Nintendo 64 Game Opinion Summaries Addition: 26 new summaries

So, after a comment asking for more of these for the N64, I decided to do an update to my N64 list, covering the 26 games I have bought since the last update in late 2013.  There are 26 new game summaries. 25 are games I bought since the last update in late 2013, and one is a game I overlooked somehow before, Off-Road Challenge. 17 of these games are Japanese import titles, and only 9 US releases, so this is an import-heavy list. I have only actually beaten a couple of these games, so this is as much first-impressions as it is reviews, as usual for Game Opinion Summaries — I cover everything I have. I know they’re kind of long for “short-ish” summaries, but there’s quite a bit to say about each game.

As always, I list the number of players the game supports, save type, and any supported accessories after the title, and other platforms the game is available on at the end of the review. Most of these games are N64-exclusive titles, though, so few of them have other platform listings.

Table of Contents

64 Trump Collection: Alice to Waku Waku Trump World (J)
Baku Bomberman 2 (J) [Bomberman 64: The Second Attack]
Bomberman 64 (J) [2001]
Custom Robo V2 (J)
Doraemon 2: Nobita to Hikari no Shinden (J)
F1 Pole Position 64
Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko
Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku (J)
Jinsei Game 64 (J)
Jikkyo Powerful Pro Baseball 5 (J)
Let’s Smash (J)
Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness
Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer 2 (J)
Nuclear Strike 64
Off-Road Challenge
Puyo Puyo Sun 64 (J)
Rat Attack
Super Mario 64: Rumble Pak Edition (J)
Super Robot Spirits (J)
Super Robot Taisen 64 (J) [aka Super Robot Wars 64]
Susume! Taisen Puzzle Dama (J)
Uchhannanchan no Honoo no Challenger: Denryuu IraIra Bou (J) [Irritating Stick]
Wave Race 64: Rumble Pak Edition (J)
WinBack: Covert Operations
World Driver Championship

The Summaries

64 Trump Collection: Alice to Waku Waku Trump World (J) [aka Alice’s WakuWaku Trump World 64] – 1 player, saves to cartridge. This is a card game collection with 13 different card games all on one cart. In addition to being able to play any of the games individually, the main mode is a story mode, where you play as Alice from Alice in Wonderland and face off against various characters from the story, one card game at a time. As with those games or Yoshi’s Story, the game has a storybook look to it, with paper-cutout sprite characters in 3d environments. Matches take place in a variety of nice 3d environments, each one one page of the storybook you are playing through made into a full 3d environment. The game has great graphics that remind me a lot of Paper Mario or Dr. Mario 64’s cutscenes, but this game actually released several years before either of those.

Of course, the story and game instructions are all entirely in Japanese, which makes playing the game a little harder for those who can’t read the language. I highly recommend getting a complete copy of the game, because the manual has additional instructions for each game, and mentions English-language names for each cardgame, which is very helpful; ingame it’s all Japanese script. The cardgames in the manual are organized in the order you will play them in the story mode, which is also quite helpful. In order, using the names as listed in the manual first followed by names the games are better-known as in parenthesis, the card games here are Shinkeisuijyaku (aka Concentration), Babanuki (aka Old Maid), Shichinarabe (aka Sevens), Speed, Doubt, Page One (a Japanese card game), Daihugo (aka Daifugo or Daihinmin; another Japanese cardgame), Seven Bridge, Poker (video poker, I think it is), Blackjack, Klondike [classic Solitaire; wrongly spelled as “Chrondike” in the manual), Freecell (“Freesell”, the manual says), and Dobon (an Uno-ish Japanese cardgame).

So, the games are definitely an interesting mix with a good amount of variety, as far as card games go. Quite a few of the games were unfamiliar to me, but I eventually figured out the rules of each one. The ingame text explaining possible winning hand scores and such in Poker and Blackjack is, for some reason, English, unlike most of the rest of the text, so that’s nice. Still, there is a definite language barrier, particularly for the games I wasn’t familiar with. The game does have one other issue, other than the language barrier: 64 Trump Collection is single player only. That’s an understandable problem, because card games rely on each person not being able to see the others’ cards, but it’s still unfortunate, this kind of thing is the most fun played against others. Still, this game was a nice surprise. I got it randomly because it was really cheap, and it ended up being pretty good. The visuals are particularly nice, and the gameplay is good. For a card-game collection 64 Trump Collection is better than most, it’s not just Solitaire, Poker, and/or Blackjack like most card-game videogames are. Recommended, if you find it for a good price.

Baku Bomberman 2 (J) [aka Bomberman 64: The Second Attack] – 4 player simultaneous (in battle mode only), saves to cartridge. Baku Bomberman 2, released in the US as Bomberman 64: The Second Attack, is the sequel to 1997’s Bomberman 64, which in Japan was known as Baku Bomberman. This is an okay game that disappointed me. But first, why get the import version of a US release? Well, as with Mario Party 3, the import was cheap, while US copies are quite expensive. There is a story in this game that I can’t understand, but the gameplay is not too complex, so it’s quite playable in Japanese. Baku Bomberman 2 changes things from its relatively popular predecessor. While Bomberman 64 was more of an attempt at a 3d platform/adventure Bomberman game, with large worlds to explore, missions for gold cards which are the games’ version of Mario 64 stars, a very unique multiplayer mode with 3d arenas and round explosions instead of the usual Bomberman cross-shaped-lines explosion, and more, it was one of a kind. This game, sadly, is not more of the same. Bomberman 64 does have some flaws — it’s too hard near the end, you don’t have a jump button, and teh graphics are mediocre at best, to name a few things — but it is a good game overall, and I really liked the attempt to make a larger 3d adventure game out of Bomberman. Sadly, Hudson never attempted it again. While there are a couple of 2d Bomberman adventure-styled games, in Bomberman Quest (GBC) and Bomberman Tournament (GBA), Bomberman 64 (1997) is the only such game on any console. I really wish they had made more, but maybe Hudson just couldn’t afford it or something. Bomberman 64 was followed up by the 3d platformer Bomberman Hero, which is fun but very different from standard Bomberman.

This game came next, and it’s probably less interesting than either of its predecessors, sadly. It’s much more linear and just doesn’t feel as interesting to play as either Bomberman 64 or Hero. This game mostly just plays as a sequence of rooms. Enter a room, viewed from a side-isometric angle, kill the enemies, figure out the puzzles for how to proceed, and continue. While explosions are still round in single player, the multiplayer sadly ditches them in favor of classic cross-shaped explosions. Along the way you collect a variety of Pokemon-styled creatures that Hudson as putting in Bomberman games at the time; they are also in several GBC/GBA Bomberman games. This game is 3d, but the side view limits things when compared to Bomberman 64, and it’s not a full-on platformer like Hero. It’s an okay game, but my interest in it fades quickly, apart from a few fun moments here and there; I’d much rather play a more interesting game. Sadly, Bomberman games after this one wouldn’t improve things — the last two 3d-world Bomberman games, Generation and Jetters (for GC/PS2), are even worse than this game. Hudson was great in the ’90s, but after two initial interesting efforts couldn’t figure out how to improve on their ideas for 3d Bomberman, and it shows. This game retreats on many things from the first game, but isn’t classic 2d Bomberman either. It feels generic, as you run around, blow things up, and progress. The multiplayer is similarly okay, but disappointing. Returning from Bomberman 64 are the 3d arenas, but they now have cross-shaped explosions instead of round ones, making hitting people a bit harder. I do like that the 3d arenas are back though, the two Bomberman 64 games are the only two games ever in the series with anything like them; Generation/Jetters ditch them entirely for 2d-style multiplayer. Classic Bomberman multiplayer is pretty good, probably better overall from that in Bomberman 64, but I like having the option to try something different. It’s too bad that they abandoned this style in favor of only 2d multiplayer, after this game. Overall though, Bomberman 64: The Second Attack is an average game. It’s decent and can be fun at times, but for the price the US version goes for I can’t recommend it. Maybe do pick up the import if you see a cheap copy of it though (and modify your system to play Japanese games).

Bomberman 64 (J) [2001] – 4 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge. Bomberman 64, the Japanese game, is the fifth and final Bomberman game on the N64, and, releasing in December 2001, the last N64 game released in Japan. Unlike its predecessors on the platform, this game is entirely 2d, and uses no polygons at all, just sprites. This game is a collection of several ‘minigames’, I guess it might be best to say. That is, there are several modes, none of them as full-featured as Bomberman games that focus on that mode are. It’s a cool collection, but I do find the sparse featuresets within each mode disappointing. The visuals are mostly nice, though; it’s solid classic 2d Bomberman and looks good.

The first mode is classic Bomberman, single-player. In this mode, you go through a series of branching levels. Gameplay is classic Bomberman, with a square grid, with posts and then breakable blocks around them that your bombs will destroy. Your goal in each stage is to kill all of the enemies walking around. Many stages do scroll, so they aren’t just one screen. The gameplay is great and is plenty of fun. I like the visuals too; Bomberman games changed their art styles regularly, and this is probably one of the better-looking ones. I like the look a lot more than the SNES games, certainly. The music is good happy stuff, too. The problem here is that it’s over far too soon. There are only maybe seven to ten stages per game, so the playtime is very short; most classic 2d Bomberman games have at lest 25 levels. The game does have replay value because of the branching paths, though; you can see different stages each time for a while. Still, it’s short and easy to finish. When you win, the game gives you your finishing time, and saves the top times in the records section of the menu. Each stage looks different, and the visual variety is nice. Still, I’d have rather seen a longer game, this is really short. It’s not hard to finish a run through the mode in half an hour. At least it’s quite fun and nice-looking while it lasts, though!

There is also a classic Bomberman multiplayer mode. You’ve got a variety of stages to play on, but all are similar traditional grids; there are no weird stages like those in Bomberman 64 (US) in this game. Of course it’s also four players max, as opposed to the five in the Turbografx games or eight in Saturn Bomberman. Still, it’s a great classic Bomberman multiplayer mode.

Next is a stripped-down version of Panic Bomber. Panic Bomber is the Bomberman puzzle game, and it’s basically a Tetris knockoff. As in Tetris blocks drop down a well-shaped field, and you have to place them. Making it different are the bomb blocks, which can only be destroyed by lit bombs. This gives the game an element of Puzzle Fighter’s crash gems to it. This isn’t nearly as great as that game, though. Panic Bomber is a decent puzzle game, but it’s not one of my favorites; it’s a bit too hard to destroy the bombs, sometimes. Another issue is that this version is very simplistic visually, and has no modes. All you can do is single matches against either an AI opponent or other humans. It does have support for up to four player splitscreen, but the Turbo CD and SNES (both Japan-only releases; why Nintendo brought over the Virtual Boy version in 1995 for a US release but not also the SNES one I have no idea) have five player splitscreen, so that’s nothing new, and those games have actual single-player story modes which this does not have. There are no choices for backgrounds either in this version, just one very plain one. SO yeah, Panic Bomber here is okay, but not as good as I was hoping.

