Wednesday, 30 November 2011

My Top 10 N64 Games...

The N64 is the dodo of consoles, deader than Latin, in the words of Alan Partridge ‘a dead duck’, and ‘who watches a dead duck? Not even its mother. She just flies off...depressed’. But this was the console of my childhood and better than the Wii any day of the week. Here are 10 games that remain pretty memorable for me in no particular order:

  1. Banjo-Kazooie




With its rich, vibrant colour scheme and insanely catchy music that mirrors the environment you find yourself strolling into, it was easy to immerse yourself as a child in one of Rares finest achievements for the console. Banjo-Kazooie was a new twist on the platform game, most likely popularised by the spate of Mario adventure games and is the name provided to any game that generally requires a lot of jumping from platform to platform (of course). But the repetitiveness of constant jumping is backed up by an action adventure, as unlikely friends, Banjo, a well meaning but relatively dim banjo playing bear teams up with rucksack dwelling Kazzooie (far more intelligent but cranky) to thwart the intentions of witch Gruntilda after she kidnaps Banjo's younger sister Tootie and attempts to steal her beauty.

This is half fairy tale, half cartoon caper, as the friends peck and roll their way between several interlocked worlds. You get to travel the expanse of mountains, coves, caverns, swamps, freezing peaks that will reignite your sense of Christmas, valleys, mansions, bays and seasonal woods collecting jigsaw pieces and freeing jinjos. Players can alternate between Banjo and Kazooie, who both have different strengths and weaknesses as they progress through the game.

The variation of worlds, quests, themes, collectables, characters and the infectious mischief of the game make this one a true favourite of mine as well as a huge earner for the N64.

2. Banjo-Tooie



Sequels succeed when they manage to retain the magic of their predecessor, enhance it, and add in a little something extra for good measure. Banjo-Tooie does not stray far from Rares first offering as the friends reunite to prevent the restoration of Gruntilda, who is joined this time by two equally unfortunately named sisters: Mingella and Blobbelda. Sadly, some well known faces do not return, most noticeably, Bottles the advice providing Mole, who is smacked outta the park in the first act.

This game really engages itself with what children (and all of us with a very big kicking and screaming inner child) want from a game. They do not want Call of Duty. They do not want Pro Evo Soccer. They want fairy tale witches, talking animals, the possibility of transformation, enchanting music, and the freedom to move freely amongst the games worlds. Or at least, that's what they did want once upon a time.

The Jinjos play a more upfront role, as having been frightened by the witches schemes, they have been scattered here, there and everywhere. This time around players are free to explore fairs, isles, temples, mines, theme parks, lagoons, prehistoric lands, factories, a Cuckooland and a keep. During each level, Mumbo imparts a spell upon the duo which enables Banjo and Kazooie to shift size or transform into a different being altogether (amongst other things).

To succeed in this game is less about brawn, and more about team work and brains, as during the final confrontation, the winners are decided by a trivia game rather than an epic blood and guys shoot 'em up show down.

3. GoldenEye 007



This was my generations’ Call of Duty; we got to shoot guns, throw grenades and run around karate chopping people when all the ammo ran out. Ignore the grainy graphics and quite frankly bizarre proportions of Pierce Brosnans head: this game was it.

This free roaming first person shooter was the game interpretation of the movie of the same name, but unlike many game adaptations of films - this one was actually good rather than a plodding, methodical step-by-step walkthrough infiltrated with various cut scenes that make you feeling like you are doing more than you actually are.

This was when players were trusted to know what they were doing; sneaking past guards, conserving their bullets, walking in on dudes on the toilet....as James Bond attempts to prevent a criminal syndicate causing financial meltdown globally. The random alarms and alerts that go off might just trigger a full blown panic attack and sometimes you'll be tempted to shoot Natalya in the head just to get her to leave you alone, but this was all forgiven when you began playing the multiplayer mode to let off steam.

Running amuck amongst temple ruins throwing grenades at my friends and watching my screen degenerate into explosion filled madness like a roly-poly into hell was how I spent my childhood...and I turned out just fine.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time



Most would unanimously agree that the above mentioned game is the best endorsement of the N64 console. Combining the free flowing exploration of the ‘over world’ and the technical puzzle solving skills that are required to navigate the games dungeons and temples, the game also involved players with its sprawling storyline. In the land of Hyrule, young Link, a Kokiri boy without a fairy, is summoned by the Great Deku Tree to rescue the land of Hyrule from the Gerudo King Ganondorf; a benevolent thief who wishes to usurp the King’s thrown and overtakes the land.

Players get to experience the dramatic changes that occur in Hyrule during the seven years in which Ganondorf manages to wield power and control. Thanks to some nifty time travel, players can return to Link’s relatively carefree childhood days, mingling with townspeople and fairies, or they can stick to the doomed dystopia that befalls Hyrule. Completing this game felt like fulfilling your very own Lord of the Rings quest and the sense of accomplishment was unreal. The graphics appeared very advanced and stylistic for their time, the songs were catchy and charming and the story progressed at a very appealing pace, allowing players to slowly build up their experience level as they battled through the various trials and tribulations of the game. If I were to suggest any game to an N64 player, this would be it.

The side quests enabled true escapism and when exploring the insides of a Dodongos belly or the intricacies of a woodland maze got too much, you could just power walk to Lake Hylia and do some fishing or chase Cuckoos for a weird lady who collects them despite her allergies. Several races were established, the aquatic Zora, the peter pan like Kokiri who never grow up and are accompanied by fairies and the man hating Gerudo thieves. The incredible attention to detail (the air abounds with ethereal fluff in the forest) and the interaction of action, game play, characterisation and cut scenes that progress the story (unlike the yawning cinematic cut scenes of final fantasy) really revealed the potential of gaming and the expanse it could traverse in immersing us in an entirely new world.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask



I mentioned before that sequels always capitalise on the success of their predecessors whilst rebooting with something new and previously unseen. Well Majora’s Mask shows us how it’s done. Fresh from his defeat of Ganondorf, Link and Epona, restored to childhood, explore some woodlands on the outskirts of Hyrule where they are attached by a Skull Kid and two fairies, Tael and Tatl who proceed to steal both Epona and Link’s Ocarina and lead him into an all new world.

