Killer Instinct Gold Review

*Review based on Killer Instinct Gold’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Killer Instinct was Rare’s answer to the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat craze of the 1990s. Though it never reached the same popularity of those two series, Killer Instinct was a worthy third piece in this equation, with a strong emphasis on combos over its competing series (thus “C-C-C-Combo Breaker!” was born). However, Killer Instinct’s popularity was not to last. While Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have seen many iterations over the years, Killer Instinct only had two titles to its name back in the day (though the 2013 reboot has helped revive interest in the brand).

The first installment went from arcades to the SNES, while Killer Instinct II made its way to the Nintendo 64 in the form of Killer Instinct Gold. While Killer Instinct Gold can still provide some solid fighting gameplay, it does suffer from many of the shortcomings the genre suffered in the wake of Mortal Kombat’s influence.

In terms of mechanics, Killer Instinct Gold has many of the elements you would expect from the genre: characters have light attacks, heavy attacks, projectiles and special moves, which can be performed with a variety of button presses and combinations. The main draw to Killer Instinct, of course, was its emphasis on combos, with pretty much every characters’ moves being able to be linked together if the player can perform them quick enough.

The moves themselves are easy enough to use, though the game does suffer a bit from the stiff character movements that were frequently seen in fighters of the day (floaty jumps, some slowly-performed moves, etc.). The fighting can be fun, but its sense of character control certainly has a “for its day” feel to it.

Killer Instinct Gold, like most fighting games, is better played with a human opponent. You can certainly have more fun trying out combos  and doing battle with a friend than you can against a computer AI. Especially since Killer Instinct Gold follows Mortal Kombat’s lead in having AI opponents who can seemingly go against the game’s own rules, making single player bouts often feeling more unfair than fun.

If you’re playing Arcade mode, you may find that the computer opponents can interrupt your combos with ease, while you can’t seem to do anything about it if you get caught in your opponent doing the same thing. You’ll frequently be in the middle of an attack, only for the AI’s attack to take priority and render your move useless.

I even lowered the difficulty settings so I could try out different combos easier, and the computer was still able to to have its way more times than I’d like to admit. I’d get an opponent down to the tiniest shred of health, only for them to get a second wind and immediately bombard me with life-depleting combos. It’s one thing for a fighting game to be difficult, but in the case of Killer Instinct Gold, it seems like the rules just don’t apply to the AI. I have a friend who’s a big fan of Mortal Kombat, and even he admits that, in that game “the computer cheats.” And it’s basically the same story here in Killer Instinct Gold.

The single player modes greatly suffer due to this AI problem, but Killer Instinct Gold does have enough depth in its combat to help elevate the gameplay higher than it otherwise would be.

The character roster is a little bit of a mixed bag. Though the non-human characters standout – such as Spinal, a skeletal pirate; and Glacius, an alien being with ice powers – the human character designs feel downright uninspired and boring. Tusk, for example, looks like a first draft for a Conan the Barbarian type character, and the other humans look equally as rushed.

This inconsistency isn’t just found in the art direction, but in the visuals as well. While the character models use a similar pre-rendered look to the original game and Donkey Kong Country, and hold up pretty well, the 3D backgrounds have that glaringly dated N64 look. Of course, it’s hard to be too critical on the graphical limitations in the games of yesteryear, but the fact that the character models still look relatively impressive while the backgrounds look so ugly does make you wish Rare had just used one cohesive visual look.

While Killer Instinct Gold may provide some old-school fighting fun if you have another player by your side, the more dated elements do prevent it from being as timeless of a fighter as the Street Fighter games. Though I suppose it does boast more depth than the early Mortal Kombats, so you could say Killer Instinct falls in the middle of the 90s fighting trifecta.

 

5

Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate Review

“Caesar! Caesar!”

If you choose to play Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate on the Nintendo 64, be prepared to hear those words often. Why? Because one of the characters in this 3D fighter – based on the popular television series from the 1990s from the studio that brought the world Superman 64 – is Caesar, and one of his moves involves him raising his arms in the air, to which an unseen audience shouts “Caesar! Caesar!” which inexplicably knocks any opponents to the ground. This move can be spammed repeatedly, and though it doesn’t do any damage, the fact that you can just repeat it non-stop to incapacitate your opponents gives Caesar an insanely unfair advantage.

