When the first Street Fighter film hit in 1994 (trailer) my hype level for it was through the roof! Fighting games were on fire in the arcade and 16-bit systems at the time, and Street Fighter II was still a hot commodity. The trailer had then 11-year-old Dale craving to be there opening weekend because the costumes for most of the characters looked spot on. That preview included a montage of the “World Warriors” showcasing their vintage special attacks and poses. Guile’s Flash Kick and M. Bison enthusiastically proclaiming “GAME OVER!!!” in that trailer guaranteed I would be in the cinema for it. I was such a dork for this movie in my old journal at the time that I would keep a tally of the number of times I would see the trailer during commercial breaks on television leading up to the film……seriously.
There were only a couple of video game movies out by this point. The genre did not have the disastrous reputation that it does today, so suffice it to say, I was amped up going into the film…..and pretty peeved coming out of it because of how it treated a few characters compared to the game and because there was not an actual fighting tournament in it. In 2009, I revisited it when an “Extreme Edition” hit home video with extra features, and my opinion on it softened a bit seeing it with a fresh set of eyes. I re-watched it last week with the new “Steel Book” Ultimate Edition released on BluRay last year. All these years later, and now I seriously love the film!
Well known Belgian, Jean-Claude Van Damme is leading this film as the American fighter, Guile, fresh off Van Damme’s slate of action hits like Hard Target and Double Team. Director Steven de Souza stated in interviews that they had a throwaway line of dialog explaining how Guile covered up his Belgian accent by saying it was actually a southern accent and he is actually from the United States, but it wound up on the cutting room floor. His adversary is the dastardly lead Street Fighter II boss, M. Bison, played by Raul Julia in what would be his final performance.
As I alluded above, 11-year-old Dale was furious there was no fighting tournament. Instead, the film is all about M. Bison holding numerous “Allied Nations” employees as hostages in the fictitious world of Shadaloo, with various other Street Fighter combatants serving under him like Dee Jay (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski), Sagat (Wes Studi), and captured scientist Dhalsim (Roshan Seth). An awkward scientist’s attire is Dhalsim’s costume here, and Bison is forcing him to perform mutation experiments on Guile’s captured comrade, Charlie, and transform him mid-movie into the green-beast we know from the games as Blanka. I can go into the nerd gaming lore on how all kinds of wrong this is relating to Blanka, and Dhalsim’s character’s in the game, but I will actually give the filmmakers credit all these years later because it kind of actually plays well with an adult set of eyes because it would be pretty damn odd diving into Blanka’s actual video game origin story on the silver screen while trying to give equal time for the huge cast.
Speaking of this stacked cast, for the protagonists, aside from Guile, serving under him in the Allied Nations is Thunder Hawk (Gregg Rainwater), Cammy (Kylie Minogue), and Captain Sawada (Kenya Sawada)-who is a character created just for this movie. Sawada was later inserted as a playable character in the video game based on the film…that is based on the game and deliberately titled, Street Fighter: The Movie--just watch this video, it can explain it much better than I can. Two fighters more popular among fans of the video game, Ken (Damian Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann), have lesser supporting roles here as they are con-artist weapon dealers who later get teamed up against their will with Sagat and Vega (Jay Tavare).
The last squadron of good guys is the trio of Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen), Balrog (Grand L. Bush – who gave a random viral speech about his memories on the film in 2015), and E. Honda (Peter Tiasosopo). This motley trio is an innocuous TV news crew, but all three coincidentally have their own martial arts background that lines up with the game canon, and Chun-Li wants to avenge her father’s death when M. Bison steamrolled through her village. When Chun-Li confronts Bison with this, Julia absolutely nails it with his delivery of the meme-worthy “It Was Tuesday” line….if you have no recollection of this, well then click or press here to see this iconic moment in cinema history!
Speaking of, Raul Julia is sublime in his performance as M. Bison. He cheeses up his performance just right in his delivery as the master crime lord. Bonus feature interviews detail how he went method for studying for the role going so far as to research Mussolini speeches to mimic body language cadence. Other actors interviewed stated how Julia was visibly sick and downtrodden off-camera with cancer but wanted to do this film for his kids who loved the game. When the cameras were on, his colleagues stated how he was a total pro and how he went out with an aces performance that still lives on to this day! I love the costume he adorns that is incredibly faithful to the game, outrageous cape and all!!!
Most other fighters either have game-appropriate costumes or receive their appropriate gear at some point in the movie. Honda is the perfect case where after an amusing Kong/Godzilla duel homage with Zangief, Honda’s gear is battered so much that he dons it like his traditional sumo gear in the game! Some cast members like Dee Jay and Dhalsim don’t don their proper gear, but the filmmakers and costume department get it right for the most part! For better or worse, the fight choreographers work in plenty of the roster’s iconic moves like Guile’s aforementioned Flash Kick, Bison & Honda’s torpedo dive, and regrettably meek renditions of Ryu’s Hadoken and Ken’s Shoryuken.
The film has a rather convoluted plot, but it essentially stumbles its way into a cohesive mess by the end. The Allied Nations crew teams up with Chun-Li’s TV squad and eventually Ryu & Ken to invade M. Bison’s fortress. Van Damme does an admirable “so-bad-it’s-good” portrayal of Guile, and he has a main event-worthy clash with Bison in the final act to close the film. All the fights inside Bison’s fortress with all the cast members are an admitted dumpster fire to keep up with, but an enjoyable one nonetheless! I tip my hat to the crew for the monumental task of trying to grant adequate screen time for this ensemble cast. At the time of the film’s release, Super Street Fighter II was a fairly new entry in the series at home release, so I was surprised to see Dee Jay, Cammy, and Thunder Hawk all featured, but Fei Long is mysteriously absent. However, it may make sense in recent years after finding out how litigious the estate of the Bruce Lee family is.
