25 years of the N64: Bomberman 64

Bomberman, like so many other franchises at the time, made the move to 3D on the Nintendo 64.

On September 29, 2021, the Nintendo 64 will turn 25 years old in North America. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be covering the console, its games, its innovations, and its legacy. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.

How do you make a 3D platformer work without a jump button? Hudson Soft set out to answer that question in 1997 by combining elements of the more traditional, overhead Bomberman experience with that of its side-scrolling platformer cousins, and the solution they arrived at was an explosive one: Bomberman would simply walk across bombs he had set, using them as platforms, before they exploded. In theory, anyway: the timing of it all was pretty integral to the success of this style of platforming, as you can imagine. Timing has always been the thing with Bomberman. You know, so you don’t explode yourself.

A story in a Bomberman game was nothing new. Even the arena-based games of old had a single-player story to them: it just played out in the same kind of stages that multiple players would attempt to blow each other up in, competitively, in the head-to-head mode of those titles. What set Bomberman 64 apart is that it still utilized the overhead view of those arenas, but in larger platforming stages and action-adventure bits, and all in 3D. The camera could now move around to multiple angles to peer around corners and follow Bomberman regardless of where you directed him, while the 3D environment could be utilized for hiding items or switches or what have you: typical 3D platforming stuff. Seeing it in a Bomberman game, though, wasn’t so typical!

Is Bomberman 64 the best Bomberman game? No. Is it the best fifth generation Bomberman game? Also no: Saturn Bomberman exists, and might also qualify as the best overall title in the series, too. (The “might” is because it’s hard to make a pronouncement like that and have it be universal law, considering over 70 Bomberman games have been released since the original in 1983: I have played many a Bomberman, but I have not played anywhere near all of them.) Bomberman 64 was the first of the 3D Bomberman games, however, and negative reaction to it at the time was almost universally centered on how its multiplayer was a bit of a disappointment: what made the game work in 3D in solo mode made the Bomberman experience a bit more aggravating and less fun in multiplayer. That made Bomberman 64 something of an oddity for a console release of the series, since you could always rely on the multiplayer to be, at the least, a good time, and with the right combination of tweaks and rules and items, it could be a fantastic time. And yet, with this first N64 release, the opposite was true: after reviews made it clear multiplayer wasn’t quite right, you bought Bomberman 64 because you wanted a fulfilling single-player experience.

I should point out that the multiplayer isn’t terrible by any means: it’s Bomberman, and there is an inherent goodness there. It was more obviously disappointing to folks who were familiar with Bomberman and expecting the series’ traditional rules to apply, such as movement in four directions in a more enclosed space, rather than the anything goes, eight-direction movement of 3D. But if you weren’t, well, this could be a lot of fun for you still, for sure. If you were already familiar with the series’ predecessors, if you had already sunk a ton of time into Bomberman ‘93 or or Super Bomberman or what have you, then maybe you felt differently about what was supposed to be an upgrade on a new console.

Regardless of whether you liked or disliked the multiplayer, though, I imagine the single-player campaign is what you liked the best from this game. The story is this: a group of baddies are stealing the energy of various planets using some kind of all-powerful device, and they made the mistake of turning their attention toward the home of our titular hero. Bomberman learns that the only reason he has time to stop the theft of his planet’s energy is because these space thieves aren’t particularly good at using the full power of the device, but hey, whatever works, right? Four environmentally distinct stages and a final stage later, Bomberman has saved the day.

To clear those stages, you’ll need to master the game’s various systems. Bomberman doesn’t just drop bombs, but he can also kick them — an extremely useful skill, since you can strike enemies with a kicked bomb to knock them out, which will make it much easier to catch them in the coming blast — or throw them. Bomberman can “pump” up bombs to make them stronger, which is exceptionally useful for quickly whittling down the health of the game’s bosses, but beware: the blast radius is much larger, and the way you die in this game, as with any Bomberman, is by accidentally blowing yourself up. A larger blast means more opportunities to accidentally off yourself. At least, in this 3D debut for Bomberman, the explosive radius is circular, instead of the traditional cross shape, so it’s a little easier to figure out and avoid on the fly.

Bumping into enemies won’t kill you here, unlike in the traditional arena-based Bomberman titles, but it will knock you out for a spell until you wiggle the control stick enough to get moving again. If a bomb you’ve dropped happens to blow you up while you’re knocked out, well, try not to get knocked out next time, you know? You can fall from any height and not even get knocked out, which is certainly welcome, but Bomberman can’t swim, and he can’t float, either, so try not to walk off any platforms into an endless abyss while you’re exploring.

You’ll be doing quite a bit of exploring in Bomberman 64, too. The game’s setup isn’t like that of its predecessors, in which your goal is to defeat all of the enemies in an enclosed space and then blast your way through obstacles until you find the exit. Here, enemies are secondary: you want to blow them up to clear your path a bit and to collect the gems that help you earn extra lives, but they respawn after you leave the area, so they’re kind of an ever-present threat to be dealt with or avoided, rather than the point. Your goal in these stages is instead to make your way to a giant crystal that’s being protected in some way or another: sometimes there are switches you need to trip in order to open up access to the giant crystal and the end of the stage, sometimes the crystal is being protected (or moved around) by enemies, and so on. Complete a world by defeating its boss, and then you move on to the next one.

Each world has the same setup: stages one and three are the action-adventure/platforming stages, while stages two and four are boss fights. Each stage is hiding five Gold Cards, which in the platforming levels are scattered around the stage, hiding in blocks you need to blow up or held by enemies or what have you: these are often hidden in spots you might not need to go to if you’re just trying to play as efficiently as possible in order to complete the stage faster than the suggested time to completion, so you’re unlikely to collect all the cards and post the fastest completion time in the same playthrough.

In the boss fights, it’s more often about causing damage to specific spots on a boss. Like the Winged Guardian of the first world (seen in the video above), for instance: you get these Gold Cards not necessarily by causing this dragon’s life energy to deplete, but by setting its various body parts on fire. So you can’t just go for the kill if you want to get all of the cards in these fights: the task requires more strategy and better timing and accuracy than that, since you will need to, in the instance of this dragon, set its tail and wings on fire in addition to actually hitting the parts of it will that cause you to win the battle.

Collect the 100 Gold Cards scattered across the game, and you open up a secret world, the Rainbow Palace. Collect the 20 Gold Cards in the Rainbow Palace, and you’ll not only get a fully powered-up Bomberman as the default option for solo mode, but you’ll unlock additional multiplayer stages as well. So, if you’re planning on spending a lot of time with Bomberman 64, getting all of those cards is worth the effort.

Bomberman 64 can be frustrating, but it’s frustrating for the same reasons every Bomberman game can be frustrating in the wrong hands. If you are not patient, if you do not pay much attention to detail, well, Bomberman is going to drive you mad. That’s because it is a game about handling explosives. If you aren’t going to take the time to take a breath and consider your actions when they involve explosives that can kill you, then yeah, you’re not going to have a good time. Take your time, plot out your bomb throwing and kicking and placing, though, and Bomberman 64, like Bomberman in general, feels extremely rewarding.

