Retrospective64 – 1080 Snowboarding

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

1080 Snowboarding is, if nothing else, a blizzard of nostalgia. The 1998 release was one of many sports games released for the N64 throughout its run, but few had the sense of personality 1080 brought. For those utterly unfamiliar, 1080 Snowboarding is a snowboard racing game, in which you try to complete a snowboarding course. Different game options pit you against a fellow snowboarder a timer, but the core of the gameplay experience is the trick system.

1080 Snowboarding’s North American cover. Courtesy of Nintendo.

Tricks, essential for earning points in the game which are useful for certain game modes and otherwise just fun to attempt, are done through a variety of button and joystick maneuvers. All tricks require you to be in the air, through the jump function or otherwise, and require a pretty well timed execution. I frequently found my tricks not being registered in time to even start their animation before I hit the ground. This, I suspect, is also in part due to the age of my controller and its joystick.

To give you an idea, here’s a series of trick commands, all following a jump via the A button:

Shifty – hold joystick to left, B

Tail Grab – hold joystick down, B

360° Open Air – press right bumper, swing joystick around in complete circle starting from the top, can turn joystick right or left to turn in the respective direction

The most fun, and brutally dated part of this game is the music. Nagata is a legendary composer for countless Nintendo projects, but 1080 is one of his few works that feel pretty stuck to its time. Tunes like “Vacant Lives” and “Work Your Body” aren’t just memorable, they feel like they must’ve been songs outside of the game. They do, however, sound intensely 90’s, in a way that real 90’s music doesn’t even sound, and sort of don’t match the expectations I’d normally have for an in-house Nintendo soundtrack. It’s fun to hear, but it never even courts the iconic nature of many other franchises’ soundscapes.

There are five man character options for this game. You pick your character before starting a series of races or a one off race depending on the mode you choose. You will also then choose your board and footing style. Those five characters are Kensuke Kimachi, Dion Blaster, Rob Haywood, Akari Hayami, and Ricky Winterborn. Three additional characters (Ice Man, Gold Boarder, and The Panda) are unlockable through a series of challenges or controller manipulation.

Different characters have different stats that suit certain challenges more. You do get the sense when playing each character that they are capable of different things, though planning that out for each course can sometimes be more work than a kid trying to play a snowboarding game is interested in. I typically choose Kensuke Kimachi or Rob Haywood, who are both just quite balanced.

The game is pretty enjoyable visually. The characters are all clearly different from one another and look pretty good for the time, as do the range of environments. While all are in the end essentially a trail of snow, they still feel individual and play around with different scenery and time of day quite well. The subtle effects your board or hand has on the snow is also a nice touch that adds a little more realism to a video game that can otherwise feel very very video gamey.

1080 Snowboarding was never going to challenge the more essential Nintendo 64 classics for my time. I’ll always rather play a more story driven and detailed game. That being said, replaying a few courses and exploring the trick menu again has provided a needed reminder that this game is one of the most straight forward fun options you can get for the N64.

If you’re just starting a 64 collection, there’s games you should get before this one, but it still deserves a spot on the list. While racing game fans will likely pick Mario Kart, or F-Zero X, over it (and they should), those looking for a game where they can mix time trials and races with a complex range of tricks and interesting courses will find a comforting home. 7/10

Retrospective64 – F-Zero-X

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

If I had to explain F-Zero X in just a few words, it’d be that it’s the “this ain’t your dad’s ___” of racing games. While other N64 classics, like Mario Kart 64, provide a night of family fun on the race track, this 1998 entry in the F-Zero franchise is as close to edgy as you’ll get from an in-house Nintendo game.

The game has excellent world building and builds on everything teased by its SNES predecessor. Each pilot and vehicle is unique and the vast major have proven memorable even when I go a good while without playing the game. I can easily recall drivers like Pico, Octoman, Bio Rex off the top of my head and of course the game features Captain Falcon, who’s Smash Bros.’ fame is larger than that of this franchise. The vehicles stand out equally. Like its driver, the Wild Goose was always a favorite of mine, but the Blood Hawk, Fire Stingray, and Red Gazelle are equally iconic.

