I'm more excited about this next batch of games than I was about the previous set because I remember a lot more about these. It's funny to me how I can remember the act of renting the game, and even visualize the cartridge sticking out of the top of console with blockbuster/Hollywood sticker on the side, but yet I can't recall details of the gameplay. I must have sat there for a good 15-20 minutes trying to remember some interesting anecdote for Snowboard Kids and Banjo-Kazooie but...blank. Weird. Anyway, I've gone over this next set of titles and I don't believe I will have that problem this time around. As always, I hope these memories of mine stir up a few of yours. Let's get started.
I remember playing this with three different people. The first was my cousin Alan, who came over the day I rented this. The second is my friend Jonathan and the third is my friend Danny. When Alan came over, I was not aware that he and his friend had just rented and returned this game. He was pleasant and played it with me, but I think he also wanted to play something else. With Danny, this was a game that we talked about a lot. He liked to use the Bug and he always made it Pink. If I remember right, he did it after Cheech Marin's car in Born in East L.A. He used to call it pink fury. When I played it with Jonathan, we spent most of the time looking for shortcuts and trying to get the most airtime possible. In fact, that's what I remember enjoying about the game most. For those who don't remember, San Francisco Rush is an arcade racer that was ported to both the N64 and PS1. The arcade itself had a cool thing you sat in, and the steering wheel would shake and vibrate. I did not play the actual arcade machine until well after renting N64 version though.
The racing was fun and all, but I think I had just as much fun crashing. Before the Burnout series showed up, this was the most fun I ever had crashing a vehicle in a video game. Your car could take damage over time and then would blow up in a nice fiery mess. It was neat. :) But even more fun than all of that was the stunt-driven shortcuts the game housed within itself. Not content with just having an alternate path, San Francisco Rush asked you to risk life and limb if you wanted to get a leg up on the competition. One in particular I remember is getting air off of a tiny fountain in a park. Hit it at top speed and your would launch skyward and if you aim was true, you would land on the rooftops of some buildings. Once on top, you had to align yourself just right to get from rooftop to rooftop. Any mistake and you exploded. I also remember you could select what music you listened to. One in particular was some guy going "WHOOAAA-OOOO-OOOO!" over and over again to music. It was fun. There was a Rush 2 released, as well as a San Francisco Rush 2049. I played the 2049 arcade once, but that was it.
I've said before that my folks have a friend who used to work for Focus on the Family. She has a son named Bryon (pronounced Brian) and since my name is also Brian and he has at least a decade on me, my family often referred to him as Big Brian. He was usually really cool with me. At one point in my early teenage years, his family got a new computer. It came with a bunch of demos for various computer programs and whatnot, but the coolest thing was a disc that had a bunch of shareware versions of dos-based shooters. Bryon said he wanted to show me some things so along with familiar games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3d, I was introduced to Dark Forces, Rise of the Triad, and Duke Nukem 3d that day. But my favorite game on that disc, by far, was Heretic. I'd never heard of it before, but it quickly became one of my favorite shooters. It may have been a Doom clone, but the fantasy setting and weapons made it feel like a brand new game. It was awesome. We got our own new computer eventually, and I borrowed that disc and played that shareware episode over and over again. Now, what does all that have to do with the N64 version of Hexen? I'm getting to that. Knowing my fondness for Heretic, Bryon eventually told about the game's sequel, Hexen. I was excited. What seemed liked only days after that, guess what Nintendo Power was covering in their latest issue? Needless to say, I couldn't wait to rent this game. When I did, I was able to play it not just with Bryon, but I think with Jonathan as well. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it very much.
I liked the idea of picking a character class. The fighter, cleric, and mage were all different enough to make you want to try each one. I was usually the fighter. Unlike Heretic, Hexen is not a level-by-level progression. After the first stage, each area of the game is a hub that connects you to different smaller areas. These had switches that had to be pulled to open up paths in the other areas and would ultimately solve a puzzle in the hub that would let you progress to the next one. It's kind of like Metroid, only much, MUCH, more confusing. During that rental, I never got past the first hub world, Seven Portals. I did not like not knowing what to do, and found the whole thing to be very disappointing. I did like the split-screen co-op though. Critics hated it. Many wondered why old games like this got ported when the world had already moved on to games like Turok and Goldeneye. You can't rent PC games though, so it made games like this accessible to people who couldn't play them otherwise. For example,to this day I've only played the shareware version of Quake on pc, while I almost beat it on the 64. So they served a purpose, in my opinion. Anyway, I played Hexen a few months ago and, with help, was able to reach the final area. I like it better than I did back then, but I'll still take Heretic over it any day.