This Ultimate Edition Steel Book has a ton of bonus materials. I would be remiss not to mention how awesome the steel book case is, and the gorgeous art that adorns it. Another cheeky bonus is an actual, physical “Bison Dollar” that plays a small-yet-vital part in the film!!! The folks behind this steel book BluRay went all-out with new bonus materials. There are roughly 75 minutes of new video interviews and features. A couple of the highlights are a 20-minute interview with writer/director Steven. E. de Souza, titled, Making Street Fighter. There is roughly an E. Honda’s 100-hand Slap’s worth of new production anecdotes from Souza. Some quick highlights are how $10 million of the $32 million budget went to Jean Claude Van Damme & Raul Julia alone. Additionally, here we find out JCVD was his backup option after Sylvester Stallone and how he originally wanted Stephen Wang as Bison, but was surprised Julia jumped at the role and could not turn him down.
Also amusing was how Souza stated how they kept toning down the violence and blood in the fights to get to a PG-13 rating but eventually overdid it and the MPAA rated the movie G. Hence, they went back and had JCVD whisper in a curse word to get a PG-13 rating. Lastly, it was fascinating to see in this interview how Souza was pretty introspective all these years later, being appreciative of fans coming around and telling him how much they love the movie in recent years after all the initial negative press.
Other notable new extras are interviews with the composer, Graene Revell, and how he was competing to get his soundtrack done and released before the Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack, which went on to much bigger success and still resonates today. They tracked down Ken Masters actor, Damian Chapa for a new interview with fond reflections of his kids loving that he did this movie all these years later. The actress who played Chun-Li, Ming-Na Wen, also had a new interview, with the standout moment being how she was in the scene with Raul Julia for the iconic “It was Tuesday” line. While they could not track JCVD for a new interview, they did have a historian interviewed detailing his humble Hollywood beginnings to his breakout success, and eventually how Street Fighter was the beginning of a downward spiral for him.
There is also roughly a half hour of archived extra features from the aforementioned “Extreme Edition” DVD, but the archived commentary track with de Souza also is carried over and worth your time and has a lot of takeaways from how the production shifted from Thailand into Australia due to filming conditions. This “Ultimate Edition” is a stacked BluRay, and well worth tracking down If you have any nostalgia for the 1994 classic!!! The intricately detailed steel book and physical “Bison Dollar” are just the icing on this delicious cake of camp theater fan service!! I think it is a safe bet the reboot follow-up Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li will not receive this treatment as it is as awful today as it was in 2009. By the way, the pic above this paragraph is the ultimate fan service to end the movie with each fighter’s appropriate victory pose!!!! Many, many thanks, Steven E. de Souza, for this iconic closing shot!!!
Here I am reflecting back on Street Fighter in a clip on the podcast “Big Screens & TV Streams.”
At a local college hockey game earlier this year I was discussing all-time favorite hockey films with a colleague, and he mentioned 1986’s Youngblood (trailer). Somehow, this puck-favorite escaped me all these years as I had never heard of it. I tried to track it down via online streaming, but it was on no streaming services, not even as a rental! I eventually settled on purchasing a DVD off Amazon and can finally cross-check this one off the to-see list!
Rob Lowe is the center of attention here as rural up-and-coming hockey ace Dean Youngblood. He lives on a small Canadian farm and against his dad’s advice, chooses to pursue Junior league hockey in his quest to make the pros. However, Dean is in for a whole new level of competition as the opening scenes at tryouts successfully establish a rival when Dean outperforms tenured player Racki (George Finn) and costs Racki his spot on the team! From there, Dean has to achieve the ultimate test of winning over the respect of his teammates, especially team captain Derek Sutton (Patrick Swayze). Another teammate worth noting in a small part with just several lines in the film is the player named Heaver, played by a very early-in-his-career, Keanu Reeves!
Dean has to endure a lot of right-of-passage rituals in the juniors, such as a shaving prank that I hear is commonplace amongst rookies in real-life locker rooms, the team intentionally getting Dean wasted and having to suffer the after-effects in practice the next day and acquiring a specific taste for tea at the player’s local lodging. It was quite the feat of seeing Dean go through the hazing gauntlet, and I feel some of the scenes would have been shot differently if it were released today. Jessie (Cynthia Gibb) is the rink’s Zamboni driver, coach’s daughter, and love interest for Dean. Seeing their relationship play out while attempting to keep the coach out of sight added a fun side dynamic to the film worth investing into.
The actual hockey scenes here have an unorthodox feeling to them. The players are moving at a slow speed for the big plays as if trying to imitate slow-motion replays, but without the special effects filter that enables the slow-motion zoom/blur in sports telecasts. This results in a handful of plays where players are slowly skating awkwardly before scoring a pivotal goal. There are some nasty fight scenes/dirty plays where Racki comes into play, constantly messing with Sutton and Youngblood. There is a massive payoff in the final game, where Youngblood has a do-or-die penalty shot, which directly leads into a game-ending fight scene with Youngblood and Racki, which Youngblood has adequately prepared for via Rocky-esque fight training montages back at the family farm!
This is a barebones DVD release, with only a trailer being the only extra feature. Seeing how this is a real early movie in the career of Lowe, Swayze, and Keanu Reeves, I would have loved a quick interview retrospective piece or even a commentary track. Click or press here to check out this thorough oral history from The Hockey News as a worthy online alternative. This was a fun hockey film that told an interesting story about trying to break into junior league hockey, with the added paradigm of being from a Canadian perspective. Aside from the aforementioned awkward moments, the hockey action is still plenty passable. A fantastic hero/villain is established on the ice with Dean and Racki’s rivalry that rewards viewers with a tremendous end fight scene! Thank you Brad for recommending Youngblood! I think I will put this in the upper echelon of hockey films for me with Mystery, Alaska, Goon, and Sudden Death.
