 was the king of the first-person shooter genre for a while since its debut, but inevitably the crown had to be passed down.  The way I see it, there were not one, but two spiritual successors to the throne.  One was Perfect Dark, and while not involved with the James Bond licence, it did build off of Goldeneye's engine and all but perfect both the single-player and multiplayer experiences.  Incidentally, Perfect Dark would get a 95% or even 100% call if I were to do a formal review, but if you have the choice, stick to the recent XBox 360 port.  So what was the other heir to the throne?  Why, that would be The World Is Not Enough, a tie-in with the 1999 Bond film, and while it was made by a completely different development team, it still played similarly enough to Goldeneye while making its own welcome tweaks.

If you're not familiar with the film, it was pretty mediocre, I'll admit.  Like a number of Bond films, the plot is intricate and merits repeated watchings to take it all in, but here's the short of it.  Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is tasked with protecting Electra King (Sophie Marceau), the orphaned daughter of a British oil magnate.  The villain is Renard (Robert Carlisle), an anarchist who has kidnapped Electra in the backstory and lost his ability to feel pain.  Things get complicated when Electra and Renard team up to nuke Istanbul, thus sabotaging the King oil pipeline's competitors.  Oh, and Electra's role as the Bond Girl gets swapped out mid-way for Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist.  ...Yeah, your mileage may vary.  The game covers most of the plot points from the movie, although unlike Goldeneye which added playable levels not covered in its respective film, there are scenes here which aren't playable, at least in the N64 version, such as the casino and the King pipeline.
Welcome gameplay changes from Goldeneye include
being able to switch to gadgets in-game.
Carrying on the franchise's legacy, it's only fair that TWINE shares most of its mechanics with Goldeneye.  Each of the 14 missions has you completing a series of objectives, some of which you can't complete if you kill the wrong person, destroy the wrong object, or even blow your cover by pulling out a gun.  This time around, objectives can also be added mid-mission, through the use of in-game scripted events.  Some tasks require the use of gadgets, which can finally be selected in-game (hold A and press B) instead of having to go to the pause menu every time, like in Goldeneye.  A selection of control schemes allows you to switch between Control Stick or C-Button (think Turok) movement, or flip the controls for left-handed support, but the Control Stick sensitivity is a bit too tight for my liking, with no way to modify it.

The graphics are par for the course in terms of late-era N64 titles, but if you've grown tired of Goldeneye's much-referenced "blockheads", you'll find this a pleasant upgrade.  Having an Expansion Pak plugged into your console enables you to switch on the "hi-color" graphics mode, but while having it active can occasionally trash the frame rate, turning off leaves a grainy filter over everything, so pick your deathtrap.  There's quite a bit of voice work to be found in this game as well.  Sadly, due to the space constraints of N64 Game Paks, the voice clips have been compressed something awful in order to fit, but the sound-alike actors sound fairly similar to their film counterparts, and John Cleese reprised his role as R, gadgetmeister-in-training.
Multiplayer adds bots so you can play with yourself.
And if you have fond memories of Goldeneye's multiplayer, then fret not, since TWINE's got you covered.  The requisite variety of characters (including vintage Bond villains), maps, modes, and weapons is accounted for.  This time around, AI-controlled bots can be used to fill in any of the 4 positions not being used by human players.  Since I hardly ever got the chance to play multiplayer games, this was pretty much a Godsend for me, and thus gave TWINE a slight edge over Goldeneye in my book.  While I must give credit to Goldeneye for all it's done to build the first-person shooter genre as we know it today, don't feel bad if you see TWINE as a more polished, if not better, game if they were both released today.

Graphics: 3 martinis out of 5
Sound: 4 martinis out of 5
Control: 4 martinis out of 5
Design: 4 martinis out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Friday, September 23, 2011

N64 Month: Goemon's Great Adventure

Goemon's Great Adventure
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami Osaka
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 22 September 1999
  • Genre: Action, 2D Platformer
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Controller Pak
  • Rarity/Cost: Uncommon (US$30-100)
Out of the few pieces of media from the Ganbare Goemon franchise that have crossed over out of Japan, the one I'm assuming most of us are familiar with is the first Nintendo 64 game, sold as Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (reviewed here).  It is a really good game, even on its own merits, but if you're familiar with the other games, all but one of which we Anglophones were never granted the privilege of buying in our own market, it's a markedly different experience.  Whereas Mystical Ninja was basically a 3-D Legend of Zelda clone, the main series games, primarily on the Super Famicom, were more traditional platforming experiences.  Well, they made another game for the N64, one that followed this older formula, and best of all, it came out in America, as Goemon's Great Adventure.

So what is this classic formula?  Instead of cribbing from Zelda, GGA and the SuFami series have more in common with platformers like Super Mario Bros., except in "2.5D".  For the uninitiated, this means that while while you and all other characters are confined to a 2D plane at all times, all visuals are rendered in polygons (using the same engine from Mystical Ninja which, sadly, had become dated by 1999), and the paths may curve into or out of the background.  Even better, some levels have branching paths, which you'll have to explore at some point.  Progress through the game is controlled by how many Entry Passes you have collected, in a system similar to that of the 3D Super Mario series.  You get one Entry Pass whenever you clear a regular level for the first time, but in order to meet the requirements to continue, you'll have to earn more by completing missions from certain townspeople.  This collection quest may not be Donkey Kong 64-level egregious, but seriously, who likes these kinds of things?
The weapon upgrade system evokes Super Mario.
All four characters (Goemon, Ebisumaru, Sasuke, and Yae, the latter two unlocked soon after the start) once again have their specialties; for example, Sasuke and Yae can traverse underwater passages, while for some reason Goemon has been given a double-jump (the timing for which takes practice to nail down).  While it's only window dressing, I have to smile at Ebisumaru's main weapon, a paddle/spoon which knocks enemies into the background or screen a la TMNT IV: Turtles In Time (but don't charge up his projectile attack, just... don't).  This and other weapons can be upgraded through a power-up system used in the SuFami series and, in some fashion, even Super Mario Bros..  Picking up a Silver or Gold Fortune Doll upgrades your main weapon's strength and range, but each hit taken will take its level down one notch.  In a genius move, the control scheme allows you to use either the Control Stick or Control Pad for movement, with both the Z and L triggers used for projectiles.

