15 years ago today, on September 29, 1996, Nintendo's third home console was unleashed on the American video game market (as long as you discount the few stores that allegedly released the system early). The Nintendo 64 was hyped to bring the gaming technology to a whole new dimension with its then-stunning 3D graphics and the revolutionary (for Nintendo) new joystick controller. Over its five year lifespan, the N64 had reached both the highest apexes (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) and the lowest depths (Superman 64). While it didn't live up to its predecessors in either sales or game library, the Nintendo 64 still occupies a significant place in the history of video gaming.
Five years ago, I wrote a short and somewhat cumbersome history of the Nintendo 64 in honor of its tenth anniversary, which you can read here. There is no real reason to produce an updated history of the Nintendo 64, as the only major events in past five years are the releases of old N64 games on the Wii's Virtual Console (ported) and the Nintendo 3DS (remastered). Therefore I have decided to make this a much more personal project. Every Nintendo 64 fan would have their own stories about their experiences with the system, and I have decided to tell my story by counting down my 15 favorite Nintendo 64 games. While this countdown format would lead to a non-chronological story, I hope that I would be able to share why the Nintendo 64 is so significant in my gaming career. And more importantly, I hope I would inspire you to share your own stories. For each game I will present a simple plotline, my own personal history, and a favorite memory of mine.
Before we get started, I'll present the ten games that didn't quite make it into the top 15, presented in alphabetical order. (Release dates are American unless stated otherwise)
Release Date: April 14, 2001 (Japan only)
Okay, I kind of cheated on this one. I've never actually played this game for the Nintendo 64, but I played the heck out of Animal Crossing (which is essentially Animal Forest+) in 2002 and also experienced the Chinese port on the iQue Player. Nevertheless, I like the series for making the most mundane tasks weirdly wonderful, and if I ever import the game, I'd enjoy it like I did the American and Chinese counterparts. Heck, the Totakeke songs alone are worth the price of admission.
Release Date: June 30, 1998
Banjo was one of my least favorite characters in Diddy Kong Racing, so imagine my surprise when it was announced that he'd be getting his own game. I was skeptical when I first played the game in 1998, and didn't give it much playtime before my 6-month hiatus from video games. I gave it another shot in 2002 after getting more experience with Rare platformers, and became a fan of the game for its ability to balance voluminous collecting and vast levels to explore.
Release Date: December 1, 1997
Developer: Hudson Soft
I will admit that not only have I never beaten the single player mode for Bomberman 64, but I've never even touched it. However, the game more than makes up for it with its surprisingly fun and intense multiplayer mode, and it eventually became the primary multiplayer game during the 1997 holiday season between my group of friends, when it launched the infamous "Happy Hell Song." "I'm a happy hell! You're a happy hell! And when we get together, we sing the hell song!"
Diddy Kong Racing
Release Date: November 14, 1997
My sister and I were big fans of Mario Kart 64, so my sister contemplated getting Rareware's mascot racer for Christmas 1997 to go with my Super Mario 64 gift. She decided against it and got something else instead. Nevertheless, our friends got the game that Christmas, and we got a chance to play it. I wasn't terribly blown away by the game's single player mode, which was supposed to set it apart from Mario Kart 64. Perhaps it's because I never had a chance to get good at it. But the multiplayer is a blast and more than makes up for it. Fire Mountain, anyone?
Release Date: October 26, 1998
The days before my family moved from Kansas to Virginia in June 1999 were a bit of a strange time for me. We were staying with my closest friends and played Mario Party when we were together, but once I was by myself I spent most of my time playing Nintendo's futuristic racer, which we played together but never for very long. I got good enough to get first place on Expert Mode. When we moved it would be my last time playing F-Zero X for years. When I played the game again in 2003 I got my arse handed to me, which begs the question, how did I ever get good at the game?
Release Date: February 5, 2001
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Paper Mario was a significant release for the Nintendo 64 back in 2001, being one of its few RPG titles, and a semi-sequel to Square's legendary Super Mario RPG on top of that. I've never been much of a turn-based RPG fan, so I never gave it a shot until two years later, when I bought it to complete the collection of top 10 Nintendo 64 games on the list I generated. The Mario storyline drew me in initially, but it was the impeccable balance between platforming and role playing elements in both the overworld and the battles that kept me playing.
Pokemon Puzzle League
Release Date: September 25, 2000
Developer: NST/Intelligent Systems
Puzzle games are my sister's passion, and a puzzle game with a Pokemon exterior is an added bonus, which is why Pokemon Puzzle League became her major Christmas present in 2000. I didn't quite share her passion, but I was willing to give it a shot. After all, what other Nintendo 64 has the anime Misty that I had a massive crush on? However, getting creamed time and time again turned me away. I eventually got back to the game after discovering the 3D mode, and getting enough practice to hold my own in 2D mode, with an 8-level handicap of course. And...it's got MISTY!
Release Date: June 30, 1999
Developer: HAL Laboratory
With Pokemon fever at its peak back in 1999, Nintendo felt it was an apt time to bring the series to the Nintendo 64. I was surprised to hear that it would be a rail shooter where you shoot pictures of Pokemon. I had imagined that it would be more like what Pokemon Stadium would be. However, my sister and I were big enough Pokemon fans to be willing to try it out, and we were quite impressed. Snap may be a gimmick game, but we ended up spending far more time trying to set high scores on pictures than we did playing Pokemon Stadium.
Sin and Punishment
Release Date: November 21, 2000 (Japan Only)
Sin and Punishment was one of the most anticipated games in the last half of 2000, but it never made its way stateside. Nevertheless, it was imported by many, and eventually made its way onto the top 50 in the top Nintendo 64 list I was maintaining in 2002-04. I wanted scans of the backs of the boxes of top 50 game, but the only way to get it for Sin and Punishment was to import it myself, which I did in summer of 2004. Sin and Punishment ended up being an entertaining rail shooter that was fun to play. And it introduced me to the world of imports.
Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey
Release Date: October 31, 1996
I've never been much of a hockey fan. I can't sit down and watch a hockey game like I can with baseball or even football. However, when my friend invited me to play Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey - the first four-player Nintendo 64 game, I was surprised by how much fun it was. We mostly enjoyed going around checking anybody we can get our hands on, with fights being the highlight of all of our hard work. The fast and furious pace and the excellent announcer helped make this an experience even non-hockey fans can enjoy.
15. Mario Tennis
Release Date: August 28, 2000
Developer: Camelot and Nintendo
Story: It was a beautiful day, and Mario and his friends decide to hit the courts for a friendly game of tennis. However, they failed to invite Wario and his new friend, the devious Waluigi. The embittered duo retaliated by interrupting the final match between Mario and Luigi, and challenging the two to a no-holds barren doubles match. Luigi's non-chalant attitude angers Waluigi, and Wario gets in Mario's face as the latter was trying to break up the fight. The tensions were at a break point when they were interrupted by Bowser and his crony Boo. Everybody feared another invasion, but Bowser revealed that he just wants to join in with the tennis. Mario realizes his mistake and declares that everybody can play, much to everyone's delight. However, this marks the beginning of some of the most contentious and thrilling moments in Mushroom Kingdom history.
Personal Story: I'll admit that I've never been much of a fan of sports video games. As a certified couch potato I am perfect satisfied sitting back and watching the actual athletes do the work for results that will actually matter in the record books. Furthermore, tennis was one of those sports that I never really enjoyed. I never played tennis, and I never bothered to watch any tennis on television. The only tennis game I played before 2000 was Mario's Tennis on my cousin's Virtual Boy, and being a Virtual Boy game, that was an absolutely miserable experience. However, when my sister said she wanted Mario Tennis, I didn't have any objections. I like Mario games, so long as they are in vibrant color on a television screen and not blotches of red on a tiny little screen that you have to hunch over to see anything. When Christmas of 2000 came, we opened Mario Tennis for its greater multiplayer potential.
I can no longer recall the specifics from our first Mario Tennis match, but I do remember my reaction: "Wow, this tennis stuff isn't half bad." Over the winter of 2000, my sister gravitated toward her other video game present, Pokemon Puzzle League, while I stuck with Mario Tennis. My sister and I had a lot of great doubles moments where we'd have fun screwing around with each other's serves and watching flying enemies elevate as we toss the ball in preparation for the serve. However, most of my playing time was spent by myself. I'd play around the the Piranha Challenge, unlock the random courts that are hidden in the game, but I spent much of the time on the tournaments. I had started a tournament as Yoshi close to the first night I played the game, which I finished in the middle of the night (more on that later). When I found out later in 2001 that there were special cups that you unlock by beating Star Cup for everybody, I set aside Conkers Bad Fur Day for a moment and went back to experience the star tournaments in Mario Tennis. In the end I'd like to think I got pretty good, especially after I beat my friend who liked to think he was pretty good.
However, by 2002 my interest in Mario Tennis was waning. With the Nintendo Gamecube available there was something else to hold my interest until I was no longer pulling it out to play the occasional tournament. In 2003 I was challenged to a Mario Tennis match against a high school friend at UVA who liked to think he was pretty good, and after winning the first game I spent the rest of the match getting my arse handed to me. Mario Power Tennis was released for the Gamecube a year later, and we never got it, feeling that it was far too gimmicky. We had generally stayed away from the Bowser Court for that sole reason. I finally imported the title last year, but even then I didn't play it for very long. Still, if I got anything out of my year-long interest in Mario Tennis, it is a new-found appreciation for the sport of tennis. I am now able to watch tennis on TV and know what is going on, even if I don't quite grasp the intricacies. I am able to look at the Isner-Mahut match at Wimbledon 2010 and say "That's awesome" rather than "Say what?" I still haven't actually played tennis, but as they say, baby steps first.
Favorite Memory: There are plenty of good memories to choose from, including the first time I played the special cups, or the first time I turned the game on without a controller. (You should try that for yourself...it's quite funny), but my favorite memory is perhaps the first Star Cup battle I had, which pit Yoshi against Birdo. With two speed players facing each other one can reach virtually any shot, leading to volleys that can last for several minutes. It was a bitter battle, and I had to save a lot, but in the end Yoshi came out victorious!
14. Mario Party 2
Release Date: January 24, 2000
Developer: Hudson Soft
Story: A year after the events of Mario Party, Mario and his friends collaborate to build a new amusement park in the Mushroom Kingdom. However, Mario's decision to name the place "Mario Land" turns into a point of contention, as everybody clamors to be the park's namesake. This rift generates a tremendous amount of discord and threatens the peace and teammwork the group enjoyed. Bowser sees this development and attacks the new amusement park. After much difficulty, Toad finally gets the attention of the warring parties and declare that whomever can defeat Bowser in the park's various areas can claim the park's name. This encourages everybody to take the war of words and turn it into a war of mini-games. The adventure is only just beginning.
