I can remember it like it was yesterday.
While taking a trip to my local Wal-Mart, one of the first things that greeted me when I walked in the door – other than an actual greeter – was a TV with a new console hooked up to it. In it was a cartridge for the next big game from Nintendo: Super Mario 64, and best of all, it was playable.
I’ve seen people today pick up the Nintendo 64’s unique trident shaped controller with some measure of confusion, but somehow I instinctively knew how to slide my hands onto the middle and right prong, guiding Mario around the green fields and mountain that made up Bob-omb Battlefield. PlayStation didn’t even make a blip on my radar and I foolishly ignored the Sega Saturn, but I knew that I absolutely needed a Nintendo 64.
Today, 25 years ago, the Nintendo 64 landed on North American shelves, and while it was the generation that Nintendo was knocked from the top of the video game mountain, it’s undeniable that the N64 was home to some absolute classics. Whether bouncing forth between time eras in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or playing 4-player rounds of GoldenEye 007 until the late hours of the night, the N64’s somewhat small library compared to rival Sony still offered hours of entertainment, and that’s true even today.
Of course, the N64 was also home to several comic book games, and on the system’s quarter-century anniversary, I wanted to spotlight the best way to play them in 2021. The short answer, as always, is emulation, but for at least a few titles, there are far better – not to mention easier – ways to enjoy them.
ARMORINES: PROJECT S.W.A.R.M
WHAT IS IT? Acclaim’s answer to Starship Troopers, you take on the role of one of two armored marines and blast waves of giant alien bugs. This is one of the properties that the now defunct publisher acquired when it bought Valiant Comics. It’s also the only franchise that has yet to get the remaster treatment from Nightdive Studios.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: Armorines, as already mentioned, has yet to be remastered, and given it’s tepid reception at launch, it’s somewhat doubtful that it will make a surprise comeback. Still, Forsaken was given a makeover in 2018 so it’s not exactly off the table.
A few months after its launch on the N64, Armorines Project S.W.A.R.M was ported to the original PlayStation where it received a frosty reception. Still, in 2021, it can at least be played on the PlayStation 3, and you can even adjust the controls so you can move and aim with two analog sticks.
BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER
WHAT IS IT? Based on perhaps one of the beat feature-length Batman films ever produced, the Batman of the future, Terry McGinnis, must deal with a newly resurrected Joker. The animated series that birthed the film is still highly regarded today, but the same can’t be said of this game.
Inspired by arcade brawlers like Final Fight but playing far, far worse, Return of the Joker arrived close to the launch of PlayStation 2 and into the second year of Sega’s Dreamcast. At that time, interest was rapidly fading for the Nintendo 64 – with the exception of course being The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – and with review scores that didn’t even reach 2 in Electronic Gaming Monthly, even the Joker himself couldn’t muster a grin with this one.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: If you want to play this one, and that’s a big if, you’re going to have to track down a cart and original hardware.
WHAT IS IT? Another franchise built from Acclaim diving into Valiant’s catalog, you play as Mike LeRoi, a person who just so happens to have a mystical artifact called the Mask of Shadows attached to their chest. With it, he can travel back and forth between the world of the living and dead as Shadow Man.
Nintendo never saw fit to release a game in the Metroid franchise on the N64, and while this one doesn’t reach the highs that Metroid Prime eventually would, it understands what makes a game like that so much fun. It’s easy to lose hours exploring Deadside, learning the best paths to get around as you make mental notes of where to return once you gain new abilities.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: This past April, Nightdive Studios released Shadow Man Remastered, which has easily become the definitive way to enjoy this game. As of this writing, there’s no release window for a console version but Nightdive is still committed to getting it out when it’s ready.
WHAT IS IT? From the makers of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, Neversoft, this one needs little introduction. The first 3-D Spider-Man game, this beloved entry in the character’s video game history would lay the foundation for what would eventually become Spider-Man 2, the template that even Insomniac themselves are working on. To hear more about its creation, read this interview with its lead designer, Chad Findley.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: Spider-Man, it seems, is playing nice and cozy with PlayStation, so unless they see the value in working with this game’s original publisher to rerelease this, you’re going to have to track down a physical copy. Of the versions of this game, the Nintendo 64 is the lesser of the bunch though it’s still highly playable. The PlayStation original works just fine on a PlayStation 3 if you can find one.
SUPERMAN: THE NEW SUPERMAN ADVENTURES
WHAT IS IT? AKA Superman 64, like Spider-Man, this game deserves little introduction. Where the two differ, however, is that whereas Spider-Man’s big 3-D debut would reignite his video game career, this one seems like it’s still giving cold feet to anyone who wants to craft a digital adventure starring the Man of Steel over 20 years since its release.