The zany, Japanese-tinged humour so prevalent in the previous games is back with a vengeance in GGA.  Our heroes are invited to witness their friend's newest invention, a machine that can bring the dead back as ghosts, only to have it stolen by our villain, a female, faux-Catholic nun version of Ebisumaru.  Monsters themed after ghosts from Japanese folklore help to drive the cultural connection home.  Sadly the levels themselves don't get such a creative treatment; our heroes' quest does take them through the land of the dead (the easy way), but if you have fond memories of the Festival Temple or Gourmet Submarine Castles from the last game, prepare to be disappointed.
2-player co-op is available any time.
Seeing as how only one game in the SuFami Goemon series was ported outside Japan (the first one, sold as Legend of the Mystical Ninja in 1992), Goemon's Great Adventure's quirks may come across as more innovative than they actually are.  (They were to me; unlike the other entries of N64 Month, I didn't try this game until I was considerably older.)  But considering the franchise's relative absence in the occidental world, we should be embracing titles like these.  Fortunately, it deserves the recognition it failed to earn from us, given how fun, if unpolished, it is.  If this game encourages you to investigate the rest of the Ganbare Goemon franchise, then I'm happy to have done my job.

Graphics: 3 out of 5
Sound: 5 out of 5
Control: 3 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)

Next Episode: The next game in N64 month concerns another quartet of oddball heroes - but from an entirely different island nation.

Monday, September 19, 2011

N64 Month: Superman

NB: The entry I had originally planned to post next, a review of Fighter's Destiny, I accidentally deleted.  It will thus have to be re-done later, likely after the conclusion of N64 Month.  Having said that, I suppose now would be a good time to bring up a surprise I was planning for you anyway.  Allow me to present to you, my fellow readers...

  • Publisher: Titus
  • Developer: Titus
  • Release: 29 May 1999
  • Genre: Action
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Controller Pak/1 page
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$5-10)
Yes, that's right: I'm going to review Superman for Nintendo 64, frequently cited as one of the worst, if not the worst, video games of all time.  What could the game have possibly done to warrant such widespread disapproval?  It's a long list, trust me, but when I was a kid renting this when it came out, I couldn't pick out a fraction of the problems I'm about to list at the end of this review.  In fact, I remember kinda liking it.  And I don't feel guilty about beating this horse again, since not even the Angry Video Game Nerd got past the first level in his review.  So how much of my memories is true and how much has been distorted by time, maturity, and antidepressants?

I'm sure you need no introduction to Superman, comic books' Man of Steel (and not in that phoney-baloney Josef Stalin kind of way) and defender of the city Metropolis.  He's got almost every superpower one could wish for without thinking too hard on the subject: flying, super strength, super speed, x-ray vision, you get the idea.  And, as you may also know, his only weakness is radiation from the mineral kryptonite.  Between the many different comic series, TV shows, and movies, the Superman franchise has gone through many iterations.  The universe presented in this game was based off of Superman: The Animated Series, the hit show which ran on TV prior to the game's release in 1999.  Apparently, villain Lex Luthor has trapped Superman and some of his friends in a virtual re-creation of Metropolis.  What could possibly go wrong?

If you don't of this game's most-publicised problem know by now, I'll stop beating around the bush: you have to fly through rings.  You have to fly through more rings than the Sonic equivalent of New Super Mario Bros. 2.  These rings are to Superman as falling into pits is to the Atari E.T. game: both unloved gimmicks in famously bad games.  But hear me out so I can explain how this works.  The levels in this game alternate between "Ride" stages, where Superman flies to different points in virtual Metropolis to perform miscellaneous heroic deeds, and action stages taking place within one location.  To get from place to place in the ride stages, you have to fly through a chain of rings.  In order to force you on track, skipping too far ahead means you have to start that particular passage over again.  However, at all times there's a safe zone of three rings ahead of the next one.  Should you miss any rings, you can take the time to go back and pass through the first one, or just go to the next ring in the buffer.  Taken on its own, it is an annoying, time-wasting, and unnecessary mechanic, I will admit.

The rings are easier if you slow down.
But get this: it gets even worse when you consider how bad the controls are.  The sensitivity of the Control Stick and the lazy camera make it hard to turn at high speeds.  And since the frame rate flucuates slightly, if it decides to run at optimal speed when you're about to make a turn, you'll have even less control.  But what most critics don't tell you is that there are a few ways to deal with this problem.  You'll have an easier time flying if you just let go of the accelerator (B) or even brake (R) every once in a while.  That's right: it's like Gran Turismo as a flying man.  What they also don't tell you is that if you switch the difficulty to the Easy setting, the rings are gone completely - you just follow the compass to your next destination.  While this does remove a major annoyance, the lack of challenge could make the game more boring, so pick your poison.  And even worse, unless you select the hard mode, the game ends before the final level!  Way to railroad us into using an unlikeable mechanic!  Colour me offended.