Personal Story: I loved Mario Party (more on that later), and remember thinking "Wouldn't it be great if Nintendo releases another Mario Party game with new mini-games?" However, I never really thought that it would happen. Apparently I underestimate the power of a million seller. Sometime in December 1999, my friend came to school with the January 2000 issue of Nintendo Power, and the game on the cover was none other than Mario Party 2. The issue previewed the different levels and all the new mini-games with just a short blurb and a picture. That was enough to capture my interest, and Mario Party 2 quickly got to the top of my list of games to get. However, in my naivete I didn't comprehend the fact that the folks and Nintendo Power got to play the game months before the game was supposed to go gold. When I went to Michigan after Christmas my aunts wanted to get us a Christmas present. I asked for Mario Party 2. They had no idea what it was, so I went with my aunt in a search around the East Lansing area for a store that sells video games. That's when I found out that the game wasn't supposed to ship until January 24, 2000. I ended up getting a Misty backpack, which I didn't mind because I was obsessed with Misty.
I was able to survive the wait for Mario Party 2 by playing the first Mario Party, which I got for Christmas in 1999. It didn't make it any easier, since every time I played the game I couldn't help but think about the impending sequel. My parents agreed to get me Mario Party 2 for my birthday, which would come a day after the release date, but realistically I won't get the game until the weekend. On the night of January 24, 2000, I snuck downstairs to watch Marty, the 1955 winner of Best Picture, which I hadn't seen before. I went back into bed knowing I'd be tired, but glad that I got another Best Picture winner out of the way. The next morning I found out that while I was watching the movie, a snowstorm was brewing outside, and school was canceled. Not only was I able to get Mario Party 2, but I was able to play the game without waiting for the weekend. By noon the large roads were mostly cleared, so we went to the Best Buy in Reston Town Center to get the game I'd been wanting for a whole month and a half.
Over that month and a half, I'd built up a considerable amount of hype, and the thing about hype is that one would usually get disappointed with the results. I wasn't disappointed with Mario Party 2, but I'd be lying if all of the mini-games fulfilled my expectations. It was a solid sequel that provided hours of entertainment. They made a few positive changes, such as eliminating the joystick-spinning mini-games, and making the mini-game coaster a bigger challenge than the mini-game island in the original. Nevertheless, unlike some other Mario Party fans, I never felt that Mario Party 2 would challenge the original as the top Mario Party game. For one thing, I was able to enjoy Mario Party with friends for a long time, the only people around to play the sequel regularly was my sister. Controlling four players with two people was fun for a while, but definitely not long enough to last for months. When the friends with whom I played Mario Party came to visit in March, we spent most of the time out and never had time to play. And when we went to visit them in July, we had moved on. That certainly isn't the game's fault, and while it can never surpass the original for me, it is still a solid party game that is worth revisiting once in a while.
Favorite Memory: Mario Party 2 is a fun game, but many of its moments have come to blend together. My favorite moment may just come back in December 1999, which was the first time I read my friend's issue of Nintendo Power highlighting the game. As I sat there reading about all of the interesting new mini-games, I kept imagining myself playing the game. It was the first time that hype entered my life. While the game itself was by no means a disappointment, it was the feeling of hype that sticks with me even after all these years.
13. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
Release Date: October 7, 2000
Developer: Quest, Dual Corporation
Story: Unrest is building up in the puppet nation of Palatinus, itself ruled by the Holy Lodis Empire, and young "Your Name Here" Gallant is sent to quell the uprising. However, he sees the radical inequalities that is present in Palatinus, and elects to desert and join forces with the revolutionaries along with his friend Diomedes. This begins a long and difficult war that will send the revolutionaries against the Palatinian army, the armies of the Holy Lodis Empire, and armies even more powerful and more dangerous than them. "Your Name Here" must take command of the revolutionary army and steer them not only toward victory, but also away from the dreaded Worst Ending, but the odds are stacked against him.
Personal History: One of my friends is a major RPG/strategy game fan. The Nintendo 64 is tragically devoid of RPG or strategy games, so when Ogre Battle 64 was announced sometime in 2000, my friend couldn't stop talking about it. He was a big fan of Tactics Ogre for the PlayStation, and was absolutely excited about the Nintendo 64 version. I was never much of a fan of RPG or strategy games, so when the game was finally released in October of 2000 the only thing I hear about it was how rare the game is, being an Atlus release. Nevertheless, my friend scored a copy. He talked about the game for a little bit, but ultimately he moved on to something else. He either beat the game, or the hype machine got too much and he never felt the urge to beat the game. Either way we all moved on.
In 2003, I was compiling a top 100 Nintendo 64 games list for GameFAQs, and one thing I noticed was that Ogre Battle 64 was scoring very well, consistently staying in the top 20. By that time I had begun to enjoy certain strategy games, and I asked my friend if I can borrow his copy of the game. He was more than happy to lend it to me as he had pretty much stopped playing the Nintendo 64 altogether. The game was a bit slow to get into at first, but I quickly discovered the ability to change the characters' names. I soon began to name every character based on something near and dear to me. A random soldier named Ladish eventually received the name "Radish." Initially I was satisfied to simply rename all of the characters, but by the end of the year I was trying to keep track of all of the characters' levels, and giving certain characters special items and abilities. Radish eventually became one of my most powerful characters, and even became the leader of a unit. I would eventually spend more time customizing my characters and figuring out how to optimally level up some of my favored characters than I did trying to beat the level. As a result, my progression through the game soon slowed to a near standstill.
I would eventually enter a stage where I would spend several hours playing through two or three missions, and end up physically and mentally exhausted that I'd put the game away for between a week and a month before pulling it out again, playing other games in the meantime. I was still toying around with my armies in 2004 and 2005. I was so involved with customizing my armies that I had neglected some of the other things the game offered, such as awesome new attacks or the concept of character alignment. I was just letting the nearest unit take over a certain town, unaware of the consequences of my actions. In 2006 I finally beat the game only to find that my character was ousted, and the new kingdom I spent three years building turned into a muddled mess. I wanted to play through the game again to try to get a better ending, but I didn't want to delete my file or my sister's file. I imported the game in 2007, but the language barrier turned out to be a bit too steep, and I never got very far. I bought the game off of the Virtual Console last year, but it's kind of hard to play it without a Wii. Perhaps all this is just an excuse to avoid the strain of playing through a game that took me three years to beat, but all in all I highly enjoyed those three years. I still want to play through the game again.
Favorite Memory: The Ahzi-Dahaka dragon is an enemy with perhaps my favorite attack in the game: Earthquake, which sends your enemies sailing down a vortex. It's funny to watch your enemies in agony as they get eaten up by the vortex. Unfortunately, for the longest time the Ahzi-Dahaka is always on the opposing team, owning my own players. Finally, sometime in 2005, I decided to use one of my Love and Peace items to try to persuade an enemy to join our side. Lo and behold, it worked. I finally had an Ahzi-Dahaka on my team. I named it Brock, and I can finally watch and laugh as it wreaks havoc on enemy troops.
12. Harvest Moon 64
Release Date: November 30, 1999
Developer: Toy Box, Victor Interactive
Story: Your beloved grandfather, with whom you spent many happy summers, has passed away abruptly, and he has left his now-decrepit farm to you. You make the fateful decision to come down from the city and take over his farm. It is now up to you to rebuild his farm and bring it to further glory, but you do not have to do it alone. The good people of the town are all there to help you to accomplish this goal, even if it is just to help you pass the time as you struggle with the lonesome winter days. And with five available bachelorettes, you might just meet the love of your life, but there are five other bachelors out there, and one of them will have his eyes out for your special someone. Can you win her love before it's too late?
Personal History: My friend had a subscription to Electronic Gaming Monthly in late 1999 and early 2000, and I liked to look through them. One game that captured my attention was Harvest Moon 64, mostly because it had a cute girl on the ad. The game was supposed to be the sequel to the Super NES classic. I had heard of the original, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. My friend said it was a farming simulation game, which seemed strange to me. Mind you, this was ten years before Farmville launched. I didn't think much more of it until a few months later, when my friend told me that he had gotten Harvest Moon 64. This piqued my interest because I was curious to see how fun a farming sim can be. The farming aspect of the game was a bit mundane. You go around clearing the land, planting crops, taking care of animals etc. However, it was what you did outside the farm that was really interesting. You can go around and interact with the townsfolks, collect items to sell, or partake in festivals that occur on certain days of the year. My sister was also interested, and eventually she was able to borrow the game.
My sister got the hang of the game extremely quickly. She was able to perfect her farming skills so that she was able to get through her daily chores before the morning was over in the game. When I tried my hand at farming, I ended up spending the entire day trying to water all of my crops, leaving no time for the interesting part of the game. So I resigned myself to watching my sister play, which didn't bother me at all. I was able to experience the fun part of the game while doing none of the work. The best part of Harvest Moon 64 is that it the dating sim element, where you try to woo one of the other girls to be your wife. My sister always went for Ann, the girl in the ad, but she was able to win the hearts of all of the other girls. She liked the game so much she asked for it for her birthday in July of 2000. She played it so much that she was able to get married and have a successful farm in only two weeks. I wasn't the only person mesmerized by its allure. When we went to Kansas the friends with whom we were staying would stop whatever they were doing to watch my sister play. Of course it was in Kansas that one of the great tragedies occurred. While my sister always married Ann, she did have a soft spot for Karen, the rogue whose goal is to leave the town. My sister wanted Karen to marry her appointed bachelor Kai, but was worried that she was too much in love with the main character, so she would give her weeds to drop her affection. One day she went to the beach and saw that Karen had made the decision to leave. It was a crushing blow, and her playtime decreased after that.
We went to Taiwan in summer 2002, and my sister decided to pull out the game and play it. My young cousin was kicking a soccer ball around when the unthinkable happened. The soccer ball came and hit the game, causing it to freeze. When she turned it back on, her file had been erased. She went for a little while longer before trying to play the game again, fearing that the game broke. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise. My sister was able to figure out that in order to get Karen to marry Kai you had to restore the old grape tree on her vineyard. After she had completed that task, Kai announced his engagement virtually the next day. And with that, my sister began playing the game again. I stayed around to watch, but had to go off to college a year later. Three years after that, in fall of 2006, I had a Nintendo 64 and my sister had her copy of Harvest Moon 64. I decided to try my hand at it. My sister had built a greenhouse in my file. The greenhouse lets you do all the planting without time passing in-game. This allowed me to take forever with the farming chores and still have a chance to go out and interact. I went on a massive Harvest Moon 64 kick where I'd spent up to five hours a night playing. This just showed me what was so great about the game. In spite of its simple graphics and sound, it is abundant in one thing that is too often lacking in games: authentic emotional involvement.
Favorite Memory: Cliff the drifter is the rival for the love of Ann the rancher. If you end up marrying Ann, Cliff will eventually leave the town for good, which is a problem for my sister since she always marries Ann. Well in my file I decided to marry another girl, Elli, giving Cliff a chance to get the girl of his dreams. When I finally played far enough in my marathon plays in 2006, I finally got to see Cliff marry Ann.
11. Donkey Kong 64
Release Date: November 24, 1999
Story: The nefarious K. Rool and his brother/prisoner K. Lumpsy has crash-landed against the D.K. Isle, and he decided to take this opportunity to take care of his nemesis Donkey Kong once and for all. He has not only stolen D.K.'s treasure trove of bananas, banana medals, and 200 golden bananas, but he has also kidnapped Diddy and three other companions. D.K must rescue his friends and also reclaim what is rightfully his. But while the Kongs are engaged in some of the most extensive and at times tedious collecting to have ever graced the Nintendo 64, K. Rool is working on something that is far more deadly. Can the Kongs collect their way to victory? Or will K. Rool finally have the upper hand?
