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I Remember When it Were All Polygons - Unsurpassed Games on the Nintendo 64

By Balladeer.

The Nintendo 64 was the first home console that I ever owned.  From my first touch of Super Mario 64, as a seven-year-old too scared to venture into Big Boo's Haunt unsupervised, I loved that big black boxy machine. 

Today, in 2015?  Not so much.  The N64 doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, when nostalgia is tossed aside.  Its big blocky polygons have aged worse than the SNES' tidy sprites. 

But with Nintendo having brought SM64 out on the Wii U Virtual Console, I felt that the time was ripe to play it, and love it, all over again. 

Which made me think - why hasn't Nintendo, or anybody else (bar arguably Rare in the same era), tried to beat SM64 at its own game?  It's old and decrepit enough now that they stand a decent chance.

And it's not the only game on the Nintendo 64 that hasn't been beaten.  Hence the article.  Here's my list of five games that I feel Nintendo, or somebody else (but mainly Nintendo), should be trying to make - only better.

5. Mario Kart 64

 Block Fort.  If you fall to the floor, say a prayer as you tumble.

Block Fort.  If you fall to the floor, say a prayer as you tumble.

What's this, then?  The second in Mario's long line of karting games.  Famous for Wario Stadium and that Mario Circuit shortcut - infamous for Rainbow Road.

But Mario Kart 8... is the best Mario Kart there is, yes.  And indeed, while some of MK64's track designs have survived, a lot of them are a bit tired now.  But there's one area that MK64 has never been beaten on - its Battle Mode.

Most of the games since have gone entirely off the rails, trying different modes that just didn't work as well as the classic three-balloon affair.  Nothing wrong with trying something different, but MK8's attempt was just lazy: don't bother designing battle arenas, just use the racetracks instead.  (Spoiler: it didn't work.)

Double Dash!! at least had the right idea, adding new modes on while keeping the original, and best, Balloon Battle mode intact.  But did it have Block Fort, with infinitely ricocheting Green Shells on the bottom level?

No.  No it did not.

How about an HD remake?  Nah.  While the game could do with prettying up, like I say, MK8 has set the new gold standard for Mario Karts.  At half the size and lacking DLC, MK64HD just couldn't compete.

What's to be done?  Simple.  Mario Kart 9, presumably on the Nintendo NX, needs to go back to basics.  Layer new modes on top of Balloon Battle if you must, but keep Balloon Battle as the main event.  And bring back the infinite Green Shells, even if just for this one mode. 

4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

 I've never noticed those black soul-devouring pits of eyes before.  Brr...

I've never noticed those black soul-devouring pits of eyes before.  Brr...

What's this, then?  Link arrives in the doomed city of Termina, and has three days to save the world has three days to save the world has three days to save the world...

But Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword...  There have, arguably, been better Zeldas since (although I wouldn't say LoZSS was one such).  But none have gone where LoZMM dared to go.  It presented a much darker story and vision, far removed from the "hero saves the day again!" plot of other Zeldas.

I personally didn't like the three-day setup, or the fact that you could only save so many people each time.  But I did like the side-quests.  LoZMM had a proliferation of them, supplementing the standard Heart Containers with its many Masks, and with various sub-plots that were much more in-depth than any other Zelda, before or since.

How about an HD remake?  Well, how about a 3D remake?  It's already been done.  Arguably, with the Expansion Pak backing it, LoZMM might be one N64 game that still stands up; but now LoZMM3D exists, to the delight of many.  But what about those of us who'd like more sub-quests, but not the restrictiveness of LoZMM's Groundhog Day scenario?  What then?

What's to be done?  I wouldn't say no to a darker scenario for Zelda U, but what I really want to see is a world crammed with sub-quests.  Not just collectables, either: real stories between NPCs, that stir the heart and make us want to help them for their own sakes.  We've glimpsed a massive world - fill it with stuff, please!

3. Yoshi's Story

 That flower's so happy because it's in this Yoshi game, and not any of the ones that followed it.

That flower's so happy because it's in this Yoshi game, and not any of the ones that followed it.

What's this, then?  At the time of typing, Yoshi's last hurrah. 

But... er...  Exactly.  While Yoshi's Island was almost inarguably better, every Yoshi game since then has been almost inarguably worse.  And YS is one of the few N64 games to still look pretty good today - compare/contrast with Yoshi's New Island.  And pass me a bucket while you're at it.

How about an HD remake?  Does it need it?  YS still manages to look pretty good in its original form.  I guess they could smooth Yoshi's movements up a bit, maybe add a few more levels (YS was criminally short), but there are games that need HD remakes more than this.

