A lot ran through my mind when trying to answer the wonderful prompt of “best N64 game.” I thought about writing a troll article on the underrated charm of Superman 64, or how in all honesty I spent more time playing the original “Donkey Kong” as an easter egg inside Donkey Kong 64 than the actual game itself. There are also a few that have sentimental value, like the inhuman volume of hours I spent playing WWE No Mercy because a kid down the street told me I could see boobs if I won 200 straight matches without turning off the system. I did, there weren’t, and I damn near cooked the console. Starfox 64 also deserves mention simply for the fact that “Do a barrel roll!” is an essential part of my vernacular from day to day.
All things considered, though, I have to say that my favorite is still Mario Kart 64. I say this with two caveats; one, that I’m aware I’m one of millions who’d say the same thing, and two that I’m writing this article without seeing Ryan’s half, and I can only hope that he hasn’t said the same thing, because that’s arguably more obnoxious than if we were to show up at a party acting like we didn’t plan on wearing the same argyle sweater. (We totally did.) Though it’s one of the biggest cliches of “casual” gaming, it’s impeccably made, and it has value not only for nostalgia but as something that’s stood the test of time far better than most of its peers. Plenty of things can be nostalgic, but when you try to take a trip down memory lane, often and too suddenly the harsh realities of adulthood set in. I’d like to note at this time that if any of you out there loved the movie Spawn when you were 7 like I did, don’t ever go back. Treasure the memories. Let go.
Mario Kart 64 harkens back to a simpler time, when you had to figure out cheats for yourself, purely by accident, and not have a man who sounds strikingly like Werner Herzog explain them to you on the internet:
It’s also infinitely playable (though with age you wonder why Bowser is even in the game, because he sucks), and the battle mode was perfect for those who wanted to play a go-kart game where you shoot at your friends, but without that obnoxious structure and racing to get in the way. Plus, you turn into a bomb in 4-player and get to chase people around as a rolling instrument of death. There’s not an absurdly hard level in the game, although Rainbow Road still feels too goddamn long to this very day.
Finally, as one last note which I debated whether to include, there is in fact a formalized drinking game for this. The name, cleverly enough, is Beerio Kart. By cleverly, I mean not even a little. Anyway, the premise is that you have to finish one beer and a race. The catch is that you cannot be drinking while driving, because the intrepid creators of Beerio Kart care about teaching you good road habits. So, you have to strategically pick when to hit the breaks and shotgun. I place this knowledge in your hands, dear reader, with the hope that you are wise with the power which it confers.
I went through a bit of a personal crisis trying to answer this question because, as Dominick pointed out, we look like a bunch of assholes if we agree with one another in a column called “Head to Head.” The whole point of news commentary and talk shows is to assemble people who disagree with one another, thereby making their interaction interesting (unless, of course, we’re talking about ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” which is little more than a collection of uninteresting assholes). That said, I have an emotional connection to MarioKart 64 that goes deeper than any connection I’m likely to make to my children in the future. As a 14 year-old with bad eye-hand coordination, I spent weeks trying to beat each level so that I could–finally–race the game backwards.* When I actually achieved this goal, I let out a scream of joy so gutteral that it sounded like moose dying.
More importantly, I spent three years locked in MarioKart Rainbow Cup battles with my college roommate. We played well over 3,000 races, a tally of which we kept on the living room wall (because 1) come on, you have to keep track of something like that, and 2) much worse things happened to the walls in that apartment anyway). Once, after losing a close race, my roommate flung our copy of Mariokart off of our third story deck and into the parking lot below. I skipped class the next morning so that he and I could go buy another used copy (I’m not sure how I graduated either). But it occurs to me that my love for MarioKart 64 might have less to do with it being a great game, and more to do with an irrational sentimentality I have for it, kind of like the movie Love Actually.**
So, in the interest of actually going head to head with Dominick, I’m going to pick another wonderful game for Nintendo 64: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, in all of its various iterations. I know, I know, some of you are already “BUT RYAN, U forgot about “Goldeneye” LOLz!” Goldeneye is just too easy of a choice. Literally everyone had that game, and you always got stuck playing multi-player with the one kid who would insist on using proximity mines, and you’d say, “But hey, proximity mines suck!” but they wouldn’t listen and the next thing you know you’re trying to crouch down and go through those tunnels in the Complex and your arms get blown off.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was great because it could be enjoyed by a variety of people, from button-mashers to hardcore gamers. It had a great soundtrack, and it introduced an entire generation of kids to a sport which they would never again have any interest in watching but for the five minutes they would casually linger on ESPN when they realize that The X-Games are being shown. Most importantly, Pro Skater had incredible replay value in groups, as you would compete for high scores with your neighbors, and have to restrain yourself from punching your friends as they leaned over your shoulder every four seconds to ask, “Hey did you get ALL the tapes in this level??”*** The moves were all or nothing, total success or fall-on-Buddy Lasek’s-neck-bones failure. But when you did succeed, it was a feeling of complete elation. I once pulled a 360 kickflip into a 5-0 grind and ended it with a frontside kickflip out of the grind and nearly wet my pants.**** Few other games produced that kind of happiness.
*Fucking BACKWARDS, people! My pubescent mind was *blown*.
**I mean, seriously, it’s just a lovely and charming movie. Remember when Hugh Grant was in the limo with the woman that he loves but he can’t talk to her because there’s that cute kid dressed up in a huge dinosaur costume right in between them. Ha ha ha, wasn’t that funny? DON’T YOU REMEMBER!??
***Of course I got all the damn tapes. This isn’t amateur hour.
****And by “nearly,” I mean “did.”