Virtual Console Wishlist Part One: N64

August 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Posted in Gaming Article | 2 Comments
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I’ve been playing a lot of retro titles recently. After digging out my old SNES & N64, and rescuing my Game Boy and Mega Drive collection from my sister I decided to make my bedroom a little more console-friendly and get around to reliving some of those old classics I used to adore growing up.

Playing through them I couldn’t help but think about the current situation with the Wii’s Virtual Console service.  When it was first launched alongside the Wii Christmas 2006, the Virtual Console had a great initial line-up. I think I went straight for Mario 64 and Sim City with my first bunch of Wii points, swiftly followed by Golden Axe, Sonic (Green Hill zone’s music has just popped up on my iPod, incidentally!) and Mario World a few weeks later. My VC collection has grown and grown since then, sitting at a retro-tastic 35 titles, with an equal number of games I loved back in the day and some I never got the chance to play on the original consoles.

But I haven’t purchased a VC title for nearly six months, a situation echoed by some of my online gaming pals. There are still plenty of games I haven’t yet got around to buying but my enthusiasm has waned considerably in the last year. There has been a worrying lack of big titles being released recently, which surprises me, given the huge back-catalogue available to be re-released.

I know there are some tricky copyright and licensing issues that need to be circumvented and these will probably put paid to the chances of us ever seeing classics like Goldeneye or Aladdin. But there are still hundreds that really deserve a chance to find a new audience.

I thought I’d use the next few blog entries to share a few of my picks with you all.

Part One: When I’m Sixty-Four

The first console I switched on after setting up my little retro grotto was my trusty N64, probably my favourite console ever. One of the many things I still love about the console is the number of hidden treasures released for it. I know the same can be said for most consoles, but the N64 holds a special place in my heart for all the little gems I stumbled upon years ago.

One genre that was practically invented on the format was the 3D platformer – Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie are just two examples that were revolutionary at the time, and still fun to play through today. Not all of them were great, admittedly, and for every Mario you had a dozen awful mascot titles like Gex 64 cluttering up the shelves, but this was still perhaps my favourite genre on the console.

This leads me to the first game I’d like to see on the VC – Rocket: Robot on Wheels.

I remember getting this alongside Donkey Kong 64 for Christmas in 1999. While DK 64 was a huge personal disappointment for me (the DKC series is my favourite franchise ever), Rocket more than made up for it. The game was designed by a small studio called Sucker Punch, who would later go on to create Sly Cooper on the PS2 and, more recently, Infamous for PS3.

On the surface Rocket looked like many of the other 3D platformers released at the time – cutesy graphics, with several worlds to explore, and various tasks to complete to get tokens that opened up more worlds etc. – but in reality it was head and shoulders above the crowd and almost on a par with Nintendo and Rare’s efforts. Rocket’s selling point was the integration of a rock solid (especially for the time) physics engine which was used to great effect in creating the puzzles and tasks around each world.

One level was set on a seaside fairground where you had to construct a rollercoaster to collect tokens scattered around the park. There was another world that needed some clever paint-mixing skills to paint Rocket the right colour to blend in with enemies and gain access to other areas (the same level had a tank with a paintball cannon you could use to paint sheep – and trigger a different reaction depending on what colour you sprayed them with!). There were some puzzles that were easily as impressive as anything Nintendo came up with, and a few ideas that predated Mario Galaxy’s gravity tricks by nearly a decade.

Sticking with platformers for a moment, I’d also like to nominate Space Station Silicon Valley and Mischief Makers.

Silicon Valley was one of the first third-party titles announced for the N64. Developed by DMA Design of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto fame, Silicon Valley required players to defeat and take over the bodies of a bunch of robotic animals running amok on a long-lost space-based zoo. Completing each level meant using the resident animal’s unique abilities to solve puzzles and clear a path to a teleporter to the next level. It got really good reviews, thanks to the innovative gameplay and a very British sense of humour, but sadly this never led to big commercial success. I absolutely loved it; the music was fantastic, there was a great variety of different things to do, and it was a genuinely funny game. It actually kept distracting me from finishing off Ocarina of Time!

Mischief Makers went against the grain a bit. Not only was it a 2D platformer – which were becoming far less popular with gamers – but, despite coming from shoot-em-up kings Treasure, it had a distinct lack of guns and explosions. Instead, heroine Marina could only grab and shake enemies to get rid of them. However, this new mechanic led to some great level design and boss fights, two things Treasure is widely celebrated for. With the 2D revival going on at the moment there couldn’t be a better time to see a re-release of one of the N64’s quirkiest titles.

Shifting up a gear, I’m moving on to racing games. The Playstation and Saturn were probably better known for driving games, particularly Daytona, Sega Rally, Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer and Wipeout (the N64 did have its own, pretty excellent versions of the last two). Still, the N64 had its own fair share of classic racers; F-Zero X, 1080 Snowboarding, Wave Race and Mariokart 64 are already available on the VC along with one other surprise choice, the dire Cruisin’ USA.