Last but probably not least, there is a Bomberman Land-styled minigame collection. Bomberman Land was a series of minigame Bomberman titles that lasted from the late ’90s to late ’00s, starting on the PS1. None of the early titles in the series released outside of Japan, but we did get some of the later ones on the DS, Wii, and PSP. In this version, you play as Bomberman and wander around an amusement park. Each ‘ride’ is a minigame. There are maybe ten or fifteen of them here, far fewer than there would be in a dedicated Bomberman Land game, but it is the only Bomberman Land-style game on the N64, so there is that. The main issue here is that some games do have a bit of a language barrier because the instructions are in Japanese, but fortunately none of them are too complex, and I figured them out. Wandering around the little park is also fun, though it’d be better if I knew what the people are saying of course (language barrier…). This is the only mode with much of any Japanese text, but it does have a good amount of it. Still, I like having this. It’s a fun little minigame collection. The full Bomberman Land games are better, but they don’t come with as many other modes as this game; they’re usually just that and usually also classic Bomberman multiplayer and that’s it.

Overall, Bomberman 64 (2001, Japan) is a good game, but I was hoping for more. This game has a reputation for being ‘the 2d N64 Bomberman game’, and it is that, but it’s also a collection of games, none of which are as full-featured as similar games on other platforms. It is nice that it compiles all of them together, and on a platform that doesn’t have other versions of any of the games present here, though. The visuals are also nice, or at least they are everywhere other than the somewhat plain-looking Panic Bomber, and the music is good. It’s worth getting for series fans or if you find it affordably.

Custom Robo V2 (J) – 4 player, but only 2 player simultaneous (2 v 2 with only 1 active at any one time) in multiplayer mode, saves to cartridge. This game is the second in a great series of 3d robot fighting game action-RPGs. The series kind of feels like a much better version of Virtual-On, with RPG elements. It’s set in a future world where people solve many conflicts with matches fought in little arenas by tiny robots they control. I covered the first game previously, but now also have the sequel. Custom Robo V2 is the second Custom Robo game, and the last one on the N64. As with the first game, it did not see a Western release because Nintendo of America was stupid and didn’t think that these great games would sell. We DEFINITELY should have seen at least one of them! We did eventually get the GC and DS games, but the first three should have had US releases as well, to help fill in some of those N64 software droughts. Gameplay-wise, Custom Robo V2 is very, very similar to the first game. Gameplay is just as great as before, and again running around in the arenas fighting feels fantastic. The graphics have been slightly improved, but the framerate is just as high, which is very important for a game like this. It’s absolutely key to the greatness of Custom Robo that even the N64 games run fast and smooth! The new arenas aren’t too different fro the old ones, though. Each game has new arenas to fight in, but all are fairly similar in being small-ish squares with various walls and such in them. The combat system is, as always, centered around three weapon types, a gun type you shoot, a bomb type you launch at an angle, and a slower rocket or mine type. You can also do damage with your running charge move. The game controls great, and there are a lot of different weapons to try out. Of course the names are all in Japanese, but it’s fun enough to try the various ones regardless of language.

However, apart from the new story, which you won’t understand anyway unless you speak Japanese, four player 2v2 tag-team multiplayer mode, and additional robot parts and arenas to fight in, it’s basically the same thing as the first game. The controls are the same (good, but the same), the types of weapons are the same, and the story is similar though new. The limitations on the 4 player mode are particularly disappointing. One of the most fun things in Custom Robo for Gamecube are the four-player matches, and I’d have loved to see them on the N64 as well! Maybe the hardware just can’t handle it, but still it’d have been great to see, four robots going around at the same time makes things more exciting than just two. Otherwise, this feels almost like an expansion pak, it really is more of the same. In the story mode, as with all five Custom Robo games, you play as a generic anime guy, they never let you play as a different kind of character. This is a different guy from the one in the first game, so it is a new story. As with the first game, your boy hero starts out just learning about Custom Robo, but eventually will go on to do greater things with his tiny little fighting robot. You are the hero after all! As far as a language barrier here goes, Custom Robo games are sort of RPGs so I don’t understand the story, but the games have simple and linear structures, so regardless of language you can’t get lost or confused for too long, you’ll figure out where to go quickly. Again the game starts out in school, as with the first game; in this series, the GC title is the only one to break away from the school-centric story concept so common to anime. Overall, Custom Robo V2 is a great game, but it’s so similar to the first game that I don’t know if having both of them is really necessary. Definitely get at lest one, though! And both, if you love this kind of game.

Doraemon 2: Nobita to Hikari no Shinden (J) – 1 player, saves to cartridge. This game is a sequel to the first N64 Doraemon game. Of course, as in all Doraemon games, you play as Doraemon the robot cat, the popular childrens’ manga and anime character. Doraemon 2 is a more ambitious game than the first one, which I covered previously, but for the non-Japanese speaker it probably isn’t a better game. While the first N64 Doraemon game is a fairly basic 3d platformer with some adventure elements in the overworld, this time the game is a 3d platform/adventure game. The game has a sizable world to explore, better graphics than the first game, people to talk to and (overlong) cutscenes, and plenty of puzzles of both the inventory and jumping varieties. The camera is pulled overhead so the view distance is limited, but you can go to first person by hitting R, though you can’t move in first-person mode. When you go to first person you see that there is no fog, you can see to the horizon. That’s nice, but the environments are average at best for the N64, and probably aren’t even that. The game looks okay, nothing more. Doraemon 2 has good controls and multiple playable characters, as you will sometimes play as the children instead of Doraemon. One important thing to know about Doraemon 2 is that it isn’t an action game; you do explore a world, but there are no enemies wandering around it. The few enemies I’ve seen are ones you “fight” with inventory puzzles, not action combat. In the game you mostly wander around, find items and try to figure out where to use them, talk to people, and jump around. You often need specific items to progress. The game does have a day-night cycle, and you gradually lose health at night because the children are scared, so you’ll need to find your way to a savepoint and rest when night comes. That’s a nice, touch, is one of the few ways I’ve found so far to actually run out of health in this game. A combat element, like most other Doraemon games have, might have been good, but it does work as an adventure/platform game. Maybe there’s something later? As far as I am though there isn’t any combat command, you don’t shoot by hitting a button or something. So maybe not.

Because of the more ambitious design Doraemon 2 is probably a better game than its predecessor, but it also has a much higher language barrier; figuring out what to do in this game is tough right from the beginning! The far too long cutscenes are even more boring when you can’t read the text, either. Some bits are voiced, but there are a lot of text boxes. The game uses no kanji though, appropriate for the young audience the game is for. But for non-Japanese speakers, there is very little on the internet to help you figure out how to play the game — there are a couple of videos of the beginning of the game, but that’s all I found, and it’s not helpful for long. This is a problem in a puzzle-heavy game like this one, figuring out what to do is frustrating. I haven’t gotten all this far in this game, it’s hard to keep playing when I have no idea what to do. One tricky bit early on involved having to find some items, one of which was hidden on a buildings’ roof, somewhere I didn’t think to look. People who can read Japanese will get more out of this game for sure, but I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t more of a 3d platformer. There is platforming in this game, but exploring the world gets boring when I’m just walking around in circles because I don’t know what my objective is. Just trying to interact with everything and using every item everywhere gets old after a while. And while the game looks decent, and they improved things over the fairly basic-looking first N64 Doraemon game, this isn’t a great-looking game for sure; the N64 can do much better than you see here. Still, Doraemon 2 is at average overall, anyway. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to people unless they really like the series or can read Japanese, though. There is also a third game, which is supposed to be somewhat similar in design to this one.

F1 Pole Position 64 – 1 player, saves to controller pak (70 pages required). F1 Pole Position 64 is a poorly-regarded racing game developed by Human Entertainment and improved for Western release by Ubisoft. This is a simple and arcadey F1 game, without the depth, complexity, challenge, or quality of an F1 World Grand Prix or Monaco Grand Prix. It is also the one and only racing game on the Nintendo 64 that does not have a multiplayer mode. On any other console single-player-only racing games are quite common, but not this one, so its absence here really stands out. Still, the game is better than I was expecting for something that seems to score between 4 and 6 out of 10. This definitely isn’t a good game, but there is some amusement to be found here if you like simple and straightforward racing games instead of sims. F1 Pole Position 64 has been improved over the original Japanese version, Human Grand Prix. According to IGN’s review, Ubisoft added the official F1 license, all 16 tracks from the F1 season in ’97, 22 real F1 drivers to race as with their real car designs, and all the branding and advertising from the real thing. They also improved the draw distance, apparently. However, the graphics are still bland and mediocre, and there is still some popup. This game has a fairly low polygon count, with very simple environments that lack detail. The textures, particularly of the omnipresent ad banners, are fairly good, though, they look quite clear. They’re all for real companies, and presumably came along with the F1 license. 16 cars are in each race, and the game can put at least most of them on screen at once, which is good. The framerate is also solid and doesn’t drop, though with graphics this simple I’d hope it would be. Audio, however, is poor — the music is weak, and car engine noise annoying and whiney.

Gameplay-wise, F1 Pole Position 64 is easy to learn. Just turn at the corners and brake when near a sharper turn, that’s about it. The game defaults to Easy AI difficulty, no car damage, and automatic transmission, so simplicity is the goal. You can turn up those settings if you want. There are also car settings to modify, so there is a bit of sim here. It’s nothing too complex, but the settings affect how your car handles, so they do matter. You can also pit in during races, to replace tires and fill up on gas. The game doesn’t have much in the way of good physics, things just bounce off eachother in a basic fashion. I found this game much easier than most other 3d F1 games; I finished 5th in my first race, and in races after that, except for one race where I managed to take too much damage with damage turned on (there isn’t a good indicator I could see that I was in danger, annoyingly), I finished well in every race, on Easy, without needing any great skill. It’s fun to be able to just play the game and do okay, and I’m sure turning up the difficulty would make the game harder, though people who want that probably should just play F1 World Grand Prix. The problem is though, this is still an F1 game, so races in the season mode are 10 laps long, and you need to do qualifying before that if you want to start anywhere other than last. That’s all a bit boring. There is no music ingame either, as usual in F1 games, and the bland gameplay isn’t exciting. It’s not too hard, but it’s not too fun either, doesn’t look great, controls only okay and not beyond that, and sounds kind of bad. Combine that with the absence of multiplayer, and F1 Pole Position 64 isn’t very good. All you can do here is play a season, single race, or time-trial, all as one of the 22 real drivers, there is no custom racer option, on the games’ 16 real-world tracks. The problem with this game is that those wanting a good F1 sim won’t play this because it’s a simpler, arcadey game, while those who want arcade-style racing games will play more fun games like F-Zero X, Excitebike 64, Rush, or what have you. This is in a boring middle ground along with stuff like Automobili Lamborghini, but maybe worse than that game. If you want a fun, arcadey open-world racing game on the N64, I recommend getting Indy Racing 2000; it’s good. Probably skip this game unless it sounds like fun to you. Still, it IS not quite as bad as I thought it would be, so there is that.

Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko – 1 player, saves to controller pak (1 block per file). Gex 3 is the third and last console Gex game, one of the many platformer series with a Sonic-style “cool” animal mascot. Gex’s character may be Sonic-inspired, though, but the gameplay is different. The basic concept of Gex is that he’s a TV-watching-obsessed gecko. So, each world in each Gex game is inspired by some type of TV show. The first game is a quality 2d platformer, but the sequels are 3d platformers. I covered Gex 2 in my PS1 Game Opinion Summaries list, but to recap, both games have very similar designs. The games have Mario 64-style hubs, with themed worlds branching out from there. Each world is themed after a type of movie or TV show, of course. This time, the first world is a snow level. Fortunately, the game is okay. Gex 3 is a nice improvement over Gex 2, which I didn’t like very much. It is a similar game, but the graphics, gameplay, level designs, and objectives are all better. Gex 3 is only a bit above average, but Gex 2 doesn’t reach average quality, so the improvement is welcome. The first level in this game is a lot more fun to play and explore than any level I saw in Gex 2. You’ve got a bunch of stuff to find, missions to attempt, and more, as in most 3d platformers of the era. Unfortunately, the controls hold the game back a bit. Even though you use the analog stick, you don’t really have true analog control here — instead, you can only move in eight or so directions. Apparently they did not fix the movement to account for having an analog stick on the N64, which is a problem in a genre all about moving around in 3d. Still, Gex 3 for N64 is a much better port than Gex 64, the N64 port of Enter the Gecko, was, by all accounts; I haven’t played Gex 64, but it’s supposed to be not very good, with a short draw distance, poor graphics, and more. The draw distance in this game is a lot better, and the graphics are improved all around. Graphically this game is no match for the better N64 3d platformers, but at least it looks decent, and even nice at times. The gameplay is about on that level as well. Overall Gex 3 isn’t great, but it is a decent, slightly above-average game. After Gex 2 I was expecting worse. Also on PS1; this is a port of the PS1 original.

Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku (J) – 4 player alternating, saves to cartridge, Transfer Pak compatible (links to the GBC version of the game). Ganbare Goemon: Mononoke Sugoroku is a Goemon-themed board game with RPG elements which Konami released only in Japan in late 1999. There is also a Game Boy Color version of the game, though I haven’t played it. I love the Goemon series, so I decided to finally get the last of the three N64 games, even if it is just a boardgame. The game has fantastic boxart with clay-style art of the characters and some of the monsters in the game. It’s really nice. After playing the game though, it’s not too hard to see why we didn’t get this game; the game is decent, but it’s just a boardgame, not a more full console experience. Digital boardgames like this often seemed to be more popular in Japan than the West. Fortunately, even though the game is entirely in Japanese, it’s fairly easy to understand with a little bit of practice. The “Mononoke” in the title refers to monsters, and this game is all about fighting monsters, here seen in the form of the cards in a boardgame-RPG. There are still a few things I don’t get, but most of the gameplay makes sense. First you choose a board, which there are only a couple of, and a character. All four of the standard Goemon characters are playable, and some others are unlockable. This game introduced a new costume for Yae; she now has a short kimono, instead of pants. I think I like the original costume more, but this is fine. The other three characters, Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke, look the same as ever. All characters are 2d sprites in this game, not polygon models like the previous two N64 Goemon games. They’re fairly well done, and the game is well-polished visually for what is here, but the budget here clearly is a lot lower than its predecessors. The music is still fantastic as usual in the series, though. I love the Goemon series’ classic-Japanese-style music. Still, I really wish Konami had made a third full-scale N64 Goemon game, instead of the not-great overly-serious 3d action-adventure game on the PS2 in 2000 and then those two mediocre PS1 2.5d platformers they tossed out in 2001… too bad. This is a good game, but some more variety and choice would have been nice. Each board has a circular path on it, so there are no branches, choices about where you go, or anything — you just travel around in a circle endlessly until someone wins. That’s a bit disappointing, some more interesting board maps would have been great.

Your goal in each game is to defeat your opponent or opponents. As in an RPG, each character has a health meter, and you lose health when you lose battles. To protect yourself, you can summon monsters and place them on spaces. Monsters take the form of cards, so when you land on a space you can only play the monster cards you actually have. There are also other kinds of cards, for direct attacks, healing, and such. You can equip cards on monsters, or use them on yourself. Cards with the sword icon can be equipped before a fight for a stat boost, while other cards can be used during a fight. Each turn you’ll get some new cards. Battles are simple, you or a monster you summon fight against the opponent and/or their monster. Each monster has an attack, defense, and health rating, and the attacker goes first. Damage is attack minus defense, and the defender attacks back if they survived. The battle system is super simplistic, but at least it’s not just Rock-Paper-Scissors such as Dokapon Kingdom for Wii, I don’t like that game much because of how random the battle system is. If a monster is killed extra damage is applied to that monsters’ player character, so you want to avoid losing monsters if you can. You want to avoid landing on enemy monster spaces, while hoping that the opponent(s) land on your monsters. Of course, a lot of this is random since die-rolls determine movement. I like the monster card art, some of it’s pretty nice. In addition to card boosts, you can also move monsters around from one space to spaces nearby. You can even move them onto enemy monster spaces and attack them, which can be helpful. The more skill-based RPG side to the game makes this game different from something like Monopoly where once you’ve built hotels and such on a space they’re stuck there forever; in this game you can move your “buildings” (monsters) around. Some spaces also have special functions such as healing you or your monsters, and you get money for each time you make a circuit around the board. For the most part though it’s not too complex of a game, centering around choosing good places for your monsters to be, powering them up, and hoping that luck is on your side. Overall it’s a good game, but winning requires a lot of luck; I do prefer more skill-based games. More boards, and more complex board layouts, would also have been very nice. Still, Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku is a fun thing to have and play once in a while, and is well worth it for series or digital boardgame-RPG fans. That box looks great, too. Also available on Game Boy Color; I’m not sure how similar that version is.

Jikkyo Powerful Pro Baseball 5 (J) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge. Powerful Pro Baseball, or Pawapuro, was for a long time one of Konami’s more popular franchises in Japan. This series of super-deformed baseball games were well known for having challenging and deep gameplay beneath their cute graphical exterior, and this one is no exception. I haven’t played this game as much as maybe I should for this, but it’s not my favorite kind of baseball game. The game is an interesting hybrid of classic and modern baseball game design. On the one hand the game has a top-down, somewhat zoomed-in field view like that of most 3rd or 4th-gen baseball games, but on the other hand it has a fairly modern pitching/batting cursor interface. This is the second of five N64 Pawapuro games; only two games in the series have a US release, both MLB-themed games on the PS2/Wii. The game has all 12 teams and stadiums, and all the real players, from the Japan League circa 1998. There are a lot of features, modes, and options, and it’s all in Japanese so for the non-speaker just figuring out how to do anything beyond a basic single match is a bit overwhelming. There are single matches (1p vs. cpu, 1p vs. 2p, or cpu vs. cpu), an options menu just for single matches; a character-raising mode where you train up a young player, adventure game-style (I haven’t played this much because of the language barrier, but it’s a series staple and is interesting); season mode; the ability to save a game in progress; and more. I’m not sure what all of the main menu options do, they’re all in Japanese and there is no English-language help out there for these games. The game has okay to good graphics, each field does look different and the players are big-headed and cute. Arenas are 3d, with sprite-based characters. The sound design is even better. There is a quite excitable announcer, and lots of crowd noise and chanting too. I like the sound design here, it adds to the game.

The gameplay is tough as well — you’ll lose, badly, for a while until you figure out how to play decently. That is common in baseball games, though, because pitching and batting are very hard things to do, the hardest things people commonly do in sports. Pitching and batting just use A and the stick/pad. Presuming that you turn on analog control, which is recommended (seriously, why is d-pad only even an option?), for batting you move a batting cursor around with the stick. The pitcher has no indicator, but instead the ball goes where you are pointing the stick. For some reason, maybe it’s an option I don’t know about or maybe it’s to be realistic, but left and right are reversed, so to throw to the right side of the plate you have to hold the stick left. Admittedly when pitching you do throw from the left to go right, and vice versa, but still, it’s weird and not great. I do like the idea of holding the stick in the place you want the ball to go and then just hitting a button to pitch, though, it works well. My problem with pitching so far is that if there are any alternate pitches I can’t figure out how to throw them, so it’s always just one pitch type, which is annoying — how do I throw offspeed, curveballs, sliders, etc., instead of just straight pitches? Once the ball has been thrown, an indicator appears showing approximately where it’s headed, and the batter has a split second to move the cursor there and swing. As with pitching, there’s just one button, no choice of normal or harder swing as some baseball games have. Getting your timing right is hard, as it should be. Overall the pitching/batting interface is alright, but could use some more features, unless I’m missing something under the big language barrier.

For fielding, though, I don’t like it as much. I’ve never liked this style of top-down field view, and this game is no exception. I much prefer actually being able to see the field, so that I don’t have to guess where to move my fielder. They do have an indicator pointing towards who you are controlling off screen, but it’s not nearly as good as actually seeing the player. I know I say this every time about baseball games, but give me the Hardball series’ perspective every time, over this stuff! And with 3d graphics, I know you could do something better than this basic overhead view. I’m sure some people would like the game because of this, but I feel the opposite, it makes the game harder and less fun. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be playing this game enough to get good; the overhead perspective isn’t great, and unless I’m missing something I really miss having alternate pitch types, compared to other baseball games. Batting works well, pitching is okay, the graphics are okay and sound is good, and there are a lot of modes and options, but I’d rather play something with more pitching options and better fielding. English-language menus would be a plus too, of course, for a game loaded with menus like this one is. For me, Pawapuro 5 is okay but not great.