Bomberman 64 is the first of four Bomberman games on the Nintendo 64, three of which released outside of Japan. Bomberman Hero was the follow-up but not actually the sequel to Bomberman 64. There was no multiplayer at all in Bomberman Hero, with the focus exclusively on the single-player experience. If critics were not thrilled about a comparatively lackluster multiplayer offering in Bomberman 64, you can imagine how well they received the news that there wasn’t any multiplayer at all in Hero. In this game, Bomberman can actually jump, instead of having to plant bombs that he then uses as springboards, and has a life meter, too. It’s more arcade-focused, too, with the goal mostly being to best your previous scores. It was not as well-received as Bomberman 64, but I still would have liked the game to have stuck on the Wii U Virtual Console’s service longer than it did: it was removed before I could buy it to see what it was like for myself, even though Bomberman 64 remains on the shop to this day.

It’s even more confusing of an issue, because Bomberman Hero, like its predecessor, was published by Nintendo worldwide: any rights associated with that might have expired by now, and Konami, the current rights holder of all of Hudson Soft’s properties following their usurping of them, apparently has plans for Bomberman Hero that do not involve it being available to purchase. And yet, Bomberman 64, also published by Nintendo back in the day, remains. Weird.

The actual sequel to Bomberman 64 is Bomberman 64: The Second Attack, which was not especially beloved, either. Reviewers found it to have its bright spots, but didn’t find it as “revolutionary” as its predecessor, and believed the puzzles were all a little too simple, making the game both too easy and too short. The Second Attack is mostly notable for being a late-release N64 game, coming out in May of 2000: it is one of the rarest N64 titles around because of it not selling particularly well and existing so late into the system’s life-cycle. I wish I could see for myself how easy the puzzles are and if the game is more enjoyable today without the Bomberman fatigue that might have existed in 2000, but I’m not going to spend $300 on a copy of the game on Ebay to find out. Spending $10 on Bomberman 64 on the Virtual Console, on the other hand, was an easy decision in order to see if late-90s reviewers were being accurate or whiny with their complaints.

And the fourth Bomberman on the 64 was… also called Bomberman 64. That’s because it was a Japanese exclusive, and what those of us outside of Japan know as Bomberman 64 was called Baku Bomberman in Japan. It’s a shame we didn’t get this other Bomberman 64 in North America, as it was a fully 2D Bomberman like its pre-N64 predecessors, but it didn’t even release in Japan until after the GameCube had already been released in both Japan and in North America, so focus for everyone had shifted from the fifth generation to the sixth at that point. Hudson probably would have needed a publishing partner for an international release — Nintendo published the first two titles on the N64, and Vatical Entertainment published the third — so whatever extra paperwork that would have entailed was deemed too much at that point in time.

I was a bit of a latecomer to Bomberman, so I don’t have childhood memories or any nostalgia attached to Bomberman 64. What I have is a Wii U and an internet connection, and the ability to pick up this game for $10, and I’m pretty pleased with what I got for my money. I have plenty of other Bomberman games — other Bombermen? — to choose from when it comes to multiplayer options, but as far as single-player experiences go, this is a pretty good one. The formula was basically always shifting in single-player after this, so it retains some unique charm because of it, and is worth the effort even if this mode is all you experience. Just remember: you have to be a little patient and thoughtful, or you will blow yourself up.

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25 years of the N64: Goemon's Great Adventure

For the second Mystical Ninja game on the N64, Konami left the realm of pure 3D to make one of the systems few side-scrolling platformers.

On September 29, 2021, the Nintendo 64 will turn 25 years old in North America. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be covering the console, its games, its innovations, and its legacy. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.

If Goemon’s Great Adventure isn’t the best side-scrolling platformer on the Nintendo 64, then it’s without question the second-best. That can be said so confidently in part because of the relative paucity of side-scrollers on the N64 — the world went a little overboard with making every possible 2D platformer into a 3D platformer in a post-Super Mario 64 world, to the point that certain kinds of reviewers would be openly and illogically angry at the existence of side-scrolling games on the various systems — but it’s also because the game is, well, great. It truly is a great adventure. Tip your servers, everyone.

There is Goemon’s Great Adventure. There is Mischief Makers, which I absolutely would have written about this month if I didn’t already do so a few months back. There is also Yoshi’s Story, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and… uh… others, probably. Goemon ranks among the very best side-scrollers on the Nintendo 64 both by default but also because it’s one of the best side-scrollers of the fifth generation of consoles. That’s not exactly as long of a list as it would be for the fourth generation of consoles, but still, it’s a larger sample we’re pulling from then just the N64 itself.

Goemon’s Great Adventure, released in North America in 1999, is part of the Legend of the Mystical Ninja series, or part of the Goemon series, depending on where it is you’re playing these games. The franchise didn’t arrive in North America until 1991’s The Legend of the Mystical Ninja on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but the series was already a few games deep at that point in Japan. As with just about everything you might have once enjoyed from Konami, they aren’t making anymore of them: the last main-series game to come out in Japan was back in 2005, and the last one to be released outside of Japan was, well, Goemon’s Great Adventure. It’s actually a bit unclear why they stopped releasing Goemon games outside of Japan, considering they were decent enough successes when they did get play outside that country. Goemon’s Great Adventure sold over 160,000 copies, which was considered successful for a third-party game on the N64 (remember, Glover sold 150,000 copies, and that was enough to at least temporarily green light a sequel), and it was a sequel to an N64 game that had itself sold 200,000 copies worldwide.

Despite this, Konami decided Goemon was only for Japan from then on. Maybe because of reviewers from outside of Japan who feared the game was just a little too Japanese for Americans to enjoy. Luckily, reviewers didn’t harp on this nearly as much for Goemon’s Great Adventure as much as they did for its predecessor, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, but still.

Speaking of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, that was a 3D platformer, as was the style at the time. It had the same kind of problems as many 3D platformers, but was still a good, absurd time, as Goemon games tend to be. Even with its poor localization and apparently worrisome levels of Japanese-ness, critics were into the gameplay and the world and its characters, and as said, it sold well worldwide. Konami didn’t make a 3D platforming sequel, however: instead, they went with a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer. The 2.5D isn’t just there for show, either. You can only move on a 2D plane, yes, but the stages are designed around the kind of depth that 2.5D brings: you’ll often move along the z coordinate, entering into areas of a stage that you had previously only seen in front of or behind you, or in order to ascend in a circular fashion. Enemies you cannot reach will shoot projectiles at you from the background into the foreground, foes will pop up from the background and enter the foreground themselves. Like I said, the 2.5D isn’t just there because it looked neat.

If you’re unfamiliar with Goemon, you might think this was a return to the roots of the series given the series transitioned to 3D for its N64 debut, but not really. The Super Nintendo’s Legend of the Mystical Ninja, for instance, was a side-scroller, but it was more Streets of Rage than Super Mario: your character did not just move left and right, but also moved up and down within the foreground of a stage, with enemies not necessarily coming directly at you, but instead traveling all over this plane. It was a side-scroller, but it was more action-adventure brawler than anything. Goemon’s Great Adventure is more of a straight side-scroller, and it’s a platformer, too: you move one of four characters in a two-dimensional space, but the backgrounds and objects are three-dimensional. Think of it as a blend of Goemon’s past, both distant and near, and released on a console that would allow such a blending to occur.