Personal History: I had liked Rare's Donkey Kong games. I enjoyed playing Donkey Kong Country for the Super NES, even though I never beat it, and I got a 100% in Donkey Kong Land for the Game Boy. Yet I wasn't too impressed with Banjo-Kazooie when I first played it in 1998, and was a little bit wary of Donkey Kong 64 upon its release in late 1999. Perhaps I wasn't being fair, but I found the gargantuan levels a bit intimidating. However, my friend got the game, and in early 2000 he showed me a map included in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly that showed the locations of all the golden bananas in the first four levels. I never had qualms about using walkthroughs, and using those maps as a guide, we were able to get through the game slowly but surely. As I was playing through the game, what was once a factor that kept me away from the game - the ridiculously huge levels and the copious amounts of collecting - became something that I liked about the game. I also rediscovered what I liked about the older Donkey Kong games by Rare: the art design, the level design, the snappy music, and the twisted sense of humor. When we finished with the first four levels, we bravely moved on to the other three levels, and the final timed stage, which we failed the first time through.
When I went to Kansas in August of 2000, I started playing through an uncompleted file of the friends with whom I was staying. The file was just around 20% complete when I started. I realized that the maps really weren't necessary, since none of the golden bananas were really hidden. You go to an area and complete all of the tasks they have there, then you move on to the next area. There were moments that gave me the fits: the Donkey Kong arcade game, Diddy's flying task around the tree in Fungi Forest, the second race against the annoying beetle, any game of Beaver Bother, and the final minecart mini-game. However, in spite of all this, I had a blast with the game. I was in Kansas for only a week, but I was able to bring it from 20% all the way to 101%. Donkey Kong 64 eventually became one of my new favorite games. When I returned from Kansas, I went to my friend to borrow his copy of the game so I can play through the game from 0% to 101%. It wasn't just the single player mode that captured my interest. I also spent many rip-roaring hours on Rambi's Arena running around as Rambi the rhino and destroying the annoying gopher enemies.
From 2000 to 2003 I must have played through the game at least half a dozen times. Most people would find that to be madness, but I personally find the mindless collecting to be somewhat soothing. However, there were those frustrating moments, and each time I played through the game those moments got just a little bit more grating. And all of the other collecting just got a little bit less therapeutic. I destroyed my black Nintendo 64 controller in a fit of rage after another failed attempt in one of the tasks in December 2000. Pretty soon I stopped playing the game, mostly because I was dreading the frustrating moments. In 2005 I started my latest playthrough of the game. I got through the first two levels just fine, but I stopped playing the game until 2006, mostly because I was dreading the DK arcade game. And I waited until 2007 to play through the fifth level because it had the soul-crushing jet-pack around the tree sequence. And that was the last I played until 2011, because the sixth and seventh levels alone had half of the frustrating sequences. I finally picked up the game this past July and finished those last two levels, cursing my way through the annoying moments. However, when I beat the game I felt that I had a good time. That just goes to show what I think of Donkey Kong 64 today: a solid game with flawed moments, and that's really just too bad.
Favorite Memory: When I was playing through the game with my friends in Kansas in 2000, there was the talk about the secret ending that you get when you get 101%. The problem was my friends only had 100%. We were missing a battle crown from Crystal Caves. After playing through Crystal Caves in my own file I found the lost battle warp in one of the cabins. We were finally able to get to the battle warp in my friend's file, beat the final K. Rool boss, and watch the special ending. It was well worth watching. I later got the 101% ending on my own file before I left Kansas.
10. Perfect Dark
Release Date: May 22, 2000
Publisher: Nintendo, Rare
Story: You are Dark, Joanna Dark, the first operative in the super special secret Carrington Institute to achieve a perfect score on all of your training modules. And now the man himself Daniel Carrington has chosen you to work in a super-important mission to rescue the mysterious Dr. Carroll from the clutches of the evil mega-corporation dataDyne. Little do you know that this seemingly simple mission may bring Carrington ever so closer to his life's dreams, and you are thrown into increasingly dangerous missions involving dataDyne, a mysterious blond man, and even the president of the United States. It becomes clear that the fate of national security, nay, inter-galactical security lies in your hands. You must now use your perfect training to save not only your own life, but the lives of trillions of others in the universe. But that is just another day in the life of...Agent Perfect Dark.
Personal History: GoldenEye 007 was one of my favorite games in the last few years of the 20th century, so one day in summer 1999 one of my friends asked if I knew about GoldenEye's spiritual successor. This was in the days before I knew how to get video game news with the click of a button so I didn't know about it, but as somebody who had dreamed about a sequel to GoldenEye, I was intrigued. My friend proceeded to tell me about how the game uses the same engine, but they made graphical enhancements so that if you shoot out the lights (which I enjoyed doing), then the environment would darken. The game will also have more complex single player missions and much more customization in the multiplayer modes. He also said that the main character will be somebody else, which I felt was weird. Anyways, the game was called Perfect Dark, and it soon became a game that I had to try out. As the months we read more about the game: about the creation of simulants in multiplayer mode, and about the advanced weapons including the Laptop Gun, which you can throw out and have it serve as a sentry gun. With each passing news story I got more excited, but it was also accompanied by frustrating delays. Finally, the game was released in May 2000, almost a year after my friend first told me about the game.
My friend had gotten the game shortly after launch, and he invited my sister and me to play it at his house. We played a multiplayer match at the Facility (now known as the Felicity for unknown reasons). The game felt the same as GoldenEye, but with many new options. Each weapon has two functions instead of just one, and if you want to switch weapons you can hold A and select the new one in a pop-up screen. It felt a little weird at first but we quickly got the hang of it. We played through a couple of challenges to unlock multiplayer options, but that was when we encountered one of the biggest complaints about the game: slowdown. The game ran smoothly enough with four players, but if you throw in a couple of simulants then the game becomes jumpy. With eight simulants the game became near unplayable. Still, the use of simulants made the multiplayer mode more fun and we usually had a couple to bully. When my friend found out you can beat challenges using your own personal settings we quickly set out to do that. I had a blast with the game, so when I went to Kansas in August 2000 I was disappointed that my friends in Kansas didn't have Perfect Dark.
In autumn 2000 my friend had moved on to other games, so he was willing to lend me the game. I was able to beat the game on Agent, but what really drew me was the multiplayer mode, which is known as the Combat Simulator instead, because you didn't really need multiple players to enjoy it. With the addition of Simulants you can play multiplayer modes with just yourself. I soon tried out all of the different modes and used all of the different levels, but there were only two levels that really struck my fancy: Felicity, which is simply the Facility level from GoldenEye with a more homely feel, and Fortress, a underground level with different bases that was perfect for team battles. I eventually created and saved a scenario where you fight against eight MeatSims (the easiest sims) in combat mode. I gave each of the simulants their own distinctive mismatched appearance, and they each had their own personality. The KazeSim would go after enemies in a gung ho manner, while the PeaceSim would run around disarming opponents. I set the score limit to 100 and I soon had something that I can come back to over and over again, randomizing the weapons every time. Eventually the scenario, known as MeatSim Mania, became a sort of cathartic for me. Every time I felt frustrated I would go and slaughter some MeatSims. My obsession got to the point where I recreated the Felicity level in The Sims.
Like with most other games, I didn't play Perfect Dark forever. I moved on to Conker's Bad Fur Day in March of 2001, and the Gamecube was released later that year. I still went to Perfect Dark whenever I wanted to unwind and slaughter some MeatSims, but I never really did much else in the game. Since all I would do is to play against wimpy MeatSims I never really improved in the game. To this day I had only beaten two levels in Secret Agent: the first level and the Pelargic II level. And yet there came a day when even slaughtering MeatSims got old. While I still like to pull out the game at times and replay the Combat Simulator, the prospect doesn't excite me like it did over a decade ago. I even imported the game back in 2007 hoping that the prospects of unlocking things would change my mind, but I never went back to it after beating the game on Agent. Maybe I'm not like Game Informer and rank the game a 6/10 as they did back in 2004, but I do agree that Perfect Dark doesn't quite have the lasting impact that GoldenEye did. That doesn't deny the fact that is still a great FPS for the Nintendo 64.
Favorite Memory: As I wrote above, I created MeatSim Mania in 2000 as a way to enjoy the game. MeatSim Mania satisfied me for a while, but one day in 2006, I decided to try something different. I kept the same simulants but changed the rules to the Capture the Case mode in the Fortress level, which was perfect for team play. The catch is that the score limit remained at 100. Each case was worth three points, which means one must steal 34 cases in order to win. I didn't think much of it initially, but 34 cases is a lot when you're playing by yourself. The match ended up taking well over an hour, but I enjoyed almost all of it. I ended up saving the scenario, calling it "Meaty."
9. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Release Date: November 21, 1998
Story: The eternally youthful elves in Kokiri Forest all have a faerie guardian. All of them...except for young Link: the Boy Without a Faerie. He is shunned by his peers, with the exception of the kind-hearted Saria. The old and sage Great Deku Tree watches over these proceedings and waits patiently, knowing that there will be something greater in store for young Link. One day the Great Deku Tree was visited by a man from the desert, who demanded the Kokiri's Emerald. When the tree refuses to hand it over, Ganondorf mortally curses the tree. Knowing that his time is short, the Great Deku Tree calls upon the faerie Navi to the Boy without a Faerie. For it is time for his destiny to be revealed. Yet not even Navi has a clue of the evils that the duo may face in their quest to save the land of Hyrule.
Personal History: You know, 13 years ago I never would have imagined that Ocarina of Time would ever be in my top ten favorite Nintendo 64 games. It doesn't help that the game launched during my 6-month hiatus from video games. But even if I had let myself play I doubt that I would have played it much when it initially came out. I was never much of a Zelda fan. I had tried playing the original NES Legend of Zelda game and A Link to the Past on the Super NES, but I spent more time dying than getting anywhere, and became averse to the Zelda series. When everybody was swooning over Zelda 64 in early 1998 I was off playing Yoshi's Story. When my friends got the game, the only contribution I made was suggest that Link be named "Anybodys", which is a character from West Side Story, my favorite film at the time. I later watched my friend beat Bongo Bongo, which was an interesting boss battle, but it didn't make me want to play the game. Anyways, I was still in the middle of my self-imposed exile at the time. I moved away from Kansas in June 1999 without ever having played the game. When all of the news sites were proclaiming Ocarina of Time as the best game ever, I was happy a Nintendo 64 was being so honored, but I was personally partial to Super Mario 64.
Two years later, in summer of 2001, I began to read IGN regularly. I compiled a list of the games that received a 9.5 or above, and I noticed that only two console games had gotten a perfect score. One was Soul Calibur, the fighting game on the Dreamcast that my sister was getting for her birthday that year, and the other was Ocarina of Time. I was intrigued, and decided to finally play the game for myself. One night as I was sleeping over at a friend's house, I got up and started a file on his Ocarina of Time file. I eventually made my way to the Great Deku Tree, and when I went in to the room with the first Deku Scrub I was paralyzed. I forgot about the shield, and I watched helplessly as Link was slowly annihilated. He died twice when my friend woke up and saw what was going on. He took over, whipped out his shield, and defeated the scrub. Then he went on to play the rest of the Great Deku Tree. While my first attempt was a failure, the experience was strong enough that I borrowed the game from my friend so I can play at home. Plus, I'd get to see more of Saria.