With all the attention gamers have given to the ride stages, they seem to forget there's more to the game than that.  Action stages occur after each ride stage, and have Superman do his thing within a certain location: a dam, a warehouse, the Lexcorp office building, etc.  Although the enemies are primarily just Black Shadows and drone bots, along the way you'll encounter villains from the comic/show, so if names like Mara, Brainiac, and of course Lex Luthor sound familiar, more power to ya.  In these levels, you have to complete a sequence of objectives , and you get to use a bunch of Superman's other powers to complete some of these goals.  Apart from your standard flight and strength, abilities like Heat Vision, Ice Breath, Super Speed, and the surprisingly useless "Reprogrammation" (The manual didn't even translate that name from French!) or mind-control are meter-limited and recharged by collecting tokens.  Keeping the source material in mind, you may cry foul at these limitations, but I'll personally accept that as a challenge, not that you use these powers much anyway.

Unfortunately, the objectives are so unintuitively placed that you'll be backtracking every which way to find them.  The fact that many of these levels are rather large, with many places that stand out, does not help matters, nor do the unspecific descriptions of your objectives. The third stage, the warehouse, is where the game starts to show its true colours. There are doorways placed all around the main room, but they’re blocked by lasers until you find the key or switch that turns one of them off. Like the one at the top of the back wall; since the room’s so dark and foggy, how would you know to look for it up there? And then there’s this: near the end, you rescue Lois Lane and escort her out of the building, when guess what -- she slows down as I have to go ahead and hunt down Black Shadows to protect her! But you can’t go too far or some more Black Shadows will gang up on her from nowhere! So now you have to wait for her to leisurely make her way across the room until she finally reaches the end, when guess what -- now she picks up the pace. Seriously? Were you pranking on me, Lois? Were you yanking my chain?  (But then again, it was awfully nice of Lex Luthor to not let Superman use the elevator until he read the note telling how to turn off the kryptonite generator in the next room.)  Having weighed both the ride and action stages on their own merits, I can't necessarily way which is worse, so again, pick your poison - or don't pick at all.
The objectives are unintuitive to find.
After having come back to this game after all these years, I can say without fear of contradicting myself that it is bad. In fact, it’s so bad that a port for the PlayStation was planned, only to get cancelled once the scathing reviews rolled in!  I know that feel. Whether or not this would’ve presented a chance to right some of its wrongs we’ll never know, but the fact remains that in the version we're stuck with, the character models are goofy-looking and poorly-animated, vision-limiting fog is prevalent everywhere despite the lack of graphical detail, nearly every gameplay mechanic makes little to no sense, the controls provide you with all the grace of a legless mammoth, your mission goals are unclearly described, the physics model is parsecs beyond unpolished, and it’s buggier than a night in Chincoteague. And that plot about Superman being trapped in a virtual world? It must have been a last-minute addition (it was brought on by the licence holders who didn't want any "real" violence), since it never gets resolved!  Even if you beat the game, Superman never gets out of the virtual world to bring the "real" Lex Luthor to justice!  Even if you win, you lose...  Hm, what a fitting metaphor for the game itself.

Having said all that, I still managed to gleam some occasional bouts of playability from this title, so I wouldn't call it a total loss.  After all, I still maintain that I've seen and even played worse games than this.  But if you think you can get as much fun as I did from playing Superman, you'll need much more luck than I.

+ The flying stages are a little bit fun once you get used to them.
- Broken collision detection.
- Unclear objectives.
- Awkward model animation.
- Poorly-optimised graphics (fog despite the lack of graphical detail).

Graphics: 0 capes out of 5
Sound: 2 capes out of 5
Control: 0 capes out of 5
Design: 1 cape out of 5
The Call: 20% (F)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

N64 Month: Mission Impossible

Mission: Impossible
  • Publisher: Ocean (N64), Infogrames (PS1)
  • Developer: Infogrames (N64), X-ample (PS1)
  • Release: 
    • Nintendo 64, 18 July 1998
    • PlayStation, 23 November 1999
  • Genre: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save:
    • Battery/4 files (N64)
    • Password, Memory Card/1 block (PS1)
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • N64: Common (US$5-10)
    • PS1: Common (US$5-20)

This article was updated on 19 August 2013.

The loss of many key franchises was a detriment to the success of the Nintendo 64.  One of them is Metal Gear, the "Tactical Espionage Action" series.  To be honest, the franchise had existed before and wasn't that much of a hit until Metal Gear Solid released as a PlayStation exclusive, but when it hit, it hit big.  I have played it later on, and it was such a wonderful experience that I feel sorry for all those N64 fanboys who refused to add to their interests (and still do so).  But, fortunately for them, we got the next best thing: Mission: Impossible.

The older readers of this blog would recognise Mission: Impossible as a TV series from the 60s and 80s, starring the recently-deceased Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, point man for the non-governmental agency IMF (Impossible Mission Force). Phelps would accomplish missions by assembling a team of specialists and tricking information out of their adversaries.  For this reason, Mission: Impossible was different from other spy-fiction TV shows of the '60s.  However, this game is based instead on the 1996 movie, a reboot directed by Brian de Palma of Scarface fame. The movie passes the protagonist mantle onto Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who loses his team in an ill-fated mission and must work outside his agency in order to take revenge and save the world while at it. So far the four-entry series has a good critical reputation, with the exception of the John Woo-directed M:I 2.

