The Link-Up Spell: Jamming the 3D axis with the Nintendo 64 (Part I)
Remember the Nintendo 64? Press Start on the first iteration of this 64-bit nostalgia journal with us!
Let’s turn this delightful afternoon into a comfy retro gaming social gathering once again, will you? But first, let me adjust this time our time machine to 1997.
Feel like home? The good 90s decade gave us a couple of surprises! And one of them was the all-mighty Nintendo 64 (N64).
I was a little elf when it arrived during the ‘97 Christmas (and no, I was not that human kid on the meme). The console has already one year of lifespan and, while it had a fierce competition with the first Sony PlayStation (PSX), nobody can doubt the new techniques it brought to the spawning 3D era.
In a moment where the movie Independence Day became a Box Office buster, grossing more than 800$ million worldwide, you know that people were looking for those sexy polygons. Nintendo, aware of this trend after the success of Donkey Kong Country on their Super Nintendo (SNES) platform, partnered with Silicon Graphics to mass produce their newest graphics prototype.
On the first reviews, the system were praised by the press for its spectacular 3D graphics and real time display of lights, with no loading times, thanks to the cartridge format. But this strength became the reason it stood behind the unexpected competition of Sony. Cartridges practically eradicated piracy on the platform, but the low memory became an issue for an industry that were directing towards long cut-scenes and voiceovers.
Anyways, let’s not talk crap about the cartridge disadvantages because years later we all know there is a lot of fun packed inside those plastic devices. The N64 did not have an extensive library, like the PSX did, there were solid first-party titles that carried away the brand by themselves.
My history with the Nintendo 64
When the Nintendo 64 was released, two of them landed on a really crappy bar on my hometown, Ciudad Ojeda. The place was called the “Scorpion Bar” and had some pool tables, nasty odors and cheap beer. I think it had a lot of drugs too, since it did not survive an entire year without the police coming for bribes.
The owners had two consoles to rent, but since the system was new it only had Super Mario 64 and Cruisn’USA. I do not know if it happened for you, my fellow reader, but the first time I popped the Mario cartridge and saw all that color and movement I was honestly mesmerized.
My first experience with videogames came from one of those pirate NES with “thousands” of games (and that was bullshit, because the system had the same 12 games repeated ad infinitum) which had the fortune to incorporate a cartridge slot for Asian and American original games, but this was another level. I did not saw the transition from 2D to 3D before, on PC or PSX, so my tiny brain, used to the old-school Mario platformers had to take some to time to adjust to the radical change.
(It was a revelation at the time, now gamers around the world deconstructed to finish it in less than a poop session).
Then, in 24th December, 1997, I was expecting just something else and my mom surprised me with a huge box. If Nintendo products were expensive in North America, imagine the prices in my country. In that case, I could not believe my parents spent so much money into one single gift, but there it was, a big box smiling at me with low-count polygons.
Mom had to make a last hour addition to the gift. She did not knew the box only carried the N64, so she crossed to the city next to ours to find the last cartridge left in a tiny electronics store. Now, everything was complete and she, like in every occasion, saved that Christmas Eve.
My first 3D adventures: Diddy Kong Racing
The game was Diddy Kong Racing, a Rareware hit that competed with Mario Kart in its own backyard. I could not be happier enough!
For those unaware of this gem, let me tell you that the great guys of Rare programmed one of the best titles for the N64, and they contributed a lot to it! Besides driving cars, players could pilot hovercrafts and tiny airplanes. While the main character was took from the Donkey Kong Country series, the English developers introduced new animals that were planned to star in separate ventures. From this, only Banjo and Conker were launched to the fame.
At the same time, the solo adventure threw us on a hub shaped as a tropical island where you could access to the different levels in order to unlock the courses for the multiplayer mode, with some bonus additions like coins collecting and boss races.
The graphics were simple, but very good for an older title. Same with music, which had a lot of character to support the entire ambience they created for each level. Each set of courses followed a style, ranging from dinosaur infested canyons to space stations. My favorite, the medieval level, had you racing a Braveheart-like awesome dragon.
The multiplayer experience was also great. I still have fond memories of my cousins and me shooting rockets to death in the four battle arenas. In races, players could select nearly all vehicles, depending on the course, one of the traits that set the difference from the Mario Kart franchise.
However, when my relatives were not at home, I booted the game to just wander away in the island. For me, it was the first time I could move freely inside a space inside a videogame, albeit a very restrictive one if I recall correctly.
To me, the snow land music is forever imprinted with the joy of moving through new imaginative lands for the first time.
Since I had only this Diddy Kong Racing cartridge during the next two years, these are other games I found months later through borrowings from neighbors or renting:
- Wave Race 64: I remember I was utterly surprised by the water behavior in this game. Nice memories racing through the difficult final courses!
- Mace: The Dark Age: A clunky 3D fighter with traditional weapons. Not a good!
- Clayfighter 63 1/3: 2D fighting with nice claymotion graphics and regular gameplay.
- Doom 64: I cannot recall too much of this game. It was very cool, but I was legit scared the few times I played it.
- Banjo-Kazooie: Holy hell, this game was amazing! The overworld looked so huge at that time and the characters were funny and full of life. This 3D platformer is still one of the hallmarks of the system for multiple reasons, and even to this day it is a nice title to play. While it pioneered the “collect-a-thon” movement of that era’s adventures games, Banjo-Kazooie became one of those cartridges you had to play at least once to experience more the new 3D language.
- Gex: Enter the Gecko: This is one of those titles I thought it was super cool, with lots of environment and funny moments, but these days feels short in the gameplay department. Kind of forgettable these days, when it is compared to better titles, like the aforementioned Banjo-Kazooie.
- Cruisn’USA: Every arcade locale I visited when we went to the big Maracaibo malls had this machine, so it was neat to play it at the commodity of your home. It was not different to the arcade version, but it was still a fun racer.
- Mortal Kombat 4: When I rented it, was much hyped to test it, since I played to death an old unofficial Mortal Kombat 1 NES port before. Today is not a great game, but those fatalities and dismemberment looked rad by the time. I used to play it with an uncle on this house on a barrio nearby my grandma’s home; it was one of those “video” renting places that were very popular by the end of the decade. Technically, those were rooms of a house with sealed windows that had multiple TVs and consoles to rent by hour (like cybercafés). These became the best escapades for the kids on the school days, and they served like the arcade room versions in my hometown, since we did not had any of those locales by that time. I felt a nice sense of accomplishment one day, when I beat out other kids with Quan Chi and continually humiliated them with the leg batting fatality. Nice memories!
- Mario Kart 64: What can I say about this one? Having played Super Mario Kart I knew I was going to love this one. Also, it had unlimited fun in the multiplayer mode.
- Bomber Man 64: After enjoying the first Bomber Man game for the NES, this cartridge was rented from my cousins to one family party we had at my home, we killed it the whole night in the arena mode.
This marks the end for today. Hope you enjoyed these wacky old-school tales and share yours too! I cannot wait to see your anecdotes!
Next iteration of this series will cover the advent of other retro videogames that changed my life, so be tuned for more. See you around, my retrogaming pals!
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.