When I started playing at home, I tried to proceed further in the game. I successfully made it to Hyrule Castle without a hitch, but when I got to the sleeping Talon I was stumped. I ran around a lot pulling out the Cucco randomly. Eventually Talon woke up, but I wasn't sure what to do after that. I ran around some more and decided to screw it and look it up on GameFAQs. That was when I realized I wasn't smart enough to play through a game like Ocarina of Time. Yet my interest had been piqued, and was willing to do whatever it took to get through the rest of the game, including using a walkthrough off GameFAQs. Yes, I have no shame. Following the words of GameFAQs user marshmallow, I was able to eventually beat the game with all the Heart Pieces and Golden Skultullas. And after I beat the game, I went back and played through it again, this time without the use of a walkthrough. It became pretty clear that I was hooked. I thought that I was receptive to all Zelda games, but when I tried playing Majora's Mask later that summer I just couldn't get into it like I did with Ocarina. So there was something about Ocarina of Time that drew me to the game.
Ocarina of Time eventually became one of those games that I could play through again and again, and for the next ten years I did precisely that. My cousin had gotten the game, but she didn't like it because it doesn't have multiplayer, so when she came to visit in 2002 she gave the game to me. I beat the game once on that cartridge, but then erased that file and started three files with the names of Powerpuff Girls, which was my obsession at the time. I beat the game with Blossom and Butercup while saving Bubbles for my sister. (She still hasn't gotten past Dodongo's Cavern). I imported the Japanese version in 2004 and beat the game once then. Two years later I bought the game for the Virtual Console and beat it on the Wii. When I found out how to hold the Nintendo 64 controller to play it one-handed, I started a file on the Japanese to play through the game only one-handed. It took me three years of playing off and on to beat it, but I finally did this past January. And I beat the game on the iQue this past summer. I am waiting for Layton vs. Wright to come out for the 3DS so I can get it and play Ocarina of Time 3D. As I said earlier, Ocarina of Time - as well as its successor Twilight Princess - are the only Zelda games that are among my favorite games. Now that I go back and think about it, the reason is probably because the atmospheres in those games appeal to me. There is nothing about the gameplay in these two games that set it apart, but only those two would give me the feeling that a certain level was so often I had to play through it again to experience it. And that is one of the game's successes.
Favorite Memory: I may be cowardly, but I've generally not been scared too often by video games. (Then again, I do stay away from the Survivor Horror genre.) All that would change before I was finished with my first Ocarina play through back in 2001. I found the Forest Temple creepy, but it didn't give me much lasting effect, mostly since I spent the entire playthrough in a lighted room sometime in early evening. Three temples later I was ready for the Shadow Temple, but this time I was playing in the middle of the night, when I should have been in bed. As I always do in the middle of the night, I was playing in the basement with all the lights off, and listening to the game via headphones. I ended up getting the full effect of the Shadow Temple, and the terror I felt ended up staying with me for days. But somehow I felt the experience completely exhilarating. Ten years later I no longer find the Shadow Temple so scary, but I like it since it reminds me of that first time I played through the level.
8. Star Fox 64
Release Date: June 30, 1997
Story: "Corneria, fourth planet of the Lylat System. The evil Andross turned this once thriving system into a wasteland of near extinction. General Pepper of the Cornerian army was successful in exiling this manaical scientist to the barren, deserted planet Venom. Five years later, General Pepper noticed strange activity coming from Venom. James McCloud, Pigma Dengar, and Peppy Hare of the Star Fox team were sent to investigate. Upon their arrival, Pigma betrayed the team, and James and Peppy were captured by Andross. Peppy barely escaped Venom and went to tell James' son Fox about his father's fate. A few years have passed. Andross has again invaded the Lylat System. General Pepper has turned to a new Star Fox team, headed by Fox McCloud, to save Corneria and free the Lylat System once again." Sometimes you just can't top the classics.
Personal History: I went to Michigan to stay with my aunts and my cousins in summer of 1997, and that was the first time when I experienced life as a couch potato, watching television from early in the morning to late at night, and then some. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were the channels I saw most often, and one of the commercials that aired frequently was one for Star Fox 64, the new Nintendo 64 game that promised a new experience with the new Rumble Pak. The game looked interesting, and I finally had a chance to play it in July when my aunt took my sister and me to Toys R Us to get a Nintendo 64. They had a station set up with the game. I played through the first level and the meteor level. While the rumble sensation underwhelming and quite frankly incredibly annoying, I felt that the game itself was a treat. It was fun to go and shoot whatever came at you, and the amount of voice samples was incredible. When I got back to Kansas it turns out most of my friends had gotten the game. At the annual Chinese association cookout I kept hearing about how hard Leon was, or what an annoying character Slippy is.
I didn't get a chance to see the game in action until early August at my friend's birthday party. Another one of his friends was playing the game and showed the secret part of Meteo, the meteor level I played. The experience was absolutely hallucinatory, with a flashy background and a twisty soundtrack. What I remember most was the voluminous number of things you can bomb, and a seemingly unending number of bombs. Both of my close friends got the game, so we would spend some time playing multiplayer, but I never got much of a chance to try the single player mode. GoldenEye came out at the end of the month, and Star Fox 64 fell a bit to the wayside. I borrowed the game in early 1998, and I finally had a chance to really spend time with the single player mode. With a more consistent opportunity to practice, I was able to get good enough to beat the game consistently. However, I was never able to do some of the things that really stood out in my mind. I was never able to reach Sector X on the purely hard path. I was never able to get through all of the rings to get to that hallucinogenic level in Meteo. And the only medal I can get was at Fortuna, which is the easiest level to get a medal. Those things remain as a sort of a mystical goal.
When Yoshi's Story was released in March of 1998, Star Fox 64 fell again to the wayside. I enjoyed the game for the interesting gameplay and the quotable voice samples, but with so many other games to play and a six-month hiatus in late 1998 and early 1999, I didn't spend too much time playing the game. Furthermore, I didn't actually own the game. In late 1999 I was able to reach one of my unattainable goals by reaching Sector X, but that was the last that I really put time into the game until I left for college in 2003. Before I left, I went to my friend who had pretty much stopped playing video games and borrowed many of his Nintendo 64 classics, among them Star Fox 64. While at college, I decided to try Star Fox 64 again. Even though it had been years since I played the game regularly, I was surprised that many of the techniques that I struggled with earlier now come with ease. I was able to charge my shots to get multiple hits. I was able to maneuver my way around the levels more proficiently. My skills most likely grew as I had more video game experience. I was able to get to the hallucinatory part of Meteo and get a Mission Accomplished. And I was able to get a medal in at first Corneria, then Meteo. By the end of 2004 I had done what I couldn't believe was possible. I got a medal in every level and unlocked Expert Mode.
I had heard about Expert Mode in the past, but I never had a chance to play it. It was, of course, as hard as it was advertised. One key difference is that every time you run into an obstacle, you lose your wing. While my flight skills may have improved, I still run into things far too often. Getting all of the medals quickly became my goal, but also a challenge. If that wasn't enough, my copies of the game quickly multiplied. I had my friend's US copy to contend with, then I imported the Japanese version in 2004. In 2006, I made Star Fox 64 one of my earliest Virtual Console purchases. And I got the game for the iQue Player in 2007. Medal collecting soon became overwhelming. Playing the game soon became more of a task than a pleasure, and my progress soon ground to a halt. Nevertheless, Star Fox 64 still remains a classic. For one thing, it still reminds me of a simpler time for me, when we played games just because they were fun. Secondly, the game seriously lives on as a treasure trove of some of the most popular, most quotable lines in video game history. I was able to spend a full 30-40 minutes one day in late 2006 doing nothing but quote Star Fox 64. Now that's staying power.
Favorite Memory: The Star Wolf battles were one of the more seminal moments of Star Fox 64, as it gave Fox a set of rivals to defeat. Wolf became a popular character in his own right and became a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. But the one member of the Star Wolf team that stuck with me was Pigma Dengar. Here is one of the most despicable characters in Nintendo history. First of all, he's a bloody pig. And he was willing to betray anybody for the promise of some dough. Pigma was one of the most fun to destroy. One day a friend and I were playing around with some Legos. We decided to make a pretend wedding. After thinking about who could be getting married, we finally decided on the most random match-up ever: "Pigma marries Fox." The idea was preposterous. Fox McCloud having a gay marriage with the person who betrayed his father. Yet that idea was so funny to us that it became an inside joke.
7. Conker's Bad Fur Day
Release Date: March 5, 2001
Story: It is the night of his big date with the chipmunk Berri, but Conker has decided to join his chums in the Cock and Plucker for a few drinks in advance. They are soon joined by a couple of gray squirrels dressed in army uniforms, who say that they are going to fight in a war the next day. Conker makes a point to call Berri to tell her he'll be late, since he knows she'll be working out anyways. A few drinks quickly multiplied, and Conker soon finds himself stumbling around like a squirrel with a cerebellar lesion. He struggles to find his way back home, but in his drunken stupor he can't make anything out, and eventually passes out in a remote corner next to a similarly drunken scarecrow. The next morning Conker wakes up with the mother of all hangovers in a strange place. He thinks it's going to be one of those days...but he has no idea that his day will reach the next level of disaster: a Bad Fur Day.
Personal History: I had written about Conker's Bad Fur Day in a piece earlier, but it is an interesting tale that is worth revisiting. I liked playing Diddy Kong Racing with my friends in late 1997, and Conker was one of my favorite characters, even though I played mostly as Timber. In early 1998 I heard that Rare was making a pair of games based on Diddy Kong Racing characters, one with Banjo (we had no idea why. We hated Banjo), and the other was with Conker. Banjo-Kazooie came out in summer of 1998 with much fanfare, but I didn't play much of it. I was looking forward to Conker's Quest, which was stuck in development heck. It soon received a name change to Twelve Tales of Conker. Then it completely dropped from sight. In early 2000, Rare came out with the stunning news that it had completely scrapped Twelve Tales and was re-working the Conker game into a new game: Conker's Bad Fur Day. And most significant of all, it was becoming a hard-swearing, ultra-violent, Mature-rated game that rarely appears on the Nintendo 64. The gaming news media was aghast. Has Rare gone mad? Was this an April Fool's joke? Then in E3 2000, Rare released a couple of videos that showed that this was no joke. They were serious about this change.
This news was a bit of a jolt for me. Since I had gotten into Donkey Kong 64 earlier, I had looked forward to Twelve Tales, but this new development really made me curious. Conker's Bad Fur Day became the first game whose development I tracked online. I watched new gameplay videos and visited the official website once it opened and watched the companion animations there. Each new cutscene that leaked out got me more and more interested in the game. At last, the game shipped in early March 2001 and got rave reviews. However, my parents wouldn't let me get the game until spring break, which came at the end of the month, but they did let me have it. So for the next two weeks the only thing I could think about was getting Conker's Bad Fur Day. For example, when I was at my youngest sister's piano concert, I remember thinking about the game...and also about the German-speaking Nyaasu in the radio performance of The Magic Flute we heard on the way there. When spring break rolled around, my parents took my sister and me to Toys R Us and Best Buy respectively, where we bought Conker's Bad Fur Day and a Dreamcast with The Typing of the Dead respectively.