Really, Goemon’s Great Adventure has a little bit of everything Konami knew how to do well. The weapon system works much like certain kinds of shoot-em-ups: you find weapon upgrades from defeated foes, but if you take damage, you go down a weapon level. Konami, of course, was at one time one of the premier shmup developers and publishers in the world, so them finding a way to put that kind of genre logic into a completely unrelated genre, and making it work, is no surprise. Similarly, shifting Goemon to a side-scrolling platformer invited comparisons to another Konami property, Castlevania. The kind of precision in jumps, in timing, in attacks, the need for exploration and item upgrades to get by that you would find in a Castlevania game, especially the pre-Metroidvania style of Castlevania, is also found in Goemon’s Great Adventure.

Throw in that Goemon’s Great Adventure has the kind of humor and brightness in design that populated so much of Konami’s work in other series — think Parodius, their parody of their own Gradius series, for instance — and it truly is a quintessential Konami release. Oh, and let’s not forget the music. Konami is responsible for plenty of classic themes over the years, and the quality that went into those works is found within Goemon’s Great Adventure. Even if a couple of the songs with lyrics are exclusive to the Japanese version of the game, for some reason.

Here’s how Goemon’s Great Adventure works. You play as one of four characters, which you can switch between at, for all intents and purposes, any time. If there is a section of a level that requires a certain ability to get by, there is going to be a teleporter for you to use to get to the character select room so you can make the switch, rather than have to backtrack so you can dive underwater or whatever. You can also switch characters whenever you feel like in-between levels at the teahouse in the town of whichever world you’re currently in — these towns are also where the shops, the people who will assign you side missions, and the inn where you can rest up and save your game are found.

The four characters, in order of when you acquire them, are Goemon, Ebisumaru, Sasuke, and Yae. Goemon has a double jump and a weapon that, when upgraded, has some real range to it: it’s a kiseru, which is not actually a weapon, but is instead a smoking pipe. Still, you pick up a couple of lucky cat statues, and that smoking pipe might as well be a lead pipe. Goemon also acquires a chain pipe, which can be used for ranged attacks and to break down a specific kind of block that will impede your progress otherwise. Ebisumaru cannot double jump like Goemon, but he can use a megaphone that creates blocks that can be used to impede or attack enemies, or also can be used as stepping stones. Sasuke is a ninja, with some attacks you would think are pretty traditional for a ninja, but as this is Goemon, he is not entirely traditional: Sasuke is actually a robot ninja. And then there is Yae, a katana-wielding ninja who has learned the secret art of turning into a mermaid, and she also carries around a bazooka. A classic pairing if there ever was.

The game can be played in single-player and co-op modes, and co-op allows for some extra gameplay elements, like the ability to have one character lay flat on the ground to be used as a springboard for the other. The existence of co-op is also why the game has a segment where Sasuke learns how to dive underwater, so that those parts of the game work even in co-op mode.

I haven’t mentioned the game’s story yet, but, well, here goes. A time machine of sorts has been developed by the Old Wise Man: the technology allows any dead person from the past to be brought back to life in the present, and Ebisumaru, of course, wants to use it to speak with James Dean. While they are arguing about who should be brought back to life — the Old Wise Man might have only made this machine so he could meet Marilyn Monroe — Bismaru appears and steals this “ghost return machine” in order to, in short, bring about the existence of an undead army.

The game is broken into a pattern you’ll pick up on in a hurry. Each of the five worlds has a few stages to play through, and while some might appear optional, they are not. You complete stages in order to earn entry passes, which you will need to pass the castle gates of each world in order to proceed to the boss fight. There aren’t enough entry passes just lying around, so you’ll also have to complete side missions, which you’ll discover the existence of in each world’s hub town by speaking with the various residents. These range from timed missions for finding some items tucked away in corners of a stage you’ve already been to that you might not have noticed in your first, straight playthrough, to races against rivals that will require that you find shortcuts and also that you smack your rival upside the head every now and again to slow them down. They’re fun diversions, and even though they take place in stages you’ve already been to and played through, they often utilize those stages in a new way, which helps them feel fresh even upon your return to them.

The platforming is unforgiving. It is not unfair, but it will test you and your attention to detail. There are places where you absolutely need to double jump if you don’t launch yourself into the air at the exact right spot, or places where you will need to create platforms using Ebisumaru’s megaphone if you aren’t playing as Goemon. You must always be wary of foes popping out from the background, or falling from the sky, or of platforms that will shoot up into the air in an attempt to crush you against spikes or a ceiling, and so on. It’s a game that looks easy to play in the hands of someone who already knows what they’re up against, but given you have limited health — just three hits unless you buy or find some armor to extend that — and how much of the game is based on precision, whether it’s in the platforming or in the combat, it is not easy. You’ll fail, but at least when you do, you can always see how you should have played instead. Levels have checkpoints, there is an item you can buy at a low-enough cost that’ll revive you where you fell: you’ll get the hang of it all with practice.

The game controls well, though, there are a few things to point out where it is a bit tougher. There are some bars to grab onto throughout certain stages, and you use them to launch yourself up and over. While the game controls best with the directional pad over the control stick for a number of reasons — accuracy in movement on a 2D plane, for one, and access to the L shoulder button that throws projectiles another — releasing those bars works best while using the analog stick, since you can better fully press that in the direction you want to launch in. Similarly, I found that swimming underwater works better with the control stick, too. Aiming at enemies is a pain underwater, but those enemies don’t give you money like the ones above water, either, so you can just swim by them if you prefer, and the control stick helps you do so with grace.

Did I mention the mechs? Goemon’s Great Adventure has mechs. You fight against mechs at the end of each world, after the boss fight in the castle, and they are tag team affairs. You pass a baton to the other mech to control them when you want to, and so long as they aren’t knocked out on the ground, that’s what will happen. This is necessary sometimes, as your opponents have fight-ending moves that will kill you if you are caught by them: passing a baton out of self-preservation is a thing you will do.

The mech fights control differently than everything else in the game, since they are first-person affairs from inside the cockpit of the giant robots. You have simple punching attacks you can use, but what you’ll want to do is familiarize yourself with the special attacks. There is a flurry of punches you can throw that will cause quite a bit of damage to the enemy and interrupt whatever they were doing so long as they are in range of your fists, and you also have a charging meter that, when full, unleashes a devastating laser beam. These fights are all a combination of knowing when to unleash brute force and trying to figure out the puzzle of your opponents’ movements and attacks. They can be a little frustrating if thing aren’t clicking, sure, but luckily, a game over for failing until you run out of lives means little, since you can restart right at the mech fight instead of at the beginning of the castle.