This game's 20 missions are divided into five acts, and share numerous key scenes from the film, including the Russian embassy in Prague, the CIA headquarters, and the train from London to Paris.  The story is also the same.  The CIA has this thing called Non-Official Cover list, or NOC list, which lists all of their undercover agents in eastern Europe.  And wouldn’t you know it, half of the list got leaked onto the open market!  So the IMF organise a mission to steal it back from the Russian embassy. In addition, the movie-based content is bookended by original scenarios set in an arctic base and concerning the misadventures of Basil Prokosh, an ex-Soviet wannabe warlord.  So, like Goldeneye, it's not a 100% faithful adaptation, but the changes they did make only help the story from a gameplay perspective.

You have to follow objectives in a strict order.
While I likened this game to the N64's counterpart to Metal Gear Solid, it plays more like Goldeneye in a number of different respects.  There are two difficulty levels, here named "Possible" and "Impossible", and on the harder setting, not only are enemies stronger and equipment scarcer, but additional objectives must be completed. Each mission has a series of objectives that must be cleared, and in many cases, you must complete some objectives within a specific order before you can even attempt to clear others. It's painfully easy to forget a step or two, so learn to use your radar in order to find them. Green dots are people, red dots are items you can pick up, and white dots are places where you can use those items.  However, killing the wrong person or destroying the wrong object could prevent you from moving on, forcing you to restart.  If a guard sees you doing something suspicious, that's a Game Over.  If you kill the wrong person, that's a Game Over.  If you complete certain objectives out of order, that's a Game Over.  If you lose all your health, well... that goes without saying.

To its credit, Mission: Impossible is not lacking in differences of kind.  There are plenty of action-oriented scenes, but many missions focus on stealth, with painful -- if not game-ending -- consequences should you draw attention to yourself.  The levels set in the CIA headquarters, for example, sit on the farther end of this scale, so much so that you have to use non-lethal weapons like dart guns, stunners, and... fire extinguishers.  As for actual firearms, there's not much in terms of variety -- there’s a pistol, a suppressed pistol, an Uzi, and a rocket launcher which, surprise surprise, looks like another pistol.  Although you don’t have to worry about reloading; ammo for both lethal and non-lethal weapons is counted by the round, not by the magazine. Furthermore, ammo and health carry over between missions within the same act, unless you retry from the start menu, in which case they reset. On the other hand, there is a wide array of gadgets and other items which are used to complete objectives, although the one that gets the most use by far is the Facemaker, a mask of sorts which you use on certain people to borrow their identity.

Aiming with a pseudo-first-person view.
(To think you can't do this in MGS!)
A few other missions provide more innovative fare, such as controlling a sniper protecting a computer-controlled Ethan, or manning the turret on a getaway gunboat.  Other missions are almost completely non-violent in nature, such as the party at the Russian Embassy.  These play out like those old text-adventure games, in third-person 3D form.  In practise, these can grow boring once you’ve figured out what to do, since it’s always the same experience every time.  And of course, the world-famous computer terminal cable drop is playable.  It may be a short spark, but somehow it burns bright.

Unlike in Goldeneye and MGS, you are able to jump in this game, although the mechanics for doing so are rather stiff, like everything else about the controls.  On the other hand, I found it easier to pull of headshots (or maybe I'm just good).  The graphics quality (at least for the N64 version, see below) is sub-par.  Not only does the frame rate waver quite a bit - going really, really slowly at its worst), but most textures always seem grainy, as if there was a texture filter applied at all times. And I know how tough getting the rights to an actor's likeness can be, but agent Hunt in the game looks absolutely nothing like Tom Cruise!  Nor does he sound like Tom Cruise, either.  Oh, I forgot to mention; even though most of the dialogue is presented with captions and no voiceovers, there are a few odd spoken clips here and there.  Plus, some of the missions are kicked off with one of the franchise’s world-famous briefings.

Now, unlike the other entries for N64 Month I have written/planned, M:I received a port for the PlayStation a year after its initial release.  (I was thinking of including another multi-platform game, Vigilante 8, but have decided against doing so due to time constraints.  Some other time...)  Gameplay-wise, the two ports are identical, sharing the same plot and the same 20 levels.  The PS1 version's graphics are better in a number of ways, with higher-resolution textures and a more stable frame-rate, but then again most N64-to-PS1 ports are. Also, as opposed to text captions, all dialogue in-game is voiced, although like most examples at that time, the acting quality is cheesy at best and just lame at worst.  So it's more of a pick-your-poison decision: no voice acting or bad voice acting.  Or, you can always take a third option and not buy this game at all.  After all, there's a reason the IMF briefings say, "your mission, should you choose to accept it", amirite?

+ Wide variety of missions.
- Strict trial-and-error gameplay.
- Somewhat stiff controls.
- Poor texture quality and frame rate in the Nintendo 64 version.
- Poor voice acting in the PlayStation version.

Control: 2 facemakers out of 5
Design: 3 facemakers out of 5
Graphics: 2 facemakers out of 5 (N64) / 3 facemakers out of 5 (PS1)
Audio: 3 facemakers out of 5 (N64) / 2 facemakers out of 5 (PS1)
The Call: 65% (C)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

N64 Month: Aero Fighters Assault

Aero Fighters Assault
  • Publisher: Video System
  • Developer: Paradigm
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1 November 1997
  • Genre: Flight Sim
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Battery, 1 file
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-15
There's just something so cool about playing flight simulators.  Maybe it's some thrill of flying instilled upon us from birth, I don't know.  The big name in flight simulator video games is Namco's Ace Combat series for the PlayStation family (Incidentally, a new installment has been announced for Nintendo 3DS - let's hope they keep that promise, amirite?), but if you were a Nintendo fan instead, then it's Star Fox all the way.  But there was one other game for the Nintendo 64, a flight sim which eschewed the space setting of Star Fox 64 for real-world aircraft in a fictional conflict...  And that game was Aero Fighters Assault.