At last, the game was finally mine. I went home and started playing. As I was playing the only thing I can think of was "I can't believe I'm finally playing Conker's Bad Fur Day!" The game was a blast. It was a different platformer from Rare's previous titles, being less of a collection fest and more of a linear storyline, like a movie. Each outrageous moment became a vivid memory for me: the rollicking hillbilly jokes of Barn Boys, the sexual innuendo in Bats Tower, the Great Mighty Poo song, the general inanity of Uga Bugas. Soon Conker's Bad Fur Day became a Bad Fur Night, and the entire tone of the game changed. I came across the zombies level, which I knew would occur, but the survivor horror sequence was so removed from the jovial mood that permeated the first half. It was an unexpected development, but a very powerful one. I ended the day without beating Zombies, but I couldn't help but wonder what the end would be like. So I snuck downstairs, found the cheat to unlock the final level, and played through it. The final level had the Matrix level, which I beat easily (oddly enough, it was the only time I was able to get through that section without difficulties), and the Alien parody, which I struggled with. And I saw the ending, which was completely mind-blowing for me. The next day I beat the game and saw the end for real.
All in all, Conker's Bad Fur Day was an emotional roller-coaster. I had come to expect a comedy throughout, but the thrill of Zombies and the dramatic moments in the last two levels led to an experience that I wouldn't forget anytime soon. I quickly beat the single player mode a couple more times. We also tried the multiplayer modes. Most of them were muddled messes that don't quite reach the successes of their FPS games. The Colors flag, or the capture the flag mode, was fun for a little bit but we end up killing each other instead of capturing the flag, but the deathmatch mode isn't quite as fun. My sister and I ended up playing the Beach mode a lot, which pairs hapless Frenchy squirrels trying to get to safety on the other side of the beach or the Tediz that try to stop them. We end up having a blast no matter what side we play through. We spent most of our time with cousins and friends playing Beach when we went to Michigan in December of 2001 and to Kansas in August of 2003. Yet personally, it was the single player mode that stuck to me. By 2004, when I stopped playing Beach, I was still playing my favorite moments of the single player mode. The game's appeal towards my visceral emotions is why it is still a favorite even today.
Favorite Memory: There are so many classic moments in Conker's Bad Fur Day that it is hard to pick just one. The first playthrough certainly produced many vivid memories as it is the first time I was able to experience many of the delightful sequences in the game. I also remember many of the great moments playing the Beach level with my sister, my cousins, and my friends. However, while these memories were certainly vivid, they may fall short of being my favorite. Back in 2000, many internet sites, including IGN, posted a short video of one of the key scenes in the game: the Great Mighty Poo song. The rambunctious sequence led to bouts of laughter from the media, and for me it was a sign that Rare was not only trying something different, but also that they can make it great. The game met all of my expectations when it was released a year later, but you sometimes you never forget your first time.
6. GoldenEye 007
Release Date: August 25, 1997
Story: Nine years ago, James Bond was sent to the Soviet city of Arkhangelsk to investigate a chemical weapon plant and rendezvous with his buddy, Alec Trevelyan. After infiltrating the plant with a death-defying bungee leap, Bond meets up with Trevelyan, but things don't go as planned, Trevelyan is captured and killed by the nefarious colonel Ourumov, but Bond escapes. After mourning the death of his friend, Bond goes on a couple of missions throughout the Soviet Union to investigate a mysterious satellite known as the GoldenEye, equipped with a deadly elecromagnetic pulse. In present day, Bond is tasked with investigating a hijacking of a frigate and the purported theft of a Tiger helicopter. He plants a bug on the copter, and follows it to the island of Severnaya, where he visited four years in the past. He is captured and meets Natalya, where he finds out that a mysterious crime syndicate named Janus is behind the frigate hijacking and after the GoldenEye satellite. Who is Janus, what is he after, and how can he be stopped? And how can he get inside Natalya's panties? Those are questions Bond must face in his latest, greatest mission.
Personal History: The GoldenEye film was released in 1995, but it didn't leave much of an impression on me. The only thing I remember was a Chinese news broadcast showing the scene of Bond jumping off with a bungee cord. Two years later, I heard reports of a GoldenEye video game being released for the Nintendo 64, but my history with shooters up to that point consists of me not being very good at Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, so I never really took a closer look at GoldenEye. However, all of my friends were over it, and when I went to a concert held by the Chinese association, my friends were all talking about GoldenEye: about how hard the Jungle level was. A few days later, my friend invited me over to his house for some GoldenEye multiplayer action with his brother and my sister. We played a Proximity Mine level in the Temple. I remember being okay. Sure, I got annihilated by my friends who had much more experience, but at least I was able to get a weapon and some ammo. My sister wasn't quite so lucky. She ran around like a headless chicken and got gunned down a couple of times without even getting a gun. Then she respawned at a spot next to a proximity mine. So she didn't have a good time, but I certainly did.
Some of my other friends got the game as well, and GoldenEye became the go-to game for our multiplayer experience in the final few months of 1997. We would play with all weapon types in all the various levels. I remember getting hopelessly lost in the Basement level, but thankfully we stuck mostly to the Facility, which was good for me, since the Facility was the one single-player level I could beat in Secret Agent in those early days. When the calendar turned to 1998, I was able to pry the game off of my friends (who had moved on to other games), and attempt the single player missions on my own, as they were terrific experiences in their own right. I got to the point where I could beat every single player level on Agent except for Control (stupid Natalya). It got to the point where I watched the movie hoping to get an idea of how to keep Natalya alive, which didn't work out so well. I practiced until I was able to beat a handful of missions on Secret Agent, but was never able to beat any levels on 00 Agent when my six-month hiatus began in late 1998. Nevertheless, the game had provided an unforgettable single and multiplayer experience.
When I moved to Virginia in 1999, GoldenEye was one of the games toward which I drifted. I had some multiplayer matches with my friends, but I mostly spent my time playing the single player missions. One level that I played to death was Surface 1, which was originally a labyrinth. I quickly learned the layout of the land as well as how to defeat the enemies. Before the end of the year Surface 1 became the first level that I was able to beat on 00 Agent, which was a significant milestone, but what stuck out to me was finding the box full of books. I later spent half an hour trying to shoot one of the books from the cabin to the end of the level. A few months later, Rare released the button cheat codes, which unlocked invincibility with the pressing of a few buttons. I was able to do crazy stunts such as going to the Runway level, getting in the tank, and running over enemies as if this was the Rambi Arena in Donkey Kong 64 and the enemies were gophers. I think my kill count was well over 100 by the end. When I went back to Kansas that summer, my friends and I would spent some of our time entering the invincibility code to not only beat all the levels to unlock the legendary 007 Mode, but also unlock every cheat.
My GoldenEye play time decreased with the release of Perfect Dark, but as the years went by, I found myself going back to GoldenEye more often. Sure, Perfect Dark had MeatSim Mania, but its single player missions never quite reached the classic status as GoldenEye, so I'd end up spending more time with the older game. In 2004 I began to import the Japanese versions of most of the classic Nintendo 64 games, but the Rare shooters were far less popular in Japan and end up being quite rare. I found Perfect Dark (which ended up selling more copies in Japan) for a good $60 of eBay in early 2007. Yet try as I might, I was never able to find a copy of GoldenEye complete with the box. I went to Taiwan in the summer of 2007 and was wandering the marketplace underneath the Taipei train station. I happened inside a video game store and looked at the selection, when I saw it: a complete Japanese version of GoldenEye for only $7, which is probably 1/10 to 1/20 of the cost if it was on eBay. When I returned from Taiwan I played through the game, and was able to beat a few more missions on Secret Agent that I hadn't before. But I eventually moved on to med school application tasks without beating any more levels on 00 Agent under legitimate means. I broke out the Japanese version this past December during a late-night Nintendo 64 spree at the library, and I was finally able to beat the Dam, the Facility, the Runway, and the Silo on 00 Agent. You know that a game has become a classic when doing something you've never done in 13 years can bring you happiness, but that is what GoldenEye has done.
Favorite Memory: While GoldenEye has an excellent single player mode that ranks as one of the best on the Nintendo 64, it is the multiplayer mode that sticks with people even after all these years. I've certainly had my share of classic battles, but none of them top the epic match that I had with my friends in the summer of 1998. It was already a year after GoldenEye's release and we had already felt we played the game to death. Nevertheless, the suggestion was made that we play a Proximity Mine match in the Complex with no time or score limit. We thought we would only play for a few minutes, but we ended up spending over an hour on the game. We didn't care about the score. We just had fun running around trying to lay hold to the ledge with the Proximity Mine without getting blown up in the process. The task was slightly harder considering we weren't exactly certain as to the layout of the level. By the time we decided to end the match, we had experienced an adrenaline rush that none of us would soon forget.
5. Super Smash Bros
Release Date: April 26, 1999
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Story: Master Hand, a disembodied hand living in the room of a nameless child, is bored out of his...carpal bones. In an effort to inject some excitement into its mundane life, Master Hand decides to take a few of the child's Nintendo dolls and make them come to life so they can battle each other on the child's desk for its enjoyment. Little does Master Hand know that by giving them life and the ability to fight, he is turning them into sentient beings. After defeating each of the other Nintendo fighters along with a disturbing clone of himself, one of the Nintendo fighters begin questioning the purpose of the fighting. He concludes that fighting has no point and decides to fight back against the being that forced him to fight. A terrified Master Hand sends a metal clone of Mario and a ragtag team of polygons with the fighters' movesets to protect himself, but they are easily defeated. Soon he is face to face with Master Hand, but little does he know that the one who forces him to fight is also the one that gave him life.
Personal History: With the success of the Super Smash Bros. franchise today, it's hard to imagine that once upon the time the game was an underground project by HAL Laboratories designer Sakurai that was turned into a brawler starring Nintendo characters without permission by future NCL head Satoru Iwata, and that it was meant to be Japan only much like Game Freak's ignoble Mario Vs. Wario. But it was a hit in Japan and was set to come to America. The first time I heard of the game was when my sister was talking with my friends. We were in the middle of our Pokemania in early 1999, and the discussion came up that two Pokemon characters: Pikachu and Jigglypuff, are going to appear in a fighting game called Super Smash Bros. My first thoughts when I heard the news was "Super Smash Bros... is that similar to Smash TV?" and, "Really...Jigglypuff???" I didn't hear much about the game, and even missed the legendary commercial that appeared on TV that spring. But my sister was one person who was interested in the game, and asked for it for her birthday. It wasn't until she came back from a trip to the west coast with the game that I was able to find out more about it.
