Category Archives: Nintendo 64

#72: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: RPG Released: 1998 Developer: Nintendo

I could probably write an entire book listing all of the reasons why this is one of the best games (if not THE best game) ever made. However, I expect you’re one of the 7.6 million people who bought Ocarina of Time the first time around, so I needn’t bore you by listing things you already know. (And if you haven’t played it yet, what the hell’s wrong with you?)

Having said all that, it’s going to take all of my willpower to restrain myself from gushing pages of half-formed sentiment and multilayered superlatives, such is the impact this game had on me. Bear with me, and I will stoically try not to sound like a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who’s just seen her first boyband concert.

Long before Ocarina of Time was released, I remember hungrily devouring the first news about a new Zelda game for the N64 – and like most people, my first thought was: “What the hell’s an ocarina?” Of course, back in the 1990s I didn’t have Wikipedia to pump for information like some kind of coin-flipping, roll-up-smoking, police-informant cliché, so I’m not sure how I found out. There’s a strong chance that I may have even looked it up in a book. Now there’s an odd thought.

Brilliant, I found an ocarina! So... what's an ocarina then?

However I found out, I knew I wanted one immediately, but it wasn’t until I lived in Japan many years later that I achieved my goal of owning one of these mystical instruments. Sadly, the reality wasn’t quite as exciting as the game led me to believe. Playing my ocarina didn’t turn day into night or summon a horse to carry me across the plains of Hyrule, it just made a noise like a broken recorder. Although having said that, is it possible to tell a broken recorder apart from a non-broken one? If my memories of primary school band practice are anything to go by, recorders sound bloody awful whether they’re broken or not.

Of course, I didn’t really expect my ocarina to be magical, but the fact that I went out and bought one many years after playing this game shows just how much of an effect Ocarina of Time had on me (and a lot of other people too – famously, ocarina sales skyrocketed after this game was released).

Good old Epona - there's nothing quite like riding a video-game horse.

In terms of the actual game, whenever I think about Ocarina of Time the same image always sticks out in my mind – riding Epona (Link’s horse) across Hyrule Field. There was something really magical about being able to gallop across the entire game world – it gave me a sense of freedom that I’d never experienced before in a video game. Giving Link a horse was a stroke of genius: suddenly, getting from A to B was as much fun as actually arriving at B. In fact, often I’d be having so much fun just riding around and exploring that I’d forget about going to B entirely and end up stopping off at C before finding some kind of secret passage that led me to D, and before I knew it several hours would have gone by, my horse would be knackered and I’d be galloping towards Z and wondering where to go next.

There should definitely be more horses in video games, they’re so much more entertaining than cars. I mean, look at Shadow of the Colossus and Assassin’s Creed – some of the best bits involved galloping around on horseback, smiting your enemies.

Of course, the irony is that in real life I hate horses.

Anyway, like I said, Epona is one of the major reasons why Ocarina of Time is the wonderful game it is. Just have a look at the opening sequence above (make sure you have the sound turned up for the moody scene-setting music). Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine? I love that image of Link riding across the hills – there’s a sense of majesty that’s diametrically opposed to the cheap cinema thrills that are offered up by so many other video games. It’s like the game’s saying: “Yeah, we could show you lots of explosions and sword fights and that on the opening screen, but we’re better than that. We’re going to show you a horse galloping across a field, and you’re going to feel a sense of wonderment. Because that’s what we do.

Fishing has never been so much fun.

Right, let’s leave off horses for the time being and talk about something more interesting – fishing.

The amazing thing about Ocarina of Time is just how much effort and polish has gone into every last nook and cranny of the game, from individual lines of dialogue to the many varied and interesting subquests – including the addictive fishing minigame. It’s a mark of the game’s quality that even something as seemingly throwaway as a fishing subgame had so much thought and effort put into it that it could probably have been released as a game by itself. (I was going to make a terrible pun about it getting me “totally hooked” there, but I managed to pull back from the brink at the last moment.)

(Actually, I just realised I made exactly the same joke in the post on Sega Bass Fishing, so not only would it have been a terrible pun, it would have been repetitive too. Phew, that was a close one.)

See? It's not all just horses and fishing.

It’s not just the polish that makes the game stand out though – it’s the innovation. The rumble pak functionality for example – Nintendo had only released the rumble pak the previous year, and Ocarina of Time was the first game to truly use it to its full potential (the pad would vibrate if you were near treasure or if you got a bite in the fishing game). Then there’s Z-targeting, which allowed you to lock onto enemies in fights and circle around them – this concept was so radical and intuitive that it’s made its way into hundreds of 3D games since 1998, but it cropped up in Ocarina of Time first. And what about the day/night cycle? That was pretty damn clever too, and way ahead of its time.

As I said at the beginning, I could write a book about how fantastic this game is, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. Instead, just have a look at the video below and remember how this game changed the gaming landscape forever.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com/)

6 Comments

Filed under 1998, Nintendo, Nintendo 64, RPG

#55: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: Platform Released: 2001 Developer: Rare

Probably my favourite comedy series of all time is Spaced: not only is it very, very funny, you also get the impression that it was almost as much fun to make as it is to watch. Likewise with Conker’s Bad Fur Day – when you’re playing it you can almost see the developers chuckling to each other as they write the song lyrics for ‘The Great Mighty Poo’ or concoct a risque love story between a deadbeat bee and a busty sunflower.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the final games to be released for the Nintendo 64, and there’s a palpable last-day-of-term feel about the whole thing. On the game’s release in April 2001, no-one was really paying much attention to the N64 anymore – at the time it was regarded as a sort of  living fossil that encapsulated outdated ideas of what a console should be like. Its clunky, expensive cartridges seemed utterly out of touch with the Playstation generation, and by 2001 it was getting difficult to even find N64 games in the shops – my local Game store had reduced its N64 stock to just three paltry shelves on the end of an aisle.