F-Zero X advertisement art. Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Much like Star Fox 64, this is generally a game that clearly knew how it wanted to look. The tracks themselves mirror this as much as the characters, with the likes of Mute City and Big Blue providing unforgettable racing experiences. It goes beyond the literal track though, the pixelated world around the tracks provides a look into a dangerous, dystopian world that echoes the edgy appearances of the pilots, all of which look worthy of an appearance in a Star Wars cantina or Jabba’s Palace. Like many Nintendo games of the time, F-Zero X is as fun to explore and exist in as it is to race through.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Taro Bando and Hajime Wakai, who both provide a gritty series of rock anthems for the dark and stormy franchise. The music is toned down during the actual races, a reasonable choice given the chaos that ensues in almost every play through, but it’s present enough to help you feel like your at the center of something great. It’s a soundtrack that distances itself from the usual fun tracks we associate with 90’s Nintendo but that’s another aspect of why the game is so memorable. Not to repeat myself, but, this ain’t your dad’s Nintendo game.

The game is quite straight forward. The A button manages your thrust, while the joystick steers your vehicle. After you complete the first lap of any race, you’ll receive a boost ability that drains your shields every time you use it. That can be triggered by pressing B. The right bumper and Z buttons trigger an attacking move to your right and left respectively. Pressing both together causes you to spin and deal more damage to nearby vehicles, though attacking in general can slow you down.

There are four main modes for the game. The first is the GP, which is one of five race sets. These sets are the Jack, Queen, King, Joker, and X GP’s, with the last two being unlocked after certain achievements. There are also three difficulties: Novice, Standard, Expert, and Master.

The other three modes are Time Attack, Death Race, and VS. Time Attack has you complete a three lap track by yourself (a ghost competitor is optional) in an attempt to finish as fast as possible. Death Race has you go on to a special track in which you and the other 29 vehicles race endlessly until only one remains. It’s more or less a death match mode and certainly matches the film franchise it takes its name from. VS is the multiplayer mode of the game and sees you face off against up to three other players. All in all, F-Zero X has all the modes you’d expect. The combination of the GP’s, Time Attack, and Death Race provide enough to keep the player entertained for quite awhile, even for those like myself that don’t love racing games by default.

There are few N64 games I remember as fondly as F-Zero X. It’s one of those games that makes you feel like you’re in an exciting, dangerous world and gives you endless reasons to come back. I’ve played through each cup with dozens of different pilots over the years, always finding new challenges along the way and always coming back to the game when I find myself plugging the N64 back in.

If you love some old school dystopian sci-fi, racing, or seeing the edgier side of Nintendo in the 90’s, this is really the perfect game to get you started. 8/10

Retrospective64 – Starfox 64

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

Only a handful of games challenge Star Fox 64 for the top tiers of N64 legendary status. Released in 1997, the game built on the foundations of the original SNES title with a vast new range of graphical capabilities and continued focus on quality world building and sound design.

The game sees you take control of the Star Fox team through its leader, Fox McCloud. At your side are Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and Peppy Hare. ROB64/NUS64 provides team management from the team’s flagship and offers supplies and hints throughout the game. Your mission, given to you by General Pepper, is to destroy the evil interplanetary mad scientist Andross. You do so by making your way through the system, planet to planet, destroying his minions.

The box cover of Star Fox 64. Courtesy of Nintendo.

The majority of the game has you traverse through the map in a sort of straight line, killing enemies as they come, though a handful of maps see you fight in a more three dimensional space, circling one central target.

Star Fox 64, and the entire franchise, is a masterclass in world building. Just like its compatriots in the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises, Star Fox oozes with well, Star Fox. You barely need to leave the menu and opening animations to get a grasp on the futuristic, gritty world you’re diving into. With every planet, you learn more about this strange universe of 80’s science-fi combined with a world of sentient animals. Every type of ship, tank, and robot has extreme detail and can frequently be identified from far away. Your own ship, the Arwing, is exquisitely designed and looks like it could fit perfectly into any top science fiction universe.

That quality of design is added to by a great cast of characters, both visually and audibly, who all stand out as well though out and developed. Each voice is unique and perfectly cartoonish, something shown by the meme-like power of Peppy’s one liners (i.e. “Do a barrel roll!”).

Both Hajime Wakai and Koji Kondo are collaborated on the soundtrack for Star Fox 64 and both knocked it out of the park with the job of creating a soundscape that both reflects the subtle horror of the countless monsters and obstacles you face in the void of space and the proud passion of Fox Team as they achieve victory mission after mission. The Star Fox Theme, the spine of the soundtrack, is a plane and simple classic from this era and one that lives in other Star Fox games along with the Super Smash Bros. franchise.

All in all, one of Star Fox 64‘s biggest accomplishments is creating such a consistent and strong series of images and sounds to immerse players in a world they may well be brand new to.

