HISTORY OF NINTENDO 64 (N64)
The SNES had come late in its generation’s era and stolen control of the market. The Nintendo 64 ended up doing the same thing during its era. It hit stores in 1997 at a price of $199.99 ($297 today adjusted for inflation) and immediately had commercial and critical success, blowing the Sega Saturn away and narrowly nudging out the current leader – the Sony PlayStation. A key selling and collecting point was the wide variety of colors of controllers and even the system itself. N64 sold 33 million units worldwide until it was eventually discontinued in 2003.
The N64 used 64-bit technology (hence the “64” in its name), four times the bits of its predecessor, the SNES. During development the primary focus was on 3D graphic technology. Nintendo made a wise decision when they delayed the launch, taking the time to further develop their first party titles, get an exclusive agreement with current arcade powerhouse Midway (which would later lead to N64 ports of Cruisin’ USA, Killer Instinct Gold and NFL Blitz) and to allow third party developers time to produce games. The N64 still used cartridge technology even though its competitors Sony and Sega had both already switched to CD-Roms. It’s controller had a very unique shape and a slight variation on button layouts, with two large “B” and “A” and then four “C” buttons each much smaller and arranged in a diamond pattern. It featured one 3D stick directly in the center of the controller, with its own center handle. When it launched there were only two titles, but they were both high praised by critics: Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. The former of which is often referred to as a genre-definer in 3D console gaming.
PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE N64
When I was a kid the N64 was all the rage. Everyone had an N64, PlayStations were few and far between and Sega Saturn practically didn’t exist in anyone’s minds. Levi and I got one for Christmas from our dad the second year it was out and we absolutely loved it. Some notable titles I grew to love most were Star Fox 64, Donkey Kong 64, 1080 Snowboarding, NFL Blitz and Pokemon Stadium. A few years later my cousins would introduce me to the epic 4 person multiplayer of other games like Goldeneye, Mario Tennis and Mario Party 2, which we still play all three of from time to time to this day. If I had to guess I would say most gamers my age (late 20’s) would deem the N64 their favorite console. It came during that early teenage year time period when you had a bit of spending money in your pocket for games, but didn’t quite yet have all the responsibilities that come late into high school and college. For me its definitely one of my favorite consoles as far as the memories I have playing it with friends and family.
COLLECTING FOR THE N64
So remember how I was just saying the N64 was super popular with guys my age? Well that’s probably the biggest problem with collecting for it. Guys in their 20s have the most disposable income of about anyone on the planet and thus N64 games don’t last long on the secondary market. That demand has driven up their price a tad bit. Average price of a top notch N64 game is typically $20-30, with some of the harder to find titles like Conker’s Bad Fur Day being well over $100. Yard sales, retro gaming stores and pawn shops may help you find most titles you want but chances are you’ll eventually have to search online for one or two of them. The console itself isn’t too difficult or expensive to find in good condition and tends to hold up pretty well with time. My biggest beef with collecting for the N64 is its controllers. The control stick tends to loosen up a lot with time to the point of just flat out not working after a certain point. Pay close attention to how tight the control stick is when purchasing a controller,. Its better to buy and test N64 controllers in person rather than online.
In preparation for my set of Nintendo 64 blog posts, we need to select our 3 games for me to play and review. You guys get to vote to decide what the third game will be. You can vote by commenting on this blog post or by using the strawpoll link. If you wish to nominate a game not listed you will have to comment.
Personal Favorite: VIRTUA COP
Several Sega arcade games were ported to the Saturn, Virtua Cop was one of the best. It came to arcades in 1994 and to the Saturn in 1995. Virtua Cop is an on-rails shooter in which the player controls a cop who must gun down terrorists, starting with a standard revolver and has ability to pick up better guns along the way. The Saturn version added a randomly generated shooting gallery “Training Mode”. It was developed by Sega AM2, who made basically every Sega arcade game, including the popular Virtua Fighter series. Virtua Cop spawned two sequels over the next decade and is one of the most popular arcade shooters ever.
There isn’t much to say about Virtua Cop‘s art or in-game graphics. The devs didn’t try to go too realistic with the resolution and focused on models that are easy to distinguish. I think that’s a great choice for this game because you have limited time to shoot an enemy before they shoot back, so you need to be able to identify them quickly. There also aren’t many tracks in the game, but what few it has I enjoy. The primary one is catchy and almost iconic at this point. I feel like you could play it for anyone who visited arcades in the 90s and they could probably guess what game it was from even now. Virtua Cop‘s sound effects are pretty good for its time. Shots are satisfying, explosions are clear and the different guns have unique firing sounds.
The bottom line of an on-rails game is typically not characters or plot. The question is whether Virtua Cop is a blast to play or not and the answer is definitely yes. Virtua Cop‘s choice of simple graphic design actually pays off in the long run because it holds up better. Zwei and Nights into Dreams tried and failed so hard to look realistic that they look like crap when you go back to them now.
I had so many memories of playing this co-op with my brother and cousins and I was scared it wouldn’t live up to my nostalgia. But I’m happy to say Virtua Cop holds up well. My wife and I had a blast gunning down terrorists and fighting our way to their bosses. The fast pace and the variety of enemy attacks keeps Virtua Cop fun and challenging. Boss fights provide just enough differing mechanics to make them feel special. This may not be the best game on the system, but it just might be the one I have the most fun with, especially with a co-op partner.
