Rayman 2: The Great Escape

As such, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is a flooring oddity of the Nintendo 64 days. During a time when most platformers and adventure games had their sights so deeply set on taking advantage of the grand environments supported by cutting-edge hardware that they ended up, positively, straying away from the genres’ origins, Ubisoft went the other way. With The Great Escape, the company opted to build, in the recently discovered 3-D realm, a quest that was open to the new opportunities unearthed by the latest technological developments, but whose main concern lay in being simple and old-school. In that regard, Rayman’s second adventure was certainly not alone, for many were the games and studios that tried to explore that interesting middle ground; however, arguably, none of them did so as well as the limbless hero, because the variety, quality, level of polish, and production values contained here are nothing but extremely rare. And propelled by those attributes, The Great Escape feels gigantic, blasting into the pantheon of the best games of its era and standing out among them for using the full extent of its energy towards being straightforward and fun rather than employing its ambitions in matters of size and scope.

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South Park Rally

South Park Rally, differently from most games that jump into the kart racing genre with the goal of dressing it up with a famous franchise and quickly extracting a good deal of money out of it, does try to tackle the gameplay style with a unique approach. Sadly, all the efforts that it makes in that regard end up being not only disastrous but also incredibly frustrating. Perhaps, if handled by a company that wanted something other than to get it out into the market as fast as possible in order to cash in, those ideas could have flourished into a likable experience. As it stands, though, playing South Park Rally is a miserable journey through thematic races that seem to have been designed to generate anger rather than joy. At least, however, its presence in the Nintendo 64 library serves the useful purpose of proving that good intentions can be smothered quite brutally by sheer greed; so much, in fact, that one has to look really hard to find traces of their existence amidst the mess.

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Star Fox 64

Overall, Star Fox 64 is nothing short of spectacular. It is the full realization of the concept of bringing arcade space shooters to a home console, and it reaches that status not just by perfectly translating the genre’s excitement and high-scoring thrill to television screens, but by finding ways to naturally expand the otherwise brief experience into a meaningful length. Be it by flying an Arwing, piloting a Landmaster, or diving in the Blue-Marine, players are bound to have an excellent time when blasting through Andross’ large army, and they will do so accompanied by likable characters, plenty of voice-acted dialogues, and stages that always succeed in surprising, testing gamers’ capacity to react quickly and shoot fast, and inviting them back for one more try. It is a source of joy that keeps on delivering for quite some time, and it is no wonder the absurd quality of the action it presents has been so hard to replicate.

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Mario Party 3

Although it takes a fair shot at fixing the series’ lack of an engaging single-player experience, Mario Party 3 does not succeed in that regard, just like all of its sequels eventually would. However, even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex. Some of the Mario Party games may have done one or two things a little bit better – such as the orb system introduced on Mario Party 5 or the boards governed by different rules of Mario Party 6 – but Mario Party 3 was the very last time (to those who have been following the series since its inception) in which it felt like the franchise took a good step forward, consolidating what had been done before it and propelling the package to a new level of quality.

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Mario Party 2

In other words, Mario Party 2 is a game that gives players way more tools to mess with their dearest friends than its predecessor did, something that will inevitably work, at some point, both for and against all players regardless of their level of expertise, as even though experienced gamers will have more control over their fate here, they will still be quite vulnerable to the turns destiny loves to take. And that factor will make its skirmishes far more fun, hilarious, exhilarating, and infuriating; making Mario Party 2 quite easy to recommend to anyone who has neither a weak heart nor a short temper.

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Mario Party

Mario Party works as a virtual board game because it mixes the concept of having a group of friends sitting around a table and reacting to each other’s moves and actions with the craziness that only a video game could provide. By building something that leans on human interaction as much as it relies on the interface between players and machine it successfully makes the magic of Checkers, Chess, Monopoly, and Clue materialize in the electronic gaming world. It makes it clear that these games do not simply work because they are addictive or well-designed, but because they pair that prowess with the ability to gather people so that they can laugh, get angry, and shout together. That is the beauty of board games; that is the beauty of Mario Party.

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Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong Racing is able to, then, lift itself above the generic building blocks it uses. Differently from most kart-racing games, it may not be stacked with recognizable brands, characters, and assets, a reality that is slightly harmful to the overall experience. However, Rare – in the midst of a breathtaking streak of creativity – was able to infuse the title with enough content, genuine challenge, and refreshing ideas to transform it into the Nintendo 64’s most fun racing effort and one of the few games of its genre that rightfully deserves to be placed alongside the best entries of the Mario Kart franchise. That, in itself, is a feat that reveals a lot about the degrees of creativity and dedication that were employed in the game’s making.

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Paper Mario

By its curtain call, Paper Mario will have proved itself to be an improvement over its predecessor; certainly not an affirmation to be taken lightly given the classic status of Super Mario RPG. Supported by three strong pillars of unquestionable quality – its creative writing, its engaging exploration, and its simple yet deep RPG elements and battle system – the game shows that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems used the knowledge acquired from their partnership with Squaresoft to build a work that is utterly original, from its visuals to its gameplay, and that is not afraid to abandon the more traditional approach of Super Mario RPG for something that feels fresher and even more aligned with the aura of the Mario franchise. Legends are not easy to topple, but Paper Mario does it.

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Donkey Kong 64

It is hard to deny the greatness of Donkey Kong 64. As a game that, even before release, wore on its sleeve the intention to be as big as technologically possible, it delivers in every single way. Given games of its kind would sadly fall out of favor during the generations that followed, it has remained as the largest and most demanding collection-based platformer ever since then, with no palpable contestants in sight. It is a game that may occasionally go overboard in its quest for scope and challenge, an exaggeration that will alienate many souls that will drown in backtracking and frustration. But the bottom-line is that it is fun. It does not aim for immensity for the sake of being big; it does so to make room for the insurmountable amount of ideas it sports. It is not a hollow behemoth, but a juggernaut exploding with spectacular moments.

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Jet Force Gemini

True to Rare’s traditions, everything is done remarkably well: the 15 worlds are gigantic, present different environments, and are given life by a wonderful fauna, a rich flora, and alluring bluidings; all clear displays of the brillancy of the game’s artistic team. Playing through Jet Force Gemini is, consequently, experiencing a welcoming mix of atmospheric delights and thrilling action.

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