It’s a broken move from a gameplay standpoint, but it also doesn’t make any sense. What’s knocking the opponents down, exactly? Are the thunderous roars of Caesar’s fans so loud they push Caesar’s opponents to the floor with force? Or could the crowd be stomping their feet in support of Caesar with such enthusiasm that it causes a small tremor, thus causing Caesar’s foes to lose their footing? In either case, shouldn’t Caesar also be affected by this, considering he’s standing on the same ground as his opponents?

I may be going on and on about a single move, but said move somehow sums up Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate as a whole (though “from the publisher of Superman 64″ might also explain everything). This is a fighter that’s sloppy, clunky and broken in pretty much every regard.

As stated, this Xena video game adaptation is a 3D fighter, with players being being able to choose from a variety of characters from the TV series. Among them are the titular Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and *sigh* Caesar. Battles can take place between two to four players, with team options also being available.

The controls are a mess. The four C buttons are used for attacks, Z ducks, R jumps, and A and B switch targets. There’s nothing about the control setup that feels intuitive. It’s a game that just feels awkward to play. Combine the poor controls with clunky character responses, and it becomes an utter mess (some characters have magic moves, but good luck hitting anyone with them with how long they take to activate).

“Gee, I wonder how he won?”

The graphics are similarly horrible. Now, the N64 is not one of the better-aged consoles of yesteryear, so dated visuals are to be expected. But even by N64 standards, the game is ugly. The characters look like blocky shapes tied together, and only vaguely resemble the characters they’re based on. The arenas are just wide, empty spaces that don’t stand out in terms of visuals or stage design.

I will admit, however, that the music – though not necessarily what I would call good – adds a bit of personality to the game. The “best” of the musical lot being the theme music for Joxer, the series’ comic relief character, which is intentionally annoying to such a way that, when coupled with the disastrous gameplay, makes for a good laugh if you’re playing with friends.

Really, there’s not much else to talk about here. Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate is one of the emptiest, most poorly-designed fighters I’ve played. It fittingly sits alongside its fellow Titus-published brother Superman 64 as one of the worst games on the N64. Between the two, Xena might be marginally “better” if only because, unlike Superman 64, it may put a goofy grin on your face at its own expense, as opposed to driving you mad with rage.

 

“Caesar! Caesar!”

 

1

Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth Review

The Nintendo 64 may not be famous for housing very many shoot-em-ups, but it had at least one under its belt in the form of Hudson Soft’s Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth. While Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth is certainly a fun title, it doesn’t necessarily bring anything to the genre that you couldn’t see elsewhere.

Basically, if you’ve played a Japanese space shoot-em-up, you know what to expect. You can fire a never-ending onslaught of lasers at countless enemy ships, while avoiding their fire in a top-down perspective in rail-shooter levels. It’s basic stuff, but fun.

Players can control either a red, blue or green ship. Each ship has a standard shot which you can shoot to infinity and beyond, which is used with a press of the A button, as well as special attacks that are performed with the B and Z buttons. The standard shot can be upgraded if you collect enough power-ups (which look like yellow and green spinning… thing. I honestly don’t know what they’re supposed to be). Additionally, you can deflect some enemy shots by doing a barrel roll with a press of the R button.

Because your ship is so powerful offensively, it only makes sense that it would be on the fragile side in terms of defense. It only takes a couple of hits before you see the game over screen, at which point you have to restart whatever stage you were on from the beginning. If you keep getting the power-ups, you get a few extra hits, but you’ll also lose your weapon upgrades. If you die, you’ll restart the level with your starting lasers which, in later stages, can make things really difficult. So you’ll really want to memorize the level and enemy layouts to preserve your weapons and health.

“The blue laser destroys all!”

If you want to rack up points, the red and green ships are desirable, as their guns can shoot in wider areas (with the red ship even being able to shoot directly behind itself while shooting in all directions ahead, after enough power-ups are grabbed). This allows the red and green ship to keep hitting enemies non-stop, thus racking up combos and points. But the blue ship is a lot stronger and more ideal for the boss fights, as its special weapons (a barrage of missiles and a comically oversized laser) are devastating. I really enjoy playing as the red ship, but I find the first boss incredibly difficult when playing as it. Meanwhile, the blue ship only needs to use its specials a couple of times and the boss goes down without taking a hit. So you could say there’s some decent variety in play styles at least.

