Cruis’n USA

Anyone who grew up as arcades were all the rage can attest to the buzz surrounding the jump from Nintendo’s 16-bit SNES to the next generation.

The promotional hype began in those very arcades as Nintendo worked with Midway to release a few titles under the “Ultra 64” name, which was the operating codename for the company’s Super Nintendo successor.

Of those games, a racing game named Cruis’n USA was born.

The arcade version was incredible at the time. You could race through loosely-based “real life” locations with a number of other generic versions of vehicles also rooted in reality. According to Wikipedia:

The four vehicles featured in the game are generic vehicles based on their real life counter parts which consists of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette labeled as a 1963 Muscle Car, a 1991 Ferrari Testarossa labeled as the Italia P69, a 1940 Ford V-8 De Luxe labeled as “La Bomba”, and a Hyundai HCD-Epoch II labeled as “Devastator IV”. Bonus cars consist of a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice police car, a school bus, and a Jeep Wrangler labeled as an All Terrain Vehicle.

The graphics and sound were ahead of its time, competing mostly with Sega’s racing games of the era, complete with a booth that had a racing wheel, gears and pedals.

Unfortunately, the hardware that Cruis’n USA was based on did not become the hardware that transitioned to the N64. (That would actually be the case with another Ultra 64 arcade game, Killer Instinct, however.) Therefore, the N64 port, which arrived over two years later from the arcade release, would appear dated and was also pared down in areas.

I still found the game to be fun, and it was financially successful too.

You’d have to play it in order to see the faults, but it was a brave new world playing a racing game with the “trident” N64 controller’s analog stick. The digitized models who raise the checkered flag were cutting edge – believe it or not – and the graphics were great, though jerky at times depending on what all was on the screen at once.

In summation, Cruis’n USA was Nintendo’s next-gen answer to Sega’s OutRun. While you may have been compelled to avoid it for $60-70 way back when, its something worth revisiting for at least a historical perspective.

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 64 was a landmark title for the Nintendo 64. As the second entry into the series, it was the direct sequel to the massively popular Super Mario Kart on the SNES, and became the N64’s second best selling title of all time.

According to Wikipedia (since I’m too lazy to retype this) Mario Kart 64 introduced the following:

Mario Kart 64 introduces 3D graphics, 4-player racing, slipstreaming, Wario and Donkey Kong, and seven new items: the Fake Item Box, Triple Red Shell, Triple Green Shell, Triple Mushroom, Banana Bunch, Golden Mushroom, and the infamous Blue Shell. In addition to the three Grand Prix engine classes, Mirror Mode is introduced (tracks are flipped laterally) in 100cc.

Honestly, over the years, these games meld together in my brain, but you can see where a great deal of influence on later iterations comes from. In fact, you can pick up this game and pretty much play it to the degree of any other Mario Kart game – that’s how familiar the mechanics and game play are tightly wound.

Quite the achievement for only the second game in the series!

This one, in particular, just feels right from the jump. The 3D graphics were new to all gamers at the time, with everything jumping to the realm. Four player split-screen was commonplace, as people crowded around a TV to play many of the multiplayer offerings the N64 had. Plus, the three-pronged controller featured an analog stick and the z-trigger underneath, which still to this day feels so perfect despite an odd-looking layout.

In-game, you can expect the same cheap, cheating computer opponents that have always plagued Mario Kart games! The items noted above, some still around, some now a memory, will have you living in nostalgia.

And if you’ve kept up on the series, most of the game’s tracks have reappeared – some more than once – in later iterations. This once again points out MK’s jump to 3D and how the base game formula, while not being altered too much in sequels, remains strong.

For retro gamers, Mario Kart 64 is a must-have in your library. Everyone from the little kid to grandma can pick it up and play. The fun level is through the charts, especially with friends – and while its simplistic in nature, it’s also difficult to truly master.

ECW Hardcore Revolution

For the longest time professional wrestling video games were much like games licensed for blockbuster movies: the premise was great, but the actual end product was seldom passable.