For more discussion on Youngblood and some of my other favorite hockey films, check out this clip where I cover it on the podcast “Big Screens & TV Streams.”
One of the most unique theatrical viewings I experienced was 2019’s 1917 (trailer). It was not until about 15-ish minutes in did I realize that Skyfall director, Sam Mendes, was attempting to deliver what would be a film perceived as one non-stop (minus one clear cut), continuous real-time take! Dean Charles-Chapman and George MacKay portray Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield, respectively. They are retrieved from their midday nap at the film's beginning and tasked with delivering a message to General Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to immediately halt launching an offensive that will certainly lead 1,600 troops marching into guaranteed death.
After they received their orders and worked their way through their base’s trenches and into No Man’s Land, I realized this was being done without any obvious camera cuts and presented in real-time. Another reason why so long went by without noticing this feat was from being swept up in the cinematic presentation of World War I. Since first seeing this in the theaters upon its release and this 4K UHD Re-watch, I have since viewed Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which is all about the WWI lifestyle and colorizes lost/discovered WWI footage. It made so many shots come across differently on this second viewing.
Watching Blake and Schofield tiptoe and stealth their way across No Man’s Land and the enemy’s maze of trenches was a gripping experience. Seeing this in 4K made the queezy visuals of death pop off the screen as they worked their way past fallen soldiers and horses strewn about the middle ground. Things take a sudden turn when just under halfway through the film when Blake is slain by an enemy, and now Schofield, who until this point was portrayed as meek and reluctant, must deliver the orders on his own. That scene is tremendous; seeing the instant wave of emotions that rush across Schofield’s face in mere seconds and realizing how the mission parameters have drastically changed is one of many powerful moments in the film.
Following Schofield’s newfound determination to make haste to his destination is a deceptively long journey as he, shortly after that, tags along with a squadron of soldiers. Blake then makes his way across a series of ruins while being pursued by the enemy before ultimately making it to his final destination at the last possible moment in a heroic dash across the battlefield that leaps to life with an uplifting score. MacKay’s facials from beginning to end are in a class of their own that puts the exclamation point on pivotal scenes like Blake’s aforementioned demise, especially the frenzied look on his face when barreling through allied ranks to deliver the orders to General MacKenzie in time. In the closing moments, Schofield tracks down Blake’s brother to relay the heartbreaking news of his sibling’s death and then briefly walks off to sit down and take in his trek while reflecting on his family photos. It is a goosebump-inducing scene I found myself rewinding to take in repeatedly and serve as a superbly produced endpoint to an outstanding film from beginning to end.
The 4K and BluRay discs in this combo pack have the same extra features. There are two commentary tracks: one with the director, Sam Mendes, and the other with director of photography, Roger Deckins. I took in the Mendes commentary, and while soft-spoken, he has an abundance of production stories, insights, and reflections with few, if any, noticeable lulls in his track. Some commentary moments that stood out were putting his 007 production knowledge to good use here. Mendes has plenty to say about all the performances in the film and was respectfully introspective on the movie’s closing moments. There are five behind-the-scenes extras totaling around 40 minutes in length. Two are must-watches: Allied Forces: Making 1917 elucidates the state-of-the-art camera work that made the “one-take film” possible, and In the Trenches details MacKay and Chapman immersing themselves in their roles and look back at their time on set.
Looking over at my real-time notes for the film, I wrote down in all caps, with multiple exclamation points, “FUCK YEAH!!” at the end of my notes. That is likely the only time I ever did that in the several hundred entries I crafted for this website in the past decade. Let that speak for itself! If it was not apparent by now, 1917 held up marvelously from the couple of years I held off on its rewatch. Watching this again in 4K is the way to go, and I can see how the film won its Oscars for Best Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. If you have held off this long on 1917, do not dismiss its “one-take” nature as a cheap trick to lure people in; it is a work-of-art through-and-through and not just a good war film, but an undeniable instant classic.
If you want even more 1917 coverage from me, check out this clip where I review it on the podcast “Big Screens & TV Streams.”
Top: The iconic "N64 Kid" meme receiving his new N64 on Christmas day! Directly below is me losing it on Christmas too! Together, both of us are ecstatically exclaiming: "Nintendo Sixty-Fourrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!"
Happy Thanksgiving! Two months ago marked the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo 64’s North America launch. The N64 was essentially my go-to console during high school and was a regular in my rotation for many years after and remains one of my all-time favorite gaming consoles. I have been anticipating writing this Flashback Special for quite some time. Just for a refresher to those who have not read any of my previous Flashback Specials (of which all are linked at the end of this piece), this is not a year-by-year retrospective of the platform. It is a log of my memories and observations growing up with the N64 over the years, with maybe a dash of history thrown in for context.
I mentioned before how it took me way too long to adapt to polygons and 3D gameplay. It was not until early 1997, when I played nothing but Saturn for a week straight, that I overcame my reservations about that generation. The graphics were pretty impressive and not as butt-ugly as I thought, and I realized then the leaps in gameplay quality that were possible with 3D environments. My first hands-on time with an N64 did not leave a good impression, and I was leaning towards preferring a Saturn that generation instead.