“Behold, the Super 64!”

Being an N64 title, the game obviously isn’t much to look at. On the plus side, this is a genre that never really gained much from graphical fidelity, so it’s easy to look past its archaic visuals and just enjoy the mayhem. The music is also pretty simple, but really upbeat and catchy, as you would expect from a Hudson game of the era.

Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth remains a fun game, and I have many fond memories of it (not least of which being that it never received a cartridge that would fit in a western N64, and came bundled with the “Super 64” peripheral just to play it). But it’s also pretty standard for its genre. Playing a game of this kind on the N64 may have been a treat back in the day, but if you’ve played other shoot-em-ups, Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth may only have a limited appeal.

 

6

Dr. Mario 64 Review

Dr. Mario 64

Dr. Mario was one of Mario’s earlier forays in branching out to genres outside of the platformer, and remains a fun and addictive puzzle game to this day. In 2001, as the Nintendo 64 was coming to a close and the GameCube was readying its way to store shelves, Nintendo released a relatively obscure entry in the Dr. Mario series as part of the Nintendo 64’s last breath titled (what else?) Dr. Mario 64. Though Dr. Mario 64 retains the fun of the series, its lack of newness to the formula may mean you’ll only break it out during parties.

Dr. Mario 64 retains the gameplay of the series: It works like a falling-block game, but instead of blocks, it’s vitamins (or “megavitamins,” as the series calls them). The vitamins are separated in two halves, with either side being red, blue or yellow. Additionally, there are several red, blue and yellow viruses on the game board. Like most falling-block games, the goal is to prevent the vitamins from stacking to the top of the screen by connecting a row of similarly colored vitamins, though unlike other such puzzle games, you don’t simply survive for as long as possible, but you can actually win by by eliminating all the viruses on your board before your opponent.

It remains a simple setup, but the gameplay is incredibly addicting. Dr. Mario 64 even adds a story mode to the equation – which can be surprisingly difficult – where players can play as either Dr. Mario or Wario and take on a series of enemies from Wario Land 3, which is a pretty strange crossover, the more I think about it (other than Wario himself, no other characters from the Wario games usually crossover into the Mario series in the way the Donkey Kong or Yoshi characters do).

The appeal of the story mode is short-lived, however. The real reason you’ll be coming back to Dr. Mario 64 is for the multiplayer, as this entry allows for up to four players to join in the mayhem. This is where the game really shows its appeal, because other than the added number of players, Dr. Mario 64 really doesn’t add any particularly appealing new modes into the mix (one of the additional modes changes things into the aforementioned “play until you lose” method of the puzzle games of old).

On the bright side of things, four-player Dr. Mario is the kind of thing that’s tailor-made for get-togethers with friends. The Dr. Mario gameplay is a whole lot of fun, and playing it with a full-party just makes it all the more entertaining.  It’s a shame that the game’s release towards the end of the N64’s life meant that not a whole lot of people got to experience Dr. Mario 64’s multiplayer madness.

Dr. Mario 64 has some appealing visuals for what it has to offer, with the character animations being colorful and vivid, and reminiscent of the anime-style puzzle games I used to play in arcades back in the day. Even more notable is the soundtrack. The music tracks are upbeat and energetic, and really add to the frantic gameplay (the final boss in the game’s story mode has a theme that sounds like something out of Secret of Mana).

Overall, Dr. Mario 64 may not go down as a classic by any means, but it remains a really fun game to break out for some multiplayer fun. It may be the same old Dr. Mario in a lot of ways, but when you consider that it’s Dr. Mario for four players, it’s hard not to appreciate it.

 

7

Snowboard Kids 2 Review

Snowboard Kids 2

The two Snowboard Kids titles on the Nintendo 64 were some of the unsung heroes of the console. They provided some good, Mario Kart-style fun, and they’ve held up surprisingly well for N64 titles. Playing Snowboard Kids 2 today, it may not be anything too spectacular, but it still has a charm about it that’s hard to deny.

As stated, Snowboard Kids more or less took the Mario Kart formula, and applied it to snowboarding. From the start, players can select one of six cartoony characters, with three additional characters being unlockable. Each character has their own stats (similar to the earlier Mario Kart titles), with some being faster, others jumping higher/farther, and some being well-rounded.