What's to be done?  Just... make a good Yoshi game, chaps!  It's not much to ask!  Put a bit of inventiveness into it rather than assuming that Giant Eggs will solve everything, HD it up, and the job's a good'un!  Maybe have some Wiimote-enabled egg aiming, too.

Actually, I'm quietly hopeful that Yoshi's Woolly World might be the game I'm looking for.  The woolly texture harks back to the patchwork look of YS nicely.  Fingers crossed that it adds some much-needed gameplay invention to the dragon/dinosaur/lizard's portfolio.

2. Lylat Wars

 "Hey, stop shooting at my rucksack!  I've got a Capri-Sun in there, and if it bursts over my wallet...  I said stop!"

"Hey, stop shooting at my rucksack!  I've got a Capri-Sun in there, and if it bursts over my wallet...  I said stop!"

What's this, then?  Fox McCloud and his crew of irritating animals fly around, save the galaxy, and do barrel rolls.

But Assault, Command...  I never played Assault, because apparently it was a stain on the copybook of a franchise already beleaguered by the sub-par Adventures game.  I did play Command, however: that was not only a stain, but a brown stinking one that pervaded through multiple pages.  Star Fox games are not about bad turn-based strategy.

Lylat Wars was not only a great Star Fox game, it was the last great Star Fox game.  But it's a bit short and ugly now.

How about an HD remake?  Again, a 3DS version exists.  LW could definitely have used the redecorating, but this apparently revealed some pretty egregious pop-up, kept for gameplay reasons but out of place in this decade.  And it was still short.

What's to be done?  We know that there's a Star Fox game in the works for Wii U, and it's being developed in house.  So far, so good.

What sounds less good is that Shigsy's going down the "Look what we can do with the Wii U tech!" approach.  Star Fox games need a cinematic setting and some great shooty set-pieces, with a decent multiplayer being a bonus.  Let's hope there's enough of that along with the Project Guard malarkey.

1. Super Mario 64

 In this day and age, grey-brown level design is all too common and unimaginative.  SM64 sticks two fingers up at that and says "Wahoo!"

In this day and age, grey-brown level design is all too common and unimaginative.  SM64 sticks two fingers up at that and says "Wahoo!"

What's this, then?  Oh come on now.

But Sunshine, the Galaxies...  SM64 introduced us to a thing 3D platformers could give us that 2D platformers couldn't, to the same extent: freedom. 

From the moment you're launched onto Bob-Omb's Battlefield, there are a multitude of ways to go, places to explore.  Yes, you're supposed to challenge the fatty on top of the mountain; but there are Goombas to punch, and 1-Ups to find, and there's a yellow thing guarded by a Chain Chomp that looks like it could do with some help.  Then you get back to Peach's Castle, and there are all sorts of secrets ferreted away in there...

In its Banjo games and Donkey Kong 64, Rare aped (badoom-tish) this style with some success; which makes it all the more mind-boggling that later 3D Mario games did away with as much freedom as possible, one step at a time.

Sunshine had similar level designs to SM64, open explorable spaces and a feature-filled hub - but it cut down the choice, so that you could only get the star it told you to.  The Galaxies went for focus over freedom, with a single route for every star and only a few exceptions.  Super Mario 3D Land/World finished the constraining process by "going full 2D Mario" and adding a time limit.

Maybe Nintendo saw the greater success of the New Super Mario Bros. games, and decided to pull their 3D Marios back towards them.  Whatever the reason, we're poorer for it.

How about an HD remake?  Ignore the DS port, with its dodgy controls and dubious extra stars.  This is a game crying out for an HD re-release.  The core ideas are still there and still great, but it looks old and tired, and the camera's a mess.  If the Nintendo NX released with SM64HD, I would be all over that, no matter how recently I'd played the original.

What's to be done?  Unfortunately, I can't see Nintendo going back to the platformer-adventure genre (as I clumsily dub it).  Not with SM3DW being its latest 3D Mario.  Our best bet is to hope for the aforementioned HD release, hope that games like Project Ukulele can be half as good as SM64 - and in the meanwhile, play the original while squinting.

 Thanks for the memories.  And for N64 Magazine, natch.

Thanks for the memories.  And for N64 Magazine, natch.

There's my list, but there are plenty of others.  Off the top of my head, Pilotwings 64, Goldeneye, and Mario Tennis could be on this list.  Please let me know which games I'm a moron for not including (not in those terms thank you), either in the comments or on the GNamer forum.