I read through the instruction manual after she was finished with it, and saw that the cast of Nintendo characters wasn't the only thing special about the game. The game wasn't like all of the other games with set lifebars. Instead, the damage counter only determines how far you fly, but you only die if you fall of the edge of the level, so theoretically a character with 999% damage can defeat a character with 0% damage if the latter had a misstep. The concept intrigued me, and being the douchebag that I am, that night I did something that I would do dozens of times in the next four years: I snuck out of bed and went downstairs to do something I shouldn't have been doing. That night, I played Super Smash Bros. for the first time before my sister. I tinkered around with the single player mode and attempted a few multiplayer matches against the CPU. Then I erased the data and head upstairs. The next day my sister and I played against each other for the first time. I played as Mario and my sister played as Kirby. I crushed my sister, which surprised her. I sheepishly admitted that I snuck downstairs the night before to play the game. She got understandably pissed, but she would eventually get the last laugh.
Super Smash Bros. quickly became the go-to game in our house that summer. We would play in battles against each other or teamed up against level 9 computers. We would try to beat the Break the Target or Board the Platform mini-games in order to unlock Luigi and the sound test. We had an easy time unlocking Jigglypuff and Captain Falcon and a difficult time getting Ness (more on that later.) We played a tournament of champions match with different players, where I got my sister to hate Captain Falcon when I wasn't even playing. (I was providing voice-over for Captain Falcon, making him as sort of a pompous ingrate, which was one person that she will hate forever and ever.) We eventually settled into characters with whom we were comfortable, with me playing as Pikachu and my sister playing as Yoshi. We played Super Smash Bros. well into 2000. Even with other games around that took up some of our attention, like Perfect Dark, Harvest Moon 64, or Donkey Kong 64, we can almost always find time for a couple of matches of Super Smash Bros, most likely because it was a game we can play together that we actually own. I eventually started an Excel spreadsheet keeping track of the Vs. record.
When we went to Kansas in summer of 2000, Super Smash Bros was the one multiplayer game that took up our time, just like Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye, and Mario Party back in the olden days. In our many years of playing the game, one theme seemed to become clear. Try as I might, I can hardly ever beat my sister in stock matches. I can usually get more KOs, but she was much more careful and almost never dies on accident. Soon my sister's skills became a source of pride for me, in a "You may be able to beat me, but you'd never beat my sister" sort of way. This was evident in October of 2000, when I went to a friend's house for a get-together. My friend had always bragged about his Super Smash Bros. skills, so that day we had a one on one ten-stock match. I played as Pikachu and my friend played as Fox. It was a hard-fought match that I ultimately lost, but my friend was down to one life with a damage count over 100%. While I congratulated my friend on his victory, my first thought was "I may have lost, but my sister can probably beat you."
When Super Smash Bros. Melee was announced for the Gamecube in early 2001, my sister and I were both excited for the game. We kept track of the news, and I spam-entered a contest to win a Gamecube that I eventually won. My mother bought us a copy of Melee when it launched, and it was a fun game jam-packed with tons of extras that we could never think was possible considering the minimal options in the original. And yet all the while we felt that Melee lacked the charm of the original game. We played it casually, but we couldn't hold a candle against all of the tournament players with their advanced skills, and we slowly drifted back to the original game for the Nintendo 64. I left for college in 2003, and without anybody to play with both of our skills eventually atrophied. In my second year of undergrad there was a first year student who defeated both my sister and me, and the shared thought between the two of us was that he used the same strategy that I had used. Afterward, I imported the Japanese version and we had some fun enjoying the different sound effects, but eventually we stopped playing the game. Still, in the dozen years since its release, Super Smash Bros. is one of the top multiplayer experiences I've had, and it still remains one of the games that I've spent the most time playing. And that is saying something.
Favorite Memory: With Super Smash Bros being perhaps the Nintendo 64 game that I've spent the most time with, so there are many unforgettable moments. There were all of the nights in the summer of 1999 when I snuck out of bed in order to play against the computer. There was the 99-suicide Yoshi match that I had with friends in 2000. However, in the end my favorite memory might not involve playing the game at all. In the summer of 1999 my sister and I were still not very good at the game, and we had a difficult time unlocking Ness, which required you to beat single player on Normal with three lives without getting a Game Over. We began discussing strategies of what we would do to try to unlock Ness. One day a family friend took us to the Sackler gallery in the Smithsonian. While she was enjoying the Asian art, my sister and I were sitting in the bench in the middle trying to find a way to beat Samus without dying. The juxtaposition of Asian art and Super Smash Bros. was so different that it remains much more memorable than the moment we actually unlocked Ness.
4. Yoshi's Story
Release Date: March 1, 1998
Story: The Yoshis live a happy life on Yoshi's Island, without a single worry in the world. It helps that they have the Super Happy Tree on the island, a tree that provides an endless supply of delicious fruit. Meanwhile, the vindictive Baby Bowser sits in the throne room of one of his four decidedly unhappy castles jealous at the Yoshi's happiness. He decides to bring unhappiness to the Yoshis by taking away the source of their happiness: the Super Happy Tree. The theft instantly has a profound effect on the Yoshis, warping them into zombies and turning their world into a picture book. Only six unhatched Yoshis survived the carnage. They are born into a mysterious world surrounded by enemies and where their environment had turned into cardboard. The Yoshis decide that the only way to bring the world back into what it once was is to defeat Bowser Jr and bring his reign of unhappiness to an end. To do that, they must make their way through the cardboard terrain of their picture book world in order to find happiness.
Personal History: The story behind Yoshi's Story is more about the year of 1998 than it is about the game itself. The idea that everybody will have a year where everything just goes right is so prevalent that it's become almost cliched, but that is the case with me. I must admit that I do tend to see the past in rose-colored glasses, remembering all of the good times and forgetting the bad, but 1998 was one of those years where I didn't need the passage of time to remind me how good life was. Perhaps it was the hormones that drove the infatuation that dominated my thoughts that had a positive effect on me. Perhaps it was the fellowship that I had with close friends that made each day special. Or it could have been because I just stopped taking life for granted. Whatever the reason was, every day felt like a treat, and the feeling that I had something to look forward to the next day took the edge off the bad times. And anything that is involved in my life in these times had come to occupy a special place in my heart. That is why I still have a soft spot in my heart for the state of Kansas. That is why I still get a twinge in my heart every time I hear "Spice Up Your Life." And that is why Yoshi's Story remains one of my favorite games of all time.
I had heard about Yoshi's Story a few times in late 1997 and early 1998. I had loved Yoshis in Super Mario World, and Yoshi was always my go-to character in Mario Kart 64, so I had looked forward to trying the game. One night in March or April, I went to one of my friend's houses for a potluck. We arrived a little bit late, and when we got there I saw that they were playing a new game, which turned out to be Yoshi's Story. It's always fun to see a new game in action, but it's special if the game was one you wanted to try. I never did get to try the game that night, as we moved on to the more standard fare of Mario Kart 64 or GoldenEye 007, but the memory of seeing the colorful game stuck with me. I got to play the game for the first time a few days later, and the game was a lot better than I had expected. I liked the game's level design, giving players the option of speeding through the game by eating all fruits, or going for all melons if they want a challenge. I liked the art design, with each level looking like cardboard, cloth, denim etc. I liked the Yoshis' colorful personalities. And I loved the music. Classic Nintendo composer Kazumi Totaka took a catchy tune and remixed it in ways that complemented the levels. And I loved the Yoshi singing.
The spring of 1998 was a major part of my life. I was living with the last moments of puberty and had developed my first schoolyard crush. I was dealing with the fact that one of my best friends were moving, largely by spending more time with some new friends. And I was just beginning to come into my own spiritually. It was a bit of a confusing time, but I was able to deal with it with Yoshi's Story, which I borrowed from my friends. Whenever I felt stressed or felt unhappy, I'd take out the game, whip through the six levels, and defeat Baby Bowser. I would instantly feel better. However, I don't think my friends had the same passion for the game that I felt. I went to Taiwan in late May, and when I came back in July my friends had given it to their cousins. So much for me playing more Yoshi's Story. It was just as well. One day in August of 1998, in the middle of watching Gone with the Wind, I made the fateful but firm decision to just stop playing video games. I had already toyed with the idea a couple of times when I was in Taiwan and Hawaii earlier that month, and just decided to see how long I can go without it. The hiatus eventually came to an end in February of 1999, but with no copy of the game there would be no way to play it anyways.
I moved to Virginia in June of 1999, and I ended up spending most of that first year hanging on to my memories from the year before. I was feeling especially nostalgic in early 2000 when I thought to myself, "You know, I haven't played Yoshi's Story in over a year. Man that game was fun." I asked my dad about it and he took me to get the game in sometime in May. I was so excited that I sat and played it for several hours straight. He was concerned about me playing so much and eventually got angry after I kept playing. I stopped playing and went to my room, where I took my frustrations out on my black Nintendo 64 controller. It would be the beginning of the end of my first controller (1997-2000). Later I learned to play the game in more moderation. One of the things that I rarely did in the past was collecting melons. I got all melons in only the first level, Treasure Hunt, and got 28 out of 30 in my favorite level, The Tall Tower. All the other times I was just speeding through the game as quickly as possible. I decided to test my hand at collecting all melons. That was when I realized how hard the game can be if you give it a chance. Many of the levels, especially some of the later levels, were extremely difficult. I was able to get all melons in only around half of the levels.
In December of 2000 I realized that by playing the Big Four - my four favorite games from my last few years in Kansas - my memories of them were being tarnished. I didn't want to destroy the nostalgia so I made the foolish decision to "retire" the games; to put those four games away so that I would be left with only happy memories of the game. This was far more difficult than my 6-month hiatus in 1998, because while I was able to play some of my other favorites, they don't compare to the Big Four, which were my favorite games for a reason. Before the end of the year I had broken out and was playing three of the Big Four. The one game that remains relatively shelved is Yoshi's Story. I've imported the game in 2004, but still haven't modded the cartridge. I have yet to buy the game on Virtual Console. Perhaps I am still in a bit of a denial about the game, which has gotten bad press throughout the years about its poor design or how it is a poor imitation of its predecessor, Yoshi's Island. But I am still a believer in the power of nostalgia. Even though I played the game for really less than a year, the game still holds a special place in my heart through association, and sometimes that may just be the most powerful thing of all.
Favorite Memory: The spring of 1998 is more a tale of the many happy moments I had spent with my friends, with Yoshi's Story serving as an indelible part of the background. As I had mentioned, it was an emotional time as my former best friends were moving, as I was spending more time with my new best friends. There was one day when all of our family got together for a day of socialization that ended with a supper party at the newly opened Golden Corral. Along the way, I played through Yoshi's Story. While the game was definitely not the focus of the memory, my memory of the game and my memory of the day with my friends became inseparable. It was a special moment that still ranks above all of the various times that I played through the game on my own.
3. Mario Party
Release Date: February 8, 1999
Developer: Hudson Soft
Story: It was another peaceful day in the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario and his friends were lounging around talking about their prior adventures. The question came up as to which of them was the Super Star. The talk quickly turned into argument as each of them claims their rights to the title of Super Star. After nearly getting trampled by the increasingly angry mob, an exasperated Toad told them to pipe down and went over the qualities of a Super Star: strength, courage, wisdom, and kindness. At the end of his talk, he directed them to a Warp Pipe in the Mushroom Village where they can warp to various areas where people need help. Once there, they can ignore the needs of the hapless citizens and partake in cuthroat mini-games to fund their efforts to buy a completely arbitrary token that will be used to determine the status of the Super Star. The characters find this prospect appealing, and set out to determine just who is the Super Star.
