Goodbye 2D pixels, hello 3D polygons. In this edition of Flashback, we’re upgrading to the third dimension with our favorite games of the Nintendo 64. The system was a force to be reckoned with when it hit the market in 1996, introducing 64-bit graphics and reinventing Nintendo staples such as Mario and Zelda. Yet as great as those games were, they oddly were not the ones that constantly occupied our consoles’ cartridge slots. As we always do in Flashback, each of us chose two of our favorite games and reflected on them with retrospectives and original artwork. These games may not be the absolute pinnacle of the system, but they are definitely worth playing and ensured we “Got N,” not out. Enjoy!
Jose’s Pick: Yoshi’s Story
I remember friends telling me not to get Yoshi’s Story, which only made me want it more. So when I picked it, I was confused about what they had against it. The music was catchy, the levels were creative and fun, and it was challenging at times. Either way, I am glad I went ahead and played this fun gem from the N64 generation. I mean, the credits theme music still gets to me even after all these years! In my opinion, it’s going to be difficult to top this Yoshi-only excursion.
Yoshi’s Story isn’t your run of the mill platformer. It’s more of an egg hunt if anything. Each level tasks you with eating fruit until the border of your screen is lined with them. Fail to do so before the level ends and you get sent to the beginning. That doesn’t happen often considering they usually give you more than enough fruit, which gives you time to just enjoy the game’s hand-made visual aesthetic and upbeat music. Plus, the title’s brief length makes it fun to go back and beat over and over again, and with branching paths, you have an incentive to do so.
Jose’s Pick: Diddy Kong Racing
I love Diddy Kong, so a racing game starring him was an instant purchase. I got what I expected: a greatly balanced racing game with a great selection of courses and characters. What I didn’t expect was the amount of variety that this game offered. Want to fly a plane instead of driving? No problem. How about piloting a hovercraft while your friend drives a kart? Done. This game raised the bar for kart racing games for me growing up. Not to mention I could play as the turtle Tiptup, and since I was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he quickly became my favorite racer.
Definitely the biggest thing that Diddy Kong Racing brought to the table was its single-player Adventure mode. It could have just been straight racing like Mario Kart, but the developers at Rare went above and beyond, featuring multiple themed worlds, boss battles, and hidden bonuses. The music in this game is also up to par with other Rare games at the time, being both memorable and great at setting the tone of each track. The colorful cast of characters also helped make this game addicting. I will never forget beating Wizpig the first time and thinking the game was over, only to be surprised to find that Wizpig took the finale to space. If not on the N64, Diddy Kong Racing is worth a gander on the DS.
Jason’s Pick: Star Fox 64
Talking animals fighting intergalactic battles. It sounds absurd on paper, but in reality… Well, it’s actually just as absurd. That, however, is what makes Star Fox 64 so great. Nintendo fully embraced the whacky concept in this sequel to the Super NES classic, specifically when it came to presentation. Fox McCloud and company featured fully voiced dialog (a first for Nintendo) that was as campy as could be, spawning Internet memes such as Peppy’s “Do a barrel roll!” and taking Falco’s wise guy attitude to new heights. Another key aspect of Star Fox’s presentation was a bit more serious and a lot more significant: the Rumble Pak. This controller add-on was bundled with the game and added a satisfying shake to the biggest moments and explosions, offering a new experience that quickly became standard across the industry.
Of course, deliciously cheesy dialogue and rumble would mean nothing without solid gameplay to back them up. Luckily, Star Fox 64 delivered in spades, sending players on an interplanetary mission by sky, land, and sea to stop Andross from taking over the Lylat System. The game was primarily on-rails, offering simple yet fun pick-up-and-play gameplay that focused on shooting, dodging, and saving Slippy one too many times. It also introduced a new “All-Range Mode” that utilized the N64′s extra power for rails-free, open flight during boss battles. Admittedly, the game was short, but branching map routes, hidden levels, and score tracking offered plenty of replayability. All in all, it was an excellent game that I still consider to be an all-time favorite.
Jason’s Pick: Super Smash Bros.
It was Nintendo Power, not the classic commercial, that first introduced me to the Super Smash Bros. world. When I saw the preview article the month before the game came out, I knew this seemingly quirky combination of Nintendo all-stars was too good to pass up. Little did I know that under the guise of a mere crossover title would be one of the most fun fighting games on the market. The duality of Super Smash Bros. was arguably the key component to its success. On one level, you had an easy to understand fighting game that only required a simultaneous button press and control stick motion. You didn’t need to know which multitudes of button combos to hit in order to see your little Pikachu electrocute Link. All you needed to know was that there was randomly a paper fan between you and him, and if you didn’t send that thunderbolt fast enough, Link would grab that fan and be thwacking Pikachu in no time. On a second level, though, was a serious fighting game with a multitude of character tiers, combos, and strategies. Together, these two layers made for an outstanding game.
Super Smash Bros. quickly became my go-to multiplayer fighting game as it offered the same mix of chaos and control that made Mario Kart the must-play multiplayer racing game. The game also combined Nintendo’s mascots like never before, offering tremendous fan service not just through playable characters, but also through stage designs, items, and music. The single-player offerings were a bit bare bones, focusing on bouts against computer-controlled characters and simple challenges like breaking targets. However, it was all incredibly addicting. I played at every possible moment and quickly became a single-player pro. Unfortunately those skills never transferred to multiplayer matches, but in a game like Super Smash Bros., losing is just as fun as winning.