The sport, er, sports entertainment, exploded around the same time as video games rebounded with the NES in the 1980s. A few commendable games appeared in the 16-bit era, but it was the jump to a 3-D landscape which set the new generation of wrestling games apart from the old.

Acclaim was at the forefront of the hot WWF license for the longest time, producing the popular WWF Attitude. But as noted to any wrestling fans, the late 90s were a huge war between the big two promotions: the WWF and WCW.

When WCW’s license jumped to EA, their former publisher, THQ, went after the WWF – this left Acclaim with no wrestling property during the genre’s highest period in history.

Enter ECW, or Extreme Championship Wrestling, a third outfit which was smaller than the other two mentioned, but was growing from a regional company into a national brand. Acclaim swooped in and made a deal with the company, in which they would repaint their WWF Attitude series over with ECW trademarks and characters.

Make no bones about it: that’s precisely what Hardcore Revolution is. A rebadged WWF Attitude.

That could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. For the WWF, THQ just rebranded their WCW vs. NWO World Tour game into WrestleMania 2000, with some enhancements, and it was wildly popular.

However, Hardcore Revolution was already built on what I felt was janky controls and sluggish gameplay to begin with.

Yes, it’s the N64 blocky characters, which was amazingly advanced for its time – but so much else about this game just feels more like a punch/kick brawler than a smooth-as-butter wrestling experience witnessed elsewhere.

Moves don’t really chain together well and you’re left with the feeling of those 8-bit and 16-bit button masher wrestling games as opposed to something “revolutionary”.

I will say that having the ECW theme to open the game will give you goosebumps. The amount of game modes and customization (including custom PPVs and create-a-wrestler) is more than aplenty to appease gamers looking for variety.

The roster or wrestlers, including some that can be unlocked, is a laundry list of most ECW mainstays too.

Usually, the fun in each of these games was watching the wrestlers’ entrances – and this is where the steam starts to run out for ECW’s title, as the company used a lot of cover bands to replay popular music hits. Those songs were unable to appear within the game and instead, you get the equivalent of a dubbed out, modified version for nearly every character.

The rest looks appealing – and the camera angles are a different approach than what you may see in other wrestling games of the era.

Yet, there’s something about ECW Hardcore Revolution that just seems off. That’s why I’m giving it a middle thumb – there’s some nostalgia and fans of WWF Attitude won’t mind the experience duplicated with ECW wrestlers.

But I didn’t care for Attitude either, so that’s why I’m somewhere in the middle of not being in love with this game.

NFL Blitz

What a departure from discussing realism in football games is NFL Blitz!

While partaking in reviewing other 8-bit and 16-bit football games for their lifelike shots at being a legit simulation, Blitz forgoes everything to bring an NBA Jam arcade style title to the gridiron.

Originally released for arcades, Blitz would first grace the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation in the late 90’s. I remember pumping quarters into this game (I believe it was 50 cents to start and 25 cents to continue each quarter). You could get in some real dust-ups in the arcade and that fun was brought home.

I particularly enjoy reviewing the N64 version, because I felt the graphics were crisper, the loading times don’t suck (disc vs. cartridge) compared to the PSX. But the main reason is the controls: the N64 controller was just so unique at the time with its analog stick that it better replicated the arcade experience.

(Sony had come out with the Dual Analog and the Dual Shock in 1997, but it wasn’t yet commonplace and/or packed with the PlayStation yet.)

Also, the Z-button for turbo, tucked under the analog stick on the middle “trident” and the larger B and A buttons were all the more you needed to enjoy some “football”.

But what exactly was that like?

Well, it was 7-on-7 action, with some random players on each team who didn’t always do as their position suggests. Quarterbacks threw the ball, but so do wide receivers and running backs. You have some offensive linemen, but they too can catch the ball and, well, sort of run – slowly that is!

Trick plays and more were part of the a simplified fast-paced game which prided itself on having virtually no rules. Illegal hits and pass interference are encouraged during the two-minute quarters – which also allow for no timeouts. The clock will stop after each play, and the limited playbook still allowed for flipping the play and other wiggle room.