The characters are all pretty cute, and the game has a fun art direction where everyone has a really big nose (as a kid, I mistook the characters for penguins due to their appearance). The game just looks really cute, and helps to cover up the aged visuals of the N64.

The game features two primary modes: Story mode and Battle. Story mode sees you go through a series of stages, which are interspersed between a small hub world where you can purchase items and additional items for the characters, with different chapters ending with a special boss encounter. There are also cute little cutscenes which, while nothing special, add to the game’s charm. Meanwhile, Battle mode works as a fun alternative for up to four players, where you can select the stages at your leisure, and see who comes out on top.

There may not be a whole lot of options, but what is here all provides some good, simple fun. The racetracks are well-designed and varied (you aren’t limited to snow-themed stages, as there are also tropical islands, castles, haunted houses, and outer space), and just like in Mario Kart, you can pick up weapons to help aid you and hinder your opponents.

Weapons come in two varieties: red and blue. Players can hold one item of each type at a time (predating Mario Kart: Double Dash’s similar two item concept). Red items are mainly projectiles – like ice shards that freeze opponents in place, gloves that slap coins out of the other snowboarders, and my personal favorite, a snowman that encompasses whoever it hits and disables their turning – and are used by pressing the Z button. Meanwhile, blue items are mainly for support, or traps – like rocks that are placed for the next snowboarder to trip on, or a propeller to make you move faster – and are used by pressing the B button.

Snowboard Kids 2Another highlight of the game is the music, which is surprisingly energetic, and may even bring the later Mega Man entries to mind. Again, the graphics have aged, but the art direction and music do bring a nice balance to the game’s aesthetics.

Unfortunately, not everything is wonderful in Snowboard Kids 2. Namely, you may find the racing itself to be a bit slow, fun as it may be. It’s not painful by any stretch, but when compared to Mario Kart, the slower pace can be a little disappointing, as it takes a little something away from the game’s energy. Additionally, every time you reach the bottom of the stage, you have to sit through a cinematic where your character rides a lift back to the top for the next lap. Thankfully, you don’t have to see the whole trek back up, but it would be nice to just reach the lift and then have the next lap begin right away. Also, navigating the hub in the story mode just feels kind of off. Your character just moves really slow here, which makes walking to each shop more tedious than it needs to be.

Still, none of these complaints are deal-breakers, and it’s pretty nice to see a multiplayer N64 game that still holds up after all these years. Obviously, if you’re looking to play a chaotic, cartoony multiplayer racer in this day and age, the best option is undoubtedly Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. But if you’re looking for a retro alternative to Mario Kart, you cold certainly do a lot worse than Snowboard Kids 2.

 

6

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer Review

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer was quite the novelty in its day. It was one of the first games to be based on the then-new Phantom Menace, the first and least-terrible of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Little did we know that, for the next few years, pretty much every Star Wars game would be based on the prequels. But, at the time, everyone was excited to see what Episode 1 could bring to the world of gaming.

Much like watching The Phantom Menace today, if you play Episode 1 Racer in this day and age, you’d probably wonder what all the hype was about. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer is simply an empty racing game that has little replay value.

I seem to have a tendency to frown on Nintendo 64 titles when revisiting them, but that’s simply because the Nintendo 64 is the most poorly-aged of all Nintendo’s consoles, with only a handful of titles standing the test of time. Episode 1 Racer is just another example of an N64 title that has succumbed to age.

The premise is simple enough: take the high-octane and largely unnecessary Podracing sequence of The Phantom Menace, and make a game out of it. On paper, it’s not an idea that’s doomed from the start. But the game was clearly rushed out in order to promote (and capitalize off of) the release of the movie, as there’s basically nothing to it.

On the plus side, you have a wide range of characters to choose from (all of the wacky aliens who took part in the Podrace of the movie are present), though most of them have to be unlocked. Each character has a different Pod with different stats, so there’s a little variety with the characters.

The downside is that the racetracks are so incredibly bland that the variety of characters really don’t matter. The stages all feel empty, and all you basically do is drive through them and avoid a few obstacles here and there, all while fighting those dreaded sharp turns. There are no items, no boosts, nothing that makes the gameplay standout from any other generic racer.