Kerching!

All attention was focused on the brand new ‘sixth generation‘ systems – Sega had launched the Dreamcast back in 1999, Sony had unleashed the Playstation 2 (currently the best-selling games console of all time) in 2000  and Microsoft was planning the release of the Xbox by the end of 2001. Nintendo too was busy preparing for the launch of the GameCube, and seemed to be paying little attention to its current ‘lame duck’ console as it served out the end of its term (just 12 games were released for the N64 in 2001). In other words, the conditions were perfect for a game to be sneaked out that went against all of the notions of what a ‘traditional’, family-friendly N64 platform game was supposed to be like.

There was a fair old amount of swearing in the game, but the developers stopped short of the 'f' word.

The character of Conker the Squirrel had previously appeared in Conker’s Pocket Tales for the Game Boy Color, an unremittingly cute, kiddie-friendly platformer with some sort of twee plot about finding your girlfriend’s lost birthday presents. The N64 version – titled Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – was set to be in the same vein, but at some point during the game’s development, the programmers had a drastic change of heart. Possibly, they watched an episode of South Park and thought “Ooh, let’s do that.” Whatever happened, the result was a game that endeared itself to smutty-minded teenagers worldwide  – if they could find it in the shops that is.

Kids, look away now...

The humour in the game is undeniably puerile, with an emphasis on toilet jokes throughout, but most of the gags hit the mark, and parts of the game are laugh-out-loud funny. There’s also a bit more to it than you might think – film references abound, and as well as obvious nods to Alien, there’s a lovely Clockwork Orange pastiche near the beginning.

Importantly, the game buried beneath all the nob gags is pretty darn solid too. It borrows a lot from Rare’s excellent Banjo-Kazooie, and the graphics and sound effects are easily some of the best produced for the N64. In fact, the amount of speech in the game is truly staggering considering the limitations of the cartridge format.

Beats me kid, beats me.

If you missed this game the first time around, I’d highly recommend procuring a copy of it if you still have a working N64 (although due to its rarity, be prepared to shell out £50 for a boxed copy with instructions). Alternatively, you could try the Xbox remake Conker: Live & Reloaded, but be warned that it was heavily censored – who’d have thought, what with their reputation for producing consoles littered with bloody first-person shooters, that Microsoft would end up being more prudish than Nintendo?

Now brace yourself… for your pleasure and delight, it’s The Great Mighty Poo (not for those of a sensitive disposition):

And as an added bonus, here’s the infamous ‘pollination’ scene (listen out for the Withnail & I reference):

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

6 Comments

Filed under 2001, Nintendo 64, Platform, Rare

#16: GoldenEye 007

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 1997 Developer: Rare

Facility level + Licence to Kill mode + Pistols only = Best multiplayer game ever? Discuss. 

goldeneye_box

The thing that most impressed about GoldenEye was just how far ahead of its time it was in terms of gameplay features, such as the huge weapon set, the cleverly designed levels and the sheer range of multiplayer options. When you compare it to the other first person shooters (FPSs) that came out on the N64 in 1997 – Doom 64, Hexen, Duke Nukem 64, Turok – it’s clear that GoldenEye was just leaps and bounds ahead of the opposition. It’s all the more astonishing, therefore, to learn that the multiplayer mode was added as ‘a complete afterthought’.

goldeneye-cave

I think the most staggering achievement of this game is that it’s actually impossible to get bored of it. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I dread to think just how many nights of my teenage years were consumed by marathon GoldenEye sessions. If GoldenEye were to appear on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) tomorrow (which is unlikely to happen for various reasons), I’m sure that it would garner just as many online players as some of the more recent FPS efforts, like Call of Duty. Actually, I really hope that GoldenEye doesn’t appear on XBLA – I spend enough time playing video games as it is, and XBLA GoldenEye might just send me over the edge into game zombie oblivion.

goldeneye-map-room

The more I write about this game, the more I want to play it again. There are just so many stand-out moments: such as lacing the toilets in the Facility level with mines, then gleefully detonating them when your hapless opponent walks in. Or fighting over who gets to play Oddjob in multiplayer (he’s so short, it’s almost impossible to hit him). Or playing with rocket launchers only on the miniscule Archives level. Or shooting an enemy agent in the balls and watching him crumple to the ground clutching his groin (puerile admittedly, but fun nonetheless). Or cathartically executing Natalya after she gets lost for the umpteenth time (it means a Game Over screen, but it’s worth it). Or annoying the hell out of your best friend by consistently defeating him with a karate chop to the back of the head (in the game that is, not in real life).

goldenye_four_player

I could go on, but I think it’s better if you just watch the video below and relive the memories yourself.

Facility level.

Licence to Kill mode.

Pistols only.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Lewis

 

PS. I couldn’t end  this post without mentioning the brilliant ‘GoldenApple’ spoof that was filmed by the GamesMaster and NGamer magazines – watch it for yourself below:

And if you liked that, the ‘GoldenEye Facility Remix’ is also worth a look:

7 Comments

Filed under 1997, First Person Shooter, Nintendo 64, Rare