Jinsei Game 64 (J) [The Game of Life 64] – 4 player alternating, saves to cartridge. Made by Takara, Jinsei Game 64 is one of two Japanese Nintendo 64 versions of the boardgame The Game of Life. For some reason, The Game of Life is a very, very popular boardgame in Japan. I’m not sure why; I do remember playing the game as a kid, but never thought it was THAT great, and haven’t played the board game in quite some time. I don’t think we own it anymore. I got this N64 version despite that because, well, I am trying to eventually get all non-sports N64 games, so I had to get it sometime. Honestly though, this might not have been worth getting; even though they do add some features to try to make this more than just a digital boardgame, it’s boring and not much fun. In addition to the board game there are also eight minigames here, but they’re mostly kind of bad. There is also a significant language barrier that is a real issue due to the choices you have to make during the game. The game would be a bit better if I could read the text, but at times it’s tough to play in Japanese, if you care about what choices you make during the game.

There are a good number of modes available in Jinsei Game 64. You can play a normal game, play a game on a variety of different alternate boards, modify the order of things on a custom board, create a custom character to play the game with with a good number of options for hair, clothes, and such, and play the minigames outside of the main game. You can play with any mix of up to four human or AI characters, and the AI is reasobly challenging. By default, in the main mode you play a minigame each time characters land on the same space. All eight are for four players. You play them fairly often in the game, though, they aren’t very good, and there are only eight of them, so this isn’t as great an option as it sounds. While on the board the graphics are 3d, and each different board looks nicely different. The graphics aren’t great, but at least they put some effort in to the game. The minigames are just basic 2d stuff, though, and don’t look as good. Some require skill, but too many are just pure luck; really, if you’re going to add minigames to your digital boardgame, don’t make them just pure chance! There are also anime-esque 2d scenes for the life decisions, choices where you try to romance someone of the opposite sex, build your career, and such. I like the art style, it’s stylized and kind of cute-looking.

In the main game, minigames aside, as in the boardgame on each turn you move via a spinner. Once you land on a space a menu opens and you have five options, all in Japanese. The top is to move, others are for various stats and such. Depending on where you land, you may play a minigame, make some of those life choice, or just end your turn. Your choices will change your character’s stats, which affect how successful you will be, so as I said the language barrier is a real problem. The other main problem here is that I find The Game of Life kind of boring in any form; Jinsei Game 64 is okay, but I haven’t finished a game of this yet not only because of the language barrier, but also because the game gets tedious fast. The mostly-bad minigames are also a disappointment. It might be better in multiplayer, but… just play the boardgame, or some better game. I do like the boxart, though, it’s nice and represents the games’ art style well.

Let’s Smash (J) [also released in Europe as Centre Court Tennis, but I have the Japanese version because of how hard it is to play European N64 games on a US system] – 4 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak (7 pages per character file). Let’s Smash is a tennis game from Hudson. This is an okay but flawed game thanks to difficult controls. Let’s Smash has a lot of features and okay to good graphics, but the timing for hitting the ball is quite tight. Otherwise the controls are fine, and you have the usual options — regular hit or lob, on separate buttons — but that ball timing is a problem. It took a while before I managed to win a match because of how hard it is to get used to hitting back the ball. It’s particularly bad when you use the default single-screen view and are on the upper half of the screen. The very tight timing reminds me of Namco’s World Court Tennis for the Turbografx. Indeed, it would be very much like that interesting but frustrating nearly-impossible-once-you-leave-the-bottom-half-of-the-screen game if not for one major addition, different camera angles (on the C buttons). The game got a lot more playable once I figured out how to switch to the third-person-behind-the-character camera, which gives you a close-in view behind your character sort of like that in Mario Tennis for the Virtual Boy. It’s much, much easier to hit the ball from there than the default classic-style overhead camera. Of course, though, if you want to play the game in multiplayer you’ll have to get used to that camera… or just play Mario’s Tennis for the N64, that might be the better option. That game doesn’t have this issue, hitting the ball is easy in that game. If you do play it multiplayer, be prepared for it to take more than a few matches before everyone manages to figure out the correct timing for hitting the ball. The AI is quite tough as well, and can be hard to defeat. Visually Let’s Smash looks okay, but, like most Hudson N64 games, it doesn’t look great. Hudson never managed to master N64 graphics like Nintendo, Rare, Acclaim, or such did. This game shows improvement over early Hudson N64 games like Bomberman 64, but still looks only average. The characters look fine and the arenas decent, and the framerate is thankfully good, but nothing looks great for the system, the N64 can do better, an does in games like Mario’s Tennis.

For options, Let’s Smash has quite a few. First, you can play Tournaments. There are four options here, based on the four major championships in pro tennis, the British, French, American, and Australian Opens. This game doesn’t have any official licenses, so don’t expect any real players, but there are 16 players to choose from, half male and half female, and the ball bounces differently on clay, hard, or grass courts. There is a different arena for each open, and you try to go through a single-elimination tournament to make it to the top. You can choose in the options how many games each match should last. Next, you can do a single match on any court. Next, you can create your own tennis pro, a very cool option. You can choose gender and clothing, and unlike many games (but like in the PSP Hot Shots Tennis game) it isn’t gender-restricted, so you can have male characters wear ‘female’ tennis outfits. Nice option. You can also choose the hairstyle and color, face, skin color, clothing, and stats (made difficult by the language barrier, all stat names are in Japanese; I just guessed and chose middle settings. I sure wish it was easier to play European N64 games on US systems!). You start with only one set of tennis clothes that you choose, but character creation mode isn’t just about creating characters you can play as in tournaments, though you can do that. No, you can also train in some minigames, or play matches against AI opponents. The minigames aren’t as elaborate as those in Sega’s great Virtua Tennis, but they are challenging and can be fun. There is one where you try to target specific points on the ground, one where you try to bounce the ball off some targets as many times as you can, and two more. Each has different difficulty levels.

The main draw for this mode, though, is playing as your custom characters against AI opponents. In these single matches, you can play on a variety of real or fantasy courts in matches where you get a clothing piece from the winner if you win, or lose one if you lose. So yeah, it’s like gambling, except that you can just turn off the game if you’re losing and don’t need to lose anything, if you have remembered to save recently of course. It’s nice to see your clothing options grow as you win matches, though actually winning is, of course, difficult. The courses, outside of the four stadiums for the major opens, include a grassy field, a lava pit, an ice level (with penguins who get in your way as obstacles, and you can hit them to the other side of the court with your racket to make them bother the other person), an urban court, a somewhat wild west-themed desert, and more. I find the ones with obstacles the most interesting; there’s nothing like that in the main tournaments! There is also a different announcer for each arena, or, for some reason, no announcer in the ice arena. Overall, Let’s Smash is a decent to good game. It gave me a very poor first impression thanks to the games’ overly-difficult controls, but after some practice I started liking the game more. Still, compared to Virtua Tennis on Dreamcast or Mario Tennis for N64, this game isn’t nearly as good thanks to the difficult controls and only average graphics. Hot Shots Tennis for PSP also probably does the custom character thing better, as it has a full ‘RPG-styled’ mode. This game has character-building, but it’s not a full RPG as you don’t explore a world, talk to people, and the like, you just choose options from menus and play matches. Still, despite its flaws, Let’s Smash was definitely worth getting. It’s okay.

Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness – 4 player simultaneous (in battle mode), saves to controller pak (8 blocks). Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness is one of Namco’s only games for the N64. This game and Namco Museum are the only games Namco itself made for the N64; Ridge Racer 64 was a first-party Nintendo title, by NST. 5th-gen Namco were, sadly, huge Sony supporters, but at least we on the N64 did get this quality title. After the success of Pac-Man World for the Playstation, Namco decided to make a Ms. Pac-Man game. This isn’t a full 3d platformer like that game is, though; instead, it’s more of a classic-styled, overhead-view action/puzzle title. This game is a polygonal 3d game, but almost feels “2.5” in that you mostly just move around on a flat grid. You can travel between upper and lower areas and the like, but it all plays from a pulled-back viewpoint. This gives it a much more traditional feel than the side-view isometric 3d platforming of Pac-Man world, though it’s also a lot more approachable than the frustrating isometric platforming that game is loaded with. Between the two, I probably do have more fun with this one, but both are worth a try. I wish the N^4 had gotten a version of Pac-Man World as well, too bad.

The story here is forgettable; you, as Ms. Pac-Man, have to travel through time, thanks to a machine made by Professor Pac, to rescue the princess or something stupid like that. The time-travel mechanic allows each level to have a different theme, so you go through ancient Egypt first and progress from there. Your goal is always to just reach the end of the stage, but enemies, puzzles, and many dots to collect lie along the way. Levels are linear mazes, so you progress through a level, instead of just running around one big maze as in the original Pac-Man games. Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness is definitely on the easy side, but it’s fun despite that. The puzzle elements add something to the game, as you do sometimes have to figure out how to get to some dots, by pushing blocks, using jump-cannon things which toss you to another point in the level, and more. Enemies are also a threat, unless you kill them with a Power Pellet. Figuring out how to progress usually isn’t too hard, but the game does get more challenging as you go along, and the adventure is plenty of fun. You can also unlock harder time-trial versions of the levels after you beat them, and can play the original Ms. Pac-Man arcade game as well. There are also three multiplayer modes, though I haven’t played them yet. This is a fun little game; I wish it was harder, but otherwise it’s good classic gaming fun. This is a multiplatform game also available on PS1 and Dreamcast. The three versions look very similar, with the expected graphical differences — the DC version looks the best, N64 in the middle, and PS1 the worst. I also have the DC version and it probably is a bit better than this one, but the N64 version is more than good enough to be worth getting.

Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer 2 (J)
– 1 player, saves to cartridge. Shiren the Wanderer 2 is one of Chunsoft’s many roguelikes that they have released over the past 20-plus years. I’m not a big fan of the genre, but got this one anyway because it’s interesting and is on the N64. I’m having issues with this game (how do you save???), but that’s probably just me; anyone who can read Japanese certainly won’t have a problem. Once the first Shiren for SNES was a success Chunsoft obviously knew they’d hit on a popular formula, and the company continues to make fairly similar games to this day. As with most of their earlier roguelikes, Shiren 2 is a Japan-only release. The game has good graphics, good gameplay, and lots to do. It’s a great title, and I’m really not sure why it isn’t better-known outside of Japan. There are very few mentions of this game and isn’t even one single FAQ out there in English for this game, which is a real shame! One is badly needed. Just some basic thing explaining how the menus work would be fantastic, and something for item names would be even better, either in FAQ or translation-patch form. But if you stick with the game despite the language barrier, it’s great classic Chunsoft Mysterious Dungeon roguelike fun. As usual you play as Shiren, the mysterious wanderer of the title. He is an adventurer in a fantasy version of traditional Japan, and is trying to help out a town beset by monsters.

