N64 Ports – The weird and the wacky

When you can’t replicate, innovate!

When our favourite grey box was in it’s prime, it’s main competition consisted of the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Both consoles were classed as 32-bit hardware. Both used CDs to load games, and both were released before Nintendo’s console. Developers were used to the two systems, and numerous titles had been created on one system and ported to the other.

Enter the N64, claiming to be more powerful, yet using cartridges to load games, it’s hardware (and controller) radically different, the perception of it’s audience different. Companies couldn’t just “copy” their games over to the new system, some serious work had to be done. Here are a few noteworthy attempts:

Resident Evil 2 (October ’99)

re2leon
A lot of people think the character models look nicer, but the backgrounds take a hit!

This is probably the biggest technical achievement in the console’s history. The original release of Resi 2 on the Playstation (a game you should be familiar with by now) spread across two CDs, contained multiple fmv (full motion video) clips and a fantastic soundtrack that was worthy of any horror film. 2 Scenarios for each character, bonus modes, full voice acting….

How the heck did they fit all this on a 64 MB cartridge??

It took Angel Studios, with a cool $1,000,000 budget, and 12 months of hard work. Hand-picked by Capcom, they compressed, they optimised, every trick in the book went into making this game possible, and I’m happy to say, it paid off! This port doesn’t beat the original, it never could, but make no mistake, this is a very playable port of a fantastic game, everything’s here, and it’s a technical marvel.

Doom 64 (March ’97)

doom64

While Resident Evil was a battle against the 64’s hardware limitations, this version of Doom is a complete contrast. Midway saw an opportunity to show exactly what the N64 was capable of, they picked up the ball and ran with it. Doom had been around for four years, and had revolutionised PC gaming. Everyone knew what it looked like and how it played, but instead of taking the old and familiar to the N64, Midway plumped for something different.

Doom ’64 uses a modified version of idTech’s classic engine, and is actually a sequel to Doom 2 (although that’s not really advertised.) Players who picked this up were immediately hooked. The pace is frantic, the lighting and visual effects fantastic, the difficulty? Brutal. This used the new analogue controller and movement felt so much more fluid compared to the D-pads of the Playstation and Saturn. Doom 64 never really saw the sales it deserved, but remains a cult classic and excellent upgrade to the original.

Command And Conquer (May ’99)

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From survival, to shooter, to strategy. Westwood’s Command and Conquer was another title that started life on PC back in ’95. It was well loved, and had received ports on both Playstation and Saturn (one of my favourite games on my favourite system there.) The developer for this port was Looking Glass Studios, and again they made a bold choice to give ’64 owners something new.

C&C is a game about war. Your buildings, soldiers, and tanks are all 2D, the landscape is 2D. It’s nice, it’s functional, it’s familiar. Looking Glass decided the N64 version would use polygons, bringing the old units to life in a new 3D world. By all accounts the result was…. so-so. The new art style makes everything stand out, and at first I felt this was a more realistic world. However the images have lost some detail in the translation. They look a little more bland, a little blurry maybe. The sound (as with Resi 2) has been compressed and the soundtrack has changed to the game’s detriment. Gone are the fmv custscenes, replaced with text outlining the mission objectives and the game’s story. This last one was too much for me to take, I love fmv. C&C on the N64: a good idea, with some questionable execution.

Bomberman ’64 (September ’97)

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Same again with Bomberman. Hudson Soft decided to really show off the new 3D Hardware and took Bomberman into the 3rd Dimension! You now have a camera that can rotate, flipping your view at the touch of a button and you have full control over where Bomberman goes. Instead of tight 2D mazes and corridors you have 3D worlds full of open areas to explore!

This is such a radical departure from every other Bomberman game since the original in 1987.

The 64 version features multiple levels, spread across 4 different worlds (with a secret one to unlock if you’re really good) The stages felt huge after playing the originals, and just like C&C I feel like they’ve lost some detail and some charm. The music is great, and I had a lot of fun running round and blowing up enemies. Multiplayer is here too, and it’s great to have four players without having to buy a multi-tap. In conclusion – i like this game, but would always pick a traditional Bomberman over it. There’s too much guess work with the bomb’s distance and blast radius in a 3d world, and the bigger stages here make the action feel a little diluted.

Hope you enjoyed a little look back at the N64’s attempts to bring some classics to it’s new platform, and stand out from the crowd! Please like, comment etc. See you soon!

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