And that’s Goemon in a nutshell, really. A game with ninjas, some of them robots, some of them capable of turning into mermaids, with some of those mermaids capable of wielding bazookas, and everyone capable of piloting a mech, while just one of them wants to pilot a mech so that they can meet the ghost of James Dean. Like I said, it truly is a great adventure, one that makes me miss the old Konami, and, well, the existence of Goemon games. At least we’ve got gems like this one, though, but I do have bad news for you on that front: Goemon’s Great Adventure is significantly more expensive now than it was when I purchased it, and it was expensive then, too. This is definitely one for the emulation bin, if you’re into that sort of thing: like with a few games I’m covering during this celebration of the Nintendo 64, Goemon’s Great Adventure would certainly have qualified as an entry in the “Re-Release This” column here at Retro XP if I wasn’t writing about it in this form instead. Still: re-release Goemon’s Great Adventure, Konami, the damn thing is $160 on Ebay right now.

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25 years of the N64: Rareware's incredible N64 run

Rareware's tremendous N64 output is a significant part of why the console remains held in such high regard 25 years later.

On September 29, 2021, the Nintendo 64 will turn 25 years old in North America. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be covering the console, its games, its innovations, and its legacy. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.

Rareware was a significant part of the reason that Nintendo held up even as well as they did against Sony’s entry into the console market. In total, including Japanese exclusives, the Nintendo 64 library clocked in at under 400 games. Rareware alone was responsible for 11 of them, and chances are good you are at the least familiar with 10 of those.

Five years of the Nintendo 64, and 11 games. Rareware wasn’t some major publisher with a bunch of studios under its belt, like an EA or an Ubisoft or what have you: they were a second-party developer of Nintendo’s that occasionally published their own titles. The N64, lacking the third-party support of its predecessor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, needed more than just what Nintendo itself could give it. And Rareware stepped up to the plate again and again to not just fill in those gaps, but produce plenty of classics of their own, right alongside the ones Nintendo’s first-party studios created.

Now, not every Rareware game on the N64 was a critical darling and/or massive commercial success, but the vast majority of them were at least one of the two, with quite a few of those titles still held in high regard now, decades later. And all of this was developed while Rareware was busy with the Game Boy Color, too: another six games were developed for that system (and one for the Game Boy) while the N64 was active. Rareware was able to expand their studios considerably when Nintendo increased their stake in the company to 49 percent, from 84 employees to 250, and this is part of what allowed the developer to ramp up the number of projects they could handle at once.

It helped, too, that Rare was open to the idea of just a handful of people putting together a game at once: that’s how something like Blast Corps, the second Rareware release on the N64 came to be, courtesy a team of just four-to-seven developers, depending on where in the cycle you’re referring to. These releases would sometimes push the boundaries of what the Nintendo 64 was capable of — Donkey Kong 64 required the Expansion Pak that doubled the system’s RAM, for instance, and only 33 percent of Perfect Dark was available to be played by people without the Expansion Pak add-on.

Things didn’t necessarily start out so hot for Rare on the N64: their first release was 1996’s Killer Instinct Gold. This was the sequel to the SNES hit, but it was neither the critical nor commercial success its predecessor was, and it, to some degree, ended up putting this franchise on ice until it was revived in the last decade by Microsoft. Killer Instinct Gold is easily forgotten about for reasons outside of its mediocrity: the next game released by Rare would kick off a ridiculous string of releases that, as said, were critical or commercial successes, and sometimes both.

Blast Corps

The first of these was Rare’s first release of 1997: Blast Corps. While it sold one million copies, it was considered a disappointment by the company themselves which just goes to show you how Rare games usually sold. Considering this was early in the Nintendo 64 lifespan, though, and that it was a brand new, hard-to-describe property, one million copies is tremendous, really. And the game was a critical darling, even if it’s comparatively underrated because of the success of other Rareware games that would follow.

Blast Corps was ranked number 89 on my Nintendo top 101. In short, it kicks ass. A slightly longer explanation has already been written:

The titular Blast Corps is a demolition crew with two primary goals: find and rescue all of the people in an area that is about to see demolition, and also, clear a pathway for the truck carrying broken nuclear weapons through this area. You discover where the people waiting to be rescued are the same way you clear a path for this weapon of mass destruction: by knocking over buildings with vehicles. These vehicles range from a bulldozer that is effective at slamming itself into smaller buildings until they topple and in pushing blocks of TNT into larger buildings, to a dune buggy that destroys buildings by hitting jumps that allow you to land on top of them, to a one-armed robot that tumbles into buildings and only has one arm because Rare’s developers ran out of space while making the game.

Blast Corps features some intense arcade action, with you trying to beat the clock again and again, in progressively tougher levels, using a variety of vehicles to do so. The game looks short on the surface, but is full of so many modes and additional difficulty modifiers that… well, I still haven’t actually completed the thing. Barely anyone has: it’s nigh impossible to do so, because the developers themselves made their obscene performances the benchmark for earning top ranks in the game’s missions.

This game might not be the first Rareware game on the N64 most people think about, and it doesn’t have the legacy that something like GoldenEye 007 does, but it’s one of the three best Rare titles on the system, anyway. Which is really saying something when you consider the other two I’m referencing here, but more on those later.

GoldenEye 007

It’s hard to overstate just how influential and vital GoldenEye 007 is to the first-person shooter genre. There were other first-person shooters on consoles before GoldenEye, and even on the N64 — Turok: Dinosaur Hunter released in February of 1997, while GoldenEye didn’t see store shelves until August of that same year. GoldenEye, though, while not the first of its kind, certainly left an impression.

The stages didn’t let you just run around blasting, as the missions were those of a secret agent: you had specific tasks to carry out, not all of them necessary involving blasting whoever or whatever was in your path, with some of them completed in a very secret agent-y way. High-tech gadgets were present, as you’d expect from a James Bond game. It was a real turning point for shooters, too, in that it showed that you could make FPS games without such a clear debt to DOOM in their gameplay, and on a console, too. And then there was, of course, the multiplayer. The four-player multiplayer. This is mostly what people remember, and the sheer amount of time they spent playing GoldenEye with friends is what leads people to say nostalgia-tinged things like “GoldenEye is better than Perfect Dark.” While those people are all very wrong, I at least understand the sentiment, because of the power that GoldenEye had over people back then, and the impact it made on both the industry and gamers in terms of what first-person shooters were capable of on consoles.

Diddy Kong Racing

Anyone familiar with Rareware’s platformers was not surprised at all when they discovered that the company was developing a racing game that managed to make itself about collecting various objects, too. Unlike with some of those platformers — yeah, we’re not going to really spend anymore time talking about Donkey Kong 64 here, as I’ve devoted all I want to devote of my life to it already, but I’ll at least make this not-very-veiled and derisive reference to its gameplay — it all works beautifully in Diddy Kong Racing.

The collection aspects work hand-in-hand with an increase in difficulty in Diddy Kong Racing, which lets you essentially go through the motions you would in, say, Mario Kart, without changing the difficulty yourself. Just like playing on 50cc gives you a game that is pretty difficult to lose, the first time you play a course in Diddy Kong Racing’s Adventure Mode is mostly there to teach you what the course actually is, to give you a chance to experience it in a relatively stress-free way. After completing each of the courses in an area this way — there are four different regions, which are basically “cups” to use kart racing parlance — you are then tasked with defeating a boss character in a race. In the first area, Dino Land, that boss is a dinosaur. A triceratops, to be more specific, and you have to race this dino one-on-one up a mountain. If you win, it unlocks the second level of difficulty, and additional collecting begins: you will now not only try to come in first place in the races to receive the balloon item that will help you unlock your next races, but you will also attempt to collect eight silver coins while you race. Doing so successfully means you’ve completed the intermediate difficulty, and can move on to the trophy race, where you race each track in a region in succession and receive point totals for your placement — that signals the completion of a region.