As always in Mysterious Dungeon games, Shiren 2 plays from an overhead perspective, and when in dungeons the game is turn-based and you move on a grid. The game has sprite-based characters in 3d environments, and the look works well.

Visually Shiren 2 looks pretty good. The art style is somewhat rounded and cute, and I like the look of the sprites. The polygonal environments look good to great as well, this game has good art design. This is a good-looking N64 game. The music is similarly good and fits the traditional Japanese theme quite well. Combat works just like most any other Mysterious Dungeon game. When you move or attack so do the enemies, but they can’t move otherwise. You can move one space at a time with the d-pad, or use fast movement with the analog stick or by holding B or Z. The fast movement is very useful. On each floor of the dungeons in the game your goal is to find the exit while collecting as much stuff as you can (while dealing with your tight inventory limit, you can only hold about 20 items), but the enemies will make that difficult to say the least; it may be easier than its SNES predecessor, but this is a hard game, probably harder than the third game, for Wii, is; Shiren 2 doesn’t have any more forgiving modes. While you stay alive it can be fun enough, but then you die an lose all your equipped items and level, as is common in this genre; you only keep things if you beat the dungeon and put them in storage. Ouch! Honestly I’ve never liked this kind of harsh design, I prefer having a game where you don’t have to continually redo things you have done before just because you died farther in to the game. Yes, I’ve mostly skipped over the wave of roguelikes the game industry has made in recent years. Add on top of that that probably because of the language barrier I still can’t figure out how to actually save a game, and yeah, this game is a bit hard to play. Another key game design element makes that worse — your main task in this game is to build a castle so that the locals in the town you’re in can protect themselves from the hordes of monsters. That’s cool, it’s nice to have a task beyond just killing stuff and gaining levels, but you need to collect certain items for the castle, and better items will hold up better against monster attacks that apparently happen later in the game. This whole system is obviously somewhat impenetrable if you don’t know the language. So, overall, Shiren the Wanderer 2 is a good-looking game which is fun to play, but the language barrier is significant and a real issue.

To be clear, If I could actually save my progress in this game, I’d say that it’s a pretty good game for its genre. It definitely seems fun, and isn’t as hard as the first game for SNES. So please someone, tell me what I’m doing wrong… the only menu options that quit seem to either (for one option) quit without saving, or (for the other) restart the game from the beginning. I don’t see anyone to talk to to save, either. So yeah, what’s going on here? I want to be able to play this game, and “play it all in one sitting” is not a good answer.

Nuclear Strike 64 – 1 player, saves to controller pak, Expansion Pak supported (for higher resolution graphics). Nuclear Strike 64 is the N64 version of the fifth and sort-of-final Strike game from EA. While the previous game, Soviet Strike, didn’t release on Nintendo platforms, this one returned the series to Nintendo. There’s sort of a sixth, but only if you count Future Cop LAPD as a Strike game — it started out as one, but changed to an original title during development. I’d call it a new game, so this is the last game in EA’s topdown-style flight combat sim series which was quite popular particularly on the Genesis and SNES. I have never have been a fan of this series, but I got Soviet Strike, the 4th game, for Saturn a few years ago and was surprised to find it kind of fun for a while, the series’ usual too-high difficulty level aside. So, I thought that maybe I’d like this one too… but I don’t know. It’s still a Strike game, and as with all the Strike games, it’s too slow and boring to be a good action flight game, but too action-oriented to be a good sim. But also, on the N64, the live-action-video cutscenes of the original PC/PS1 game are gone. Without the super-cheesy live-action-video FMV the game loses something. Gameplay-wise, the main changes in Nuclear Strike compared to its predecessor are that you now have a variety of tanks and a hovercraft you will control at times during the game, the graphics are better, and there’s an improved on-screen compass/map telling you where you need to head. That arrow is helpful, it does indeed reduce time spent on the map as the back of the box claims, but the full-screen map is still essential. And visually, the N64 version certainly looks better than the PS1 version thanks to 3d that doesn’t fall apart whenever anything moves. The textures are a bit blurry as usual, but the game looks nice. Still, that cheesy FMV is good stuff. As for the gameplay, the core gameplay is the same as usual for this series. It’s still very hard and kind of boring. This game plays a lot like the previous one, but maybe with a closer-in camera. The game still plays on a flat plane, so you cannot move up or down, only around at a set level over the ground. You can shoot bullets and missiles and lower a winch to pick things up. You are not only fighting the many enemies in this game, though. Fuel and ammo are both very limited, and unless you are careful, use your weapons well, and know where the pickups are, you won’t finish the mission. There are a nice variety of objectives along the way, but they usually boil down to destroying or protecting things. You also need to be on the lookout for fuel and ammo to pick up, of course. It’s okay, but I get frustrated when I lose far into a mission; saving is limited, and I lose interest before getting good enough to beat a mission. Each game generally has only four or so missions, or maps, each made up of a series of objectives scattered around the level. Four is more than enough in games as hard as the Strike games are, and Nuclear Strike is no exception. Even though I did kind of like Soviet Strike, I still have not yet ever beaten a full mission in a Strike game, I believe; I did get most of the way through Future Cop LAPD, but that plays quite differently. Overall Nuclear Strike 64 is a good game that just isn’t really for me. Also on PC and PS1; the best version is surely the PC version, but between PS1 and N64, you have to choose between better graphics and probably also controls (N64) or cheesy FMV (PS1).

Off-Road Challenge (actually already had but forgot to cover) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak. Off-Road Challenge is a point-to-point racing game from Midway. The game is an arcade port of a Midway arcade game, developed by Avalanche Studios. They didn’t do a very good job, sadly. The game runs in the Cruis’n USA engine and visually looks sort of like that series. This game is a part of the Off-Road franchise, the third (or fourth if you include the Track Pack as a game) game in a series that began with the all-time classic early ’90s arcade game “Ironman” Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road. I absolutely love the original Super Off-Road and always have, but this game, sadly, isn’t nearly as good; of the six point-to-point Midway racers on the N64, this one is the one I have played least. Off-Road Challenge is pretty much just a mediocre spinoff of Cruis’n, with off-road pickup trucks instead of cars, desert-only environments, only six tracks, 3d truck graphics, ugly graphics with a sometimes-poor framerate, and a far higher difficulty level. Returning from previous Off-Road games are turbo boosts and boost powerups to refill your boost. These powerups are small and a lot harder to pick up than they were in the original Super Off-Road, and yet you really need them to be competitive. The skiddy controls don’t help here, either. I don’t think I’ve ever actually finished first in a race in this game; it’s frustratingly hard right from the start, and then gets harder.

Indeed, one major issue with this game, along with the visuals and sound, is that it is way too hard! The handling is average skiddy stuff, you slide around a lot. So, memorization is key, to learn when to turn on the courses to avoid the many obstacles littering each course and to try to stay on the road. The tracks are curvy and difficult, and I do like the bumpy, obstacle-filled track designs, but I don’t like how hard getting the powerups is or the super-difficult AI. Still, moments like dodging a rock knocked over by a falling UFO or learning the correct route to avoid pitfalls in the track are kind of nice. However, perhaps because of the 3d vehicles, there are only eight racers in each race, only four trucks to choose from, and only six tracks in the game. That’s a lot less of all three of things than you’ll find in any Cruis’n game, and the tracks are no longer than Cruis’n tracks, so there isn’t much variety here. Between races, as usual in the series there’s also an upgrade system where you can upgrade your truck between races with your winnings. The championship mode saves your truck upgrades, so in order to compete later on you really need to have done well earlier in the game, so don’t settle for 4th in that first circuit even though finishing harder is hard. YOu need to finish in 3rd in each race in the second circuit, and do even better than that later on, so mastering the tracks is essential. I haven’t done it, sadly. The dune buggy is fastest, so it might be the best of the four vehicles available, but between the AI, the controls, and the rest, the game doesn’t feel fairly designed. The AI usually just beats me, even when I do better time-wise… argh. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AI cheats.

Visually, the graphics are below average, with some VERY large super-blurry textures, a sometimes-iffy framerate, and distance fade-in. Midway can, and did, do so much better than this! I know the tracks are full of bumps and hills, but still, this game looks worse than the first SF Rush game on N64, but actually released after it. The music is forgettable rock, and fails to loop after finishing the first time, so many races will end in silence. Not good. There are a lot of much, much better, and better-looking, N64 racing games than this. There’s not much here to make me want to spend the hours it would take to actually finish this very difficult game. There are few modes, too. You can do a single race, a circuit where you go through all the tracks, and that’s it. You won’t find modified versions of the tracks here, unlike Cruis’n World or Exotica, and all other Midway N64 point-to-point racers have many more tracks than this game. Overall, Off-Road Challenge is disappointing. This is a downgraded port of an average arcade game, and even I can’t entirely defend it, and I find the Cruis’n series fun. The game has no new ideas, some design issues, looks ugly and sounds bad, and I get tired of always losing. Instead of playing this game more and beating it, I’d rather play a better game. Off-Road Challenge is below average. Really, stick to the original classic Super Off-Road. Or for a similar 3d game, the best polygonal ‘Off-Road”-style racing game from Midway doesn’t actually doesn’t have the franchise name on it — it’s 4-Wheel Challenge for the Dreamcast. That’s a great game, a bit like this one but better. That game is also very tough, but that’s the kind of hard that keeps me coming back! I wish this game was like that too, but it isn’t. Arcade port (but N64-exclusive at home).

Puyo Puyo Sun 64 (J) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge. This game is a puzzle game in the popular and long-running Puyo Puyo series, then made by Compile — this game is from before Compile shut down and Sega bought the rights to the franchise. Puyo Puyo is a match-four block-dropping puzzle game. The “blocks” here are called Puyos, and they’re cute little bloblike things. They drop in pairs only; for those familiar with Sega’s Puyo games, Compile’s always have the puyos drop only in pairs. The larger shapes first appear in Sega’s first Puyo game, Puyo Puyo Fever from 2004. When you match four of the same color they are destroyed. Because you have to match four instead of the usual three, Puyo Puyo is a bit slower-paced and more strategic than some other games of this type. It’s not as complex as Puzzle Fighter/Baku Baku though, because you just need to match four, instead of use separate objects to destroy the blocks. I like Puzzle Fighter more than Puyo Puyo, because I like the added element of the crash gems versus just match-three or match-four play, but Puyo Puyo is a classic series and the games are usually quite fun. Puyo Puyo is also a very hard game — victory centers around setting up good combos, but setting up long combos while puyos drop at a breakneck pace, as they eventually will, is very hard! Puyo Puyo games are always tough, and this one is no exception. It’s a good, challenging game, and getting good at Puyo Puyo will take practice. You need to learn how to form at least basic combos to succeed. I’m not great at it, but can at least get through story mode. Visually, as usual in this genre, the game is entirely 2d.