You'd be forgiven for not knowing this, but AFA is the last game in the Aero Fighters series, previously a series of top-down 2D shoot-em-ups for arcades.  Unlike other shoot-em-ups, the Aero Fighters series used real-world planes such as the Grumman F-14, Mitsubishi FS-X, and Sukhoi SU-35, and Assault is no exception.  Rather than latching on to some real-world conflict, AFA takes place twenty minutes into the future, where the polar ice caps have partially melted and the mysterious organization named Phutta Morgana seeks to take over what's left of the world.  It helps that they're headed by aliens.  The plot isn't well-integrated, however, and we know little to nothing about Phutta Morgana's motivations.  Incidentally, that's the same kind of problem I had while watching Evangelion, apart from... well, you know.

In addition to the plot, the playable pilots prove that this game isn't entirely grounded in reality.  For starters, there are two Americans, the hotshot Hawk and more serious Glenda, along with Hien, a modern ninja who only speaks in Japanese, and Volk, a Russian who talks like he has no idea the Cold War is over.  (Or maybe it isn't... this is fiction after all.)  As computer-controlled wingmen, they don't do too much to help you; if you're lucky they'll attack the bosses for you, but mostly they just waste their time with enemy fighters.  The planes everyone flies also have occasional bouts of fantasy amidst the realism.  The guns (Z) and missiles (A) on all planes have unlimited ammo, which I'd happily chalk up as an acceptable break from reality.  In limited supply are your defenses (B) like chaff and air mines, which deter any enemy missiles homing in on you, and special weapons (R), which range from higher-powered missiles and bombs to the Ninja Beam laser and Fire Wave.
Boss battles are central to most of the game's missions.
Now, in my experiences playing this game, I haven't found myself needing to use chaffs much, since the game doesn't give you much if any warning when a missile is heading your way (and not that individual hits take off much damage anyway).  However, the AI-controlled planes also have defense weapons - and man, do they love to break them out.  Seriously, almost every friggin' time you lock on and shoot missiles at an enemy fighter, they're gonna block it, so you're more or less forced dogfight them the old-fashioned way with machine guns.  Fortunately, dogfighting is more of an option in most levels; rather, your missions generally involve taking down a boss, often within a time limit of five to fifteen minutes.  And thank Sabrina they don't have chaffs of their own, amirite?

For those unaccustomed to playing more realistic flight simulators, you don't just turn by holding left or right on the Control Stick.  Rather, doing so rolls your plane right or left, so what you have to do is roll 90 degrees in either direction and "ascend" (hold down on the Control Stick).  I'm bringing this up because I'd imagine most people who came across this game back in the day came off of Star Fox 64, which takes the more simplified approach to turning.  As a matter of fact, AFA does include simple turning as an alternate "Novice" control scheme, but after practicing with the "Normal" setup, I've found it to offer much smoother and precise control as opposed to the stiffer alternative.  So for anyone who's interested in trying this game out, I highly recommend you get used to the "Normal" controls as soon as possible and never look back.  One last point about the controls, you can lock the camera onto targets or wingmen by pressing directions on the Control Pad.  This is very useful when trying the most effective way to defeat most bosses: get behind them, continually circling or looping around, and launch missiles when you lock onto their weak points.  Rinse and repeat.

On the whole, the graphics in AFA easily outclass those of the first or even second games in the Ace Combat series for PlayStation (except for the frame rate).  That doesn't mean it's more fun to play, however.  The enemies' infuriating tendency to block your missile attacks, and the seemingly low damage your weapons deal to the bosses are just some of the factors that contribute to a rather unfriendly experience.  Not to mention, there are only ten missions in this game, including easily-missed bonus levels, more than a fair number fewer than most of the Ace Combat games can boast.  Other than that, AFA does play reasonably well (not to mention that unlike the early Ace Combat games, there is a 2-player battle mode present).  But should you be enticed to try it out, be prepared for a wild ride - and not in a good way.

Graphics: 3 chaffs out of 5
Sound: 4 chaffs out of 5
Control: 3 chaffs out of 5
Design: 2 chaffs out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)

On a serious note, the day I'm posting this happens to be the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks suffered by America on 11 September 2001.  Yes, I more or less planned to release something today just so I could talk about it.  So I read the comics in the newspaper yesterday, and a lot of them were just one panel that tried to be serious and special.  As annoying as I thought it was... they have a point.  Especially the ones that honoured the firefighters, police officers, and other first responders who did their best to save lives on that tragic day and beyond.  I mean, we've never had a holiday for those people before, amirite?  And let's not forget the men and women of our various armed forces; after all, there's a reason America has not suffered another (successful) terror attack since then.  So in summation, please allow me to say:

God bless America.

And everyone else.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

N64 Month: Extreme-G


  • Publisher: Acclaim
  • Developer: Probe
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 25 October 1997
  • Genre: Racing
  • Players: 1-4
  • Save: Controller Pak, 9 pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$2-10
Let's take a look at Acclaim, the now-defunct American game publisher.  Their portfolio of titles, dating back to 1987, wasn't what I'd call consistently good, and it was with good reason that they filed for bankruptcy in 2004.  But they did have their share of gems here and there.  They published the home ports of some of Midway's arcade games such as Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, and had their own well-received series such as Turok and Burnout (which were picked up by Buena Vista and EA, respectively).  Another quality title which happened to have their name on it was Extreme-G for the Nintendo 64.

