Tag Archives: n64

Top 100 Games – 91 – F-Zero X

14 Mar

F-Zero X
Year: 1998
Genre: Racing

Driving games are, by their nature, limited. They have little to offer in terms of longevity or variety and often, despite the best efforts of developers, can be disappointing. F-Zero X is different. The original SNES version was a good racer, fun and different and with a reasonably impressive sense of speed for the time. The N64 iteration blows it away in every possible way. There’s a lot of depth to F-Zero X in comparison with other racing games, and it’s not just in the huge amount of unlockables on offer. There’s a learning curve that’s more long than steep, with the game being simple enough for a beginner to enjoy, but mastering each track requires a huge investment of time and effort.

The single player game is where F-Zero X shines brightest. Featuring a similar concept to Mario Kart – three race series of varying degrees of difficulty, on top of a huge roster of racers. The game is customisable based on player preference. While only 6 vehicles are available at the beginning, there are 30 in total, and unlocking them all is quite a challenge. Each vehicle is unique, despite there being only three stats – Body, boost and grip. The acceleration and max speed must be balanced before each race as well, and can be tailored to suit each of the many tracks. It’s quite detailed, and finding the right vehicle for your style takes a bit of time, but once you do, you know – it just feels right. This is a game that wants to give the player an abundance of choice, and a lot of variation in how races are tackled.

The racers are weird and wonderful - from dnosaurs to robots

Variety is the greatest strength of F-Zero X. Each track is unique, with tubes, tunnels, jumps, chicanes and various other hazards to be dealt with. Choosing whether to muscle past opponents, aim for speed or play it safe is critical, but each approach can pay off. This is where the game is tough to master. It’s not too hard to win on easier difficulty levels, but when trying to unlock some of the game’s content, the races become a tremendous challenge. With 30 opponents all vying for victory, a rival seeking to knock you out of the race and constant environmental dangers, races come down to a balance between aggressively battling other racers, boosting and hoping the energy recharge is coming up. It’s very much risk-reward based, as boosting consumes energy and leave you vulnerable, creating an exciting and brilliantly realised racer. The influence on future titles like Burnout is clear in the incredible sense of speed and gameplay mechanics, but F-Zero X is an incredible title in its own right and one of the best racing games ever made.

Top 100 Games – 94 – Space Station Silicon Valley

27 Feb

Space Station Silicon Valley
Year: 1998
Genre: Platform/Puzzle

The minds at DMA Design were some of the most inventive and talented in the gaming industry. The studio became Rockstar North after the Grand Theft Auto series became immensely popular, but before then they produced this quirky and underrated gem. Featuring a thoroughly unusual plot in which a spaceship crashes into a bizarre space station populated by robotic animals. With the pilot of the ship incapacitated, it’s up to the microchip brain of his robot companion to save the day. If this sounds a little odd, then the gameplay will seem even more so. Evo, the aforementioned microchip, can jump between animals, taking them over and allowing the player to control them. This concept is not only brilliantly creative, but also perfectly suited to a game which is as unusual in its approach to plot and character design as to gameplay.

The humble 'dog with wheels' is one of the early animals available

Space Station Silicon Valley is ostensibly a platformer, but after a few levels it becomes abundantly clear that this is something altogether more taxing on the mind than Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie. With each animal having a unique set of attributes, each level becomes a case of finding the right tool for the job. If there’s a large jump to be made, a sheep can float across, but a mouse can speed boost up a ramp and over. Later levels see larger animals, and surviving long enough to even figure out what to do can be challenging. This is what makes the game great though, there’s a huge amount of reward to figuring out how to take down a bear or lion, as you gain their power. This sudden move up the food chain changes the way the game is played, and allows different approaches to the unique puzzles to be explored. It encourages the player to use their imagination and intellect to solve problems, and there are some genuinely tough levels to contend with.

On top of the great gameplay, there is a real sense of humour throughout the game. Each animal is ridiculous in its own way. The sheep are lovable balls of floating fluff, the penguins angry snowball throwing lunatics, and so on. DMA offer an experience full of charm and not quite lovable, but certainly appealing characters. It’s really not like any other platformer, offering a variety in gameplay rarely seen and a personality all its own. With the huge amount of Mario 64 imitators that hit the N64, this is one of the few that stood out and created its own identity, one that not only appeals in terms of its strangely crafted characters, but also in its perfectly executed core mechanic. DMA, and later Rockstar, have always been able to offer a unique slant on the gaming world, and this is some of their best work, up there with GTA for sheer creativity and intelligence, but without any of the controversy or violence.

Top 100 Games – 96 – Blast Corps

21 Feb

Blast Corps
Year: 1997
Genre: Puzzle

Rare became a household name during the latter days of the Super Nintendo’s lifespan after releasing hits like Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct. Their relationship with Nintendo over the previous years had been an odd one. Often Rare were willing to make lacklustre tie-ins, but the money they made presumably allowed them to create some inventive and interesting games, RC Pro-Am and Battletoads being some of the best. Now they are part of Microsoft’s pool of developers and continue to innovate with Kinect Sports. It was the N64 they’ll be remembered for though. During the lifespan of Nintendo’s last cartridge based console, Rare delivered a constant stream of quality games while others jumped ship to make games on CD. Even their sole tie-in, Goldeneye, was critically acclaimed and though now appears dated, it’s still beloved by most gamers of a certain age. Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini and Diddy Kong Racing, amongst others, cemented their reputation as the best developer, other than Nintendo themselves, for the console.

Their finest moment though, is a game that remains criminally overlooked. Blast Corps is one of the most creative, inventive and unique games ever made. Wildly imaginative, it makes the standard driving and shooting of their other games look pedestrian. Ditching the cutesy look of most of their N64 fare, Blast Corps still has a hugely appealing style. It’s colourful and cheerful, despite the extremely basic storyline being about a nuclear load-carrying truck about to crash and cause mass destruction. This bare-bones plot gave Rare free rein to make some extremely unique levels. Essentially, this is a puzzle game, but not in any traditional sense. It has more in common with Mech Warrior than Tetris, as well as pioneering destructive scenery before the likes of Red Faction were even conceived.

Wanton destruction is wonderfully cathartic

The gameplay has several different scenarios including driving, flying and some time trials, but the real joy is in the destruction levels. Given an ever-increasing set of bizarre vehicles, the player is tasked with clearing the way for the out-of-control truck. This is achieved by flying above buildings in a robot and crashing down upon them, rolling a robot into things, powersliding a truck, using the pneumatic sides of another to destroy things and many more besides. The sheer number of options available in terms of approaching each level is incredible, and there are medals to achieve based on time limits which add tremendous replay value. With a number of secrets to unlock, a globe dotted with missions for a map screen and some fiendishly clever puzzle elements, Blast Corps is like absolutely nothing else. While Rare imitated Mario 64 and Quake with aplomb, this was entirely their own creation, and it shows just how talented and creative the developers at Rare could be.