Poll Winner: NIGHTS INTO DREAMS…
In 1996 the Sonic Team put out NiGHTS into Dreams…, their first game to have absolutely nothing to do with the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. The game features two children who don’t know each other, but are each going through difficult times in their lives and experiencing bad dreams. When the children sleep they can become a jester looking character named NiGHTS, who combats the evil Wizeman to seize control of the dream world. NiGHTS into Dreams…‘s gameplay centers around the player gathering various items in various dream states to progress to that stage’s boss and defeat them. NiGHTS can be steered in which direction to go but is essentially on rails (think of it like a 2.5D Sonic game). NiGHTS into Dreams… was re-released on PS2, PSN, XBLA and Steam. A direct sequel was made for the Wii.
I really like the artwork of most of my Saturn games including this one, the Japanese anime influence on their designs is very evident. Visually NiGHTS into Dreams… was impressive for its time. It is very colorful and vibrant, the character models are only a bit blurry and some of the background choices were good (although they get reused a bit too often). My only problem with the game’s visuals is that there are a bit too many things on screen at any given moment and it all adds up to the game looking and feeling cluttered. The soundtrack is unsurprisingly very strong, it is a Sonic team game after all. The music even changes in tempo, pitch and melody with the state of the environment of the current level.
The game does a pretty good job at presentation. Like Zwei, the opening cutscenes of NiGHTS into Dreams… are actually very well done for a game its age and help set the creepy undertones of the game. The gameplay itself may feel a bit basic to me at this point, but for its time period there really was nothing else like it. It is free-flowing and fast, its evident it was made by the one company you know can convey speed in a video game. Packaging in the bigger Saturn controller with the analog stick was a great decision because NiGHTS into Dreams… is the perfect game to introduce the world to the feeling of 3D gameplay. Using the thumbstick helps you feel even more like you are “flowing” through the game environments.
Constantly changing camera perspectives and only short breaks in the action add to the feeling of speed. Adding even further to the need for speed is that each round is timed. You can’t lose any other way, its all about completing tasks in a set amount of time. I also liked there being separate campaigns for each character, that end up merging together.
NiGHTS into Dreams…’s main fault I find is it being too easy and too short. I beat the game in under two hours and never “died” a single time. I’m not against a game being two hours if its really challenging but that’s not the case with NiGHTS into Dreams… The bosses in particular were too easy. I would reach a boss, who were admittedly usually interesting looking, and think “Alright cool, what’s this guy gonna do that is unique or difficult to beat?” Only to find that once again I just need to dash right into their body like everyone else. The game overall just feels catered to kids, not there’s anything wrong with that. While NiGHTS into Dreams… may not meet my nostalgic expectations, it is still a great game and one of the must-owns of the Saturn.
Never Played: PANZER DRAGOON II ZWEI
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei released in 1996, just a year after Panzer Dragoon. The developer was Team Andromeda, part of Sega’s studios at the time. Though it is the second game of the series, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is actually a prequel. It shows us what happened in the game world before the original game’s protagonist discovered dragons and set out on his quest. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei features protagonist Jean-Luc Lundi and shows how he’s potentially the first human to discover a dragon. After raising it to adulthood he rides it into battle in pursuit of a ship that destroyed his homeworld. The game is an on-rails shooter but allows the player to move slightly to dodge attacks (similar to Star Fox) and also allows you to rotate the camera 360 degrees to destroy enemies from all angles. It had tremendous reviews but not many copies sold in the U.S.
The cover art for Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is awesome, how badass does that dragon look? If only the actual gameplay looked half as good. I found myself struggling to make out what some things were even supposed to be while playing this. At the time of launch this game was considered to look realistic, but going back now it is blurry and incomprehensible. Cutscenes actually weren’t bad though, for the most part I was impressed with how defined the characters looked in them for a 20 year old game. The music didn’t disappoint though. Its one of the few soundtracks on the Saturn that I have really enjoyed. There are moments in the game that are very intense and the music does a fine job of accentuating that.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. I was able to forgive the shitty resolution and low polygon counts because I was enjoying myself so much while playing. This game is like Star Fox, but with cooler boss fights, a dark atmosphere, tons of back story and many fun levels which each have very different landscapes and even have different mechanics from the last. I love the ability to turn around 360 degrees, it adds more intensity as you have to cover all angles. I also love the level variety. At first I ran through the level on the ground, dodging explosions, rocks and fire while shooting down invaders. Over the next few levels I found myself traversing forests, caves, clouds and more. The levels have multiple discoverable paths too. I can’t follow the story at all but who cares about story in an on-rails shooter.
This game was very ambitious. I almost forgot to mention that your dragon evolves throughout the game based on your performance in each level. The developers had amazing ideas, were excellent at designing the levels and put in a lot of effort on backstory. Its just a shame this franchise can’t be revived, or at the very least that this game can’t get remade in the HD glory it deserves. Panzer Dragoon games may be expensive these days, but in my opinion they’re worth every penny.