As a racing game, the simplest way to describe Extreme-G is that it looks like F-Zero but plays like Mario Kart.  In a sport created in the future, players pilot all manner of armed and armoured motorcycles through series of tracks placed in all manner of locales.  Each of the game's twelve courses (plus a hidden thirteenth one) falls into one of four settings: Desert, City, Mines, and Space Station.  The tracks themselves proudly showcase all manner of jumps, loops, corkscrews, and other inversions.  Few games up to this point have been able to boast such ballsy track designs, and even fewer, if any, have done so with the frame rate performance intact.  As with the Mario Kart series, you get points based on your rank for finishing each race, and your goal is to have the most points at the end of the series.  However, you can also fail out of the circuit if you fail to meet the target score (the rank you need to beat in order to qualify is displayed at the start of each race).
Look out for many types of weapons.
Going into each race, each bike is given three single-use nitro boosts, and one of three types of weapons: the streaming Laser, single-shot Pulse, or rapid-fire Excel.  (It is my opinion that the Laser and Excel are the most effective, although they run out of ammo more quickly than the Pulse does.)  You'll do most of your blasting, however, with the weapon pickups littered around the track.  There are over a dozen different items available, including your basic rockets, mines, and shields.  More unique fare includes the Ion Side Cannons, which shoots streams of electricity on both sides of your bike to prevent others from passing, the Static Pulse, which temporarily reverses your steering and disables all weapons, and the Wally Warp, which sends anyone unfortunate enough to run into it back a few seconds.  But for all the abuse these bikes take, strangely, they can't get destroyed during races.  If a bike's shields do get depleted, its performance is hampered, so much that any other hits will knock it to a brief standstill, until it can get repaired.

Repair your shield with these pickups.
Controls in this game are fully customiseable, although the steering responsiveness could use a little fine-tuning, depending on how you play.  If you're not used to braking or slowing down for turns in racing games (darn you Mario Kart 64!), you will scrape the walls a lot due to pervasive understeer.  In a unique feature for its time, you can lean into curves and turn more sharply by holding R (by default), although this might cause you to oversteer and hit the inside wall instead. So you either have to get into the habit of slowing down for turns, or just ride the guardrails and take the damage.  Although to be fair, occasional scrapes and individual weapon hits don't take much off from your bike's shield, and a lot of paths are too narrow to avoid the walls anyway.

Apart from the three career circuits, Extreme-G throws in a good number of modes for both single and multiple players.  Soloists can play individual practice races with CPU opponents, solo time trials, and the "Shoot 'Em Up" mode, where you use waspon pickups to blast as many drone bikes as you can within the three laps provided.  Throw in two to four players, and you can hold split-screen races or engage each other in the battle mode arenas.  ...So yeah, Extreme-G takes more than a page out of the Mario Kart book, not only in the modes available, but in the basic gameplay structure.  But let's face it - they chose a good leader to follow, and if nothing else, Extreme-G plays so much better than the kiddie-karting wanna-bes that shall be forever coondemned to eat its dust.

Graphics: 3 nitros out of 5
Sound: 5 nitros out of 5
Control: 3 nitros out of 5
Design: 4 nitros out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Next Episode: I'm not done playing with heavy machinery just yet.  Aero Fighters Assault is next up on N64 month...  Look it up, people.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

N64 Month: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
  • Publisher: Acclaim
  • Developer: Iguana
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1 March 1997
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Players: 1
  • Saving: Controller Pak, 16 Pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-15
Among the things that inexplicably became popular in the 1990s, we have Native Americans and dinosaurs - and wouldn't you know it, someone found a way to bring the two together.  The spawn of this awesome-sounding union is Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the first true first-person shooter title for the Nintendo 64, beating out a remake of Doom by about a month.  (It even made it for the N64's European launch on 1 March 1997.)

I'd imagine not many people know this, but Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is actually based off a long-running comic book franchise which Acclaim picked up the rights to a few years before releasing this game.  In fact, according to the retcons established by Acclaim Comics, Turok isn't even the player character's name, but rather his title.  Technically, his real name is Tal'set Fireseed, a Native American warrior from the mid-1800s who protects the Lost Land, a parallel world where "time has no meaning".  That means having dinosaurs and aliens in the Lost Land is a natural occurence.  Not so natural is our villain, the Campaigner, who seeks to break the barrier between Earth and the Lost Land and cause all manner of chaos in the interest of ruling both.  A weapon known as the Chronoscepter, which is so powerful it had to be disassembled into eight pieces, will prove crucial to both factions' goals, but we'll discuss that later on.

Compared to the claustrophobic corridors from the more in-vogue FPS series of the time, TDH showcases a varied array of environments, like wide-open jungles, the ruins of an ancient city, and intricate catacombs.  Each of the 8 huge levels in the game is accessed by a hub, and you'll have to travel back and forth as you collect keys to open the next levels, as well as the 8 pieces of the aforementioned Chronoscepter, a beam gun which will give you a major upper hand against the final boss.  Rather famously, all these locales are draped in a curtain of fog or darkness which shortens your range of vision somewhat.  Although intended to ease the load on the N64's graphics processor, this could create tense moments where a raptor or something jumps out at you with no warning.  ...Okay, while that was just a hypothetical (if possible) scenario, I do sometimes get spooked by most enemies' tendencies to continually respawn after death.  Sadly, items do not regenerate if you ever have the need to go back to a level.  For this reason, try to find all the keys on your first run through (and pay attention to the handy checklist from the pause menu).  And in another oddly innovative feature, you can re-color the blood to red or green, or turn it off completely.  Lemme tell ya, more games should do that.