I'm glad I've finally been able mention Bryon, because he comes up in a couple more rental stories. He wasn't involved with this game in particular, but he was responsible for introducing me to Legend of the Mystical Ninja on SNES. I'm glad he did because it became one of my favorite games for the console. From what I understand, the lead character, Goemon, was pretty popular in Japan, but not so much over here. He was in a Gameboy release before the Super Nintendo game, and I think that was it for the U.S. I liked Legend of the Mystical Ninja so much though, that even if I wasn't familiar with the character, I was willing to bet that this new game for the Nintendo 64 would be a lot of fun. You know the story by now; I read about it in Nintendo Power, got excited, and waited to rent it. When I finally did, I was looking forward to playing it but I didn't have much chance to that weekend.
What happened was that I spent the night over at Danny's house along with Jason and Greg, so we spent most of our game time playing multiplayer games. This is to be expected, and I had a ball doing so, but I also didn't forget that I had rented a game I was really looking forward to playing. I brought it with me, and I was able to play it for a little bit when I was there. I think I also played it some before I went to his house. And then Sunday we went to church and then took it back. Since I played it so little, there's not much for me to remember. It had kind of a Zelda feel to it, and there were four characters to play as. That's it. I'm pretty sure I tried to rent it again, but I don't think I saw it anywhere again. Which kinda sucks, but what can you do.
One look at this magical box art, and I'm sure memories will come flooding back to you. I have to tell you, this is one of those games that I was so excited to play, it was almost ludicrous. Nintendo sent me a promo video for this game and I watched it over and over and over...and over again. My feelings on kart racing already had me wanting to play this, but what really pushed me over the edge were the airplanes. Holy crap, you mean I get to fly planes and race go-carts?! Wait a minute, there's also hovercrafts so I can drive on water?! The game wasn't even out yet and it felt like Christmas morning!! I had my dad watch the tape almost immediately after he got home from work that afternoon and he thought it looked pretty cool too. In addition to those wonderful little planes, I loved the idea of combining the racing with Mario 64-ish exploration. Everything about this game just screamed brilliance to me. When the Nintendo Power issue that had the final review for it arrived in the mail, I read it without hesitation. It was glowing, and from that moment on it was a matter of counting down the days until that cartridge found it's way into my console. When I was able to rent it, my friend Jonathan came over and something funny happened. His dad dropped him off and he asked me if I had played Diddy Kong Racing yet, because they had it set up at Best Buy. I proudly told him it was sitting in my N64 as we spoke. His dad then turned to him and said "I knew it, I told he would rent it." It was a great moment, and the game turned out to be as good as I was hoping.
When this first boots up, you would be forgiven for thinking this is purely a kids game. It begins with the Rareware logo spinning in a sunshine filled sky while children laugh and giggle in the background. It then shows a little movie introducing all the characters. There's Diddy, Banjo, and even a cuddly little Conker before he had his infamous Bad Fur Day. Characters like Tipsy the mouse and Timber the tiger aren't just cute, they're friggin' adorable. But after spending some time with it, you start to realize that Mario Kart, this is not. I mean that in a good way. Diddy Kong Racing was something that many wouldn't think to be possible; a hardcore Kart racer. Yes there were items, but even if you upgraded them by collecting up to three of same one, there was nothing that would guarantee you an advance in position. They were meant to compliment your driving, not make up for it being lousy. Later boss battles required near flawless runs to win, and the second half of the game, especially token-collecting races, were no joke at all. It may have been cute, but it could kick your butt. The only way I was able to beat it, was borrowing it from a friend of mine who had unlocked T.T., the time trial clock. Racing was fun, and I also just enjoyed hopping in the plane and just flying around the hub world. Diddy Kong Racing is a N64 classic, and still one of my favorite racers. My only complaint is that I never owned it.
