It’s safe to say that a solid majority of us hold a deep nostalgia for that treasured decade known as the 90’s. Whether we miss neon colored wind-breakers, light-up sneakers, or cartoons chocked full of entirely un-subtle adult humor, it’s something that we’ve all found solidarity in and simultaneously been poked fun at over. But when it comes to the things that we find ourselves gravitating back towards every now and again, the top choices are probably either VHS tapes (considering you either already have or can find a working VCR – while supplies last!) or old video games.
What would gaming be without those genre defining, 3D platformers that were first introduced on the Nintendo 64? Nearly every studio that has ever dipped a programming finger into this genre or ones like it has the games from this era to thank for paving the way for the franchises that are now super-famous and provide us never-ending fun (as well as manageable Carpal Tunnel Syndrome). Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie were some of the big titles that we can all remember loving, but there were a few games that flew under everyone’s radar and continue to do so today — even when 90’s nostalgia is still as popular as ever. Here’s a list of five great ones that didn’t get the exposure that they deserved.
- Mischief Makers (Treasure, Enix, 1997)
First off, let’s start with one that didn’t jump on the 3D platforming train right away. Mischief Makers was an odd, 2D puzzle/action platformer where you guide your character, Marina, to grab onto…things…with…faces… to get through levels and save a brilliant scientist who was kidnapped by an evil empire. I remember picking this one up several times at my local video store but having no idea how – at 8 years old – to work the unique controls. This is one of those platformers that may make you want to throw your controller in frustration, so if you find yourself with little patience for “trial and error” platforming, you’d probably be better off looking for a play-through video.
- Chameleon Twist (Sunsoft, 1997)
If the Pokemon, Lickitung, had a favorite game, this would be it. In Chameleon Twist, a chameleon named Davey follows a white rabbit into a magical cauldron and is transformed into humanoid form to set out on a tongue-slinging adventure through a unique 3D world. Enough said, right? This cutesy title has very unique gameplay mechanics where you use Davey’s tongue to catapult you up walls, latch onto poles to pull and swing you across gaps, and eat things — Yoshi-style — to swallow or shoot at enemies or targets. With that said, the game has its fair share of shortcomings. The camera is frustratingly clunky (which was a given for many N64 games), the textures and graphics are slightly bland, and the game itself is upsettingly short. But hey, it did well enough to get itself a sequel, and one that fixed most of the problems of its predecessor, to boot!
- Space Station: Silicon Valley (Take-Two Interactive, 1998)
It’s the year 3000. A long-lost space station housing robotic animals has been rediscovered. As Evo, a sentient microchip, you must explore the station as a parasite, jumping from animal to animal to complete various puzzles and advance to the dreaded Evil Brain who is hell bent on crashing the station into Earth.
If it adds to the nostalgia factor any, I bought Space Station: Silicon Valley used, from a Blair Video (a Blockbuster competitor on the east coast) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1998. My copy is a tad glitchy, but I always had fun setting poop bombs as a robo-hippo and racing around as a fox with wheels. Needless to say, the gameplay mechanics here had a myriad of variations that would keep one busy for hours, as well as campy British humor in the writing. What’s not to love?
- Glover (Hasbro, Interactive Studios, 1998)
This was one of those games that many N64 owners dabbled with but never completed, mostly because it was actually really difficult. As a four-fingered, magical glove named – you guessed it – Glover, you must restore the seven crystals to defeat your evil twin brother-glove, Cross-Stitch, and un-petrify the great wizard to bring light and happiness back into the world.
What made this game so hard is that most of the time, you’re balancing on top of a rubber ball (kinda like the infamous Pixar ball) to get through perilous, carnival-esque worlds. The ball can be transformed into a bowling ball, a ball-bearing, or it’s natural crystal form in order to complete different tasks throughout the game and get to the fountain at the end of each world, where the crystal is transported back to the top of the wizard’s castle.
Glover was also ported to the PlayStation but reviews for it were abysmal, stating that it lost the magic that it had on the N64, including a handful of frame rates. But are we really that surprised? Really?
- Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Sucker Punch, 1999)
We finally come to one of my favorite video games of all time (just behind Ubi Soft’s epic, Beyond Good & Evil): Rocket: Robot on Wheels. From the first game ever made by the developer that brought us the great Sly Cooper franchise, Rocket’s story begins when he’s charged with protecting a futuristic amusement park called Whoopie World and its valuables just before opening night. Little does he know that one of the park’s mascots, a dastardly raccoon (wink/nod/foreshadow) named JoJo had been plotting to kidnap Whoopie, the star Walrus and main mascot, and recreate the park in his name. He bonks Rocket over his created cranium and makes off with the blubbering blubber. Throughout the game, you must find coins called “Tinker Tokens” and collect tickets to open up the next worlds in order to progress and finally catch up to JoJo in the final level.
What makes Rocket so great is a that it’s very well-rounded and makes a point to be different. The levels aren’t your usual formula of woods, cave, sky, fire, ice, space, repeat or some variation thereof. Some of those are mixed in but in much different ways. The music in the game is also notable as smooth jazz accompanies you through the inventive worlds. The unique use of different vehicles throughout, such as a mechanical dolphin submarine and a hovercraft with a color-changing paint cannon, add to the experience and create one of a kind puzzles. At the time it came out, the physics engine that made the realistic gravity in the game possible was groundbreaking and something they never thought would be possible on the N64’s processor. The controls are also very precise for a platformer of its time. The camera can still be a bit of an annoyance, but such was the plague of the N64 and not having a second analog stick for 3D platforming.
Fans of the game, including its developers, are sad that it didn’t gain the traction it deserved, as it’s ranked within the top 20 best N64 games ever made. I first became aware of it in an issue of Nintendo Power Magazine under the codename: Sprocket. Don’t ask me how I remember the codename of a game no one has ever heard of from back in the late 90s, I just do, okay?
Honorable Mention: South Park (Iguana, Acclaim, 1998)
If you never played this first person, chickenbutt egging, pee-snowball slinging, fart-doll tossing, plunger… plunging… shooter, then you’re severely missing out on a wild game. Through lengthy, labyrinthine levels and against seemingly invincible bosses, you can control one of the four main kids from the popular satirical cartoon to wreak havoc on evil turkeys, possessed toys, and various aliens. This is quite literally the kind of game anyone would want from their favorite show: just take all the things that make it funny and memorable, and make it either a weapon, power up, or enemy and let ‘er rip. Or, as the Terrance & Phillip dolls you throw at enemies say, “I fart on your grave.”
Gone is the era of cheat codes, notoriously clunky controls, and boxy textures. These days, games are either highly cinematic and realistic, or hyper-stylized and surreal. As the technology grows, so do the worlds in the games. I mean, there was literally a game that came out this year where you could explore the entire galaxy. But now, instead of relying on nostalgia and good old fashioned fun, everything is based on whether or not a game lives up to the hype in the months before its release. More often than not, a good chunk of people walk away disappointed. I prefer to remain optimistic, though (as long as Beyond Good & Evil 2 is still being promised to us… just make it, goddamit…). Then again, I’ve always been more of a Nintendo fanboy, and we’re pretty much set on our core franchises being fairly reliable. Unless they do to another great series what they did to Sonic the Hedgehog…God help us all…