Platforming passages are prevalent.
Before the N64 came along, first-person movement in console games was imprecise (Super NES Doom says hi), but the invention of the Control Stick changed all that.  You move forward, back, and sideways with the C buttons, and look/turn with the Control Stick, and lemme tell ya... that idea is just crazy enough to work.  Being able to aim with the Control Stick instead of buttons gives you the precision you need - so much so that it was included into later shooters like Goldeneye 007 as an alternate control scheme.  Unusually for a first-person shooter, TDH has a jump function (R) and as such, places a heavier emphasis on platforming.  If looking down at your shadow in order to make these jumps proves too disorienting, you can toggle on the map (L), a wireframe which is overlaid on top of the action.  An unorthodox solution, but at least it doesn't take you out of the action, and it's way better than not having a map at all.  Plus, the icon indicating your position is always centered, so it can serve as a makeshift targeting reticule.

As I previously warned, these levels are huge - so big they not only have checkpoints, but save points.  Although this could add tedium in the event you have to backtrack, it's still something to be proud of for such an early game.  Packed in these levels are power-ups like Life Force tokens, which award one extra life for every 100 collected, FPS mainstays such as backpacks to hold extra ammo, Tek Armor to take hits without losing health, and of course, ammo for all manner of weapons.  You start out with a knife and bow, but can collect everything to a basic pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, to crazier fare such as a pulse rifle, the charge-up Particle Accelerator, and the mini-nuke Fusion Cannon.  The bow and shotgun can also use alternate explosive ammo.  It's another feature that was ahead of its time, but if you have any available, there's no way to switch back to the regular ammo in order to save it for later.  All this will serve you well against the occasional boss, such as a hunter who summons Humvees to a giant bionic Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Have fun.

Some weapons use alternate ammo.
The PC fanboys would be more than happy to point you to Wolfenstein 3D or Doom as the creator of the FPS genre, and technically they are right.  But Turok: Dinosaur Hunter proved, for the first time, that an FPS game was feasible on consoles.  Fortunately, the fact that TDH is perfectly playable and well-designed only helps matters.  So truly, it is a piece of gaming history that deserves more recognition, or at least acknowledgement, than it does these days.

Control: 4 keys out of 5
Design: 4 keys out of 5
Graphics: 4 keys out of 5
Sound: 3 keys out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Next Episode:  I review another game from Acclaim - and again, it's actually pretty good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

N64 Month: Blast Corps

Blast Corps

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Rare
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 28 February 1997
  • Players: 1
  • Saving: Controller Pak, 14 Pages / 4 files
  • Genre: Action, Racing
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$1-10
 "They" say it is easier to destroy than to create, and in Blast Corps, this certainly rings true.  (Helps that you can't create anything in the game anyway.)  In fact, destruction is your prime objective.  The main missions have you demolishing buildings with all manner of cars, trucks, and other machines.  Yeah, something tells me this wouldn't fly in our post-9/11 world.  But would you believe: you're doing it for a good cause.

The story in Blast Corps is much like a disaster movie (and not in that phoney-baloney Seltzerburg way).  A truck carrying nuclear material has lost its crew and control in a freak accident, and has been locked in a straight course.  Collision with any object would cause the carrier's contents to detonate... somehow.  I'm no nucular scientist.  The only solution that could possibly be the lesser of two evils is to clear a path for the carrier so that it can detonate safely in a remote location.  That includes any buildings that stand in its way, which is where the titular organisation comes in.  With a varied assortment of vehicles at your command, you're tasked with demolishing select buildings in order to create a safe path for the carrier.  From repurposed construction vehicles, to humanoid mechas, to cars which... pretty much just take you around faster than walking, you'd be amazed at the ways you can make things to boom.

Each of these vehicles comes with its own control scheme and learning curve.  The Ramdozer (bulldozer) is by far the most straightforward and easiest to use: just drive into things and it'll take down most obstacles in one hit.  The mechs - the J-Bomb (stomps on targets from above with a jetpack - you're welcome), Thunderfist, and Cyclone Suit (both tumble into targets) - are generally fun to work with, but require practice to perfect the necessary timing.  Some vehicles mix it up with limited-ammo weapons, namely the Sideswipe (a truck with side-mounted battering rams) and Ballista (a motorbike with rocket launchers).  And then, there's... the Backlash, a dump truck which you have to drift and crash into targets with the back end.  Even in the tutorial mission, it's way hard to get the timing down, and worse still is the fact that it's used the most out of any vehicle in the game. *sigh*  In missions where more than one machine is available, you can get out at any time and walk to another one, which is innovative considering this game came out before Grand Theft Auto - as in the old 2-D ones.

Top row: Backlash, Cyclone Suit, Ballista, J-Bomb.
Bottom row: Ramdozer, Thunderfist, Sideswipe, Skyfall.
Have fun.
Once you've saved a map from the carrier, you can go back to it at any time for full completion.  You can trash all the remaining buildings, free the remaining survivors from said buildings, and light up Radiation Dispersal Units (RDUs), collectible dots strewn about each map, in order to collect extra Gold Medals.  The main carrier missions only make up 21 of the game's 54 levels; the remaining ones are timed destruction or racing challenges, which have their own target times and medals.  All this should contribute a fair bit of replay value - insanely so, when platinum Medals are involved (you have to get all Golds before they show up, though).