In the arcade story mode you play as Arle as usual, the series heroine, on her latest quest in Compile’s silly anime-styled fantasy world of the Puyo Puyo puzzle series and Madou Monogatari RPG series, both of which star Arle. The art design is cutely amusing as usual, the monsters never look too threatening. Of course though, all troubles are solved by puzzle games, not actual battles, though Arle is a magician and her attack sounds when you set off good combos are various spells of hers from the RPGs. The music here is good, but nto as good as the CD versions of the game thanks to having to downgrade it for a cart. For modes and options, the game has a few, but not as many as I’d like. There is the vs. story mode, an endless mode, single-match play for vs. cpu or vs. human games, and that’s about it. There are also difficulty settings and such in the options. Puyo Puyo Sun 64 is a pretty straight port of the third Puyo Puyo game, Puyo Puyo Sun, to the N64. I also have the earlier Saturn release of this game, and there are no significant differences between the two releases, unfortunately, other than the downgraded music. Some other puzzle games added features to their N64 versions, but not this one. Overall, Puyo Puyo Sun is a fun classic puzzler. It looks decent, is a lot of fun to play, and will last quite a while with the series’ usual high difficulty level. However, there is no reason to get this version of the game over the PS1 or Saturn versions, since it’s the same exact thing but with worse music. The games’ sequel, Puyo Puyo~n Party (Puyo Puyo 4, N64 version) is probably better, as it at least has a four-player splitscreen mode, something this game sadly does not have. However, that game does also have a better Dreamcast port (which I have), while here, music aside, the N64 version of Puyo Puyo 3 is as good as any. Arcade port also available on PS1, Saturn, and Game Boy Color.

Rat Attack – 4 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak (1 block), Expansion Pak supported (for higher resolution graphics). Rat Attack is a very simple and basic game, reminiscent of a classic arcade game. It’s decent and can be fun. It’s nothing really special, but I don’t know that it deserves review scores as low as it mostly got. This game isn’t really bad, just very simple. The game is polygonal 3d. Each level in Rat Attack is a single screen, viewed from an overhead perspective. You play as a cat, or up to four cats at once in the co-op multiplayer mode, and have to capture all of the evil rats on each stage which are trying to destroy everything in sight. There are six cats to choose from, with two more unlockable if you do well. The game is a somewhat frantic and fast-paced game where you run around hitting rats, trapping them, and bringing them to the dropoff point. You can jump with B, attack to stun rats with Z, and open a trap by holding A and moving to open the rectangle. ‘Traps’ aren’t some object that drops; you automatically catch any rat which is inside the trap when you let go of A. Obviously it’s easiest to capture stunned rats. Caught rats must then be brought to that dropoff point cat-symbol circle. If a rat touches you before you get there, you drop any rats you are carrying, which will happen. The controls are good, but your cat can be small on the screen, so sometimes I lost track of where I was in all the chaos. Level designs are nicely varied, and include multi-leveled arenas, stage hazards such as moving lawnmowers, warp circles that teleport you between points in the stage, and more. While the graphics are simple, I do like the varied level designs. You need to capture a set number of rats in each level before they destroy everything destructible in the stage, and while trying to avoid dying because you only get three lives per level and each level is made up of quite a few stages, and you cannot save between stages, only after levels. With the limited lives, fast enemies, and often crowded screen, this game gets hard quickly and will last a decent while. Oh, and you get points for everything you do, if you want to play for score. The multiplayer mode is a versus mode, not co-op through story mode, sadly, but it’s still pretty fun, as you compete to catch as many rats as possible (and whack on the other cats, of course). Rat Attack is a simple but challenging and entertaining classic arcade-style game that I, at least, think is fun. It’s average stuff, but entertaining. Also on Playstation. The PS1 version actually does also support four players in multiplayer mode, interestingly.

Super Mario 64: Rumble Pak Edition (J) – 1 player, saves to cartridge. This is one of two early N64 games that Nintendo re-released with rumble pak support added, along with Wave Race 64. Mario 64 is, of course, one of the greatest videogames ever made. The very definition of an all-time classic, Mario 64 redefined platform gaming and improved the genre in gameplay, controls, and graphics. It released before the rumble pak, though, so eventually Nintendo decided to release a version with rumble… and then only released it in Japan, annoyingly. I got this because it seemed interesting, but while Mario 64 with rumble is of course still a great, great classic, and the game is perhaps a bit better with rumble, it doesn’t add a huge amount to the game. Mario 64 rumble edition is great fun, and the rumble is nice, but it’s hardly essential. The other issue with this game is that it’s in Japanese, so all of the star descriptions are in Japanese. So, unless you know the game really well or use a guide while playing, remembering what to do for each star is difficult. Is it worth that hassle anyway to replay one of the greatest games ever, again, just with controller rumble this time? Maybe, but I haven’t gotten too far into this. Still, it’s absolutely worth picking up if you’re buying import N64 games, no question. It IS Mario 64 with an exclusive extra feature, after all. The original version is also available on Wii Virtual Console and has a Nintendo DS remake, but I don’t know if any other version has rumble, as far as I know they don’t.

Super Robot Spirits (J) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge. Super Robot Spirits is a very mediocre 3d fighting game from Banpresto. Similar to the Super Robot Taisen strategy game series, Super Robot Spirits uses mechas (giant robots) from a variety of different franchises and mixes them all together, here in a fighting game instead of the usual strategy gameplay. After playing this game, though, it’s not hard to see why that is a long-running series while this is a one-off title, it’s not that good. Super Robot Spirits is not terrible, but it definitely isn’t good either. The game has eight regular characters to choose from plus a couple of unlockable bosses. All eight starting characters are male; the only female one is unlockable, and I didn’t have the patience to play a game this bland long enough to unlock them. As in most 3d fighters that generation, the d-pad moves and jumps, while buttons move you into or out of the screen. The face buttons attack; you only have a couple of buttons, because this game isn’t too complex. Each character does have a bunch of moves, though, and they are not listed in the game, so having the manual is recommended — all moves are listed in the manual. There is also a FAQ on GameFAQs though, for those who don’t have the manual. I wasn’t hoping for too much from this game, because it’s a licensed game and Banpresto made very few N64 games, but even so it was worse than I was hoping. SRS is a slow and ugly game. It has one interesting feature, that the robots can fly, but it doesn’t add much to the game. The gameplay, graphics, framerate, game speed, controls, nothing about this game is very good. There isn’t much of a story either, in any language. The robots are from famous giant-robot shows, but for me that doesn’t matter much, I don’t care too much about giant-robot animes; I played this for the game, not the licenses. Unfortunately, if there is a reason to pplay this game, the gameplay isn’t it.

The problem is, while SRS does not totally fail as a game, it is badly dated and there isn’t much of any reason to play it now. I think that a lot of 5th-generation 3d fighting games have aged badly, and this game is no exception. Most 5th-gen 3d fighters play slowly, with dated controls, iffy framerates and/or slow gameplay holding them back badly when compared to the smooth, polished gameplay of 3d fighters from the Dreamcast on. Super Robot Spirits is a slow game with lumbering mech characters. Matches take a long time, and many moves seem to do little damage. The graphics are kind of ugly, and stages don’t look like much, backgrounds are incredibly bland. SRS’s combination of poor, dull-looking graphics and slow gameplay combine to show that the developers of SRS clearly didn’t know how to program well for the N64. You don’t have full 3d movement in this game either — you can only move forwards, backwards, jump, and fly (with buttons), there aren’t buttons to move into or out of the screen. The game plays on a flat 2d plane, the 3d is just window-dressing. That’s okay, but the subpar gameplay isn’t. Don’t expect any kind of nice combo system here either, it doesn’t have complexities like that. This is just a basic, simple 5th-gen 3d fighter, that’s all. There are the usual modes — ‘story’, versus, training, survival, options, a small roster of characters, and nothing much to make me want to play the game again after finishing it once. Overall, Super Robot Spirits is a very generic and uninteresting below-average 3d fighting game. Sure, it’s very much a product of its time, but there are at least some 5th-gen 3d fighting games which are good, including a few on N64. While far from the worst, this game is no Criticom or War Gods-level debacle, SRS isn’t among them. It is interesting that the only Super Robot-franchise 1-on-1 fighting game I know of is an N64 exclusive, I just wish it was a better game.

Super Robot Taisen 64 (J) [Super Robot Wars 64] – 1 player, saves to cartridge. Super Robot Wars 64 is a 2d turn-based strategy game, and is a part of the long-running Super Robot Wars series of turn-based tactical strategy games about giant robots fighting eachother. For the basic concept think Fire Emblem but with robots, not as extreme a challenge, and not quite as great gameplay. The series started back in 1991 and has seen releases as recently as 2013, so it’s an ongoing series. Only three games have released outside of Japan, though, all titles with only original characters because the licensing issues are apparently a nightmare for the rest of the games; getting the rights to use the many different series represented here would cost more than it’s worth, unfortunately. So, as with most SRW games, this one released only in Japan. SRW64 is a common kind of game on other platforms, but on the N64, because Fire Emblem 64 was never released, this game is the only turn-based strategy game of this style on the system. The game plays well, with good graphics and sound. The 2d graphics look great, the game has a nice anime style. Licensed characters look like they should from the shows they come from, and original characters have a consistent anime style. There are also nice 2d battle animations whenever robots attack eachother. The game shows, for any doubters, that the N64 can do this kind of 2d look great, when developers wanted to. This game has four different playable characters, each of which take a somewhat different path through the game, so you’d need to play it four times to see every mission. That’s cool. The four characters are two male and two female characters, so you’ve got some good variety there genderwise. Each character also has a rival who they will see regularly through the game. You can rename your character and rival at the start if you wish. As with all SRW games, the game has an extensive story, with text-heavy cutscenes between every mission. Even in the English-language games, the amount of story gets a bit tedious since it’s not anything special; it’s just generic giant-robot-anime-inspired stuff. I doubt this game is any different, though of course it is all in Japanese so I can’t be certain.