I often found myself scrambling with my QB, especially when using the versatile “Slash” Kordell Stewart, a hybrid player of Pittsburgh Steelers fame who was the cover athlete for the first entry into this series.

On fourth down if you are close enough to field goal range you could almost always get an automatic three points. Ditto for extra point attempts, though each had a rare occasion of the CPU cheating and you “miss” the kicks.

First downs required 30 yards to gain rather than the realistic 10, which led to players taking greater risks and turnovers being commonplace.

The playbook isn’t very extensive and that part could get monotonous, though the home version included a “play editor” and of course, a “season mode” to keep your interest from waning.

The animations show defenders using WWE-style body slams to drill opponents into the ground, with sound bytes and grunts accentuating the hard hits. Violence, as well as sex (see the cheerleader shot below) show you the landscape of being a teenager growing up in the 90’s.

The game sounds confusing and awful when compared with the Madden series, particularly to the present day. However, it’s a virtual blast and even more fun to play against a human opponent. The original Blitz also boasts a who’s who lineup of classic NFL players who were still active in that era, such as Steve Young, Barry Sanders, Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Randy Moss, Dan Marino and many more.

That adds to the nostalgia of this retro title which is definitely one football fans will get a kick out of!

Doom 64

Whoa Nelly… after playing Doom for the SNES and getting that nostalgic feel back in my veins it was time to challenge another Doom title I had long since forgotten about: Doom 64.

Let me tell you, I’m glad I checked this one out, because it made me forget the bad taste Doom for the Super Nintendo had left. Now, don’t get me wrong, the entire experience of Doom for the previous Nintendo console shouldn’t have been possible; even playing it as a youth was satisfying, but the sprites just killed my eyesight after a while.

Enter Doom 64 on a beefier set of hardware with an analog stick.

All I can is wow.

The game runs smooth as butter and feels like a polished title. Even after all of these years it’s something you can pickup and play rather easily, that is, except for the breakneck survival feel of the game in general!

Yes, Doom is a “run and gun” first-person-shooter (FPS) and largely defined the genre. But with Doom 64, you’re not missing a beat. Doing some research for my review, this game is widely regarded as one of the best Doom titles ever and I can sense why. There’s no stutter or lag in the gameplay, the sound is off of the charts and the option to brighten or dim the display, for those dark corridors in which you will feel your heart racing, all add to a great experience that’s still as fantastic now as it was back in 1997.

Doom, FPS or retro gaming enthusiasts would be missing out if you don’t give this game a spin!

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Potentially the GOAT of Zelda games, Ocarina of Time did for this series what Mario 64 did for Super Mario Bros, in bringing a flat 2-D world into the collective 3-D realm which previously existed only in the minds of gamers.

What might Link look like in 3-D? Enemies? Labyrinths?

This game kicked down so many doors I’m not sure where to begin. It’s a masterpiece by every standard. Graphically, it still holds up well. The game world is rather large and doubles when using a similar time mechanic from the SNES’ Link to the Past.

Link can also wield a variety of different weapons, there are side quests galore, and the Ocarina serves as a musical component of the game that isn’t “all gimmick”.

Did I also mention he can venture on horseback too?

Boss battles feel truly epic as well and there isn’t really a bad thing that can be said about this game. If you haven’t played it over the years, or you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, I highly recommend picking this up to play!

The World Is Not Enough

I have to make some apologies for what I said about this game in other 007 reviews: it’s much better than I remember it being.

That said, the story mode is what really makes the game shine, as multiplayer didn’t hold a candle to Goldeneye or some of the follow-up games on the PlayStation 2 (such as Agent Under Fire). However, that’s no reason to skip on EA’s James Bond movie tie-in, as without Goldeneye stealing the spotlight for both a great FPS and credible movie licensed game, this one may have been more fondly remembered.

The controls are a bit funky to get used to, as is the off-centered, nearly “in the corner” gun view, but the rest of the game actually looks more realistic than Goldeneye did, following the same script as its movie namesake.