My old middle school did a couple of free days a year with all kinds of activities available. Naturally, I signed up for the video games session in early 1997 and briefly played Super Mario 64, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I had no idea what I was doing maneuvering Mario around for the first time with the N64’s uniquely shaped controller for the 10 minutes or so I had to play it. That first Turok game was notoriously foggy and hard to come to grips with its controls for the same amount of time. I wound up walking out of that session not-so-hot on the N64 and instead was leaning towards preferring the Saturn. All it took was some good ‘ol Nintendo propaganda to sway me back in their good graces.
Change the System - THAT Nintendo Power VHS Tape
14 year-old Dale absolutely ate up this promotional video.
For several years of my Nintendo Power subscription, they would mail out a complimentary, promotional tape for one of their upcoming products. 1996 saw them mail out one hyping up the launch of N64, with three teenagers being demonstrated Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire as the three must-have games for the system. It got me interested in Nintendo’s 64-bit beast, and I ate up its mid-90s “extreme” production effects, but it was not until 1997’s tape that reeled me into “I must have this!” mode. That tape hyped up Star Fox 64 as that year’s must-have game. The video had such a hokey Nintendo rah-rah theme with Nintendo reps constantly one-upping actors portraying Sega and Sony reps. Eventually, the Nintendo reps succeeded at convincing them how better the N64 was to their systems….seriously, just click or press here to watch the awesomely cheesy video to see for yourselves.
Also working to persuade me back into the N64’s corner was all the Nintendo Powerpropaganda articles hyping up the N64’s first-year library. Sure enough, halfway into 1997 and the system was starting to gain momentum with hits like Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye 007. It all added up with me dropping many hints to my dad about what I wanted for Christmas. I thought there would be no way he would get me that system and go against his norms of picking up systems for a bargain at garage sales. He surprised the hell out of me on Christmas morning, where I got the system and copies of Mario Kart 64 and Cruis’n USA for my first two games on the system. I made sure to give him a reaction worth capturing that you can see at the top of this entry, and while it may not be N64-kid meme quality, I think I gave it a pretty good attempt. Not too long after that, I received WCW vs. nWo: World Tour from my mom, and I was all-in on what would become one of my favorite gaming platforms.
My dad would have visitations with my siblings and me on weekends during this timeframe, and almost every weekend, there would be a couple of hours dedicated to four-player N64. These are some of my fondest memories of the system, where some combination of me, my brother, sister, dad, or a friend visiting would throw in one of several destination N64 multiplayer games from my N64-branded Game Pak carrying case and play for a majority of the afternoon until dinner time. Mario Kart 64 was an early four-player favorite, where we would replay all the Grand Prix circuits to achieve gold on all difficulty levels. That even went into effect for the unlockable “extra” difficulty where we raced the tracks in reverse, which made courses like Yoshi’s Valley and Toad’s Turnpike quite the teeth-grinding endeavor. Four-player VS. races lead to some emotional outbursts when one of us would collide with those pesky bomb racers driving in reverse in a close race, especially on Rainbow Road. Big Donut, Double Deck, and Four Corners were all quality battle maps to engage in (the less said about Skyscraper, the better).
Goldeneye 007 and a couple of years later with its successor, Perfect Dark, lead to many nights blowing up friends and family in this pair of classic first-person shooters from the developer, Rare. These controls felt just right for me on the N64 controller compared to Turok’s default setup. Almost every friend or family member I played with had their preferred weapon and level set up. Grenade Launchers in the Temple was my personal favorite. My brother loved luring us into his Proximity Mines in the Stacks, and longtime gaming friend Matt was a big fan of repeatedly getting the best of me with Rocket Launchers in the Complex level. The fact that I remember all these setups well over two decades later is saying something! Perfect Dark upped the madness exponentially with more options, modes, and customizations. I could not resist luring people into a deployed Laptop Gun, setting up practice rounds against the many variations of “simulant” AI opponents, or diving into many preset challenges against the AI opponents to unlock everything out of the multiplayer.
Some other family favorite multiplayer hits included The New Tetris. The first four-player Tetris game! It was also the first Tetris game I played that introduced hold pieces and being able to form gold and silver blocks with sets of certain Tetriminoes for bonus line scores. The game kept track of all the lines completed and used them to unlock saccharin cinematics of the Seven Wonders of the Worlds, complete with stats of how many lines each user contributed. It took about a good three years, but we eventually accumulated enough lines to unlock all seven. I will forever remember New Tetris as being my dad’s “Zen” game, and he would be so tuned in to playing, that he would not be able to converse for a single word once we were 10 seconds into a game. I saw him pull off miraculous recoveries in that game and ridiculous high scores. There was one local leaderboard I was ecstatic I cracked the top 10 in until that glee quickly passed when visiting my dad’s the next weekend when I could not help but notice my dad kept playing that certain mode until my name was completely eliminated from that specific top 10 scoreboard. He randomly brings this fact up to me until this very day.
The trilogy of Mario Party games were a smash with friends, regardless if the average game took two hours to finish because we had so much fun with the chaos that resulted from the most deviously sinister party games out there! Finally, while these games are on almost any major gaming platform, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! were both big hits on the N64 with the family. That version of Jeopardy! was the first to include the auto-finish spelling option of responses for quicker inputs, and both of these games were some of the few N64 titles to include full-motion video, with brief snippets from Alex Trebek and Vanna White. Both of these titles were perfect palate cleansers from intense rounds of Goldeneye and Mario Kart.