There are more bits to collect, three different vehicle types (kart, hovercraft for water, a plane for flying) and an additional difficulty to unlock once you’ve managed to complete everything else in the game, meaning there is quite a bit to Diddy Kong Racing. It’s the superior kart racer on the N64, and while Mario Kart 64 sold more games than everything besides Super Mario 64, Diddy Kong’s turn at the wheel ranked eighth on the system, with 4.9 million copies sold. It was also beloved by critics, who lauded the same systems I just did above. The blending of Rare’s knowledge of platform games and item collection with racing — another genre they were certainly familiar with — proved to be a perfect one, and it’s a shame we were never given the chance to play the GameCube sequel, Donkey Kong Racing, because Rare ended up purchased by Microsoft.

Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie

While 1997 featured three fantastic Rareware games on the N64, 1998 was limited to just the one: Banjo-Kazooie. Now, this game has not held up as well as some other Rare titles from the time, and neither has its sequel, Banjo-Tooie: both were eligible for the Nintendo top 101, for instance, but neither made it there. Which should not be a real surprise, considering the game that inspired them, Super Mario 64, was on the back-end of the list itself.

That all being said, these two games were great fun at the time of their releases, and are still fun to go back to now, albeit with a little more noticeable tedium in 2021 than they had decades ago. The genre they helped to grow, 3D platformers, has continued to grow since, and in ways that, at its best, eliminates the level of collection present in these games, as well as removing some of the kind of issues with movement and cameras that was inherent to these early days of this subgenre of platformer. There is a reason Super Mario 64 was the lowest-ranked 3D Mario game on the Nintendo top 101, you know, and Rare’s efforts within the same space are not immune to the same kinds of present-day criticisms.

Jet Force Gemini

We all have the same complaint about Jet Force Gemini. It’s actually kind of astounding how uniform the reception to this game was, from both fans and critics alike. Excellent concept, a wonderful use of arcade run-and-gun action and shoot-em-up enemy formations in a three-dimensional space. One question, though: why the fuck do you have to save every goddamn villager in the game in order to get to the end of it all?

I still have not, to this day, completed Jet Force Gemini. I’ll get there eventually, now that the version of this game on the Xbox One’s Rare Replay Collection has a modern controls option that makes the game’s extremely N64-centric control scheme make sense on a more modern dual-stick pad. I am unlikely to forget how upset I was upon finding out that the villagers, who you were mostly encouraged but not told explicitly were necessary to save, needed to all be accounted for in order for you to proceed to the end game. I remember where I was, who I was with, and even what the big boss preceding this moment was like, despite only doing this once, and literally decades ago. The game left an impression on me, let’s say, and it’s a shame that the final impression was of a bad taste in my mouth, because really, this game is still a ton of fun.

I went back to it a bit before writing this up, just to check, and I can already remember how I got so sucked into it in the first place. Three different characters (four, if you want to play some co-op), who all play similarly enough that there’s no trouble but all have different abilities that mean they can access different parts of the same stages or tackle certain scenarios in a better way. The focus is on the action, so even though there is a story and dialogue, you’re never held up from just getting on with it like so often happens in something like Banjo-Kazooie. It’s really just the one fatal flaw with the villagers here, but I guess it wouldn’t be a Rare game if they didn’t go one step too far with collection, huh? Regardless, I still like this game, and I really do want to go back and exorcise this particular demon. Just, uh, don’t be surprised when I start swearing because an ant with a laser rifle blew up an explosive barrel near some villagers, forcing me to try a stage again.

Perfect Dark

By and large, first-person shooters just get better and better, and often leave the genre’s past in the dust as new innovations and better technical aspects mean more refined games that can expand on the genre’s origins in ways that were unthinkable just a few years prior. This doesn’t mean older FPS are bad now or anything like that: it’s just that the genre has evolved specifically in a way that can sometimes make older FPS feel very much their age, or a little too simple or even frustrating to return to.

Like with anything else, however, there are classics of the genre that will hold up regardless of the time period they released in, though. DOOM is an obvious case — it’s not just ported to literally every possible platform for kicks, but also because who doesn’t want to be able to play DOOM whenever and wherever they are? — but then there is also Perfect Dark. It released late in the Nintendo 64’s lifecycle, in May of 2020, and since it required the Expansion Pak, not everyone who bought it necessarily experienced the game in full. Those who did have the Expansion Pak, though, and were also one of the 2.5 million people who bought the game, know exactly why I’m going to publish a massive Perfect Dark feature before this month is out. It was everything great about GoldenEye, only refined, only bigger, only better, and that goes for single-player, co-op, and competitive modes.

If you feel a little cheated that it’s not getting more of a write-up in this space, don’t you worry: it’s the best game Rareware released on the N64, one of the very best games on the entire system, and likely the best game Rare has ever made, just in general. It deserves more than a capsule in a Rare-focused feature, and it’ll get it.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was not a commercial success for the Nintendo 64. Not even close. It wasn’t one of the system’s million sellers, of which there were around 50, and this was in large part due to its release date: Conker’s Bad Fur Day was actually shown around at gaming conventions back before even Banjo-Kazooie released, but it wouldn’t reach its final, send-up-of-the-genre, Looney-Tunes-with-more-masturbation-jokes form until 2001. It has become something of a cult classic, though, in part because it’s packed with adult humor and the British spelling or pronunciation of various swears — “Fuck off crows” wasn’t making it into a game on a Nintendo system, but “Feck off crows” sure did — and in part because it’s just a damn good game.

Sure, some of the humor has not aged well — I get it, characters who are not the comparatively mild-mannered and calm Conker, you think some people are both fat and bitches — but there’s still plenty here that works well simply for its absurdity. Conker essentially has to solve some platforming challenges in order to help a bee who has been thrown out by the Queen for his attraction to a sunflower, uh, pollinate her. He fights a giant monster made of poo who also happens to have an affinity for the opera. The entire game’s premise is based on two things: an evil king’s desire for his table to no longer wobble so he won’t spill his milk, and Conker having a few too many at the pub the night before, leading him into starting the titular Bad Fur Day, where he just wants to get back home for a nap, a bit hungover.

The multiplayer alone is a treat, as it created a third-person shooter with a variety of fun weapons to use, all while you play some cute platforming characters who, just from appearance, you wouldn’t think exist inside of the same vulgar game as the horny bee and the poo monster. Conker’s Bad For Day isn’t for everyone — it also should not be for everyone — but it was still a fine cap on Rareware’s N64 output, and a superior way to remember their time with Nintendo than Star Fox Adventures on the GameCube is.


Why, given all of this success on the Nintendo 64, did Nintendo end up selling Rareware to Microsoft after just a single GameCube release? For one, Nintendo didn’t own the majority of Rare, they just owned everything Rare did not: Rareware itself, with its slate of non-Nintendo intellectual property from myriad games they themselves published, went looking for other buyers when Nintendo did not bother to approach Rare about acquiring the rest of the studio themselves. Microsoft wanted to snatch up studios even in the early days of the Xbox platform, especially after seeing an established entity like Sega bow out of the console game, and Rare was a fit.