Fly through rings in a foggy virtual Metropolis and clumsily punch enemies in bland interior environments. The jokes, frankly, are getting old.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: If you want to save Superman’s friends from the clutches of Lex Luthor, you’re going to have to do so on original hardware. It’s funny, people often lampoon modern games for needing updates and patches unlike old games, but can you imagine what this would look like if it could get a patch?
TUROK: DINOSAUR HUNTER
WHAT IS IT? The most well known of Acclaim’s comic book outings on the N64, this early first-person shooter was showing how viable the genre could be on consoles before anyone uttered the phrase “Slappers Only”. The only third-party title to make it into the first round of Nintendo’s Greatest Hits line up, the first Turok is perhaps best known for its thick distance fog that made it somewhat hard to see what was over the horizon. Still, it’s massive levels, destructive weaponry, and mixture of prehistoric nightmares with giant aliens make for an unforgettable shooter, even by modern standards.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: Over the past few years, Nightdive has slowly been rolling out a remastered version of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter to modern devices. With the PlayStation 4/5 release this year, you can relive Turok, or experience it for the first time, on all the modern platforms. Like Shadow Man Remastered, it’s easily the best way to enjoy this game. Even if you’re a stickler for playing retro games on original hardware, go with the new version instead.
TUROK 2: SEEDS OF EVIL
WHAT IS IT? Turok: Dinosaur Hunter would go on to sell over a million copies, so it didn’t take long for Acclaim to greenlight sequels, spin-offs for the Game Boy family of portables, and license the merchandising rights for the property. Released in late 1998, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was everything you would expect from a sequel: more weapons, bigger levels, multiplayer, and even fully voiced introductions to each stage.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and while you certainly get a lot for your money here, Turok 2 doesn’t flow as well as the original. Each of the worlds you visit are too large with save points spread out too far if you wanted to take a break or needed to turn it off. You’re also required to backtrack through them when you obtain power-ups throughout your quest that grant you abilities like being able to swim in poisonous water and walk on lava. One save file takes up most of the pages in an N64 memory card, so you also have to be very careful when you commit to recording your progress.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was given the remaster treatment from Nightdive, and more so than Turok, it really is the only way anyone should play this game. Not only can you save whenever you want, but you can also activate helpful markers in the environment to aid in finding keys and mission objectives.
With the PS4 release of Seeds of Evil in 2021, the multiplayer mode, absent from the Xbox and PC release, was added back in. It was also patched into the Nintendo Switch port and is cross-compatible with the PlayStation release.
TUROK: RAGE WARS
WHAT IS IT? One of the big selling features of the Nintendo 64 was the 4 controller ports on the front of the console. This made it an excellent machine for multiplayer party games and competitive shooters. Between the second and third Turok chapters, Acclaim would publish this multiplayer centric spin-off. Though it has a single-player mode, it mostly consists of small arenas where you hunt down AI controlled bots.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: This one is a relic of its time, so unless you’re nostalgic for it, there are a glut of modern day first-person shooters that are far easier to access. You’ll have to get original hardware to enjoy this one, and while it came in a slick black cart and is rather common, it’s actually the worst version of Rage Wars.
Prior to the days of consoles always being online, if a game had a bug, it couldn’t be fixed. Or, in the case of Rage Wars, you had to contact Acclaim who would mail you out a gray cartridge version. The campaign in this title could be experienced co-operatively, however, there’s a particular mission that you can’t complete on the standard issued black cart when enjoyed this way. If you want the best version of Rage Wars, be prepared to shell out over anywhere between $1,000-$2,000 on the secondary market.
TUROK 3: SHADOW OF OBLIVION
WHAT IS IT? Released in the twilight years of the console, Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion addressed many of the problems with the sophomore outing. The need to backtrack was eliminated entirely, and not only that, you could save whenever you wanted. Improvements include two playable characters, Danielle and Joseph, each with their own unique traversal skills. Turok 3 also features impressive for the era in-engine cutscenes that are once again fully voiced.
BEST WAY TO PLAY: Given that, like Batman Beyond, this was released in the year 2000, this slipped under a lot of people’s radar as they looked towards the Sega Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2. Sadly, this one is stuck on the N64 until Nightdive or another studio gets around to giving it the remaster treatment. Hopefully it gets brought back somehow, as Turok 3 is a fine game that just got lost in the shuffle of a busy holiday season that happened to include the launch of one of the biggest consoles of all time.