Last Hurrah for Arcade Sports, Rise of Sports Sims
This generation saw the last line of arcade hit conversions from Midway, and they delivered with big-time arcade sports hits throughout the entire N64 lifecycle. Early on, they ported over NBA Hangtime. I invested significantly more time into the SNES version first, but the N64 is the vastly superior port with more impressive visuals and a catchier soundtrack in this true sequel to NBA Jam T.E.. I also invested significant time into its excellent polygonal sequel, NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC, which of course includes the best sportscast theme in broadcast history! Midway’s pair of Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey titles did for hockey what Jam did for hoops, and it also featured some of the best in-game fighting since NES Blades of Steel. Midway struck gold this generation with NFL Blitz, which finally tweaked the arcade football formula just right that this game was always a hit when playing with fellow pigskin fans or people who had zero interest in football whatsoever.
Griffey rocked the N64 with two more baseball games with his branding, while NBA Showtime successfully brought the NBA Jam look and feel in a 3D environment!
As good as the arcade sports were, this era was when sports sims fully came into their own. I played way too much NFL Quarterback Club ‘98 than I care to admit. Somehow Acclaim secured the exclusive NFL team license on the N64 that year, which was enough to sway me to procure that version that season. Things changed the following season with Madden NFL ‘99, when EA debuted the game-changing Franchise mode, and fully realized their 3D gameplay that year too, but I wound up playing that series more on PSone. Other sports games I got into on the N64 include Major League Baseball: Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., a worthy 64-bit upgrade from the acclaimed 16-bit games. All-Star Tennis did not live up to its adjective, FOX Sports College Hoops I came around on, and I appreciated a code that disabled the crowd and brought back heartwarming memories of SNES NCAA Basketball. Mia Hamm Soccer 64 was an average soccer title, but remarkable for the fact of being the first all-women’s soccer game, and being able to pick an all-women team would not be attempted again in North America until 15 years later with the release of FIFA ‘16!!! The N64 also became the first system I played a soccer management-sim game…in Japanese too….and I dug it to my surprise! So if you ever stumble across a copy of J-League Tactics Soccer, do not hesitate to give it a chance!!!
Hands-Down the Best Library of Wrestling Games on any Platform
Non-wrestling fans may want to skip this part of the feature, or at least please indulge me as I wax poetic for this console’s pro-wrestling games.
The four AKI-developed wrestling games on N64 are all instant classics and still today rank as some of the best polygonal-3D wrestling games of all time. Before I dive into those, it is worth mentioning the N64 itself had a staggering amount of wrestling games. In North America, there were 10 pro-wrestling games, and Japan had several exclusives on top of that for the Big N. The then-WWF was red hot at the time with its “Attitude Era,” and WCW was riding the final coattails of success it had with the nWo, and Goldberg’s undefeated streak. This all resulted in wrestling fandom reaching heights at this time it has not seen since, so having all these top-notch grappling games hit during this timeframe especially made them stand out. The first couple of Acclaim wrestling games on the N64 benefited greatly from WWF’s popularity at this time. WWF War Zone was the first American wrestling game to feature a fully fleshed out create-a-wrestler feature, and my brother and I invested too much time into many of our twisted creations. The follow-up, WWF Attitude, added a calendar-based Career mode that made it seem worthwhile ranking up through several WWF divisions. However, the complex button-sequence controls it ran with were starting to wear thin by that point, and by Acclaim’s third game, ECW Hardcore Revolution, they were downright stale, and that game seemed rushed and a lesser final chapter from Acclaim on the N64.
THQ and developer AKI were banging out some awesome wrestling games, however. WCW vs. nWo: World Tour was their first collaboration, and within minutes of starting up the first match, I could tell somehow AKI stumbled into a magical control scheme on that monster of a controller that made the wrestling gameplay seem authentic. Players would have to wear down an opponent before attempting more decisive strikes and grapples before ultimately finishing them off with their finishing move. The costumes, movesets, poses, and pro-wrestling pageantry were a massive leap from the SNES before this, and it all combined for a great multiplayer game with my fellow wrestling friends. The follow-up, WCW/nWo Revenge, perfectly rounded off the edges by more than doubling the amount of WCW wrestlers, having fleshed out wrestling entrance sets, more refined controls, and having one of the all-time greatest intro cinematics to any game, ever! Seriously, click or press here to see how it perfectly encapsulated how WCW dominated the Monday Night Wars for over 80 weeks! It still gets me jacked taking it all in, and there is never a dull minute in it!
Some WCW games just could not catch a break on the N64 like Backstage Assault having no ring at all, or the port of the awful PSone game, Nitro!
The four Japan-exclusive wrestling games are worth tracking down. Before Yuke’s made countless WWF/WWE games, they developed two New Japan Pro Wrestling games. The first one is rough around the edges but laid the foundation for a much improved second game, Toukon Road 2: The New Generation that saw a more extensive roster, smoother controls, and a season-spanning season mode! Aside from porting over one of its WWF games, AKI developed two exclusive wrestling games for Japan with Virtual Pro Wrestling 64, and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2. I give both my highest recommendations. Both games have loaded rosters. The first game had official WCW wrestlers, and relatively close lookalikes to the top Japanese wrestlers at that time. It released right after World Tour and played like a finely tuned version of that game. Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 was released between the two WWF games, and its gameplay is much improved and has official All-Japan Pro Wrestlers in there like Stan Hansen, Vader, Misawa, and Giant Baba. There are a multitude of atmospheric arenas to compete in, bountiful unlocks to work for in its year-long career mode, and a unique points-based MMA mode that AKI never put in any of its American games. The quality of VPW2 is right up there with WWF No Mercy, and I cannot recommend it enough!!! If I want to split hairs, Japan does have two more exclusive wrestling games, but I have yet to experience the two N64 sumo wrestling games, so I cannot comment on them.
