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

Mario Kart 64 Review

Mario Kart 64

There are few video games as synonymous with my gaming youth than Mario Kart 64. The number of hours I spent with its Grand Prix, Versus and Battle modes are uncountable. For a good few years, it was my go-to multiplayer game. The Mario Kart series has come a long way since this second installment hit the Nintendo 64 in 1997, so how well does Mario Kart 64 hold up after so many years of Nintendo perfecting the formula?

The short answer to that is… pretty decently, though there are aspects of the game that haven’t aged particularly gracefully as well.

Being the first 3D entry in the series, Mario Kart 64 was capable of certain feats that the SNES original couldn’t pull off. The new 3D racetracks were more robust, with features like changes in elevation, slopes, and long jumps, among others. This helped Mario Kart 64 create some of the series’ most iconic tracks, many of which have been recreated in subsequent Mario Karts.

Mario Kart 64On the downside, these 3D visuals are now rather ugly to look at. Sure, it’s easy to defend it as being an earlier title in the N64’s library, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when playing the game today, it can sometimes strain the eyes. Not only do the environments look blocky, and the character models downright odd, but you can often only see what’s immediately in front of you, with everything else looking like a pixelated blur. This can sometimes make turns and obstacles difficult to see, which can really effect you during a race. This is all the worse when playing split-screen multiplayer, as the tinier screen space means things look that much blurrier.

On the bright side, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. The control scheme is simple enough (A to accelerate, B for breaks, and Z to fire weapons), and is among the select Nintendo 64 games that are still fun to control. And it’s different modes bring out a lot of fun in the gameplay.

Mario Kart 64Gran Prix sees one or two players taking on computer-controlled opponents in a complete set of races. Time Trials consist of single player races against a “ghost” player in an attempt to get the best time. Versus mode consists of singular races of two to four players without the computer opponents. Finally, Battle mode has two to four players facing off in enclosed arenas as they gather items and try to pop every other player’s three balloons (this is also the only time in the series where defeated players in Battle mode would become bombs that could ram into a surviving player to eliminate one of their balloons for a little revenge from beyond the grave).

"Where did you learn to drive?"
“Where did you learn to drive?”

The modes are all fun in their own right, with Battle mode probably being the best of the lot. Though there is one huge downside to the game’s multiplayer that should be addressed. When playing a game with the maximum of four players, there is no music to be heard. This was probably due to technical limitations with the Nintendo 64, but it doesn’t change the fact that playing the game without music definitely takes away from the experience. And Mario Kart 64 has a pretty good soundtrack as well, which makes its absence in four player games sting all the more.

This puts Mario Kart 64 in an interesting situation where – despite being an entry in a multiplayer series – the single player modes have probably aged better. Though you can still have plenty of fun playing Mario Kart 64 with friends, the added blurriness to the visuals and the lack of music are really noticeable when playing today.

Mario Kart 64As for the character roster, players can take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser. This game basically established the “primary eight” characters of the Mario universe (though Rosalina and Bowser Jr. probably make it a primary ten these days), so there aren’t any complaints with the selections (no babies or Pink Gold Peach here), though players may feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of unlockable characters.

Mario Kart 64 is a more basic entry in the series then. But while it may lack the content and depth of many of its successors, it’s still a lot of fun to play. It has its fair share of attributes that show their age, but it’s still way more fun than a lot of other multiplayer N64 titles are when playing today.

If you want a more definitive Mario Kart, just pop Mario Kart 8 into your Wii U and have a blast. But if you want to revisit a N64 classic that can provide hours of fun for you and some friends, you could do a whole lot worse than Mario Kart 64.

 

7

Nintendo 64 Turns 20!

Nintendo 64

Today, September 25th 2016, marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of the Nintendo 64 in North America!

The Nintendo 64 was quite the trailblazing console. Not only was it Nintendo’s first system capable of 3D graphics and polygonal character models, but it was also the system that really got 3D gaming right, and paved the way for the kinds of video games we see today.

Not only did many of Nintendo’s major franchises make the transition to 3D, but they also opened the door for what video games were capable of with the added third-dimension, and helped redefine a number of genres.

Mario 64It’s true, the fact that the Nintendo 64 was entering new territory means that many of its games, while innovative in their day, haven’t aged particularly well *Cough! Goldeneye! Cough!* others have proven timeless, such as the case with Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and Banjo-Kazooie. And let’s not forget that the Nintendo 64 also popularized four player consoles! Sure, these days everyone does multiplayer online, but back in 1996, playing a home console with three friends was as good as it got.

Whether it was Mario’s first steps into a 3D world, the epic adventures of The Legend of Zelda’s two outings on the console, or getting frustrated at your friends over a game of Super Smash Bros. or Diddy Kong Racing, the Nintendo 64 remains one of the most memorable consoles of all time.

Perhaps not all of its games have aged gracefully, but the Nintendo 64 accomplished things no other console had before… or since.

Happy birthday, Nintendo 64!