It also doesn’t help that the game is just ugly to look at. I know, some will say it “looked good for its time,” but the fact of the matter is the outdated visuals work against the game. The environments have trouble loading, with turns and obstacles only showing up when you’re right on top of them, which is a real hassle, seeing as how all of the vehicles move so fast. It all just looks blurry, and makes things like turns hard to see. You’ll find yourself crashing more because of the visuals than player error.

Along with the visuals, the audio is another issue with the game, mainly because it largely isn’t present. Like most Star Wars games, Episode 1 Racer uses music from the film it’s based, but for the most part, the races are completely silent, and when the music is present, it’s so quiet you’ll barely notice it (which is a shame, because the soundtrack was one of The Phantom Menace’s few highlights).

Another issue is that there’s very little penalty for crashing. Within a second, you’re placed in the exact same spot where you crashed, and you pick up full speed immediately, so you can basically crash several times during a race and still come out victorious with little struggle (in fact, I did exactly that on a few different instances). A lot of people complain with how long it takes Lakitu to bring players back into a race in Mario Kart, but that actually makes sense. If you perform badly, why shouldn’t therr be a penalty for it?

Episode 1 Racer as a whole is just way too easy. On top of the lack of any real obstacles or stage gimmicks, and the generous “punishment” for crashing, the computer AI is so easy it’s pathetic. As stated above, I managed to win several races even after crashing multiple times. And they weren’t close races, either. I never even saw any of my opponents after the first few seconds of a race (with a few exceptions of lapping them). You do have the option of playing the game with a friend, which at least makes the game more playable, but you won’t exactly get a lot of fun out of it.

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer may have seemed like something special at the time of its release, but it has definitely aged poorly. It lacks depth and polish in its mechanics and stage design, and just feels so empty and generic. Perhaps Sebulba sabotaged the developers?

 

3

Mario Party 2 Review

Mario Party 2

The Mario Party series has seen many, many iterations since the release of its first entry in 1999. Though the series’ annual releases eventually meant the games would eventually be watered down (even now that the releases are no longer annual, the newest entries are frowned upon more than ever), the original N64 trilogy is fondly remembered. Perhaps none more so than the second installment, which was released in 2000.

Mario Party is a rather easy series to summarize: Players take control of a different character from the Mario universe (here including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Wario and Donkey Kong), and take turns moving across board game-inspired levels, with mini-games spread throughout after each player has taken a turn. The basic goal of Mario Party is to have more stars than the other players by the time the game is over.

Just like any real board game, things are a bit more complicated when you go into detail. Stars are normally obtained by reaching Toad on the game board, and paying 20 coins to purchase it. Additionally, stars can be stolen from other players by passing by Boo (or summoning him through one of the game’s items), and additional stars are awarded at the end of the game for accumulating the most coins, winning the most coins in mini-games, and landing on the most “Happening Spaces” (green spaces on the game board that activate the level’s different gimmicks), should you choose to have these bonuses enabled. If players tie for the most stars, the tying player with the most coins is the winner.

Coins are obtained by landing on one of the many blue spaces on the game boards, while landing on red spaces takes them away. Coins are also earned by winning mini-games or stealing them with Boo. There’s also the bank space, which forces players to surrender five coins every time they pass it, but should a player be lucky enough to land directly on the bank space, they are awarded with every accumulated coin in the bank.

Players must also be wary of the Bowser spaces on the board, as landing on them could end with Bowser messing with the players, stealing their stars and coins for himself.

Those are the basic rules of Mario Party, though each board also has their own share of gimmicks and themes (in Mario Party 2, we have a western world, a haunted world, and a space world, to name just three of the six boards featured). The boards all change up the formula slightly, with different layouts and different results from landing on the aforementioned Happening spaces.

Mario Party 2The mini-games are where the action really picks up though. Mini-games come in a host of varieties, with 4-player free-for-alls, team-based two-on-two and one vs. three being the standard types that are played between rounds. Additionally, there are one-on-one dueling mini-games (playable by using the dueling glove item or landing on the same space as another player during the last five turns of a game), and battle mini-games, in which all four players compete for a jackpot of their coins.

The mini-games can be a bit hit or miss. There are plenty of really fun mini-games, and then there are some that are just more frustrating than anything, with some being blatantly based more on luck than player skill.