After some expiring contracts during the mid-N64 lifecycle, THQ got the rights to publish WWF games, Acclaim jumped over to ECW, and EA hopped on the wrestling bandwagon to publish WCW games when the company took a turn for the worst and was on the brink of bankruptcy. WCW Mayhem was a promising first entry that laid a solid foundation to build upon and introduced a fun backstage wrestling element to gameplay. EA mistakenly doubled down on the positive feedback for the backstage wrestling and made it the complete focus for the sequel, WCW Backstage Assault, where they were brazen enough to have gameplay entirely transpire backstage and remove the ring from the game!!! Throw in some eyebrow-raising create-a-wrestler gear, severely diminished graphics, and no four-player support, and it all added up to a considerable step down from Mayhem. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention THQ snuck out one last WCW in the final days they had the WCW license, with an awful port of the already-atrocious PSone game, WCW Nitro. It is one of the worst wrestling games I have ever played, and trust me, that is saying something!!!
Let us end things on a positive note with the two AKI-developed WWF games! Wrestlemania 2000 saw the superb gameplay from AKI’s two WCW games now applied to a WWF roster when the company was at the apex of its “Monday Night Wars” success. It added an in-depth Road to Wrestlemania mode for many hours of single-player gameplay and finally went all out with its own robust create-a-wrestler feature. The successor to that and what many consider one of the best wrestling games still today, WWF No Mercy, added standout additions like a branching story mode for every championship that switched up the storyline whether one lost or won, an unlock store in the form of the Smackdown Mall where WWF cash accrued through gameplay can be exchanged to purchase a plethora of unlocks, the ability to create and compete for user-created titles, ladder matches, and a 100-wrestler Survival mode. No Mercy is my favorite wrestling game of all time. It remained in constant rotation with friends for well over a decade, to the point where we bought one of those silly foam championship titles at the store and adorned it with N64 controller decals for our own tangible N64 championship title to compete for! It was indeed a golden age of pro-wrestling games.
The Complete Lack of RPGs…..Actually, Not so Fast….
The N64 had a lot working against it for its RPG output compared to the insurmountable amount of excellent RPGs on the PSone. Even the Saturn had a solid slate of RPGs before that console’s early departure from this generation compared to the handful that hit N64 in America. It was nearly two years into the N64’s North American life before it saw its first RPG release in the form of the infamous Quest 64. I am old enough to recall the hype for it being many N64 diehard’s high hope for being the answer to Final Fantasy VII, and obviously, history has shown that was not the case. I rented it at the time and thought it was fine but not compelling enough to see all the way through. This past year, however, circumstances I will touch on later lead me to play throughout Quest 64. You know what….it is actually a pretty solid entry-level RPG. Yeah, the main character is not that imposing of a protagonist that solely goes by the intimidating name of Brian. Yeah, there are no additional weapons or armor to acquire throughout Brian’s journey, but there is a fun and engaging battle system. The plot itself had some surprisingly involved moments in the back half that caught me off guard and made it worth seeing Brian’s adventure all the way through to the end. Of course, it does not measure up to the studs of the PSone library, but it is not worth writing off either!
Another RPG that gets neglected from the N64 history is the ambitious Action-RPG from Konami, Hybrid Heaven. This has a similar look and vibe to Metal Gear Solid, with most of the game emanating from an intricate complex and a surprisingly deep narrative that I will not even attempt to explain here. However, where MGS focused on stealth-action, Hybrid Heaven had both action gameplay at shooting down drones and traps and a one-of-a-kind turn-based battle system that at its core centered around…..wrestling moves. Yes, really. The game has a long learning curve with some troubling camera mechanics rearing their ugly head throughout the entire game, but the intriguing plot kept me glued in, and yes, the wrestling moves made me get a lot out of the battle system. A very satisfying final act wound up in Hybrid Heaven winning me over.
I rented Ogre Battle 64 around its release and enjoyed my time with it, and one day should go back to it. The initial Paper Mario is another one I have heard endless praise for, and sadly I have not made time for it over the years. I have both of these games on the Wii U Virtual Console, so maybe one day I will correct that wrong by investing ample time into both! On the flip side, I have invested major time into a few Japan-exclusive N64 RPGs! Wonder Project J2 is an interesting adventure/simulation/RPG hybrid with an affable cast of characters worth becoming acquainted with. The townspeople become a great supporting cast for the protagonist, Josette, on her heartwarming journey of self-discovery that culminates with an all-over-the-place ending that lasts nearly an hour! I played my first rogue-like on the N64 with its own Shiren entry! I think I can get down with rogue-like games after finishing the core entry of this game, and it has buckets of supplemental dungeons for dozens of extra hours of gameplay! Finally, Onegai Monsters is a valiant attempt at Pokemon clone, but there are just too many mechanical issues bogging it down from truly standing out.
I have been debating nonstop to include commenting on my time with The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time here or not since I am on the side of ranking it as an action-adventure game instead of an RPG. For this article’s sake, I will include it here since I consider it short of just a few elements from considering it a true RPG, but that is not a bad thing because this is some freaking gold standard Zelda right here!!! I received Ocarina of Time for Christmas of 1998, and it instantly won me over. It is on a shortlist with Halo: Combat Evolved, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Grand Theft Auto III, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where I could tell from within the first hour of gameplay that this was going to be a groundbreaking game and I was in for something special. I got through the first third of the game and loved the child Link portion of the game. However, shortly into the adult Link portion, my little brother kept managing to get more time with the N64 and made faster progress than me to the point I just got into watching him play, and he would pass the controller to me to beat each dungeon’s boss. So in a way, it was kind of a team effort to finish the back half of the game, but I never felt that I truly finished it on my own. I still loved the ride it took me on, the epic dungeons, and the addicting combat. I think I will remember it more for how much my brother got into it as he kept replaying it to see how fast he could beat it, and he got it down to the point where he was able to finish it in just under eight hours! I never did play the sequel, Majora’s Mask. The whole “three days to finish” concept was a turn-off to me at the time, and I understand now how beloved that game is. I did pick up both N64 Zelda 3D remasters on 3DS, which I understand is THE way to experience both titles, so one day I will have to lock myself up for a week and plow through both!