Nintendo didn’t just let Rare walk away, either: they were in a three-way fight for ownership of the company, against not just Microsoft, but Activision as well. It should be pointed out that the Rare that still existed at this point was not necessarily the one that had thrived on the SNES and N64: many employees of Rare had left to form their own studios, like Free Radical Design, which would go on to make the Timesplitters series, and key figures like Martin Hollis of GoldenEye fame went to work for Nintendo directly. Even more employees left when the company was sold to Microsoft, and while Rare continued to develop some high-quality games into the era of the Xbox 360 — Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, to me, is the high-point of that franchise, and the Viva Pinata games are inspired efforts — they eventually settled in to be something much different than what they used to be. Developing games for Microsoft’s motion-sensor add-on, Kinect and working on Xbox Live’s avatar system felt like a disappointing use of the studio, considering its rich history, but as said: what was left at this point wasn’t necessarily even the same studio that once was.

Now, Sea of Thieves has been a priority in the present, and while it didn’t receive the kinds of reviews Rare games of the past did, it has managed to be a massive success, anyway. The spirit of Rare still lives on elsewhere, of course. Free Radical Design has been revived by publisher Deep Silver, and a new TimeSplitters might actually be on the way. Former Rare employees of the Microsoft era left the company and formed Playtonic, which has released a pair of Yooka-Laylee games — the hyphen gives away what that’s supposed to be a spiritual successor to. Former Rare employees and studios founded by them are still all over the industry, and the influence they had on the rest of said industry is undeniable. The old Rare might not exist anymore, not the one written about in this space today, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. They accomplished their mission, buoying the Nintendo 64 and helping to bring transformative change to multiple genres at a time of extreme upheaval and innovation in video games. It’s hard to achieve that kind of run in the first place, never mind topping it.

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25 years of the N64: WWF WrestleMania 2000

WWF No Mercy might be the superior title, but there isn't a wrestling game I've spent more time with in my life than its predecessor.

On September 29, 2021, the Nintendo 64 will turn 25 years old in North America. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be covering the console, its games, its innovations, and its legacy. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.

Everything positive I have already written about WCW/nWo Revenge applies to AKI’s followup for the competition, WWF WrestleMania 2000. The controls that are easy to pick up, the music that is extremely of its time but in a good way, the arcade feel to it all that has kept these now decades-old wrestling games in such high esteem against the more modern, “realistic” wrestling games that have dominated the market since. WWF WrestleMania 2000 is better than WCW/nWo Revenge in every way, unless you’re extremely attached to the WCW roster. Don’t worry, though, by this point in time, plenty of those WCW favorites were in WWF and also in this video game. And the ones who weren’t? Well, you could always create them, because AKI left plenty of assets tucked away in the create-a-wrestler mode so you could do that very thing.

Rather than making the game mostly about winning the various titles by successfully taking down a series of opponents, WrestleMania 2000 greatly expanded the modes and ways to play. There are exhibition matches, of course, but there is also a King of the Ring tournament, and a dedicated Royal Rumble, which lets you customize how it’ll play out to your heart’s content, even. Sure, throwing 29 other wrestlers over the top rope is fun, but have you considered ramping that number up to 40, pitting four teams against each other, and making it so that pinfalls and submissions were how you win the Rumble? Let your opponents have 12 wrestlers a piece and see if you can survive the whole time with just a handful of them, it’s your Rumble.

There is also a Pay Per View mode that lets you schedule your own set of matches, in which wrestlers will fight for whatever championships you assign the matches, in whatever format you want — cage match, No DQ, submissions only, and so on. Throw a Royal Rumble match in at a non-Royal Rumble pay-per-view event if you want. In addition, you can also create your own championships to be fought over: you don’t have to be satisfied with just the belts WWF was using at the time of this game’s release. Make WCW’s various titles available if you’d like, or create entirely new ones. You can store eight on the cartridge itself, and another eight on your memory card, so really, go wild.

I mentioned the ability to create wrestlers earlier, and that’s one of the real differentiators between Revenge and WrestleMania 2000. The ability to create a wrestler doesn’t just give you the freedom to make essentially whatever monstrosity or tough guy you want to, but it also gives you a deeper understanding of how the game itself works. You see, you don’t just pick how a wrestler looks, or what they wear, or how much they weigh. You also select every single move they will use, in every situation they might use it. These moves are all on display for you to peruse, picking the ones you want the most for every situation, as specific as “running ground attack [while your opponent is] facing up".” You could pick the Running Austin Elbow Drop (given a damage grade of D), or a more basic Running elbow drop (E), or one of six moves available in this specific scenario. The created character I looked at to remind me for these purposes had a Running Senton Splash (E).

The moves can be viewed in a demo that plays while you scroll through the various options, so you get a sense of not just how strong a move is because of its indicators — its damage grade, whether it will draw blood or not, whether it has the potential to cause a knockout of your opponent — but also just how cool they look. That matters, especially if you’re concerned about matching the vibe of a wrestler’s moves to their overall appearance. You’ll select moves under a number of different areas — Technique, Striking, Grappling, Ground Grappling, High Flying, and Taunt — and each of those has sub-areas that are broken down into more specific situations, like Weak Attack, Strong Attack, Running Attack, Turnbuckle Attack, Apron Attack, and so on.

[Just a note here: the embedded videos, which look like they’re running on HD emulators on a computer, run a lot slower than the actual game does on the N64]

By creating a wrestler, you discover every context available in the game, every context in which you could perform a move. Created wrestlers can have more moves than any of the stock ones, since you can fill every single option with different moves instead of making it so that you do, say, an Austin-style Running elbow drop at every possible opportunity to do one while playing as Stone Cold Steve Austin. It’s worth it to visit this robust section of the game even if you don’t plan on using created wrestlers, just to get a feel for the greatly expanded moveset and contexts available in WrestleMania 2000 compared to Revenge.

You can create some wrestlers whose assets were purposely left in this mode to be discovered, like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall — their signature taunts and finishers are in the game, and faces that look enough like theirs exist, too. There are entire FAQs dedicated to making the most accurate-as-possible WCW wrestlers within WWF WrestleMania 2000, even. Some of them, you’re just working to the best of your ability and what the game has left behind, but some have legitimate faces and gear sitting in here. You can also just make up some random wrestler, too. Still on my memory card are creations of a friend, like the tag team made up of massive powerhouse Carl, and his partner, Canadian Carl, who is much smaller but more acrobatic, and most importantly, is Canadian. At some point, I either figured out how to make Jack Black and Kyle Gas, or found a guide on the internet to help me do it. You can have 16 created wrestlers in your game at a time, between the cartridge and your memory card, which is a serious boost to an already loaded roster if you take the time to fill all those slots, as I’ve done over the years.

