Feature: Nintendo 64 Region Exclusives - By Tetsuo
The Nintendo 64 was a curious combination of success and failure. In its native Japan, it was left a distant third place behind Sega's 32-bit Saturn, yet in America it saw great success. Manufacturing and development costs ensured a degree of quality over quantity, and most of the best output for the system of course came from Japanese soft co's, with Nintendo's reputation in particular solidified thanks to a stream of premium software throughout its lifespan.
Japanese exclusives total around 80, whereas American and European's were treated to around 200 select titles. The rest of the 380+ library was filled with a fair amount of crap, particularly as western software began to dominate the percentages towards the end of its life-cycle – the system was all but dead in the water in Japanese stores by 1999.
But, which region got the best deal? We'll take a look at the region exclusives for the Nintendo 64 - the best of the fringe, unique titles - and pit them against each other in a battle to the death to determine the ultimate winner. Or something. (And we'll have no sniggering from you smart-arse region modders at the back there).
So what we dealin' with, then?
Roughly speaking, the majority of Japanese exclusive fell into the following categories: baseball, golf, soccer (J-League), wrestling, mah-jong, pachinko, 'love' simulators, robot games, the odd RPG, and fishing. Hmm.
The US and Europe were treated to somewhat more variety: Loads of American sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, wrestling, bowling, boxing and skateboarding), soccer, Disney/animation licenses, platformers, racing, fighting (a good few of which were oddly Japanese-developed for the western markets), retro collections, and PC/PSX/arcade ports.
Round 1: THE CURIOSITIES
What we'll be grouping as curiosities are games which might not be perfect, or even great, yet still represent notable, worthwhile pickups. In the West, we have a much larger selection of curiosities to choose from, including some games which appear on other systems, but we'll stick mostly to looking at just system exclusives.
Neon Genesis Evangelion attempted what very few considered possible on cartridge, mixing a butt-load of FMV, CD quality audio and 3D graphics. The game itself, however, is severely lacking in actual playability, comprising of very simplistic controls and set-pieces, and is content to remain little more than an interactive movie, and not a particularly good one.
Tetris 64 was a game which took advantage of the Bio Sensor: a device that plugged into the controller, with the other end clipped onto your finger. The game would then use it to measure your “heart rate” and alter the gameplay accordingly.
Mario no Photopi allowed gamers to import photos to and from a standard digital media card (common to us today, but in the '90's high-end camera technology was the preserve of the Japanese), in this Nintendo-themed photo editor.
Dezaemon 3D gave users a chance to create their own shoot-em-ups via an elaborate series of very Japanese menus and drawing applications.
For those who dream of being a train driver, Densha de Go! 64, with its optional special accessory, allows this to become a reality.
64 Ozumo and its sequel were surprisingly playable, if somewhat throw-away, super deformed sumo wrestling games.
And for all-out bat shit insanity, Ucchan Nanchan no Honoo no Challenge: Denryu Iraira Bo brings the 'metalic maze buzzer game thing' to your television.
Mission: Impossible* was a promising movie tie-in, which at one point was looking more adventurous than Rare's GoldenEye 007. However, production struggles caused the game to be heavily compromised, and what was eventually released was interesting in places, but disappointingly executed.
The Turok games varied from pretty good (Turok 1) to seriously flawed (Turok 2) and then this, Turok: Rage Wars - an enjoyable multiplayer-only variation - yet still falls some way short of GoldenEye 007's 4-player mode.
3D platformers more than worthy of just investigation include Glover* and Earthworm Jim 3D*.
And amongst a glut of shoddy racers, the San Francisco Rush series evolved into the accomplished Stunt Racer 64. It had very little exposure, released as it was during the end of the systems' lifespan with limited distribution.
Round 1: JPN 1 - 0 US/EU
Round 2: THE GOOD
These are just good games. Games that are 'good'. Yup.
Puyo Puyo and Sim City have been released on every system under the Sun, and Puyo Puyo Sun* (ha!), the more uncommon Puyo Puyo Party* and Sim City 2000* offer up the best puzzling fun for your 64 bits.
Amongst the most charming Japanese exclusives is Wonder Project J2: Corlo no Mori no Josette, a Japanese-heavy RPG/point-and-click adventure, with delightful animation and music.
There were a few middling Bomberman games on the N64, but a 2001 release, Bomberman 64, returned the series to its classic 2D roots, but is extremely rare to find these days.
In Scotland, DMA Design produced some highly creative and ambitious titles with Body Harvest and Space Station Silicon Valley* - the former of which would lay the foundations for the 3D Grand Theft Auto series - the latter, an inventive and humorous 3D platform puzzle game.
Wipeout 64 is worth mentioning, as it contains some exclusive tracks and features, was the first in the series to use true analogue control, and demonstrated some impressive sound compression.
Duke Nukem: Zero Hour was a surprisingly competent shoot-em-up with an excellent multiplayer mode.
No-one ever talks about The New Tetris, but they should because it laid the foundations for the majority of all Tetris games since, by introducing 4x4 blocks, tetromino swapping, and had some of the best music on the system.
Round 2: JPN 1 - 1 US/EU
Final Round: THE ESSENTIALS
And finally, to the region exclusives which might be worth buying the system for alone. Essentials in the American and European regions are thin on the ground, containing two racing games which are extremely similar but probably both worth picking up anyway, and Japan is treated to some of Treasure's finest.
Sin and Punishment: Hoshi no Keishosha was developed in collaboration with Nintendo and is straight-up one of the best games on the system. It's an exceptional on-rails 3D shooter complete with Treasure's obligatory tricky controls. It really has to be seen to be believed.
Bakuretsu Muteki Bangai-O is the first (and finest) entry in the series - a delightfully manic shoot-em-up unlike any other, with delicious gameplay and sound, and humorous dialogue.
Dobutsu no Mori (Animal Crossing) has been re-incarnated several times now, but started out on the 64 in 2001. It was ported to the Gamecube a few years later.
Ridge Racer 64 isn't quite up to the standards of Ridge Racer: Type 4 but remains an exceptional piece of software, and another demonstration of the Nintendo 64's capabilities in the right hands.
World Driver Championship is a similarly accomplished racer from Boss Studios that can stand up to some of the PlayStation's best.
And Conker's Bad Fur Day, the notorious, foul-mouthed hit for Nintendo's ailing console, demonstrates Rare at their technical and frivolous best, with astonishingly detailed graphics.
Final Round: JPN 2 - 1 US/EU
*These were also ported to the PSX/PC/Saturn either retrospectively or at around the same time. Feel free to have a moan below.