A Surplus of Driving Games
Aside from my aforementioned praise for Mario Kart 64, there are many other driving games to consume on the N64…..too many! Cruis’n USA was the other game I received with my N64 on Christmas. I was so ecstatic in those early months of N64 ownership that I convinced myself it was a fantastic port of the awesome arcade racer I invested an incredible amount of quarters in. Eventually, I realized the pop-up was horrendous on the N64 port, and I detested using the Mad Catz N64 wheel controller for it, but somehow my dad adapted to it, and I witnessed him beat the game with that contraption. F-Zero X is my favorite entry in the futuristic racing series. I found it far more accessible than the SNES original, and it also boasts a rewarding career mode, an intense Death Race option, and a banger of an original score!
Seriously, there are way too many driving games on the N64, and I have somehow played a hearty chunk of them. As usual, I am already running way long on this entry, so for the benefit of time, here are some rapid-fire thoughts on the N64 driving game library….
-Absolutely loved Road Rash 64’s career mode, especially the stages that are oversaturated with cops!
-Extreme-G was a solid alternative to F-Zero, but with added weapon power-ups!
-Played a few too many rally games on N64, but both Top Gear Rally games rank as my favorite, with the first being more arcade-like and the second going for a full-on sim experience!
While there was no Gran Turismo-killer on the N64, World Driver Championship made a valiant attempt at it, and F-1 World Grand Prix is an excellent F1 sim.
-Also played quite a bit of open-wheel games on N64, of which I will give props to both F-1 World Grand Prix games standing out the most with their faithful sim representation of the motorsport!
-Micro Machines 64: Turbo retained that unique trailing top-down camera, but the core racing controls did not capture the same magic as the NES original.
-So-so to slightly above average racers like MRC, Re-Volt, and Roadsters were all too common on the system, and while they were adequate experiences after exhausting everything they had to offer, none of them left a lasting impact on me….except for playing a ton of Re-Volt online on the original Xbox.
-Beetle Adventure Racing did leave a good impact on me with it being a superior arcade racer, and shockingly EA’s only N64 exclusive!
-World Driver Championship was N64’s only attempt at a Gran Turismo-clone, and it actually was a pretty solid attempt! It did not quite pull off managing to usurp the almighty PSone racing simulator, but I never regretted my time with it!
-The two worst racing games on the N64 easily belong to Monster Truck Madness 64 and Automobili Lamborghini (aces name though!). Both have whacked controls, but at least MTM64 can hang its hat of including the interesting curiosities of the WCW-branded trucks in its roster and being an odd couple collaboration between a then-upstart Rockstar Games and Microsoft Game Studios.
-Only briefly played other racing games I wanted to put more time into like the second and third Cruis’n games, the Rush titles, Diddy Kong Racing, and Mickey’s Speedway USA. Eventually, driving game fatigue reared its ugly head on the N64!
Miscellaneous Quick Hits
The N64 has an overwhelming amount of classic soundtracks. A lot of my favorite cuts from that era are played in their entirety in this four-hour-plus, top 100 video! Each track also has annotated factoids! Sadly, none of the excellent AKI wrestling game songs made the list, and I will not spoil if the iconic title tracks for Donkey Kong 64 or Buck Bumble made the list!
-I experimented a lot with the N64 Game Shark. It included a VHS tape on how to create your own codes! I loved walking through locked doors in Goldeneye with cheat codes, and entering complex codes into WWF No Mercy enabled a fan-modded Hell in a Cell match!
Blast Corps is one of the many Rare games I wish to receive more love. Fantastic game all about wreaking destruction with a fun roster of vehicles! Discover it on Rare Replay on Xbox One!
-Propaganda VHS tape aside, Star Fox 64 blew me away with its buttery smooth mechanics and cinematic presentation of its core single-player mode. It did not matter that it took two hours to finish, it was a superb two hours with not a second wasted and had pretty solid four-player support to boot!
-I played an ungodly amount of Starcraft and its expansion, Brood War on the PC in its heyday. The fact that Nintendo and the studio handling the port, Mass Media, managed to fit both campaigns onto one cartridge (with the requirement of the Expansion Pak) and add split-screen two-player support is an astonishing feat. Like any RTS on a console, there were limitations with a controller, but they made the single-player work as best as possible. On the other hand…yikes, the two-player is best to stay away because almost any match would suffer severe slowdown after several minutes of play because the N64 could not handle that many units at once.
-There was a solid lineup of winter sports games on the N64. 1080° Snowboarding is the go-to snowboarding game on the system and has the honor of being the first game I purchased an original soundtrack for! Twisted Edge Extreme Snowboarding is a cannot miss alternative to 1080°. Both Snowboard Kids games are adorably awesome takes of Mario Kart meets snowboarding, but go for a fortune right now online.
-Forsaken 64 is a pretty damn good Descent-clone, and also has the distinction of being to the N64 like Phalanx was to the SNES by having the most WTF box art of the N64 library.
-I loved me some Worms Armageddon on the Dreamcast, and was always perplexed why the N64 version had an extremely low print run and absurdly high price in the second-hand market. I took a few weeks off in the middle of crafting this entry, and during that time Limited Run Games did a surprise authorized reissue of the N64 and Game Boy Color versions for N64 users craving to get that iconic turn-based action game at an affordable price in their library.