Also bare in mind, this is not the same game which shared the same name and movie tie-in on the PSX.

The visual style of the game differs from others in the Bond series slightly, but it’s a smooth experience with a lot of the other 007 effects left in place (including tons of gadgets used to complete obstacles). Seeing bullets fly from the weapons was also a nice touch which wasn’t often seen (or as detailed) in other games released at that time.

A wide variety of weapons are also at your disposal, including a harpoon gun!

Overall, the game differentiates itself enough from Goldeneye and other EA published 007 games that it stands on its own and should be a title played by Bond fans who are looking for a retro, FPS fix.

Yoshi’s Story

The Yoshi games have roots in the Super Mario Bros. lore: the very first “Yoshi” game being Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. That game broke barriers in video games for its use of the Super-FX graphics chip, allowing SMW2 to have a unique “drawn” presentation.

The unique concepts continued through Yoshi’s Story; a game initially developed for the non-existent Nintendo 64DD (disk drive) hardware. It was converted to cartridge and a game I overlooked back when the system was in its heyday: and now I realize there’s a solid reason for that.

The game is not your linear playthrough like Yoshi’s Island. Instead, it’s a four-part “storybook” presentation which alters depending on how you play each chapter of the book. The cardboard book format looks good for the N64, but due to the gameplay tweaks the title offers little to no challenge, unless you want to fiddle around with collecting all of the items.

In order to clear each chapter, you eat fruit: and depending on how/what fruit you eat, alters the next chapter. You can easily breeze through the game in about an hour without giving it much thought. My initial feelings were that the game was designed for younger kids. You can make the game play a bit deeper, but once you beat it so quickly, the entire thing feels like a waste.

So much so that I feel it’s easily the worst Yoshi title I’ve ever played.

If you’re a completion freak you may find this fulfilling, otherwise, you can largely ignore it. It doesn’t play like any of the other Yoshi games in the main series and as such, it may confuse and/or annoy you.

Perfect Dark

Easily one of my favorite games of all time. This took Goldeneye to a whole new level and pushed the limits of what was possible on the N64. Heck, replaying this, there are things I stopped and went “whoa” over that were done back in 2000. A lot of those concepts are still carried over to modern games. (I’d bet this game was a huge influence on Halo as well.)

Among the features include the various external tools, such as scanners and portable cameras. The ability to dual wield guns returns along with secondary options for every weapon. There were night vision and IR scanners, X-ray tracking guns (Farsight), sniper rifles, heat-seeking and manually guided missiles, plus so much more than I could possibly list here (or remember!)

This game is so great I may just play through it yet again! (I’ve beaten it several times in my lifetime.)

Note: the graphics are crude, but I discovered halfway through playing that I could increase the emulator settings as well as the actual game having a widescreen mode built-in. Therefore, you’ll notice a huge difference in the graphics when viewing my screenshots.

Mortal Kombat 4

MK4 was not my cup of tea.

Moving from the 2D plane to the 3D realm to compete with the likes of Soul Calibur, Tekken, DOA, Virtua Fighter and others diminished my interest in this series. The initial appeal was to see how the conversion of motion capture actors to 3D models and how well fatalities would translate in a more “realistic” environment.

Instead we got wonky controls that were more akin to the 2D era which didn’t carry over well into the next-generation of console gaming.

Now, add to that the N64 controller: I love it, but for fighting games, it made playing MK4 a burden at times. Never had I wanted to throw a controller across the room so badly!

As for the graphics, they were state-of-the-art at the time, but you could clearly tell they were blocky and rudimentary. Reading up on this, apparently Midway had difficulty making this game as it was their first time using 3D graphics. (That explains it!)

I actually dug the new characters and inclusion of series staples as opposed to the departure of using them in MK3. Tacky weapons were also added as an in-game gimmick: simply stated they weren’t good and oftentimes entirely useless in the grand scheme of winning rounds within fights.

Therefore, you can see where the MK series started to derail. It was a nice attempt, but fallout of MK3 and not being able to adapt to the 3D era ultimately hurt the series.