It seems that despite my best efforts, I have indeed started collecting various editions of the game of games, Resident Evil 2… something that I desperately tried to avoid, despite writing about it. That recent marathon of a challenge, entitled “I’m Having Tofu Tonight!” started the ball rolling as I wanted to sample a few of the extra toppings available in the GameCube version which turned out to be a superb release of the title, and with my appetite wet I decided to embark upon playing the bizarre N64 port of the game…
… which I plan to write about on another occasion…
To do this authentically however I needed an N64 and a copy of the game which, whilst not the most expensive collectable out there, didn’t come that cheap. My natural thrift nudged me in the direction of doing this all with as least expense as possible, so the cart I’ve ended up with is unboxed and worn; like wise I picked up an N64 without controller or screen cable, but luckily I happened to have a controller from a previous escapade and a cheap video cable was only a few pounds of British monies. So now I have a fully functional N64…
… and no idea what to do with it.
It’s just not a console that I’ve ever had that much interest in and, being honest, it is a kind of strange console. Setting aside a small handful of exceptions, its cartridge format and emphasis on 3D processing (compared to its contemporaries) give all the games a similar polygonal look which I think you appreciate most through the nostalgia-vision filter of having grown up with them. That’s not to say that I’m all about the graphics, but I think even the most ardent of N64 fan would have to agree that these early 3D adventures haven’t aged particularly well visually.
It’s also a kind of weird console physically. Nintendo were trailblazing in their emphasis of party play credentials with those four controller ports front and centre, surrounding the logo in a joyous celebration of everything that this new 64 bit era had to offer; a fresh generation where more people would play huddled around one console. It’s a philosophy that Ninty seem to have continued until today, and I can’t help but admire their commitment to that traditionally social form of gaming. In the middle there, at the top, that promise of a memory expansion from day one (something that mine is lacking) and around the back some kind of … big … powerpack … butt… sticking out. Then of course there is the trident controller; providing three different grip positions and the first standard console controller to offer an analogue stick. Once again, to their credit, there’s an ambition at play here to give the player a variety of ways to interact, another trend that Nintendo would carry forward with every generation from Wii-mote flailing to writing with a stylus and all the bizarre Ninty jumping, balancing, swirling, cardboard models inbetween. Unfortunately, it’s a controller that I’ve never gotten on particularly well with. The stick feels too tall and difficult to use precisely, the rest of the body has that sense of being too big and too empty; a light hollow plastic shell with little substance. All the buttons are loose and clatter-y, except the d-pad that doesn’t seem to offer the right feedback so I find myself mercilessly mashing it to the whining of my ageing thumb tendons. I do however have this bizarre-ness in my life now, and also a general feeling that I probably shouldn’t only have it to play a (admittedly weird and wonderful) different port of a game that I love and know inside out already. I should probably get a few titles for this black plastic box of 64.
So I began to think about the ‘must haves’ of the system; those quintessentially N64 titles that everyone associates with the console, and it would be remiss of me not to kick this off with Super Mario 64; everyone’s favourite plumber’s first romp in to the third dimension. Heck, Mario 64 basically defined the 3D platformer genre, introducing the concept of the movable camera, associated controls, and a certain amount of forgiveness in lining up jumps. It’s certainly an important game and I remember at the time of release being blown away by ingame footage (particularly the idea of jumping in to paintings to go to new levels). It also made valiant strides in terms of 3D level design by fundamentally acknowledging that a linear point-to-point layout doesn’t really work and therefore adopting a much more exploration and challenge based philosophy even mitigating some of the cartridge storage limitations by making players repeat levels several times to get every star. The problem is that I’m just not that in to 3D platformers or Mario, and whilst I can understand fans of a genre wanting to go back and revisit pivotal titles in history to better understand where we are now by seeing where we’ve been, the idea of pushing through Mario 64 makes me exhausted just thinking about it.
The story is pretty similar when it comes to Rare’s infamous collectathons; again, in some ways a genre that was created on this system. Now, I have spent a chunk of time with Banjo-Kazooie, and it was enjoyable time, but more because I really had had no exposure to Rare’s lovable duo before that point (to the extent that I wasn’t even sure what type of game it was going in). That being said, by the time I has realised how high the barriers were to even getting to the ‘normal’ game ending (not even considering the real ending) I’d basically had my fill. Given that most commentators would say BK is the pinnacle of this style of play I’m not really looking to pick up any further collectathon carts to spin-up in the ol’ N64.
By this point I’ve ruled out a solid block of the N64’s back catalogue highlights, but with that unassuming black box burning a hole in my shelf I turned my attention to potential other genres that I might pick up one of those satisfyingly chunky cartridges for.
… and it wasn’t long before the dynamic duo of Perfect Dark and Goldeneye popped up on my radar-o-scope. I do have at least a passing knowledge of these games as a housemate back in my undergrad days bough his N64 from home one weekend and then for the rest of the semester insisted on split screen multiplayer. Luckily there was at least one controller configuration that I could get on with and I did become passable at these games in their multiplayer guises. However, that’s not to say that I was ever impressed with them. As a part-time PC gamer in those days I’d been introduced to solids on Quake III Arena and by comparison the antics of Jo-Hannad Hark and Piers Brosman were slow, clunky, and confusing as you had to make them run diagonally in order to get the character to haul ass anywhere. So again, I’ve kind of ruled out my interest in those.
I guess the next obvious choices might be the ‘classic’ Ninty-IP’s, but it’s tricky to think of one that hasn’t either had a superior remastered version that I’d probably punt for rather the original incarnation (LoZ: OOT) or simply a more recent edition (why would I play Mario Kart 64 when I can play Mario Kart 8 on Switch?). And yes, I know that much of this is because I just didn’t grow up playing Nintendo consoles; I don’t have the attachment to this generation of Nintendo, but I also feel as though I’m rapidly running out of possible options to expand my current, one-game, library for the latest retro addition to my household.
… so I’m appealing to you, my great reading audience, what game should I consider for N64? what is going to satisfy my hankering to make good use of the system whilst providing something that is uniquer to the platform?… answers on a postcard… then photograph the postcard… then, I don’t know, Twoot the picture at me or something.