The create-a-wrestler situation and all of the other modes I mentioned were huge, and made WWF WrestleMania 2000 a must-play game for me all on their own, but there is another major gameplay mode in here that is still a lot of fun to play, even though it’s somewhat basic. The Road to WrestleMania sees you select a wrestler to play as, and you work your way through the roster and the calendar, trying to become the champion of… well, everything. There will be little bits of storyline interjected throughout the year, feuds with title holders, a Royal Rumble appearance that could net you the main event slot at WrestleMania to win the WWF Championship. It’s got everything in the game all packed into one year of a wrestler’s career. You can use stock wrestlers or created wrestlers, it doesn’t matter. And it all feels even a little more fun than this sounds because WrestleMania 2000 actually used the real themes of these wrestlers as entrance music. It’s something else when the Undertaker decides he’s had enough of your shit so his theme hits before he interferes in your match for a title, even if graphically and audio-wise we are talking about an N64 game here.

Building on what Revenge did best — a simple, directional control scheme paired with face button presses that made learning to play easy while leaving enough depth for mastery to feel like a goal to aspire to and not an automatic, the same kind of control scheme that is still used to this day in games like Super Smash Bros. — by expanding the number of moves a wrestler could perform, while also making every game mode bigger and introducing new ones, is what made WrestleMania 2000 so special, and keeps it so playable 22 years later. (It might be called WrestleMania 2000, but it released in the fall of ‘99.) WWF No Mercy is often — and rightly — credited as the best wrestling game on the Nintendo 64, and for many, the best one period. Like the jump from Revenge to WrestleMania 2000, the leap forward from WrestleMania 2000 to No Mercy is significant: No Mercy added backstage brawls, overhauled many of the game’s systems to make weapon usage and story elements feel deeper and more rewarding, and so on. However, WrestleMania 2000 is the one I spent the most time with. And even though I have No Mercy, too, WrestleMania 2000 is the one I still go back to the most, and that’s why I’m writing about it here during this little anniversary celebration of the console, even if it’s not the universal standard for the best wrestling game on the N64.

A massive selection of wrestlers, centered around the extremely well-known and loaded Attitude Era roster of WWF, without the worst parts of that particular moment in time included. A game where you can play as Rock, as Austin, as Taker, as whichever form of Mick Foley you want, where you can unlock Shawn Michaels, where you can create your dream wrestler and build them up from the weakest punch to the strongest slam. This game has everything besides fully realized women wrestlers, but hell, modern WWE struggles with that in reality sometimes, so I can only fault the game itself for its reflection of the realities of 1999 and WWF’s own issues with women’s wrestling of the time so much. Anyway, it’s incredible that all of this was possible on the N64, really, that all of this was possible so shortly after Revenge, too. It’s a real credit to AKI, and is one of the reasons that you see fans of wrestling and wrestling video games so hyped about the potential for the upcoming All Elite Wrestling video game: key figures in games like WrestleMania 2000 are onboard to create a more modern arcade experience based on the highly enjoyable, highly replayable AKI games of the past. We’ll see how that ends up shaking out, but regardless of the quality of that still-in-development AEW game, WWF WrestleMania 2000 still exists. And I’ll still be playing it even if I never end up writing a word about it again.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go devise a pay-per-view featuring created wrestlers vying for created belts. I’m pretty sure that’s what Tony Khan was doing before he he was on message boards dreaming up the promotion he’d eventually finance.

This newsletter is free for anyone to read, but if you’d like to support my ability to continue writing, you can become a Patreon supporter.

25 years of the N64: Glover

Imagine, for a moment, that the Hamburger Helper mascot knows magic and can solve environmental platforming puzzles, too.

On September 29, 2021, the Nintendo 64 will turn 25 years old in North America. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be covering the console, its games, its innovations, and its legacy. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.

Glover is one of those games that escaped me for the longest time, but just the sheer weirdness of the premise meant it was always there as something I’d have to get to someday. You play as a glove. A glove with the ability to act on its own. A glove that can solve environmental puzzles through physics-based gameplay, involving a ball that can be changed into other kinds of balls, through magic cast by the glove. The glove belonged to a wizard, you see, and after some spell-casting gone awry, the glove you play as has to save the world from the glove that is now evil.

Glover, released on both the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation — it is universally agreed-upon that the N64 version is the superior one — is very much an early 3D platformer. In how it looks, in how it plays, in the things about it that frustrate. It’s still quite a bit of fun, though, as long as you have the patience to put up with the elements of it that are extremely 1998 about it. Video games weren’t new by 1998, no, but 3D platformers were still relatively new back then, and many of the most significant problems with them — the camera, the physics, parts of the platforming itself, especially where falling into an abyss was concerned — felt like they were part of something new, because they were. Hell, Nintendo wouldn’t figure out how to get a working camera into a 3D Super Mario game for another decade, so expecting Hasbro Interactive — or anyone — to get there a couple of years into the existence of this particular genre was asking a bit much.

That’s not to put down the fine folks at Interactive Studios, of course. If you’re looking for a seamless 3D platforming experience, well, what are you doing looking in the 90s for it? Glover remains fun because, in spite of the aforementioned issues, there is a distinctiveness to it that keeps it intriguing all these years later. There are two sets of controls to learn: when you are just controlling the titular Glover, and when you are Glover while Glover has a ball in his… hand? I guess he’s all hand, so, uh, in his possession? Yeah, let’s go with that. Things are simple enough when you’re just Glover sans ball, as he can jump into the air and ground pound enemies by slamming his body, in fist shape, into the ground. He can cartwheel, he can double jump — pretty standard 3D platforming behavior, outside of the whole being an anthropomorphic glove thing.

When you control the ball, though, Glover is tougher, but also at its best. The ball is the point: the balls themselves are actually magic crystals that need to be returned to the wizard’s castle in order to reverse a spell gone wrong, but they’ve been transformed into a pretty standard rubber ball, like the kind you’d buy at the grocery store for $1 so your kids have something to play with until they manage to pop the thing. Glover himself cast the spell that transformed them, so the crystals wouldn’t break upon hitting the ground after they fell out of the castle. That isn’t just a plot point, but is also your introduction to something Glover will spend quite a bit of the game doing: transforming the balls into different kinds of balls in order to solve environmental puzzles and defeat enemies.

In its basic, default form, the ball bounces and has moderate durability. Glover can use the ball in this form in multiple ways, such as a way to traverse the environment — bounce the ball so that it also bounces Glover upward with the force of its bounce, allowing you to climb steps and the like. Pick up the ball and throw it, then cross gaps you wouldn’t be able to cross if Glover was still holding the ball. Slap the ball at enemies, or at certain objects, be they targets that help you open gates or make platforms move or the collectible cards, called garibs: you’ll score more points if you collect those garibs with the ball or while holding the ball, and the quicker you collect them, the higher the point bonus, too.

You can also transform the ball into a heavier bowling ball, which is the most durable version of the ball, and is heavy enough to sink in water. It also does more damage to enemies than any other version of the ball, given it’s a bowling ball. There is also the ballbearing, which is magnetic, and since it doesn’t bounce and isn’t overly heavy, is also the easiest of all of the balls to corral and control. Lastly, there is the choice to return the ball to its original crystal form, which has no real benefit outside of further increasing the points you score when you collect garibs. It’s at its most fragile in this form, so it’s best you don’t mess around with the ball in its crystal form unless you’ve already cleared an area of enemies, or are somewhere where there aren’t any kind of dangerous obstacles like traps in your way.