If there's anything that could hold this game back, it's the controls, which aren't nearly as fine-tuned as they should be.  For one, invisible walls are everywhere, and hitting one makes your vehicle bounce back a few feet, sometimes re-creating pinball physics.  The camera rarely ever hangs back wide enough to let you see everything you need to; even though you can rotate (by 45-degree increments) and zoom (again, very slightly), it's usually not enough to give you the optimal viewing angle.  And the less said about the Backlash, the better.  Graphical quality is around par for an early N64 title, although slowdown is not an uncommon happening, especially if the camera hangs low enough to show the horizon.  But while some fine-tuning would have been much-appreciated, the quality that exists is more than enough to make the novelty of this concept worthwhile  It's just a shame that dump truck...


...had to cause so much backlash.

+ Novel, cathartic concept.
- Limited camera control.
- Awkward collision detection.
- That freakin' Backlash truck.

Control: 2 RDUs out of 5
Design: 5 RDUs out of 5
Graphics: 2 RDUs out of 5
Sound: 3 RDUs out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

N64 Month: Intro

Dig, if you will, the picture: the fifth generation of video game consoles, which lasted primarily through the mid and late 1990s.  The major contenders were the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64, and out of these, the PlayStation is considered the financial winner of this particular console war.  So the fifth console generation marked the first time in which Nintendo failed to capture the majority of the market since coming out onto the scene.  Who gives a bibble?  I was always on the side of the N64.  Maybe it was because it was the first video game console I ever owned, apart from handhelds.  (Although I had expressed interest in a Sega Saturn beforehand, because of arcade ports like the Virtua Fighter and Virtua Cop series.  But I didn't.  Good call, me!)  Maybe it was familiarity; whereas there wasn't anything on the fledgling PlayStation which grabbed my interest, there was always the house that Mario built.  (I was a big Sonic fan, too, but that didn't have much of a showing back then.)  Still, it's not like the console was a complete bust; with almost 350 titles over six years, this was still a respectable showing.

The Nintendo 64's American launch was on 29 September 1996.  You may be wondering where the "64" in its name came from, so I'll take a crack at explaining it.  The N64 runs on a 64-bit processor, which means that it can process numbers that are 64 digits long in binary (about 18.4 quadrillion in plain ol' base-10) in one calculation.  Numbers larger than the bit-value can be worked with, but it will take more than one computation to handle it - and in gaming, you don't always have that luxury.  For a better discussion of the topic, read this page.  Of course, bit size is just one factor as to how a game runs, and while competent on the whole, the N64 was held back by a few crucial shortcomings.

Unlike the competing PlayStation and Saturn, which both ran games off of CDs, the N64 ran games off its own cartridges Game Paks.  For one, they were more expensive to manufacture, pushing the costs onto the consumer.  Some N64 games would sell for up to US$80 on their initial runs, whereas new games for the PlayStation or Saturn rarely went above the now-standard $50.  On top of that, space was an issue: even the most high-end N64 Game Paks released late into the console's life could only store 64MB, less than one-tenth of what a CD can hold.  That meant that a lot of multimedia features - such as movie clips and voice acting - were out of the question.  This, combined with the machine's low memory set aside for textures, led to the console's much-documented problem of stretching and blurring low-resolution textures (you know, the pictures they put onto 3D shapes).  Then again, for some reason I still had a preference for the N64's blurry textures against the PSX's blocky ones, so I'll chalk that up to a matter of opinion.  On the plus side, being on a cartridge rather than a CD meant that some games could still save onto the Game Pak itself instead of needing a separate memory card Controller Pak to do so.

But when the N64 had a hit feature, it hit big.  The three-handled controller, while seeming unwieldy to anyone who hasn't actually used it, cemented the use of an analog joystick Control Stick.  (Sega released their own analog stick-equipped gamepad for the Saturn, bundled with the game NiGHTS Into Dreams, but with the N64 it became standard.)  The back of the controller housed an expansion port, which was widely used for accessories such as the memory card Controller Pak, and the Rumble Pak, one of the first force-feedback devices made for video game controllers.  And some of its most popular games are still hailed as being innovators, if not among the best, in their respective genres: Super Mario 64 (1996), Goldeneye 007 (1997), and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) make up what I like to call the "Holy Trinity" of N64 games.  But we all know about them by now, so that's not why I'm here.

Let's hear my side of the story.  I got my Nintendo 64 console on Christmas Day of 1996, partly as a reward for learning how to ride a bicycle.  I started out with games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, but then got to trying out new titles after reading about them in Nintendo Power magazine, which Mom got for me just for the latter.  Little did I know about the games' high price points at the time, but fortunately, I eased the pain for my parents and relatives once I got into renting games.  Whenever I could gleam a trip to one of the local video stores from my mom or dad, I could try out whatever I wanted for a couple of bucks for a couple of days, pending availability.  (I remember having to wait a month or two before big-ticket games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Star Wars Episode I: Racer would show up in stock.)  It was this newfound freedom that led me to explore games that I never would have encountered otherwise.  And that's the focus of this month-long special: I'm dedicating September 2011, the fifteen-year anniversary of the Nintendo 64, to all my "N64 Treasures", the games the Man forgot about.  Here are some of the titles you can expect me to review:
Until I get them up, you can check out some of my other reviews for games which I would now like to retroactively add to the "N64 Treasures" collection: