Connect with us


Reading Into The Past – August 1997



As I really hope you’re aware, we’re traveling (not literally) back to a time when gamers couldn’t really hit up the internet for the latest news. Naturally – due to the time it takes to cross the Atlantic to a US games event and then produce a magazine about what you saw there – this meant that the hottest gaming info was delivered on a significant delay, even when that info was straight outta E3.

Luckily, Nintendo absolutely smashed E3 in 1997, so even though we had to wait until August to read about it in the UK’s N64 Magazine and Nintendo Official Magazine (NOM), it was worth the wait. Now, through the power of… well, me re-reading it all and then typing about it, you get to relive all the excitement of the moment when the N64 really began to take flight. Strap in, folks.

E3 looks like it was so much more fun back in the day.

Extremely Entertaining Expo

We’ll get to the main events in a moment but there were many, many more games previewed by both magazines from E3 that deserve a mention, for better or worse. Rare had an excellent showing at the event, and it’s genuinely surprising to see the later-rebranded Conker’s Quest show up so early in the console’s lifespan, and with a December ‘97 release date to boot.

As we all know now, Rare eventually realized that the cutesy happy fun time they originally planned was quite a lot passé before they R-rated the great mighty poo out of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Looking back at screenshots – and the story description of having to, “recover 100 house-warming presents scattered by a gang of hoodlums” – makes me pretty confident that this must be the most extreme development U-turn ever seen.

Look at Conker’s stupid face. He knows how lame his game looks as it is now.

Speeding towards their release dates were the elite duo of futuristic racers, Extreme G and F-Zero 64; the latter being one of many victims of ‘it’s got 64 at the end of the title until we figure out a proper name’ seen at the show (although, in this case, I’m effectively saying an X is a proper name and 64 isn’t). NOM incorrectly predicts that Extreme G, “promises to be one of the best games of all time,” and, perhaps because they were only shown a video of F-Zero, they are yet to see it for the far-superior game it is.

Both mags seem pretty optimistic about the ultimately-disappointing Yoshi’s Island 64 (aka Yoshi’s Story) even though it too was relegated to video presentation form instead of being playable. N64 Mag says that it, “looked fab,” while NOM claims it, “looks set to take 2D gaming to new heights.” Other notable titles on display were the “absolute joy,” Bomberman 64, Duke Nukem 64 with its “disappointing” visuals, and Top Gear Rally which “played superbly.”

Body Harvest, which has apparently undergone significant changes since N64 Magazine previously visited developer DMA (hilariously referred to here in their pre-GTA days as “Dundee’s Lemmings-makers”), is now an ‘action RPG’ instead of ‘a plain old shoot ‘em up’. Despite this and it, again, not being playable, the “impressively monstrous title” still “wowed audiences.”

There’s an interesting bit of contrasting information regarding the soon-to-be-ground-breaking WCW vs nWo: World Tour. If you were a Nintendo Official Magazine reader, you’d have been thinking this was simply an enhanced port of the PlayStation game WCW vs The World – itself barely more than the western localization of the Japanese title Virtual Pro Wrestling. Curiously, N64 Mag refer to it with the correct name, having even had a go at the game, but still use the same PlayStation screenshots as NOM. What a delightfully uninformed era this was, eh?

Poor ol’ Tetrisphere, nobody wants you 🙁

Lastly, and mostly for posterity, I want to document the relatively optimistic hopes both these magazines have for both Superman and Clayfighter 63 1/3 – two games that will eventually go down as receiving (spoiler alert) some of the lowest review scores and biggest tear-downs of the entire console library. On Clayfighter, N64 Mag spotted a few cracks, saying, “things needed a spot of ironing out,” but claimed it, “still looked like being a tooth-friendly grinful.”

Superman received the utterly hilarious compliment from NOM that, “[developer] Titus is finally going to do justice to the Man of Steel.” They must really love flying through rings! It becomes clear, thanks to N64 Mag, that these poor suckers were only shown a video, as even these notorious cynics think that, “already Superman is looking impressive.” This impression will absolutely not last. I genuinely can’t wait to read the review of this turd once Titus manage to finally squeeze it out.

A Rare Treat

The real deal of E3 1997 for Nintendo was the kingly duo of Rare masterpieces, Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye 007. It shouldn’t take a genius to assume that two of the greatest games ever made (in this writer’s correct opinion anyway) would garner plenty of positive hype. According to NOM, Banjo received some scorn at the event for being too similar to Mario 64, which is ludicrous when we all know how much better than Mario 64 it actually is.