As with the cutscenes, the gameplay is very reminiscent of Fire Emblem. Once you get into a mission, you see the map, with your robots and your enemies placed around it on a square grid. You’ve got to kill the enemies, and sometimes also do other tasks such as reach a certain point. You can also sometimes talk to enemies by moving a certain character next to them to talk to them and maybe persuade them to leave or join your side. Fortunately there’s a pretty good guide on Game FAQs that covers the mission objectives for almost all missions in the game, all but one or two characters’ exclusive missions are there. Definitely read it as you play if you don’t know Japanese. The gameplay and controls are fairly straightforward for anyone who has played games like this before; all menu options are in Japanese, but it’s mostly not too hard to figure out. You can move, attack with a variety of weapons, look at each robot’s stats, and such, and once attacked can choose to counter-attack or defend. The game starts out quite easy, so there is time to learn the controls. It’ll get harder as you progress, for sure, and the game is long — there are a total of 123 missions, though again each character will not play all of them so you only see all of those missions if you play the game four times. It looks like even a single playthrough would take a good while. SRW games aren’t the hardest tactical strategy games, though, so between the long length, constant cutscenes to click through, and often only moderately challenging (if that) missions, I have gotten bored of these games sometimes. Still, the game does get tougher eventually, and it’s all very well made. The game looks and sounds good, is easy to play despite the language barrier (particularly with that guide, for helping out with recruiting optional characters especially!), and is pretty fun. I love that they made an N64 game like this, it’s good and well worth playing. It’s just too bad that Fire Emblem 64 was eventually cancelled and turned into a GBA game instead; Intelligent Systems struggled with the transition to 3d. SRW64 is not a replacement for that game, but it is a good, fun, nice-looking tactical strategy game with a lot of content and solid gameplay.

Superman – 1 player, saves to controller pak (1 block per file). One of the N64’s most infamous titles, last year I finally made myself buy Superman for the N64 (No, the correct tile is not “Superman 64”.). I haven’t gotten far in the game, but my opinion on this game is a bit different from most I’ve seen — I don’t really mind the flying-through-rings parts, it’s the other half of the game I can’t stand! Superman starts off with a bad story explaining how Superman has gone to a virtual world full of kryptonite fog, explaining why you aren’t invincible. While there is a large city in this game, you can’t usually just wander around it; instead, the game is linear. Infamously, you start out having to fly through rings. After I got used to the controls, I started to kind of enjoy this. It’s not great, but I like racing games, and the challenge of figuring out the route is entertaining. Superman’s flying controls are okay, it didn’t take long to figure them out. Unfortunately, this isn’t only a racing game, it’s also a terrible action-adventure game. During the flying segments, you have to do some quick challenges. The first one is that you have a very tight time limit to do things such as pick up cars before they hit people; you WILL fail at this multiple times before you figure out what to do. Then it’s back to the flying. That was mostly fun.

After that is when the game got really bad: the first full action-adventure level. Here, you have to wander around a facility, do some vaguely-defined tasks, figure out where to go, and struggle to not turn the system off mid-level because of how bad the level, mission/objective, and combat design are. Combat in Superman is absolutely no fun! You can punch and use your abilities such as heat-vision and such, but combat is extremely clunky and doesn’t work well. Also, I hate wandering around in a level not knowing what I should be doing or where to go, but that’s a huge problem in this game; the objectives are stated but not clearly, and you often have time limits making things much more challenging than they should be. Time limits are not okay in any kind of open-world game, I really dislike them in something like this. But this game is all about tight time limits, every level has one and they’re horrible. I lost patience in the game somewhere in the second or third level, so I haven’t gotten anywhere near th end of the game. Still, I think I saw how the game plays fairly well. Superman for N64 is not good, but how bad it is is hugely overstated — the flight controls aren’t nearly as bad as people say, and the flying-through-rings gameplay is kind of fun, for me at least! It’s too bad that nothing else here is good. Superman is a disappointment. This is far from the worst game ever, but I find everything in the game that isn’t flying through rings quite frustrating and annoying to play. There is also a cancelled PS1 version of the game, but I don’t think it is publicly available; I’ve only heard about it, nothing more. The PS1 version and a similarly unavailable N64 beta rom are both supposed to be better than the N64 game as it was shipped. Apparently the licensor of the Superman name required a lot of changes to be made to the game shortly before launch. There’s a video out there of N64 beta-version gameplay, the flying-through-rings half of the game is gone, and you can actually freely fly around the city from the start. The basic gameplay looks just as bad as it is in the final game, though, so I don’t think that I, at least, would like that version much, if any, more than the released one. The majority of people who hate flying through rings probably would, though.

Susume! Taisen Puzzle Dama (J) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak (5 pages). Susume! Taisen Puzzle Dama is the N64 version of this long-running match-three block-dropping puzzle game series of Konami’s. No Puzzledama game ever released outside of Japan except for maybe one cellphone game in the ’00s, but in Japan there were many releases over the years. I have a few, including this one on N64 and the Tokimeki Memorial Puzzledama version on Saturn. The game is basically like Puyo Puyo, but faster-paced thanks to only having to match three similar things to destroy them instead of four. Otherwise though, it’s pretty much Puyo Puyo mixed with a bit of Puzzle Fighter. This N64 version includes three games in one, including two variants of the main game, Puzzle Dama and Tokkaedama, and a top-down bowling game. Yes, really; I’m not sure why it’s bowling. The visuals in the two puzzle games are good enough for the genre. The game has anime-styled art design and is entirely 2d. As in Puzzle Fighter, chibi versions of the characters fight in the center of the screen during matches. The music is great, as expected from Konami — it’s catchy stuff! In Puzzledama mode, the main arcade mode is a versus mode where you play against a series of opponents. You choose one of a crazy cast of characters, drop spheres, and try to set up chains so that the dropping spheres fall into places where at least three are touching, so that you can get big combos. The more balls you destroy at once, the more garbage blocks you will send at your opponent. Garbage blocks turn into regular balls once a match has been made in an adjoining space. Combos are essential, because the game gets VERY fast and challenging later one. This is a hard game, and beating all the opponents will requires skill and luck once the blocks move at their fastest speed. I really like Puzzledama, it’s simple but lots of fun. Design-wise, this game is anime-styled. The weird cast in this version is amusing; each character is unique and odd, from the infant aliens to the idol guy to the beauty-loving schoolgirl. I do dislike how almost all of the female characters are younger while most of the male characters are adults, though; definitely some Japanese stereotypes going on there. The game has few options within each mode, just difficulty settings really for your AI opponent, though there is a 2-player versus mode. As in Puzzle Fighter, there is no endless puzzle mode, only vs. cpu or vs. human play. The game has difficulty settings and a few other options, but it’s tough on any of them. Puzzledama is a great, addictive game that’s fun for hours.

Tokkaedama mode looks similar, but has some key rule changes. Again it is a puzzle game about matching spheres, but this time you move a cursor around the screen, and the blocks rise up from below. With the cursor you can pick up the item in a space and then switch it with the object in the next space you select and then hit the button on. So, it’s more versatile than Puzzle League/Tetris Attack; instead of just swapping pairs next to eachother, you can swap anything on the screen. This may sound easy, but it’s not; as in Puzzledama, it gets hard fast. Opponents will absolutely swamp you in garbage blocks! It’s often tough to keep up, though I do think Puzzledama mode is harder. Tokkaedama mode is fun, and it is nice to be doing something different, but I do like Puzzledama more, and mostly play that mode. Oh, Tokkaedama has the same (lack of) modes and options as Puzzledama. The last mode is the random bowling game. This is multiplayer only, so either you play against another human or just alone, and is quite basic visually — there is no 3d bowling alley here, just a basic top-down 2d lane as you’d see in a SNES game or something. It’s not too bad for basic topdown 2d bowling stuff, but it’s too simple to actually hold my interest for more than a game or two, single player or multi. I don’t know why they included this here, but it’s forgettable. Fortunately, thogh, the greatness of Puzzledama mode more than makes up for everything else, and while Tokkaedama mode isn’t as good, it’s still good, and it is great that both are included in one — some earlier versions of this game sell the two separately, as is the case for the Tokimeki Memorial games on PS1 and Saturn. Overall I really like Susume! Taisen Puzzle Dama, it’s fast, frenetic, and really fun for anyone who likes this genre at all. The game is faster paced than Puyo Puyo, and simpler than Puzzle Fighter, so it may not be as strategic as those games, but it’s plenty fun and challenging despite that. I recommended it for sure. Arcade conversion collection also on Playstation; other Puzzledama games are available on many other consoles, including Saturn, mobile phones, and more.

Uchhannanchan no Honoo no Challenger: Denryuu IraIra Bou (J) [Irritating Stick] – 2 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge. IraIra Bou, or Irritating Stick as the US PS1 version of this game was called, is a Hudson game, and a slightly improved converstion of the arcade game of the same name. This game is fun… if you like extreme frustration. Irritating Stick is a maze game. Inspired by those carnival games where you have to move a stick through an electrified maze without touching the sides (and if you do you get a little shock!), you have to move a circle that represents the tubular electric stick through a series of mazes, without touching the walls. The later game KuruKuru Kururin is sort of like this, except that series innovated by having you control a spinning rotor, instead of just a dot. I love Kuru Kuru Kuruin, so I got this hoping for something somewhat similar, and I was not disappointed. Frustrated, but not disappointed. There are only six different maze-like levels in this version of the game, unfortunately, presumably the same as the mazes from the arcade game it is based on. The later Playstation 1 followup has a lot more, apparently, and a US release as well, but as an N64 fan I had to get this version. Even with only six somewhat short levels though, Irritating Stick is a very, very hard game that will take quite some time to master! Getting through the harder mazes is a serious challenge, you will need near-perfect precision. The game saves your best times for each level to the cart. While you play a Japanese guy yells at you as you fail. I don’t usually like game commentators who insult me, but it’s not as bad when I don’t understand the language… and in THIS kind of game, it’s appropriate. For options, there is just single player, two player versus, a high-scores table, and options. In either mode, you choose one of the six levels, then a stick type — basically difficulty, as they vary in size and movement sensitivity to make the game easier or harder — and then it’s off to the maze. The fourth stick, on the right of the selection screen, is ‘easy mode’ — you get three hits before you die instead of the usual one, but high scores won’t be saved and this game is all about playing for score, so it’s just for practice. The two player mode is the same as one player, but splitscreen.