There are three racers I’d love to see again: Beetle Adventure Racing, Snowboard Kids and World Driver Championship. The first one was a real surprise for me; I picked it up on a whim as me and my friends wanted a four-player racer to add to our usual multiplayer sessions, but we found it hard to put down.  Driving the colourful and Iconic new-style Beetles around weird and wonderful tracks was really good fun. The Volkswagon licence may be the reason this hasn’t made it to the VC, although EA have hinted at a release in the past.

Snowboard Kids was another impulse purchase, and again proved to be a very popular multiplayer choice among my friends and family. This was a twee companion to 1080, and while it didn’t have the depth of Nintendo’s effort, Snowboard Kids was just as fun. Adding Mariokart style power-ups and laps (via chairlifts!) to the downhill racer sub-genre made this a pretty unique title. The soundtrack was also one of the reasons I look back on this with such fond memories – I still have all the tunes on my iPod. I sold my original copy and never got to play the sequel, both of which are now quite hard to find, so I’d love to see these made available at some point.

World Driver Championship was, I guess, the closest the N64 got to a ‘real’ driving experience like Gran Turismo. The console had a few contenders (GT 64, MRC, Lambourghini) but none of those got close to matching the depth of Sony’s titles. WDC was easily the best realistic racer I played on the N64 – the tracks were varied and challenging, there was a decent amount of different cars to unlock, and the graphics were superb. I’ve read that this game had the highest polygon count of any N64 game, which I think can’t be far from the truth. The cars were incredibly detailed and there was a huge amount of trackside objects. The chances of getting this on the VC are slim, as the developers Boss Games went bust shortly before the end of the N64’s life. I really wish Nintendo had snapped them up as an internal studio – they could have filled the ‘realistic racer’ gap the GameCube and Wii have suffered from.

Nintendo themselves also have a lot of classics yet to be released on VC. The three Mario Party titles would be most welcome, then there are the many superb works of Rare (probably the least likely Nintendo games to see the light of day again), Excitebike 64, Pilotwings, Custom Robo and Hey you Pikachu, the latter two good candidates for the bi-annual Hanabi festival.

There are only two N64 title on the VC not published by Nintendo: the afore-mentioned Cruisin’ USA and the excellent Ogre Battle. The N64 is thought of as a format lacking support from third-parties. I don’t share that belief. It’s true that the absence of major titles from Square, Capcom, Konami and THQ hurt the console’s reputation, but in my eyes there was still a wealth of decent titles out there.

I’ve mentioned a few above, and there are a few more honourable mentions I’d love to play on VC:

Hybrid Heaven – I never got to finish this thanks to a corrupt memory card, but I’d be willing to try again. The innovative battle system, intriguing storyline and atmospheric graphics were terrific first time round.

Harvest Moon 64 – I’m a big fan of the HM series and this is by far my favourite. It was never released in the UK so I had to play it via an emulator and that was incredibly buggy. Natsume have said it’s unlikely HM 64 will come out on VC; I really hope they can get around whatever issues are keeping it back so I can enjoy this game in its full glory.

Castlevania – I never got around to playing the two Castlevania games on the 64, and after recently getting into the series I’d love to see them hit the VC. They haven’t got a great reputation among gamers but I’d like to give them a try.

Mystical Ninja – Yes, another Konami title. I really want to experience the awesome Impact battles and hear the ridiculously zany operatic soundtrack once again! :o) The 2D platform semi-sequel would be welcome as well, as I never got to play that one.

Wetrix – An addictive little puzzle game, if they could bring this back and add an online high-score table I’d be in heaven!

Aidyn Chronicles – I haven’t added this game to my list because it’s meant to be good – it’s actually supposed to be awful – but I’m stangely drawn to its mediocre-ness. I saw it for under a tenner during the last few days of the N64, and now it goes for £50+ on ebay.

I hope Nintendo work to promote the service to publishers with a catalogue of good N64 titles. The higher fees associated with bringing an N64 game to the VC may be a factor and only Nintendo themselves can change that. The service needs some big titles to arrive more regularly to keep gamers interested and make sure the service remains in the public’s mind. Without some intervention we may never get to try these classics from the 64-bit era.

I hope this list has rekindled some old memories or made some of you eager to seek out these games. Let me know your thoughts via the comments section!

Part two – Mega Drive picks

Part three – SNES picks

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2 Comments »

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  2. Can I just say: BRAVO! And AMEN on several of your choices, including the Mario Party series, Mischief Makers (one I surprisingly never got to play), and Cruisin’ USA.

    Might I also suggest Wonder Project J2? I’d LOVE to get that with English voice acting as well as English text & menus on VC.

    Can’t wait to see the rest of your series to see if I agree with your choices.

    BJ


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