Mario Party 2This luck-based nature isn’t just found in mini-games, either. There are instances where players will randomly find hidden blocks containing stars or myriads of coins, and many level gimmicks will often screw players over. You can go from first to last place in the span of a single turn, no matter how well you’re performing on the board or in the mini-games.

Granted, this luck-based gameplay actually does reflect the nature of many real-life board games. But it doesn’t change the fact that, in a video game, it just feels so frustrating.

With that said, a game of Mario Party 2 with a full party of four players is a whole lot of fun. The game’s competitive nature – and even some of its more random elements – make it the kind of game that’s riotous fun with friends. And if you get tired of the board game setup, there’s always modes built strictly for the mini-games, as well as a host of unlockable content.

On the downside, Mario Party 2 is simply not engaging when playing solo. The Mario Party formula only works when playing with others. As a single player experience, the randomness and other frustrating elements are only magnified, without the interactions with friends to make them more ironic and enjoyable.

That really sums up Mario Party 2. Great (if not exactly deep) multiplayer fun, but not much of anything to speak of in terms of single player modes. Bring a few friends to the party, and even the more frustrating elements of Mario Party 2 become fun.

 

7

Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

7

Mortal Kombat Trilogy (N64) Review

MKT

Back in the mid 1990s, Mortal Kombat was all the rage. Its ridiculously violent “Fatalities” made it the subject of controversy, while its stylized combat and esoteric secrets made it the talking point of many gamers. It makes sense then, that during the height of Mortal Kombat mania, the series would see something of a “best of” installment. Released in 1996 on home consoles, Mortal Kombat Trilogy took the foundations of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and added in characters and stages from the previous installments in the series, while also hosting some new characters of its own. But just how well does Mortal Kombat Trilogy hold up?

Well, on the plus side, it’s still very much possible to have some good fun (as well as a bit of frustration) when playing with friends. On the downside, the single player options really don’t feel worth the ridiculous difficulty, and some of the game’s mechanics and characters feel largely unbalanced.

If you want to tackle the game’s single player story mode, be prepared for many controller-throwing moments, as even its “easiest” difficulty is harder than most games’ hard modes. The computer-controlled characters can often counter moves at times that aren’t possible for human players, and each subsequent fight becomes considerably harder than the last. And seeing as all of the secret characters are unlocked via cheat codes, it really makes you wonder why you would even bother going through the story mode other than bragging rights.

Thankfully, the multiplayer options are a bit more fun, with players being able to battle one-on-one, or for two players to have teams of two or three characters battle against each other.

The combat (sorry, Kombat) is still pretty simple. Most characters share the same standard moves, while their special abilities and projectiles are more unique for each character. It’s possible to chain together combos, and it allows for some frantic fighting action.

"You'll probably see this a lot."
“You’ll probably see this a lot.”

Unfortunately, some characters seem to have huge advantages over others, with some characters boasting abilities that make repetition and cheesing way too easy. Sindel, for example, can stun opponents while simultaneously bringing them closer with a screaming ability, and then follow it up with a nearly unblockable series of throws where she grabs the opponents with her prehensile hair. Characters such as Jax can do very little about it, unless you can manage to get close enough to repeatedly spam his own grab attack.

That’s the problem with the combat, despite boasting the possibilities for extravagant combos, Mortal Kombat Trilogy heavily favors spamming abilities to the point of almost rewarding them. It can still be a fun game, but it’s one that is all too easily exploited.

Visually speaking, the game still looks decent. Sure, the digitized actors may not be the most aesthetically pleasing method of video game visuals, but they certainly hold up better than the polygonal blobs of Mortal Kombat 4. And some of the character animations look surprisingly fluid, and the Fatality animations are so gratuitously over-the-top that they can be downright hilarious.

As a whole, Mortal Kombat Trilogy is not the game to go to if you want a smart, deep fighter. But it still can provide a good time with some friends, at least for short bursts of time.

5

Goldeneye 007 Review

Goldeneye

Goldeneye 007 was not only the most acclaimed game in Rare’s illustrious library back when it was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, but one of the most revolutionary video games ever made. Few would argue that it’s the most influential licensed video game of all time, as it singlehandedly popularized the idea of multiplayer first-person shooters appearing on home consoles. Simply put, without Goldeneye 007, it’s very likely that the FPS genre wouldn’t have risen to the unparalleled popularity it has with the likes of Halo and Call of Duty in the decade that followed in Goldeneye’s wake.