Personal History: My hiatus from video games that began in August 1998 turned out to go a lot more smoothly than I anticipated. I was able to survive off of daily Pokemon episodes and my love of going to school (which is sadly completely unrelated to actually learning anything.) It helped bring me a new appreciation on life. However, the news that my family would be moving threw a kink in my plans. I was devastated that I would be leaving my friends, and since we were all big gamers I decided to bring my hiatus to a close. I eventually decided to end the hiatus at February 1999, six months after it began. Not only would my friends be coming over for a sleep over that night, but they would be bringing their new game: Mario Party. I had heard of the game a few months earlier in December 1998 and early January 1999 from the brilliant commercial that aired while we were watching Pokemon. The gameplay videos promised a game packed full of action packed mini-games. Even more, my friend said that it's more of an adventure, as you go around a level doing things between mini-games. I wasn't exactly sure what that seemed to entail, but it definitely caught my attention.
When the night of the sleepover came, I was having fun at my 8th Grade Lock-In. It was a memorable night that was essentially a party for the 8th grade class that lasted until midnight. I didn't have as much fun that night as I could have, since I was told to wear long pants, which I despised. I love shorts. They're comfy and easy to wear. Plus, half of the party was a volleyball tournament, and the other half was a dance party. I sucked at volleyball, and I don't like dance parties for the loud music and the suffocating atmosphere. And I knew that I was missing out on playing Mario Party with my friends. When I got home from the part the first thing I did was change back into shorts. And then I went downstairs to join my friends, even if it was well past midnight. I watched as they finished the game they were playing, and jumped in the next game, a 35-turn game at Wario's Battle Canyon. I was amazed at how amazing of an experience Mario Party was. The mini-games were terrific (except for Piranha's Pursuit, which made me scared of 3 vs. 1 games from then on), and the adventure board, which I was initially a bit skeptical toward, was a lot of fun. It was around two to three o'clock by the time we finished, and we were itching for more, but we had to go to bed. The next day we went and played a 50-turn game at Luigi's Mysterious Engine.
Mario Party quickly became the main game we played together in those last few months in Kansas. We played the main adventure a few times and decided that while we loved Wario's Battle Canyon, D.K.'s Jungle Adventure, and Yoshi's Tropical Island, we despised Mario's Rainbow Castle, Peach's Birthday Cake, and Bowser's Magma Mountain. But it didn't matter what boards we liked or hated, since the focus was on the mini-games. We ended up either playing Mini-Game Stadium, or just picked some of our favorite mini-games in the Mini-Game Room. We loved playing Mario Bandstand, not necessarily because it was a mind-blowingly awesome mini-game, but it was hilarious to mess up and watch your character get bombarded with trash. We loved Running of the Bulb, as it was not only a game that required teamwork, but it offered a significant amount of challenge. Yet our favorite mini-game was undoubtedly Mushroom Mix-Up, where there are seven mushrooms of different colors, and you must go to the color that matches the flag Toad raises, as all of the other mushrooms will get dunked. The game was pure skill, and we loved to play it not necessarily to see who would win, but how long we can last. There's been games that lasted for a few minutes, but even the short matches were a lot of fun.
As moving day drew closer and closer, Mario Party eventually became an even more important part of my life. It became a sort of an escape. I was able to be in a state of ignorant denial as long as I was playing Mario Party with my friends. We were playing Mario Party up to the night before we were supposed to move on June 3, 1999. I am normally resistant to tears, but the idea of moving away from Kansas was so tragic and so strong that I cried for about half an hour as we were able to leave. As it turned out my parents had a sort of a miscommunication and it got too late to leave that day, so we had to turn back and go to my friends' place. We celebrated the stay of execution by playing some more Mario Party. When we got to Virginia my sister and I made some new friends and were able to hang out with some old ones. But we never had the bond that we formed in those last few months in Kansas. And since we were always playing our friends' copy of the game, we didn't have any Mario Party. So I asked for the game in Christmas of 1999, and pretty soon I was a proud owner of my very own copy of Mario Party. We took the game with us to Michigan that winter and had many happy matches with my cousins.
And yet the thing that made Mario Party so great is the bond of fellowship that you can form with the people you are playing with. After we went back to Virginia the only people we had to play with was my sister and me. We played a game with two players controlling four characters, and it was fun for a little while, bit it just wasn't the same. We got Mario Party 2, and while the game added a few fun new mini-games and took away some of the more annoying games (good-bye annoying spinning mini-games), it didn't have the same feel as Mario Party and we quickly abandoned it. I retired the game along with the other members of the Big Four in December 2000, but felt so lost without it that I un-retired it before the end of 2001. It wasn't as fun as playing it with four people, but it was good to play it again. I imported the game in 2004. In fact, on the night of my bicycle accident in October 19, I had picked up the imported version from the mail room, and the Japanese manual was the only thing that kept me entertained during my four-hour ER stay. Yet even then we played only until we got 100 stars, then we stopped playing. (It didn't help my sister's can't read Japanese). Perhaps Mario Party is like all of the other multi-player centered games on the list. It has a short lifespan before we move on to other games. Yet at the same time it has become a symbol of friendship that I will cherish for a long time to come.
Favorite Memory: Mario Party is a game centered around its multiplayer mode, and my friends and I certainly spent a long time playing the game. There are many small but vivid memories that we built up, such as the first time my sister played Balloon Burst, the memory as to why she always plays as Peach, or even beating Cast Aways on Mini-Game Island for the first time. And yet there is no memory that would top the first time I played the game. I had already discussed the memory earlier, but it is my favorite for many reasons. First of all, the night was already significant in that I had gone to the 8th grade lock-in, which was memorable even though I didn't have a great time. Next, it marked the end of my six-month hiatus, which is a significant part of my gaming history. Finally, it was a moment that smashed all of my expectations of the game. I remember being in love with every mini-game that I played, and Wario's Battle Canyon was a perfect level for me to start with, as it has a perfect balance of skill and luck. There will be other memorable moments with the game, but none more so than my first exposure.
2. Super Mario 64
Release Date: September 29, 1996
Story: "Dear Mario, Please come to the castle. I have baked a cake for you. Yours Truly, Princess Toadstool. Peach." With this message in hand, Mario happily warps to Peach's castle. He is later joined by a flying Lakitu, tracking his every movement with a camera on a stick. Once Mario enters the castle, he is greeted by a gruff voice that says, "Welcome. No one's home! Now scram--and don't come back! Gwa ha ha!" While talking to one of many hologram Toads that haunt the castle, Mario finds out that the cake is a lie. Instead, Bowser has attacked the castle, stealing all of the Power Stars, locking several of the castle's rooms, and holding Peach hostage for the umpteenth time. Mario must find enough Power Stars to find and defeat Bowser, but in order to do so he must explore fifteen difficult levels that brings him into a dimension that he had never experienced in the past: the third dimension.
Personal History: Before 1996, I had liked video games, but never had much of a chance to play them, as I never owned any systems. We finally got our first game in Christmas as 1995, and it was a Game Boy with Donkey Kong Land. And yet 1996 is a year that will introduce a product that would completely change not only my gaming life, but my life in general: the Nintendo 64. The early history didn't suggest anything out of the ordinary. I first read about Nintendo's third console in May of 1996. I was an avid reader of TIME magazine in early 1996, and in their issue dated May 20, 1996 they had an article about a new console Nintendo was working on, one that will usher the video gaming in the brave new world of 3D graphics with 3D environments. It looked promising, but I didn't think more about it. The console launched in June 23, 1996 to no fanfare in my life, and the American launch on September 29, 1996 also came and went. Yet the event was monumental for a few of my friends. One night in October 1996, my family was invited to a get-together at my friends' house. It was just another visit to friends, one of many that we have had, but this one would have one surprise. My friends had gotten the Nintendo 64 with its premiere launch title, Super Mario 64. When I saw the game I knew what it was from the article in TIME, but the game in action was much more mind-blowing than the article had described.
My friends were playing Cool, Cool Mountain when we arrived. The thing about the game that struck me was the freedom you have to explore the expansive levels. In the ten years of playing video games up to that point I only played games such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Donkey Kong Land where players were confined to a 2D plane. With Super Mario 64 players have full reign to explore the level as much as they pleased, not only in the horizontal plane, but also in a transverse and coronal plane, which was lacking in old Zelda games. I got a chance to play the Nintendo 64 for the first time that night, but for some reason Mario wasn't following my instructions. I was telling him to go left but he would keep running right. He was running even when I wasn't doing anything, so I watched helplessly until my turn ended. (Of course, my friends reset the game before giving me the controller, so I suspect that the controller may have been tilted when it happened.) Once everybody had a turn my friend moved on to Big Boo's Haunt. The atmosphere of the chilling level stuck with me after we had left, as I had nightmares about being chased by Boos. But that was the experience that the Nintendo 64 provided.
A month later, some of my other friends invited me to their house, as they had gotten the Nintendo 64 at launch as well. It was there that I was finally able to properly play Super Mario 64 for the first time. And it was good. I started a new file on their game, and went to the first level, Bob-Omb Battlefield. I ran around for a little bit getting accustomed to the controls and made it to the top of the mountain, where King Bob-Omb stood waving to his constituents. He challenged me to "pick [him] up from the back and hurl [him] to this regal land?" I thought he was referring to the land below, so when I picked him up by the back, I walked all the way to the edge of the level and tossed him off. Then Mario lost his balance and fell to the bottom of the mountain. That ended my first proper playing of Super Mario 64. Yet the experience stuck with me. While I initially loved Super Mario 64 for the freedom of exploration, as time went on I soon embraced the game for its incredible level design and for the challenge it provided. Nintendo could have made a simple title to show off their new hardware, but they chose to make a game where it takes some skill to beat the game or to get all 120 stars. For the next year and a half, I looked forward to my friends so that I can pick up on Super Mario 64 to get some of the stars they were missing. But I wasn't able to get the rest of the stars for another year, when I borrowed the game from my friends and teamed up with my sister and another friend to get 120 stars.
My aunt bought my sister and me a Nintendo 64 when we went back to Michigan in June and July 1997. When selecting our first game, we passed on Super Mario 64 due to its lack of multiplayer potential. It wasn't until Christmas of 1997 that I finally had my own copy of Super Mario 64. With my own copy of the game I was able to get 120 stars by myself for the first time (more on that later). And I did it again when I went to Taiwan in summer of 1998. It got to the point where my cartridge was full of 120-star files, and in order to start a new one I had to delete an old one. For every new playthrough I did, the stars were just a little bit easier to get. By the new millennium, I was able to get all 120 stars in one sitting, which I did in five hours in December 2000. Of course, I began to feel tremendous amounts of pressure. I began to expect perfection, and if I didn't have it I would basically throw a fit. Before I retired games in the Big Four that month, I had a final playthrough that I taped. I got so annoyed that I was making some stupid mistakes that I was cursing up a storm. The problem was this was the middle of the night. My sister woke up and said she could hear me loud and clear even though she was two floors up. That's when I knew that I was putting too much pressure on myself on these games, and that I was missing what had made them fun in the first place.