You’ll switch between the different forms of the ball again and again in order to climb, to cross water, to defeat enemies, to make it through the various puzzles and environments the game throws at you. There are three levels in each of the game’s six worlds, and a fourth bonus level in each world opens up if you manage to collect every one of the garibs scattered around these three levels. Collecting 50 garibs nets you an extra life, too, and you will likely need those since, as previously mentioned, this is a very 1998 3D platformer. You will fall off of places you did not know you could fall off of until it’s too late. Your ball will bounce in a way you did not expect it to, and end up falling into the abyss of nothingness below the platforms you’re supposed to be rooted to. Those extra lives will come in handy, is all, so even if you don’t plan on unlocking all of the bonus levels, at least collect all the garibs you see in your path in order to get those extra lives.

If you truly don’t care about the bonus levels, or want to lessen the 1998 of it all a little, there is an easy difficulty you can play on, which makes traversing water a whole lot easier by making it automatic in the areas where you normally would have had to fight against a current and the game’s controls to cross these sections. For some reason, the controls reverse direction when you stand atop the ball and use it for transportation, which can be extremely disorienting in water that’s pushing you along or back from whence you came. The downside is that you can’t access the bonus levels at all, so if you do want to experience Glover in full, then you will just have to learn how to deal with this disorienting experience on the normal difficulty.

I keep mentioning that this game/all of 3D platforming in the 90s is very much behind the kind of 3D platforming trends you have learned to expect from games in the more recent era of the genre, but there are elements to it that are ahead of its time, too. For one, building an entire game around this idea of protecting an essential object while also utilizing it for platforming isn’t exactly one you see a lot of even now. It’s the kind of thing you see more in specific missions instead of an entire game’s concept, and I promise Glover feels much more fun platformer while you play it then it does annoying escort mission of some kind.

And second, Glover has an easy to access method for always locating the ball that you’re currently supposed to be protecting, as well as whichever ball you’re supposed to find next. All you have to do is hold down the B button for a moment, and a thought bubble containing the ball will appear over Glover, while he points at where you’re supposed to go. There are modern open-world games with maps that don’t even let you do that kind of thing! It’s not a unique touch now by any means, but it was still something of a shock to see it in a game as old as Glover.

A welcome shock, at least: this is the kind of thing you would hope would be added to a platformer from this era in a modern re-release, since it would help ease some of the camera and navigation issues that are inherent to the time period’s design strategies and technical limitations. This lets you leave the ball behind so you can go around platforming as just Glover without fear of losing track of the thing you’re supposed to successfully carry throughout each level, and also makes it so you always know where you’re supposed to go next, even in an overworld limited both by its camera and the fog that covers everything that isn’t directly in front of you. It’s good stuff.

So, if Glover was fun to play, and somewhat unique, why was it never revisited or turned into a series? Well, that’s a fun story, unless you were one of the people responsible for there being a story to tell, anyway. Less than a year after the release of Glover, Interactive Studios announced that they were working on a sequel to the game. There were supposed to be improvements to the various aspects of the game — puzzle design, ball physics, and so on — but we never ended up getting a chance to see if those promises would be fulfilled, as the sequel was canceled. It wasn’t because of anything the sequel was doing, either: the game was canceled because of a poor decision made by a Hasbro employee in charge of ordering cartridges for their Nintendo 64 games.

While the original blog post no longer exists, a quoted version of it still does at Unseen 64. The since-deleted post was written by a former employee of Interactive Studios, James Steele:

“…as far as we were told, Glover 2 had been canned because of Glover 1. Now this seems strange, because the first Glover has sold fairly well for a non-Nintendo N64 title. And it was on the back of those sales that Glover 2 had been given the go-ahead at Hasbro in the first place.

But Hasbro had messed up. They had screwed the pooch big time. You see, when ordering the carts for the first game, the standard production run was something like 150,000 units. And this is what the management at ISL had advised Hasbro to order – because the N64 wasn’t really fairing that well compared to the PS1 at the time and non Nintendo titles tended to sell poorly. They thought that Glover was a good game in its own right, and a moderate 3rd party success would sell around 150,000 units. And that is exactly what happened. Hence the go ahead for the sequel.

So Glover was a money maker for Hasbro, right? Right? Nuh-uh. As it happened, Nintendo had a special on N64 carts at the time the game was being schedule for production. Some bright spark at Hasbro thought it would just be absolutely SUPER to order double the normal amount – so they put in an order 300,000 units at a slightly reduced cost.

The problem was that none of the retailers wanted to take that stock off Hasbro’s hands. The game had been moderately successful, but the demand just wasn’t there. And thus Hasbro was left with 150,000 or so copies of Glover for the N64 that nobody wanted. That’s something like half-a-million dollars worth of stock that they can’t shift. And with Hasbro Interactive not being in the best of financial shape Glover became a dirty word around the company, as it became apparent over the course of Glover 2 development that they were stuck with all those carts.

Of course, the blame was put on the game and brand itself rather than the idiot who ordered the extra 150,000 carts from Nintendo. And that ladies and gentlemen, is why Glover 2 had been cancelled.”

Hasbro Interactive was having, as Steele referred to, some financial issues at the time, so Glover being “responsible” for about half-a-million bucks worth of loss despite doing exactly what it was otherwise budgeted and projected to do ended up stigmatizing the sequel. So, the sequel was dropped, even though it was already 80-85 percent complete at the time of its cancellation, per Steele.

There’s still hope for Glover 2, however. Piko Interactive, a developer that focuses on physical releases of older games and digital ports to modern systems, has acquired not just the rights to the original Glover, but Glover 2 and that game’s unfinished code, as well, and they plan to release both on modern platforms at some point. They specialize in some mostly forgotten games, and it’s tough to be more forgotten about than a game that never saw the light of day to begin with. Glover was something of a lost relic of the N64 for years, thanks to Hasbro Interactive’s foibles and the rights to the game changing hands over time, but it’s now in the hands of a publisher that plans to do something with it, and we might even get a chance to see if the improvements to the original formula that were promised in the sequel were actually there, or if it now just looks and feels like Banjo-Kazooie, only starring a glove.

Glover isn’t my favorite N64 game by any means, but it managed to stand out during an era where seemingly everything was either a new 3D platformer series or a transition of a 2D platformer into 3D, and I had fun playing it in the present-day despite my general stance of only being so impressed by early 3D platformers. It never truly got the shot to succeed that it deserved, since the N64 wasn’t nearly the success that the Playstation was and the version of the game released on the latter system was infuriatingly inferior to the former’s edition. Maybe a re-release and a decades-later release of Glover 2 can change that, though, and move Glover into being something more than a curiosity from the past and a title that allows for the telling of a tragic story in game development.

And hey, if you want to play right now and don’t feel like waiting for Piko to deliver on a promise they made three years ago, you can get an N64 copy of Glover off of Ebay for $15-20. There are certainly worse ways to spend $20, and you only have to buy one cartridge instead of 300,000 of them, to boot.

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