Another piece of bizarre info is some I never knew existed. Although aware that the game was previously called Dream, I had no idea that early information purported the game to be, “a Mario-esque platform affair that allows players to roam anywhere they like, so long as they succeed in rescuing Banjo’s bird, Piccolo.” Who the hell is Piccolo?! Did you lot know about this?

I’m not sure how, in any way, this looks like DKC

Misinformation aside, both magazines knew what was up once they got their hands on the first level demo. “At last, both visuals and gaming ideas come close to matching Shigeru Miyamoto’s own efforts,” report N64 Mag and NOM backed them up, calling it, “garishly colourful with superb animation,” and predicting it to be, “the future of all platform experiences.”

Rare weren’t finished there, as N64 Mag points out that, “at the moment there are only two or three developers fully making use of the N64, and on this evidence, Rare are definitely leading the pack.” They clearly weren’t wrong, as Goldeneye 007 turned all the heads. “If there was one game that stood out at the E3 expo as a potential show-stealer, it was Goldeneye 007,” reports N64 Magazine.

NOM were all in on the game in their enormous feature article filled with superlatives such as, “a game which promises to outdo every other first person shooter,” and predicting it to be, “potentially the Nintendo 64 game of the year.” N64 Magazine, however, needed a little more convincing.

I love that Pierce Brosnan just chillin’ in the tank with a totally blank expression like it’s nothing.

 “To begin with, N64 Magazine weren’t sure about the game. The weapons felt a little lightweight and the targeting system too often resulted in your dying,” is the kind of statement that seems like it should have been heresy back in 1997, but it’s fascinating to think that some people weren’t immediately amazed by such a groundbreaking title. “But the more we played, the more we began to take to it, and a three-hour sting on Saturday finally settled matters.” Not immediately amazed, then, just relatively quickly amazed.

Perhaps the most outrageously cool thing of all is that in their section about the motion capture and facial mapping, NOM revealed that editor Simon Clays and staff writer Stephen Fulljames had also been scanned and, “will be appearing in the PAL version of Goldeneye.” I sincerely think they weren’t aware of just how iconic a game they were being immortalized in. I’m so jealous I’m going to hunt them down in the game and throw remote mines on their arses.  

Reviews (and collecting!)

With an N64 game collection that’s gone pretty stagnant since I left university (ahem, nine years ago) and no longer had the guilt-free maintenance grant money and the brazen desire to waste it on old games, I decided that there’s no better reason to get back on the horse than to focus/limit my buying to the games reviewed in each issue I cover for this article, so I can pretend I’m living the high life of buying every game released on a monthly basis, which would have absolutely crippled the bank account of my parents back in the 90s.

For August 1997, the games reviewed that I didn’t already own were Blast Corps, Multi Racing Championship and Hexen. Without a network of N64 dealers to call on, I had to dip my toes into the pit of despair that is eBay to get hold of these relatively common titles (this time, anyway), and only one of them didn’t turn up! One refund and replacement buy later, and these three beauties have bumped my collection number up to 67, costing £8 (Blast Corps), £11.75 (Hexen) and £3 (MRC). Take a gander below, and be jealous of the beautiful end labels I’ve got.

Me ol’ man 3D printed me some dust covers. Neat, huh?

Blasting to the Core of the Matter

Undoubtedly the game of the month is Rare’s Blast Corps. Both magazines were full of praise for the destroy-‘em-up and its distinctive gameplay. NOM’s Stephen Fulljames proclaims it “one of the most original and fun games ever,” with Shaun White adding, “here’s a game which, for the first time in ages, offers gamers a unique challenge.” This is echoed by N64 Mag’s Jonathan Davies (not that one), who attributes, “matchless harnessing of N64 magic [to make] a game that’s unimaginable on any other system.”

That scientist’s vacant stare is going to give me nightmares.

After describing the unique gameplay as, “like sandcastles, but without all that tedious building-‘em-up getting in the way of the infinitely more enjoyable knocking-‘em-down,” Jon is keen to point out the game’s disappointing length. A double-edged sword of Blast Corps being, “easy to race through,” butts heads against, “the thrill of replaying the missions eventually [fading].” Despite this, N64 actually rates the game higher, with a score of 88% with NOM just a point lower at 87%.

Why Have One Racing When You Can Have Multi Racing?

The N64 Magazine review of Multi Racing Championship was fascinating in that it opened my eyes to a misconception I’ve apparently had my entire gaming life. See, with games like Super Mario Bros. 2 being completely replaced by a Doki Doki Panic reskin that was ‘easier for westerners’ back in 1986, and the modern rise of the Souls-like genre emanating from the land of the rising sun, I always assumed Japanese gamers were hard-f’n-core.

Not so, according to MRC reviewer James Ashton. Complaining that the game is “criminally easy,” he attributes this to “the Japanese [being] famed for preferring their games rather on the easy side.” Did you guys know this?! After boldly stating that, “UK gamers still like a tough race against the computer,” he laments that, “the game arrived in the N64 office at 11am and by 4.30 (with an hour off for lunch) it was finished.”

It’s a bit weird to have ‘Multi’ in the title of a game with only three tracks…

In spite of this, and with some grips about the graphics and frame rate giving, “the impression that you’re viewing it through dirty glasses,” Jon is still pleased with the fun, arcade-style gameplay (the review opens by calling it a ‘blinder’) and awards it 81%. It’s actually aged okay, I’d say, but doesn’t hold a candle to any of the Sega Rally titles of the era.

Making Trouble

I was a big fan of Mischief Makers back in the day, and it’s nice to go back and see the Japanese import of Go Go!! Troublemakers (a far inferior name, but is trouble worse than mischief? I think we got off lightly in the west, folks) get some serious love from N64 Mag. Laying out their existing love for Treasure’s back catalog, they clearly knew what to expect. “Its joyous oddness is constantly delightful,” beams reviewer Jonathan Nash before adding, “it’s laugh-out-loud funny and play-all-day fun.”

Go Go!! Troublemakers becomes the N64 Magazine’s 9th Star Game.

NOM, however, are not quite as patient with its quirks. “The early sections of the game are very confusing and it’ll take a lot of patience to keep going,” warns Shaun White (not that one), in contrast to N64’s more positive mindset of, “it makes you work to learn it and handsomely pays back your investment of time.” Shaun isn’t truly made of stone, however, with praise to the tune of, “rarely will you find a game with so many varied challenges.” For now, it earns a whopping 90% score and a Star Game Award from N64 Mag.

Dud of the Month!

Nowhere near as much of a dud as July’s reviewed games, so this month it’s merely the most average game we’re going to take a quick look at. That game is Hexen and it suffers, mainly, from a bad port job more than anything else. Having had a bash at the game since buying it, I can attest to the fact that it’s actually a pretty sweet medieval Doom clone (weirdly, I’m playing an emulated version of the N64 game on a PC instead of the PC version, but accuracy counts for something here).

I can see what N64 mean by its “prehistoric” visuals. When you’ve got a spanking new powerful console, you don’t want to be looking at flat Doom-style sprites when you’ve already seen what Turok has to offer. “What seemed incredibly atmospheric and frightening on the PC two years ago looks like a badly-tiled bathroom on the N64 today,” blasts Jonathan Davies.

It’s so weird that I’m more inclined to play this game than any of the positively reviewed ones, but here we are.

NOM don’t have their review copy yet, but even they’re not happy. “I like Hexen, but I don’t like N64 Hexen,” sighs Stephen Fulljames. “GT has simply ported the PC original to the N64 and made the graphics fuzzy.” N64 Mag add the exact same sentiment in their review, bemoaning that, “no discernible effort has been made to bring Hexen up to date: it really is just the PC version – but in a cart.”

It doesn’t end with the visuals, as N64 slams its “ill-conceived” level-design, “which could have you trudging around a vast, empty level for anything up to three weeks trying to work out what the last switch you pulled actually did.” NOM are not as upset about the levels – more that the, “excellent level structure of the PC version is overshadowed by jerky gameplay and lo-res sprites.” The final score of 69% from N64 Mag seems pretty generous after that dual-mauling.

How High Can You Try?

I really don’t know what happened to NOM around this period, but they seem to be farting about with their Scorelord section of the magazine. Firstly, the eponymous Scorelord is no more. I guess he got locked up for some kind of horrendous perversion regarding Mario Kart 64 lap times or something. He’s been replaced with Donkey Kong and, furthermore, the editors seem to take an absolute age to reveal any winners.

For the next few issues, they simply set more challenges without any closure for those previous, but that didn’t deter me from taking on a couple of challenges in Wave Race 64 and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. I also skipped ahead to find out what to beat this time, to save any more embarrassment, but I’ll let the above video do the talking, and I’ll see you all in September!

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes heading out for a sesh of Bakamitai karaoke in Kamurocho. You can hear his dulcet tones on the A Winner Is You game club podcast right here on GoombaStomp!