Yet even after retiring the games, I couldn't stop thinking about them. I felt I wasn't having much fun with games anymore, and thought that if I could just go back and play my favorite games then it would change. Super Mario 64 was one of the games that had an especially strong pull on me. By the end of the year I had decided to bring out those games. While my playtime still remained low, it felt good to be able to play the games again. After that I began to play the games in moderation, trying to keep in mind what made those games fun in the first place. In 2004 I imported the Japanese game to try to get the glitch that allowed you to get essentially infinite lives with 1000 coins on the first Bowser level. Then I decided to get all 120 stars in that one sitting so I see what happened when I talked to Yoshi. The problem is, I only had 20 stars at the time. In 2006, I decided to take this one step further and try to get 10,000 coins. I didn't realize that the task would take 12 hours, and that once you beat the Bowser the game stops counting after 1,000 coins. In 2007 I set a personal record by getting all 120 stars in only four hours. Nowadays I don't play the game that often, but I have a blast playing it. It is a testament to the staying power of the game, and combined with the innovation from 15 years ago, why I still consider it the best game of all time.
Personal History: A game that I've been playing practically every year for the past 15 years is bound to have some very special memories, but in the end I had to pick one. As I mentioned earlier, through the first year of playing the game the prospects of 120 stars was a daunting task. There were just too many stars that I had a difficult time getting, including Big Penguin Race in Cool Cool Mountain, Pole Jumping for Red Coins in Dire Dire Docks, Inside the Volcano in Lethal Lava Land etc. I was able to get to 120 stars in late 1997 only with the help of a friend. She was the one that got what I still consider the hardest star in the game: 100 coins in Tick Tock Clock. Yet when I got my own copy of the game for Christmas in 1997, I was able to attempt some of the more difficult stars on my own time. And on December 28, 1997, after three days of practice and more practice (I had taken a day off for reasons I don't remember), I finally got 120 stars on my own for the very first time. Even though now I can get 120 stars in only a couple of hours, the feeling of personal triumph in my first 120-star run is one that I'll never forget, and is still my favorite memory involving Super Mario 64.
1. Mario Kart 64
Release Date: February 10, 1997
Story: It's the go-kart race to end all go-kart races! You can race against your friends as one of the many characters in the Mario universe. Explore sixteen different tracks that take you from a enclosed circuit in the Mushroom Kingdom to a dirt-bike circuit; from the antarctic ice floes to the arid desert; from a crowded freeway to the far reaches of the galaxy. Pummel each other with one of many items in the battle mode, or race against yourself in the time trials with the new ghost technology, as long as you don't do something stupid like run into a tree. I mean, it's Mario Kart for crying out loud. Who needs a story for Mario Kart?
Personal History: In 1993, I played Super Mario Kart for the Super NES. While I was never much of a fan of racing games, that game appealed to me for a variety of reasons. It had Nintendo characters. It didn't take itself very seriously. And it allowed you to play with a friend. However, the Super NES only had two controller ports, so you were stuck if you had multiple friends. Even worse, not very many of my friends owned the game, so I didn't have much of a chance to play. When I saw that the Nintendo 64 has four controller ports, and that a Mario Kart game was coming to the Nintendo 64, I knew that this had a potential for something special. The game launched in the United States in February of 1997, and shortly afterward we went to a friend's house. I didn't really know he had gotten the Nintendo 64 until I got there, when I saw him playing...with Mario Kart 64. My first experience with the game was in a battle mode match on Big Donut. That was fun, but I never liked battle as much as racing in Super Mario Kart. Next we tried out the vs. mode. The first level that I played was in Wario Stadium. Before we were done with the first lap, I had known that this would be the multiplayer gaming experience of our future. It would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
A few days later the friends we hung out with normally had gotten the game. We began to spend much more time together just to play Mario Kart 64. The first few months were a bit of a learning curve for us, since we never owned the game. The first time that we had played Choco Mountain we ended up getting caught up in that nasty curve without a railing. My sister had it worse than anybody else. By the time everybody was finished, she was still in her first lap. She was not very pleased. I had once tried to play through Star Cup. It took me an hour or two to place in the top four in the first three stages, and that's when I realized that there was another, even harder stage: Bowser's Castle, complete with a crazy green Whomp trapped behind a set of gates for our safety. We had to leave before I had completed the level. That night, I dreamed that I had finally beaten the level only to find out that there was a fifth level after that. Eventually we got to the point where we held our own in the multiplayer matches, and that's when the game became magical for us. When we got tired of racing, we would start doing crazy things such as going into Block Fort and seeing how much trash we can accumulate on the bottom floor in what was known as Trash Land. We would run the courses backward, and once we got to Rainbow Road my sister discovered that yes, it is possible to jump up the giant hill. And once when a friend and I finished the race in Koopa Troopa Beach, my sister and the friend's brother both got a blue shell and positioned themselves at a spot where the AI-controlled characters would run into the shells every time.
My sisters and I went to Michigan in June of 1997 to visit my aunts and my cousins, and we stayed with them for a month. When I was there the only thing I can talk about was the Nintendo 64 and Mario Kart 64. Having commercials for the Nintendo 64 and its games appearing on television constantly certainly didn't help with my withdrawal. My cousin and his friends would joke at me about my obsession, but I didn't care. My cousin probably still understood my passion, since when he went to a friend's house he took me along because his friend's brother had a Nintendo 64. I played a little bit of Super Mario 64, but then I switched to Mario Kart 64, and played the single player mode. I remember playing the Special Cup and getting second place in Banshee Boardwalk for the first time. While it wasn't exactly first place, but that was a tremendous achievement for somebody who was previously thrilled to finish in fourth place. Finally, in our final week in Michigan, one of my aunts told my sisters and me that we were going to Toys R Us for a surprise. We kind of had an idea of what that surprise might have been, but we went along anyways. And of course, when we got there my aunt said she was buying us a Nintendo 64. While I acted subdued, the reaction in my head was somewhat similar to that of the famous Nintendo 64 kids. When she asked us what game we wanted, my sister and I took little time to decide on Mario Kart 64. It was an excellent multiplayer game, and one that both of us enjoyed. My parents were a bit concerned about the gift but in the end they relented. After having to bum off friends for almost a year, we finally had a Nintendo 64 of our own! When we got back, one of the first things we did was put our name on the cartridge. It would prove to be important a few years later.
Now that my sister and I finally own a copy of Mario Kart 64, we were able to play the game at any time. While we spent some time playing multiplayer, I found myself spending quite a lot of time playing the Mario Grand Prix mode. Even though the computer cheats, I still found it a valuable opportunity to practice my own techniques. (Anyways, there was a technique to build an insurmountable lead in Kalamari Desert in Mario GP.) The manual had talked about using mini-boosts, and with the game on my side I was able to get the mini-boosts relatively consistently, at least more so than my friends. I never really practiced the shortcuts, since I was content to race the levels as the programmers designed them. I'd never win in tournaments in that way, but it didn't matter. I was able to beat my friends in Mario Kart 64 matches the majority of the time, which was okay since I usually lost in the battle modes. I kept playing the game by myself even as we moved on toward other multiplayer games. Besides, Mario Kart 64 was an old classic that was fun to pull out at times and play all of the courses. That was what my cousins and my sister and I did in the middle of the night when we went back to Michigan in winter of 2001...in fact we did that the night before the DL-6 incident.
I took the Nintendo 64 to college in 2003, and Mario Kart 64 was one of the games that I bought with me. I had a scare early in my first semester. I participated in a volunteer event where they wanted us to bring a video game for kids at the UVA hospital, and I contributed with Mario Kart 64. It was fun to watch kids who weren't even born when we got the game enjoy it. And at the end of the day, I left. It wasn't until I got back to my dorm room when I realized that I had left the game at the event! I was crushed. How could I have been stupid enough to lose the very first game that I had gotten for my favorite system? I quickly remembered that we had written our name on the cartridge, so I was able to get in contact with the event coordinator and told her that I had left the game at the event. They were able to find the game, and a few days later I had it back in my possession. I was able to bring it to one of the very first Gamers Club meetings. I won virtually all the races, even one in Wario Stadium where one person took the shortcut in the first lap. Even though I never practiced the shortcuts, I erased his lead by doing the shortcut on the second lap, and did it on the third lap as a giant FU. I became known to the co-presidents as the guy who was ridiculously good at Mario Kart 64. In 2004, Mario Kart 64 became one of the first games that I imported. I was able to laugh at some of the more hilarious voice samples that they had for Toad, Peach, and Wario. In 2007, I was playing against some people who never played much Mario Kart 64. I quickly realized that you could carry the controller with one hand and still be able to control. You would lose the use of the R-trigger thus losing the use of mini-boosts, but that would give my opponents a handicap. I still won anyways, and I had discovered the method for one-handed Nintendo 64, which I later used to beat Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Conker's Bad Fur Day.
Over the years, other Mario Kart games were released. I got Mario Kart Super Circuit in 2002, Mario Kart Double Dash!! in 2003, Mario Kart DS in 2005, and Mario Kart Wii in 2008. While some people had moved on and proclaimed the other Mario Kart games as the best, I still prefer Mario Kart 64. For one thing people forget how revolutionary it was. It had taken the Super Mario Kart formula, and added to it an increased reliance on technique (with the addition of mini-boosts) and items. It laid the groundwork that many of the other Mario Kart games built on. On a more personal level, I loved the game not only because I got to be pretty good at it, but also because I can make the argument that this was THE game that brought me into video gaming. Sure you can say that Super Mario Bros. was the first game I played, Super Mario World was the first game I enjoyed playing, and Super Mario 64 was the first game that I was eager to play. But Mario Kart 64 was not only my first game for my first console, it also best balanced a solid multiplayer experience and an enjoyable single player experience. Even today I like to break it out and play some Mario GP. It is still an amazing experience almost fifteen years since its launch. For these reasons, Mario Kart 64 is my favorite game not just on the Nintendo 64...but of all time.
Favorite Memory: For a game that I've been playing for close to 15 years, there's bound to be many classic memories, both by myself and with friends. Yet none of them may be as great as what happened on June 13, 1997...Friday the 13th. It was the night before we had to leave for Michigan, and we were spending it with my friends. Officially, it was in order to partake in an art experience with my friends' relative. I managed to get out of it by creating a picture of stick figures holding signs that spelled out a swear. It wasn't my goal to get out of the art class; I just drew the picture because I thought it was funny, but I did. I went to play Mario Kart 64 by myself, and I did something that I had only dreamed about in the past: I got a Perfect 36. Sure, it was in Mushroom Cup, but it was the first time that I got first place in each of the races. And to top it off, once everybody was finished with their art experience, we got together for several hours of crazy fun Mario Kart 64. I was a bit bummed I fell from first to third in the last lap of the last race at Wario Stadium, but I must still admit it was a memorable night.
Whew...that went on far longer than I had expected. I'm not sure I met my goal of detailing the impact that the Nintendo 64 had on my life, but I hope I was able to inspire you to think back to your own memories. And for those of you who actually took part in some of these events, I hope that you were able to relive some of those terrific memories that helped make the Nintendo 64 a great part of my life. I encourage you to post your own memories of the Nintendo 64 or these games. Gaming is often a shared experience, and I welcome you all to share them.