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.

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!

Mega Man 8

Sometimes my retro gaming adventures seem to feel mundane, as if my queue is filled with only one series or genre of game.

Aside from Super Mario Bros., which spans so many different spinoffs, only one other series fits the bill of having a vast amount of titles to play: Mega Man.

With six NES and five Game Boy titles linked to the main series, Mega Man only saw one “main series” sequel on the SNES and some rehashed (though excellent) Sega ports through the 16-bit era life cycle.

Then Sony’s PlayStation ushered in a new era of console gaming and vastly upgraded the only main series Mega Man title that would appear on the system: Mega Man 8.

By this time, you would expect these games to become so run of the mill and boring, but MM8 breaks down some barriers with the PSX’s new technology.

Mega Man 8 is a huge (and I mean HUGE) update to the series.

This iteration continues the traditional boss fights, Wily stages, et al, but changes the graphics style to almost like a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s not quite anime, but the included full motion video cutscenes (which seem corny at first) give you that impression.

They go from corny to commonplace and really add to the game as you play it. Literally, it felt like I was playing a cartoon version of Mega Man… and that’s a good thing!

The boards are colorful, well-detailed, and most of all, they found several ways to bridge tradition with new creative direction.

Now the bad news: the folks at Capcom haven’t lost their sense of dickery: this game is as hard as any of them! They included some midway checkpoints and all of the usual items are there to help: Rush, extra energy tanks, charge beam, sliding, and other non-boss weapon upgrades are just a part of the overall package.

With how many of the Mega Man games were made, this one felt like a true successor to their 16-bit brothers and more so an upgrade to the entire series heading into 3-D polygon era of gaming.

I highly recommend it, even if the other Mega Mans gave you grief!

Soul Blade

Way back when fighting games were all the rage. As consoles moved from the 2-D realm to the 3-D world with the introduction of a new generation of hardware, these fighting games evolved with them.

Such is the story of Soul Edge, which was an arcade game that was ported to Sony’s PlayStation under the name “Soul Blade”.

Often forgotten as the predecessor to the immensely popular Soul series, which saw a follow-up with the blockbuster Soulcalibur, Soul Blade tells the story of a sword which offers unlimited power. Nine characters try to find who has it; some for personal gain and others to destroy it before it gets in the wrong hands.

Centered around this story are gorgeous graphics and cutscenes for this era of games. Keep in mind, CD quality audio, full motion video, and voice acting were relatively new to games in the mid-90’s.

The game starts with what I’d like to call a ridiculous introduction: I say this as a compliment too!

The introduction video lasts around a full two minutes, with a custom theme song and cuts between different spots featuring each of the characters interacting within their world before finishing with the start screen: “Welcome to the stage of history,” is how the game welcomes you.

After selecting a character, you enter your first battle and its clear this game is different than what you’re used to. Characters somewhat move in three dimensions as the camera pans around the stage. Some stages have a tilt or other motion to them too, which was a new concept.

Each fighter wields a weapon, with each move appearing to seamlessly string together. For example, Li Long uses nunchucks and looks like a Bruce Lee film doing so. Swords and other weapons look just as fluid in their motions.

While the stages look blocky and haven’t aged well, their details are high quality if you were in 1997 playing this. Other small details such as sparks from weapons and a play-by-play announcer add to the feel. Instant replays following each round show the biggest hits and was also something not regularly seen in fighting games to date.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this game, which shares “ring outs”, round systems, health and special meter bars, and more with others from the genre; but there’s no need to go through all of that. I also don’t want to spoil the final battle for anyone who hasn’t played this and is interested: let’s just say that if you can win, you will be treated to a lengthy ending video based on your character that rivals that of the opening sequence.

And in Lord of the Rings movie fashion, it doesn’t end there, as a long end credits scene rolls too.

These tweaks to an already solid fighting game foundation set this as a benchmark for other games to reach. However, it’s usually Soulcalibur that gets recognized as being revolutionary and the more memorable game, despite being a sequel to Soul Blade.

If you enjoy fighting games or the Soul series, this game is highly recommended to play. Just keep in mind, you will have to master the controls and moves for your character, as the game progressively gets more challenging, and rewarding, up until the end.

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!

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.

GoldenEye 007

This was the game to have back when I was in high school! Between this and Perfect Dark, it was the sole reason to buy an N64 when PlayStation was starting to dominate the landscape. (And the Sega Genesis already trolled Nintendo as a “kiddie” system.)

There was a lot to question when this game came out. Rare is making a first-person shooter published by Nintendo? And with a movie license? (Back when licensed games were dumpster fires!)

This game really broke down some barriers and introduced all of us to why the N64 had four controller ports built in! Many nights were spent on the missions or packed in a room with friends playing four player split-screen games.

Whoever got the golden gun first, look out!

The boards are all memorable. The unlockable items were as well. This was just so great of a game that it’s definitely one of my favorites of all time.

Notes for my emulation enthusiasts

This ran better on my PC than a second-gen Fire Stick, so beware. N64 games tend to choke on certain hardware. I actually played this through with some lag (major lag in certain spots with explosions or large open areas) but then ended up starting it over on the PC.

I just can’t put this game down!