-It is still a headscratcher that after having a hearty amount of quality space shooters/shmups on NES and SNES, the N64 only saw one released for it stateside with Electro Brain’s Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth. It is, by all means, a decent shooter, but it did not light the genre on fire. A rom-dump of an unfinished shmup resurfaced in 2015 for Viewpoint 2064 to give the starved N64 shooter community a second option.
-While the Rumble Pak got a lot of hype and was pretty effective at making one “feel” the game in action, it was never really on my radar. With the N64 controller having only one accessory slot, many games prompted users to constantly swap out Controller Paks for Rumble Paks after loading game save data.
-There was a boatload of fighting games on the N64, but only a handful stood out to me. Mortal Kombat Trilogy felt like a nostalgic last hurrah for the original trilogy of games. Killer Instict Gold is also worth a quick shoutout, thanks to its addicting mindless combo mayhem. The cream of the crop goes to the debut of Super Smash Bros.. It was another classic four-player game for the N64 that dominated multiplayer sessions. Its sequels have far surpassed and greatly opened up in gameplay, rosters, and features, but the original is still a blast to play today.
-The Star Wars games received a ton of hype on the N64, but the only one I played a lot of was Shadows of the Empire. I had so much fun with the opening Battle of Hoth stage wrapping up AT-ATs with tow cables and tripping them up! I probably put way too much time into the rest of the game with its wonky platformer controls, but I have mostly great memories of that game as a whole!
-I spent just over a year during the pandemic as part of the writing team to Pat Contri’s upcoming Ultimate Nintendo book focusing on covering the entire N64 library. It was a wild ride grinding away at reviews for the book. It provided an excellent opportunity to rediscover older titles that I have not revisited in decades, go deep into a wide array of titles fresh for the first time, and become acquainted with the N64 import scene. It was an unforgettable experience to contribute to it, and I cannot thank Pat enough for welcoming me onto the team and am excited to see everyone get their hands on it when it releases!
If you cannot tell by now, my love for the Nintendo 64 knows no bounds. While I did play through some of its juggernaut flagship games, my favorite memories of the system almost entirely consist of multiplayer sessions with family and friends. I have an avalanche of priceless multiplayer memories that lasted for years, and in a way, is everlasting. Aside from constantly revisiting the AKI wrestling games, about once every year, I would break out the N64 with friends for a retro game night with a few of the previously mentioned multiplayer hits. Some friends would initially groan at the obviously dated graphics and controls in games like Goldeneye, but sure enough, we would be back in that mid-to-late-90s gaming mindset within about five minutes and become as immersed in our match as we were back then. Local multiplayer games are still a thing to this day, but nowhere to the same degree, with online multiplayer becoming largely predominant shortly after the N64’s lifecycle. Multiplayer ruled on the N64, and it brought me closer together with friends and family when it reigned supreme in my family’s household. 25 years later, it remains hooked up to my current gaming setup, and I do not see it leaving anytime soon!
Thank you for indulging my N64 memories with me. Here are a few un-vaulted episodes of my old podcast themed around the N64 if you want to go further down the 64-bit well with me!
10 years ago I did a 15th anniversary N64 special with Matt…and for some reason we also review the 1994 Double Dragon live action film.
Finally, here is Matt and I hosting the 32/64-bit installment of our history of comic book games series.
Alongside the Dreamcast and Saturn, we also touch on the handful of N64 titles in this installment of the history of RPG games in this episode. (Will un-vault in the near future!!!)
Boy, do I have a cherished N64 memory I have been dying to save for this last bonus extra. You already read my unfiltered acclaim for the AKI wrestling games for the N64, and this is easily my favorite memory with any of them. In WWF No Mercy, the Royal Rumble match can have up to 40 wrestlers and also be enabled to have a “team battle” option where up to four players can have any preset number of players in their team. To really stretch out a Royal Rumble match, the “over-the-top-rope” elimination option can be disabled, and options can be limited to having elimination only occur by pinfall, submission, or KO. I one day had the quirky idea to pitch to my two friends and brother that I always wanted to do a 40 person team battle match, where we all had 10 wrestlers on our own team and with no over-the-top rope elimination option. The match in all likelihood, would last all night, but I promised them if we played through the whole match, I would immediately treat them to dinner! I do not know if my pitch sold it on them or what, but to my surprise, they went for it, and we kicked off the ultimate endurance Royal Rumble match. It went about four hours, and you can bet your ass I made sure to tape the whole thing on the grainy SLP VHS setting for proof of this bold endeavor.
Unfortunately, good ‘ol knee-jerk gamer rage prevented us from finishing it. We were down to the final three wrestlers, and my brother’s final wrestler was just running down the entrance aisle fresh into the match. He saw my wrestler was in a “special” state, which meant it made my wrestler available to pull off his signature finishing move, and my brother saw I was about to lock in a strong grapple to put away my other friend’s final wrestler. My brother wanted to play spoiler and ran directly at my wrestler in hopes of connecting with a running strike to foil my plans, but his timing was off, and he inadvertently ran right into my strong grapple, and thus I hoisted him up for my created wrestler’s Jackhammer finish! Perhaps it was the four hours of play at 3 am with bloodshot eyes that led to my brother’s sudden reaction where he chucked his controller on the ground in disgust of his miscue, but what he did not account for was the controller bouncing and plopping right on top of the N64 and freezing the game!!! My two friends and I were too sleep-deprived at that point to be upset, and we all kind of laughed at how apropos it was at the moment. We still celebrated the near-achievement with some well-earned 3 am overnight food at a local diner, and yes, I still possess that VHS tape of my all-time favorite match in any wrestling video game today!