Goldeneye had a solid single player campaign modeled after the James Bond film of the same name, but it was with its multiplayer mode – which was shockingly thrown in development at the last minute – that gave Goldeneye 007 the most praise and its long-standing acclaim. I myself can remember spending countless hours with Goldeneye back in the day.

So how does this legendary title hold up after all these years?

Not very well… at all.

If you go into Goldeneye 007 with knowledge of everything it accomplished, you can see it as the trailblazer it was. And if you’re old enough to have played it back in 1997, you may get a good dose of nostalgia out of it, especially when playing with friends. The sad truth, however, is that its outdated control scheme and ugly visuals really make the game feel like a relic, as opposed to a timeless treasure.

The gameplay would be considered mediocre by today’s standards. Though Goldeneye set the stage for the future of the genre, it can’t help but feel vanilla when compared to more contemporary FPS titles. The fact that so many games have built on its gameplay may make it seem a bit more forgivable that it feels so basic when playing today, but what’s less forgivable is the control scheme.

The sense of control in Goldeneye 007 just feels clunky and stiff. By default, the joystick moves the character, the C buttons look around, A and B cycle through weapons, and Z shoots. In description it may not sound too bad, but in execution it just feels so awkward. Your hands keep scampering around the controller like it’s some Rubik’s Cube-like puzzle.

Then there are the more baffling control options. You press down on the D pad to crouch, but you can’t move while doing it. In order to move while crouched, you have to hold the R button and press the down C button. The controls for crouching and moving feel weird enough, but the fact that you have a whole other means to just crouch without the addition of movement is just unnecessary.

GoldeneyeWorse still is aiming, which you normally do by holding the R button, which locks the character in place so the joystick movements control their crosshairs. Not only is the aiming overly sensitive (with the slightest jolt of the joystick making your character dramatically change focus) but you can’t even do it while crouching. If you press R when crouched, you just stand back up. This leads you to constantly be switching between crouching, standing and aiming even when you only wish to do one of these actions.

It seems like I’ve mentioned the crouching an awful lot, hasn’t it? That’s because crouching seems absolutely vital when playing multiplayer, since it makes you harder to hit, and somehow seems to make your aim slightly more accurate, despite the slower movement. It’s an odd quirk, to be sure. Not necessarily a bad thing in its own right, but the messy controls turn it into something cumbersome.

Now, it is possible to select different control schemes in the game, but they seem even more confusing than the standard controls. Playing Goldeneye again, I was honestly baffled that this was the same game I played so much during my youth. I don’t know how my younger self put up with these controls for so long.

As bad as the controls are, the visuals are equally so. Some would argue that an N64 game’s visuals not holding up doesn’t warrant too harsh of criticism, seeing as it’s generation was just entering into the third dimension, and things were bound to be experimental. But considering that games like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Banjo-Kazooie are still fun to look at despite their obvious age, I don’t feel too bad about saying that Goldeneye’s visuals have aged like milk, and are downright painful to look at.

GoldeneyeAside from the characters looking blocky (the more forgivable side to the visuals’ aging), the environments are often way too dark to see what’s going on. And when you can see, the levels all lack so much visual distinctiveness that you often get lost within all the similarities in the stages. Guns look like tiny black or silver blobs on the ground, and throwing knives disappear from your sight when thrown (good luck aiming with those suckers).

On the brighter side of things, the musical score by Grant Kirkhope is still pretty darn cool. It really captures the James Bond feel, and a good number of tracks get stuck in your head. It may not reach the iconic heights of Kirkhope’s later Banjo-Kazooie soundtracks, but Goldeneye’s score definitely holds up a great deal better than the rest of the game.

Other highlights include the variety found in the single player campaign (though the experience is still hampered by the controls), and you may get a few nostalgic giggles when playing multiplayer with a few friends.

Goldeneye 007 was never a bad game, but it is a game that has aged very, very badly. Those who played it back in the day who wish to revisit it will probably find themselves severely disappointed, while newcomers may be outright dumbfounded that this was once considered one of the greatest video games of all time.

Yes, Goldeneye 007 was influential, and that can’t be understated. But the FPS genre has provided far superior experiences in the years since. Play it for the memories, if you must. But to pick Goldeneye 007 over something like Overwatch or Team Fortress 2 would be a big misstep.

 

5