Visually, Irritating Stick has a simple but nice-looking style. The game uses 3d graphics, but levels play on a 2d plane. Each of the levels starts with a flying overview of the maze, and then you’re off. Levels are made up of metallic-looking lines that form the rails you must stay in, on simple, mostly-black backgrounds. Each level has a numerous obstacles to find your way past. Some are static maze elements to work your way through, while others involve moving pistons, coils, or more. Levels do have checkpoints, but it’s still very hard because of the precision required. You have to not only memorize what to do to get past each obstacle, but perfectly execute your movements. A good N64 analog stick is highly recommended for this game! Broken ones won’t get you far. You can move faster by holding A or Z, though watch out because while moving fast it is easy to hit walls. If you do hit a wall, the controller rumbles (in an emulation of the electric shock of the original carnival games), presuming you’re using a rumble pack as you should be, and you’re sent back to the start or the last checkpoint. One nice feature is that the game will display a ghost of your best run while you make attempts at the level you’re currently playing, to try to help you play better. You can’t save this, though, and playing a different level will erase it. Still, it’s great for finding better routes. Overall, Irritating Stick is, as the name suggests, irritating. This home console version may not literally shock you with electricity, but it sure will shock you with its incredibly hard and frustrating gameplay! But that’s what I wanted, something like Kuru Kuru Kururin but simpler, and that’s exactly what this is. Really the only flaw with the game is that htere are only six levels in this version, while the later Playstation version has more, and the very cool feature of a random maze generator too. I’ve never played the PS1 version, but would like to get it. I really wish the N64 had the random maze option, but sadly it doesn’t. The US PS1 version apparently cuts out the Japanese commentator and replaces him with an English-speaking one not nearly as irritating, but for this game that’s probably bad, so maybe get the import. So, I like this game and definitely recommend it if you like this kind of game as I do… but the added features in the PS1 version do make that maybe the better purchase. The Japanese N64 version has better boxart than either region’s PS1 release, though! Arcade port, also available on Playstation (where it released a bit later and has more features).

Wave Race 64: Rumble Pak Edition (J) – 2 player simultaneous, saves to cartridge, saves to controller pak (lots of pages, for save backup). Wave Race 64 is one of the N64’s first titles from 1996. This is a re-release of the game with rumble pak support added. Otherwise, it’s identical to the original Japanese version of the game… but it’s awesome anyway, and is the best version of this great classic for sure! Wave Race 64 + Rumble is a great combination. This version of Wave Race 64 released later on, probably only in Japan, and I don’t know why Nintendo didn’t push this in the US. It may just be a re-release, but the addition of rumble support really does improve the game! Wave Race 64 without rumble is an all-time classic, one of the many exceptional racing games on the N64 and probably the best water racing game ever made. The one flaw of Wave Race 64 is that it’s a short game with only seven tracks, you’ll beat it in a few hours. That’s really the one thing holding this game back. This version of the game doesn’t fix that problem, but the addition of rumble does add to the experience of of bouncing on the waves. There probably is no better choice of a pre-rumble N64 game Nintendo could have added rumble to than Wave Race 64, the rumble as you bounce on the waves feels great. Do know that this is the Japanese version though, so the menus are all in Japanese. I found it helpful to play my US copy of the regular game beforehand, to remember what is what in the menus. Otherwise though, this is a great, great game. Wave Race 64 has some of the best wave physics ever, incredibly great track designs, good graphics particularly for the water (parts above-water have aged, admittedly), great controls, and more. Apart from the limited amount of content, there’s nothing much else negative to say about this awesome classic. If you get one of the two rumble-added re-releases, make it this one. The original non-rumble version is also available on Wii Virtual Console, but I don’t know if this one is, perhaps not.

WinBack: Covert Operations – 4 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak (9 pages). Made by Koei’s Omega Force team now mostly known for Dynasty Warriors games and such, WinBack: Covert Operations is a third-person cover-based shooter. The game was somewhat popular, and for the time was a pretty original concept. In 1999, a cover-based third-person-shooter on consoles was a new-ish idea! Now, of course, the concept is ANYTHING but new, and I’m sure modern shooter fans will take issue with the controls here. Even so, this is a decent to good game. I don’t like third-person-shooters that much, and had never played this game before last year, but when I finally did play it, though I didn’t expect to, I liked it. For modes, there is training, story, and versus. I haven’t played the multiplayer, but it’s probably okay but not as fun as something like Perfect Dark. The game has a fairly stereotypical spy-action-movie story, decent graphics, okay controls, some variety, and plenty of challenge. You play as Jean-Luc, a special agent out to save the world from an evil organization trying to take over the world with a hijacked space weapons satellite. Hmm, never heard that plot before. There are plenty of cutscenes along the way that tell the story. The gameplay is more original for the time than the story, though. In each level you explore the stage, kill the enemies, and solve some basic puzzles that generally involve shooting things or hitting switches to make things happen — to destroy security lasers, start moving platforms, and so on. The level designs are good, and I like that the game does require some thought and isn’t just a brainless shooter. You will have to look around for items and things to interact with.

The controls definitely take some getting used to. A attaches to cover when you are not in cover; Z ducks; C-left and C-right move the camera left and right; the analog stick moves Jean-Luc; B reloads; and holding R pops out of cover, brings up your gun, and aims at the enemy in the middle of the screen. While holding down R, pressing A will now fire your current weapon. C-up switches weapons, and C-down shows who you are currently targeting. When near an item or door a green box appears around it, and A will interact with it. You can change some of the control settings, but those are the defaults and they work, with practice. If you hold down R while not in cover, you will bring up your gun, so that you can shoot at things such as those laser-trap switches. Fortunately the main pistol has a laser sight and infinite ammo, making aiming easy. Alternate weapons such as the shotgun or machine gun do have limited ammo, and you can only hold a couple of clips at a time so you have to use them judiciously. You also have some special weapons such as dynamite, which you oftne have to use in specific places for missions. Of course, since this is a cover-based game, large blocks such as cargo boxes and waist-high walls abound, providing you with plenty of places to hide behind while you reload or choose which enemy to shoot at (by moving the camera, generally). The game has auto-targeting for your current target, so hitting them is easy. This game isn’t easy, though! I, at least, find it pretty hard; the enemies do a good amount of damage, and you can only save at the end of each of the somewhat long levels, there are no checkpoints during them. Still, it’s fun enough to keep me coming back and trying again. Everything in each level happens the same way each time, so memorization is key; you won’t get through levels on the first try, you need to learn the stages. Visually, the game looks okay, but isn’t one of the better-looking N64 games — areas are very boxy and closed-in, and there is fog in places in larger areas. Environment detail is also only decent, not great, and textures are similar. Still, the game looks okay. Overall Winback has definitely aged, but it’s probably worth a look. The game is fun, and it’s interesting to see a time not long ago when the now super-cliche cover-based third-person-shooter was a new idea. Also available on PS2 (the game was ported to PS2 some time after its original N64 release). I only have the original N64 version. There is also a sequel for PS2 and Xbox; I haven’t played it.

World Driver Championship – 2 player simultaneous, saves to controller pak (11 blocks per season file). Boss Games’ World Driver Championship is a fairly highly-regarded N64 racing game for several reasons. First, the game has some of the best technical graphics on the system; and second, it is the N64’s closest thing to the super-popular Sony series Gran Turismo. So, it’s a part-sim and part-arcade console racing game, with a decently realistic driving model but not hardcore sim features. The problem is, I have never liked this kind of semi-sim racing game; I much prefer my racing games to be more arcadey than this. I love racing games which are futuristic, kart, weapon-based, and such. So yes, WDC has a very impressively high polygon count, a good framerate, detailed car models, great textures on both the cars and tracks, about ten courses to race on, lots of championships to challenge, cars to unlock which all look similar to real cars, and more, but it just doesn’t interest me very much. Sure, the game looks very nice, the cars particularly, and plays smoothly and well, but this is one of those racing games where you have to take the turns well or you will very easily spin out, and a spinout probably means you will lose and have to redo the circuit. You cannot save after each race, you see, in championship mode, but only between circuits, and even IF you get a retry they are very limited. I wasn’t expecting to find this game very fun when I bought it, and I don’t. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to do okay after some practice at the first few championships; I did finish in the top three, there. With practice I’m sure I could continue through the game, but I just don’t find this kind of game very fun! Real-life driving isn’t much fun at all, so I don’t know why a game which tries to be somewhat realistic should be a draw. It must be for some people, though, because Gran Turismo 1 and 2 are the two best selling games on the PS1 for some reason. I don’t have either one. If I REALLY wanted to play a racing sim, anyway, it’d be an actual sim, with things like car damage and serious handling modeling that you won’t find on console games like these, but only on PC games (and with a wheel, another thing I rarely use). I do wish this game had optional car damage, that would have been nice.

But anyway, I should discuss what I can about WDC. This game has only a few modes. There is single race, championship, a training mode where you just run around one track with no other options, the options menu, and that’s it. Some more modes would have been nice, though the championship mode will take some time to beat for sure, and there are multiple tiers of cars to get. The car library of only maybe a few dozen vehicles is also small compared to a Gran Turismo game, and the cars aren’t real licensed vehicles, but made-up ones that look similar to real cars. You can change some settings in the menu here, but they may not ‘stick’ once you get into a race, sometimes I had to change them again there. Once changed in-race (or in the championship menu) it does remember them, though. You can play either fullscreen (4:3) or a very, VERY letterboxed widescreen window. It’s really too bad that Boss didn’t support the Expansion Pak for a larger window in high-res mode, they really should have. This game released in ’99, well after the Expansion Pak was first made available. Top Gear Overdrive is a good example which shows how with the expansion pak you can increase the size of the high-res window in a racing game while not impacting performance much at all. Of course, Excitebike 64 is a counter-example, with a letterboxed high-res mode that has a lower resolution than low-res. The super-letterboxed high-res mode here runs fast though, so I’m sure Boss could have done a bigger window with the added RAM. Anyway, the graphics. They are indeed great, technically. Boss Games convinced Nintnedo to let them use custom microcode for this game, which means that it doesn’t have the same look as most N64 games do, it looks different. The polygon count is noticeably higher, but some other effects are off so the game has a bit more shimmering and such than most N64 games, I think. Also, while environments have good detail and great textures, the actual artistic design of the tracks is bland. The goal was clearly to be realistic, but realism to this degree just isn’t as interesting looking as something more fantastic, I think. The cars probably look better than the environments, though it all looks good. But with slippery controls that lead to frequent spinouts, a championship system which punishes you a lot for one mistake, and a semi-realistic design, overall I don’t like this game much more than I expected to. It is playable, and I can do okay at it with practice, but I just don’t find this kind of game interesting enough to keep playing. Just like real life driving, this kind of halfway-simmish driving game is not fun.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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