For console gaming Star Wars fans, Rogue Squadron was a dream come true. I can think of no other game at the time that made you feel like part of the Star Wars universe quite like this one. But even more than just being a great game, there's something about going on bombing runs over imperial bases and protecting convoys with your X-wing that just made you feel...cool. And while I did most certainly rent this game when it came out, all my memories of it stem from borrowing it or playing it with my friends. The only thing I recall specifically about renting it was having to wait before taking it home. My dad took me out, but after leaving the video store he had to stop somewhere else and pick up something. Unfortunately for me, it was from a hardware store. My dad is like the proverbial kid in the candy store when it comes to hardware stores, so I ended sitting in the car in the parking lot of Harbor Freight reading and re-reading the instruction booklet thinking that I've never heard of a V-Wing but I can't wait to fly one, while my dad picked up whatever he came for and got distracted by everything else. (I love you, Dad. Don't ever change. :)
As far as my friends go, I know Jason bought it, and I also played it with Danny. Jason was really good at getting gold medals. I used to watch him play it with a kind of awe, because he was just that good at it. There was a code that let you play as a car, but what stands out to me most is the Naboo Starfighter. It was fun to use and all, but the reason I remember it so fondly is I was with Danny when we found out about it. We were at Wal-Mart and we naturally gravitated toward the electronics section. Once there, we found an issue of Nintendo Power with a headline that read "Episode 1 code in Rogue!" Danny tore open the magazine, found the code, and then we both cursed ourselves for not having brought anything to write with. So Danny did the next best thing; he memorized it. Seriously, he memorized it right there on the spot and then when we got back to his house, we had a shiny new spaceship to play with. Man, I miss hanging out with those guys...
Body Harvest is something of a cult classic for the N64, but in my opinion it's also one of it's best games overall. It's funny, but all it took for me to become interested in this game was one screenshot. It showed a tank attacking a giant bug and to me, that was cool. When the game was released, Nintendo Power gave it a good review, and I was looking forward to playing it myself. I picked it up one afternoon and I liked it so much that I asked for it for Christmas. (I got it!) I took it to Danny's house and he became a fan as well. The plot was something straight out of a B movie; an alien race of giant bugs has enslaved earth in the future, and one man has escaped their tyranny to travel back in time and destroy their invasion at different points in the past. Yes, it sounds ludicrous, yet this open world adventure was anything but.
The game consisted of five stages. That might not sound like much, but they were quite large and took a couple of hours each to finish. The first three stages were Greece, A jungle, and America. I forget the 4th stage, but the 5th level was the alien homeworld where you got to drive a really cool hovercraft. While there were plenty of bugs to kill and plenty of guns to do it with, that wasn't the main focus. Each area had quests to complete, puzzles to solve, and NPC's to talk to in order to progress. Houses and buildings could be entered, and there were a lot of vehicles to use. Some were just for transport, like trucks and things, but once you got to America, cool things like tanks and helicopters became available to you. Eventually you engage a swarm which would then trigger a miniboss. Defeating that would act like a checkpoint. The end of level bosses were massive and had plenty of firepower of their own. It may be slower-paced compared to modern games, but I really enjoyed Body Harvest. There's nothing else quite like it on the N64 and I encourage anyone who hasn't played it to do so.
The last promo video I got from Nintendo showcased this game and Donkey Kong 64. Even though I loved the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES, DK 64 did not seem all that interesting to me. Jet Force Gemini, however, looked amazing. I remember it went through a period where the characters looked a lot younger, but then Rare grew things up some and development really took off. Renting this was a joy, but I bought no too long after and that's what I remember most. What I don't understand is that of all Rare's games released on the N64, this is the one that gets lost in the shuffle and nobody remembers. I'm not even sure it sold well because I bought it for only 20 bucks brand new only a month or so after it came out. I couldn't tell you why that is because this easily ties with Goldeneye as my favorite Rareware N64 game. Like Body Harvest, we find a bug race has invaded. This time though, it's a whole galaxy. The Jet Force consists of a boy, a girl, and a dog. (I forget their names, sorry.) As you planet-hopped across different environments, you took turns using each character, battling bugs and platforming.
There was a good variety to the gameplay. Some levels were straightforward, getting from A to B. Others had you defending outposts from waves of enemies. Sometimes you boarded ships. Bosses were screen-filling monstrosities that could take and dish out plenty of punishment. I also recall this game being dark at points. One of the first cutscenes shows a group of ant-like grunts executing a lined-up group of koala-ish villagers. One really cool thing is about halfway through the game, each character gets an armor upgrade. I don't remember the girl's, but the boy got a jet pack, and the dog basically turned into a tank that would morph into a hovercraft on water. The only area this game was weak in was multiplayer. My friends and I tried to work this into our rotation, but none of us took to it. We all enjoyed the game itself, but it just didn't work as well in multiplayer. It's no big deal, though. Jet Force Gemini more than stands on its own without it.
So ends part 3. I was hoping to have this done the previous week, but time just didn't permit it. Thanksgiving will have come and gone by the time this article is posted, so I hope everyone here had a great holiday. Until next time, stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.