The controls for the game are relatively simple. The C buttons, along with the joystick, give you all the basic managements of your vehicle, including steering, braking, and boosting. The right bumper and Z button provide you some of your more fancy moves, including the famous barrel roll maneuver. The A button fires your main attack, while the B button launches the bombs you can collect. If you can handle a N64 controller, you can handle these controls. I hadn’t played the game in years prior to doing so for this review and got back into it instantly.

The game’s upgrade system, which is per planet, is quite straight forward. You can collect silver rings to regain health. Gold rings do the same, but when you collect three you will receive an armor upgrade which can prove vital in boss battles, which are the centerpiece of the campaign. You can also pick up laser upgrades which improve your main weapon. There is also a wing repair item and a 1-Up item.

One of Star Fox 64‘s best aspects, especially looking back, is the player’s ability to unlock secondary paths, new missions, and alternative bosses. These opportunities are spread across the game and allow for a brand new experience every run. This is especially useful for a game which is relatively easy to finish in an hour or so.

The hidden bosses and planets tend to bring an increased difficulty, but also a brand new wave of experiences and even a few new characters. While its gameplay may be more like a three dimensional cousin of the classic vertical scrolling shooter, it’s detailed personalization feels almost like an RPG of sorts.

Star Fox 64 is an absolute classic, something you shouldn’t need me to tell you. It’s aged remarkably well and is still an engaging futuristic shooter even in 2020. The design, on all ends, is impeccable and iconic and you’ll find that revisiting its countless enemies, allies, bosses, and maps is a welcome journey down memory lane. 9/10

Retrospective64 – World Cup 98

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

Box cover for World Cup 98. Courtesy of EA Canada.

Note: To prepare for this, I played through the World Cup 98 campaign, which reconstructs the group stage and knockout stage of the tournament, with Romania. I chose Romania above all because they were a medium ranked team and provided a nice challenge. I’m happy to say that I took them all the way and won the final 1-0 over England.

World Cup 98 is, to put it simply, a wonderful slice of nostalgia. While modern FIFA players may find themselves horrified by its lacking mechanics and pixelated look, I can’t help but think of countless experiences playing the game with family, friends, and just myself over the years. The game was made by EA Canada and is one of the few games I’ll be discussing on here that isn’t made by Nintendo or a company closely affiliated with Nintendo.

Despite feeling quite different from EA’s more modern interpretations of the beautiful game, a lot of the basic controls are still there. The joystick of course directs motion. The A and B buttons give your basic passing, tackling, and shooting. The C buttons provide a range of tactics, including sliding tackles, through passes, and purposeful fouls. All in all, it’s a slightly more complicated and spread out version of the FIFA controls you use today.

Overall, it’s really the physics, not the mechanics, that differentiate the games. There’s a strange feeling to how the ball moves in this game and every time you took a shot on goal it seems like the game has decided every attempt has to look like a screamer, with even the most basic shot rocketing across the screen. The passes can be a bit frustrating to target and often a slight error in how your facing will result in a ball being cannoned across the pitch to a random opponent. This isn’t helped by the camera being quite close to the player with the ball, instead of a more zoomed out look as we often see now. I like the intimacy of the zoom in, but it does make it harder to navigate the pitch.

I, as much as I love this game, have to also mention that there’s a sort of delay in many of the commands that means you’ll often think you’ve planned out a great run and shot, only for the player to dribble it a few feet further because you pressed B too late and the keeper just comes and grabs it.

(music/sound) The sounds of this game aren’t all that different from most modern football games, in fact the crowd cheering sounds oddly similar. The menu has a nice tune but otherwise it’s pretty straight forward. The one bright light, albeit a strange one, is the inclusion of Chumbawamba’s hit(?) “Tubthumping” as the intro song. In comparison to the repetitive pop tracks that populate most games of the genre now, it’s a welcome risk, even if the song isn’t your (my) cup of tea.

If nothing else, World Cup 98 is a great bit of nostalgia. You can relive a great World Cup of the past on an already old school console and even get to play as some classic players. Playing it for this reminded me of the endless fun I had with it as a child, including goofing around with a friend to see how many players we could get red cards by slide tackling the head ref.

If you’re looking for a great football game, this probably isn’t it. It’s not especially realistic and frankly is probably more work than just picking up a modern alternative. That being said, if you have it or love yourself some nostalgia and have money on hand, I would highly encourage you to consider giving it a shot.

In a footballing world that’s more and more about clean new modern marketing, it’s nice to just enjoy a slap stick version of the game with some pixelated all-stars. It’s nice to remember when football was just a game played between some kids, that’s a memory football fans shouldn’t let themselves forget. 7/10