Full disclosure up front this idea was brewing for awhile to be our first YouTube video. Only well, now it’s going to be an article and the footage I recorded got corrupted, because ofcourse it did. What footage was that? Why it was a large sampling of the finest looking Nintendo 64 games out there. See PlayStation has the public’s heart for bad graphics early 3D stuff. It’s not hard to see why.
The original PlayStation had it all. Great graphics, terrible graphics, and often both at once. Just look at Final Fantasy 7’s over world graphics vs it’s turn based combat ones. There is a wider depth of style with PlayStation thanks largely in part to the storage size permitted with disc based media. So why bring it up in an November 64 article? Because the bulk of the Nintendo 64’s games look, well, they aged rather well. I was about to say they look nice, but that’s a stretch. They still look passable. Though only in the company of the rest of their assets. Something not easy to pull off. See even PlayStation went with the prerendered backgrounds pretending to be 3D using a bitmap. The N64 tended to make due with whatever the devs could pull out of it at the time. Mario 64 looks so good because it all fits together. As opposed to PSX games from the same year. I arbitrarily picked 1999 to avoid seeming like I was aging favorites. Then took a Nintendo 64 game I don’t care about, and a PSX game I love. So with that in mind just look.
Trust me a really looked for a better Crash 3 picture. Yet there are very few to pick from. I assume because any frozen moment from that game looks tragic. Donkey Kong 64 though? Every single frame could be slapped on the back of the game case and can speak for themselves. Often PlayStation games tried a little to hard to be cutting edge. Nintendo was always more comfortable going for style even if that style is a brightly colored bunch of triangles that make up a jungle. The Crash stages look more realistic and impressive, but itakes Crash’s model stand out a bit to much. Or little objects that are designed to flash past you without a second glance. Okay so like think about Lego, you can make some amazing things out of Lego for Lego. Though the second you toss a Hot Wheels into your Lego town suddenly those pointed edges stand out and the whole thing just looks silly. I’m satisfied with that comparison. If you still don’t get what I am sayin’ then you were that kid who had the Ninja Turtles drive the Ecto-1 weren’t ya? It’s okay if you were. I mean I wouldn’t play with you, but you do you. Keeping a solid vision start to finish is the best way to make them stand the test if time. No updates coming later, no DLC, and nothing required for full enjoyment that isn’t either bundled in or reasonably expected to be already a part of your set up. Mario 64 will always be the same experience. It will look, control, and play the same anytime you turn it on. It will always be as perfectly paired as the first time you tried it. Even though it’s camera system and control sensitivity might feel awkward compared to modern outings they aren’t. bad. Once you take the time to learn, or relearn, what you are doing then it’s back to the experience you remember. It will always stay a charming little game that looks and feels like a single idea from concept to completion. Something I can’t say about many PSX titles that have lots of “it’s great but” kind of reviews.
The staying power of the Nintendo 64 is that it’s games are largely taken as is. The good parts are fantastic by today’s standards. The bad parts are not the fault of the system’s limitations, but the developers themselves. The Nintendo developers hit the ground running. Making even their first 3D games as polished as their 2D ones. No excuses for anyone else to not be atleast as good as Mario 64. A game focused and designed around the freedom it gives you in movement. Taking every aspect in account when implementing new mechanics or level design. Rarely did something stick out so bad it felt like it was supposed to be in a different game. No out of place looking characters, no random card game minigames, no jarring change between travel and gameplay graphics. It’s refreshing to know that you can tell in minutes if the game will be fun. That what you see is what you will be getting until the credits. Even when what you are getting is garbage, it’s atleast upfront about it. Free from the horrible burden of hope. The player will rather quickly get a sinking feeling in their stomach. Reality starts to set in and you know it’s not going to get better. At this point it’s just damage control and trying to get your money’s worth as you struggle through. For every good game on it the N64 has two bad ones. Still one in three shot you just pulled something good? That’s a bet I’m willing to take.
And willing to lose any day. The legacy of the Nintendo 64 is the very heart of modern indie games. Doing the best you can with what you have to make something uniquely you. An unapologetic uniform set of ideas that work together because they will built around the game. Not built on to the game it pad it out or add variety. A legacy of polished projects. Of doing your best even knowing it’s not enough. A legacy of being true to yourself, no matter how terrible you might actually be.