Week of Games: Number 2

Friday 29 September (2006)

If we compare the list to the Earth, then the games that have so far been revealed represent the ocean, whereas the games which are still unknown represent the land. That’s right! 70% of the games on the list are here below for your approval. And beyond lies the second greatest game ever made.

3. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (PC)
4. Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube)
5. Metal Gear Solid (Playstation)
6. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Gamecube)
7. Day of the Tentacle (PC)
8. Beyond Good & Evil (Gamecube)
9. Grim Fandango (PC)
10. Street Fighter 2 (SNES)

The 2nd Best Game Eversuper mario 64 (nintendo 64)

That fucking Nintendo 64.  It arrived too late, and too expensive, and it used cartridges instead of CDs which meant that the games cost more as well. And it had Super Mario 64.

Let’s face it here – without this game, the N64 wouldn’t have lasted a second. I had a Playstation at the time, because I was fickle and it looked cool – and, dammit, it was cool, it was new and edgy and different and the games were cheap and you could get demo CDs, and I loved it. But when I stood in the games section of Toys R Us or Electronics Boutique (as half the Game stores were back then, accounting for the presence of at least two Game stores in every town in England today) and watched Mario 64 in action, I wept and wailed and lamented my stupidity, because regardless of anything else, this was clearly the only game in the world worth playing.

In the end, I never did get an N64, and this was probably for the best. Friends of mine owned one, so I could go to their house to play Pilotwings and things, but my Playstation was still waiting for me at home with classics like Little Big Adventure and Metal Gear Solid, not to mention the GTA games. So I was happy enough, because although I had never owned Mario 64, I knew that one day I would be able to play it at my leisure. And true enough, I have an emulated version of the game I can play on my PC – hell, I can even plug a genuine N64 control pad into my PC if I want – and I’ll undoubtedly buy it when it comes out on the Wii’s Virtual Console. If anything, my lack of access to it over the years has somewhat cemented its place in my memory, and on this list. Unlike other classic games, I’ve been unable to ‘return’ to it and find out that it’s actually not so great.

The fact of the matter, anyway, is that when it was new I did play it through. Oh, I didn’t own it, but my friend Ric Wilson did – and every day after school I’d be down at his house and we’d take it in turns to try and get those tricky final thirty or so stars. The adulation when I finally managed to complete the red-coin star on the flying level with the clouds – that kind of feeling is tough to duplicate. Trying to get enough to go up to the roof and see if that rumour about Yoshi was true; fucking around for days inside Tick Tock Clock trying to get the pendulum star, happy memories one and all.

But nostalgia is not enough to get a game this high up the list. It helps, but when it comes down to it, the game needs to be good – it needs to be bloody good. Mario 64, of course, is the pinnacle of ‘good.’ When it was new it blew everything else out of the water; it was the first truly 3D game (everything had three dimensions, unlike in old FPS games where many items were merely flat sprites which always faced the camera, creating the illusion of 3D, or in games like Tomb Raider where the world was 3D but you couldn’t move the camera at all) and it was the first to use the now-commonplace analogue stick. I remember how revolutionary this was; if you gave someone who had never used an analogue stick before a copy of Mario 64,  they would invariably end up running around in circles like a headless chicken (at least for a few miuntes) and it would be very amusing to watch. Well, for a minute anyway – then you’d bellow “for fuck’s sake you idiot give it to me!” or something.

That it was new and revolutionary was one thing, but it was also an enormous game. I mean there were fifteen zones to play in, which is more than any other Mario game I can think of. Okay sure, Super Mario World may have had hundreds of unique levels, but the common theme that tied these levels together were the worlds, of which there were only ten or so, including the secret ones. They were varied levels too – there was a snow level, an underwater level, a desert level, a level where the baddies were ridiculously big or ridiculously small (depending on how you entered) – even old-style switch palaces and a ghost house. It was like Nintendo took everything that made Super Mario World the best platform game ever made and perfectly transposed it into 3D. The gameplay mechanics, the presentation and style, the playability all remained completely unchanged but suddenly with a whole new dimension. I mean it’s like the difference between playing Pong and actually going out onto a court and playing tennis for real. It’s pretty much the same exact thing, except the latter is a thousand times more engrossing, challenging and fun.

It’s probably the most important game ever made – it revolutionised what platform games were capable of, and it single-handedly made the N64 a must-own console (Zelda came later.) Playing it when it was first released was like being given a virtual reality machine, because it was just so many light-years ahead of anything else that was available at the time. Playing it today, the graphics look a little old, and the textures are pretty weak, but it’s still fun and accessable, like the 2D Mario games of old.

If nothing else this game is an exercise in how to take an old style of gaming and revamp it without losing what made it so great in the first place. As it is, it’s the best action platformer game you’ll ever play – and even if Mario Galaxies destroys it for playability, it will really have to pull something out of the bag to beat the historical impact that its predecessor had. Nintendo’s finest moment? I think it probably is.

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