Termina is a kind of separate world, an alternate dimension; it is the wonderland of Alice’s adventures as Link finds himself in a world populated with familiar faces – with a twist. The Gerudo thieves are now a race of pirates, the Zora are known for their music, Anju the mad cuckoo lady now wanders around bereft at the loss of her beloved, Ingo now has a twin brother (one was bad enough) and the rather innocuous mask salesman of the first instalment is now a far more sinister figure. This provides players with endless delicious rediscovers as well know characters pop up in unexpected places under the guise of their Terminian counterparts.

This game is a refreshing departure – there is no Ganon – instead Skull Kid is the villain who having happened upon Majora’s Mask is drawing the moon in to crush the land of Termina. What follows is a story of immediate danger and dread, as Link is plunged right into the middle of an imminent apocalypse. The game follows three day cycles as side quests are completed and temple dwelling demons vanquished, but at the end of each time cycle, we return to the first day and all good deeds are reset.

The masks now have the potential to transform Link into new characters and this new world is as enchanting and engrossing as it is terrifying and sinister. Although the ever encroaching time limits drove me to despair, you can’t help but be drawn into and entrenched in such an eerie and extraordinary game.

6. Mario Kart 64



Racing games always bring out my ugly competitive side. Whilst we sit there happily deciding on characters, tracks and go-karts, I sit their brooding and conspiratorial pondering my imminent victory and falling into internalised despair if a red shell rockets me straight to the back of the line.

Mario Kart in my opinion is the finest racing game there is, and that's because it’s totally unrealistic. The tracks are bright and decorative and vary between straightforward, simplistic race ways to genuine death traps (I'm thinking of the Rainbow Road as I type this). The colourful host of familiar characters with varying levels of skill also make this game appealing. You can select Yoshi for instance, who is speedy and agile but easily barged out of the way, or Bowzer, who though big and bulky, goes at his own (frankly abysmal pace).

What really makes this game unique and enjoyable are the various power ups and traps that litter the tracks. Did someone just cut in front of you? Whack them out the way with a red shell. Is someone tailing you? Release a banana into their face! For this reason the winner often gets there by down and dirty means making this a wicked reimagining of the Whacky Races. Cheat, trip, barge, smash, smack and crash your way to victory in the multiplayer round and keep your eyes on the prize!

7. Pokémon Snap



When I was a child, Pokémon was a colossal obsession of mine, so you can imagine my imminent joy when the N64 released this game. You are Todd Snap (no really, you are), recruited by Professor Oak, to compile a report based on the Pokémon inhabiting an unusual island inhabited entirely by Pokémon. With its variation of climates and geographical locations, the island houses a whole plethora for your pokedex. Your task? Simply - to take photos.

You get a maximum of 60 photographs per level so you should use them wisely and try and avoid taking photographs of the lawn...at the end of each level you are then able to present Professor Oak with your favourite picture, so choose wisely.

Pokémon Snap is not the route to professional photography but it is damn good fun.

8. Turok: Rage Wars



Turok was always a bit more of a boy’s game in my eyes; it involved the dinosaur hunter doing what he does best: taking out the dinos. Although the game does involve a quest, my favourite aspect of the game was its multiplayer mode or the two player trials mode making the adventure just that much more exciting as you relied upon your buddy to help you progress.

You could bargain for bloodlust – a free for all fight to the death bloodbath where whoever can rack up the most kills wins, team bloodlust where you and a friend can destroy them all, capture the flag which endlessly drove me to the brink of madness when I’d be five seconds away from the flag site and find my brains splattered all over the floor and frag tag. Interestingly in this mode, a random player would be transformed into a monkey and have to run out the time limit escaping the other relentlessly murderous players. Me and my brother had endless fun running around in this game so it will always have a soft spot in my heart.

9. Xena: Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate



You might have watched the Xena series as a child following the warrior princess as she sought to redeem herself for her past of bloodlust and wanton destruction. This game allowed you to fight as all of your TV favourites; the raven-haired, baby blue eyed princess herself, blonde bard Gabrielle who can smack them about with a staff, the deliciously dark God of War Ares or the volatile newly formed Goddess Callisto (amongst a cast of others). If you had a soft spot for Joxer, who elicited a mixed response from audiences, your fighting style will literally consist of goofing off and accidentally hitting people, but there are many other recognisable faces from the series to select as you fight your way through to boss Despair, who has not previously made an appearance.

10. Perfect Dark



If you loved GoldenEye, you will love this. Would you have ever in your wildest dreams believed that this would follow on from the creators of Banjo-Kazooie? The games may be chalk and cheese but Rare certainly know what they are doing. James Bond decided to undergo a sex change and become a beautiful woman – he is now Joanna Dark, who works for the Carrington Institute, out to thwart the company’s nemesis dataDyne.

The selling point of this game, beyond the shoot ‘em up style, sexy front woman to rival Lara Croft, the seventeen levels and the hours of multiplayer fun, was the deep rooted conspiracy that slowly unravelled as the game progressed. Set in the future and caught up between the conflict between two rival alien races, the Maians and the Skedar, Joanna must prevent the Skedar rewarding dataDyne with ultimate technology enabling them to become the world’s most powerful corporation.

Here are just some of my favourites, but what are yours?