Note from racketboy: A special thanks goes out to Ack from this roundup of the N64 fighting library. You may remember his journey through the SNES fighting collection (both the good and the ugly) in addition to a number of other wonderful contributions. I hope you enjoy this guide!
When people think of the Nintendo 64, fighting games are never the first thing to come to mind. In fact, they never really come up at all. After all, the two big publishers of fighters, Capcom and SNK don’t lend any of the their fighting properties to the N64. In the entire N64 library, fewer than 25 titles are really fighters, and the quality of many of them is generally poor. Still, there are a handful worth playing (and maybe a few more if you just love exploring the genre). Here’s a look at the various fighting games on the Nintendo 64, with my personal thoughts. Nothing fancy, just a quick rundown.
Super Smash Bros.
No conversation about fighters on the Nintendo 64 could come without this gem, easily one of the defining games of the console. In typical Nintendo fashion, Super Smash Bros. takes a genre that typically scared off more casual gamers and turned it into something that because a favorite in dorm rooms and parties for gamers of all experience levels.
Players select leading characters from Nintendo’s biggest properties, characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, and Pikachu, and then have them duke it out for dominance over the various themed stages. Instead of health bars, damage adds to a percentage at the bottom, with the higher the number the farther a character will fly when hit.
Ultimately the goal is to knock all other characters off the stage, though this formula can be modified via multiple modes and gameplay options. In fact, if you’ve never partaken of the four-player mayhem in this classic title, go buy it. Go buy it now.
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Killer Instinct Gold
Ok, so this title isn’t perfect, and purists of the KI fighting property will argue for hours about how this does not replace KI2 in the arcades since FMV sequences and some frames of animation were removed due to hardware limitations. Still, it is the only way to play Killer Instinct 2 on a home console without emulation, and it did see some improvements over the arcade.
Stages are fully 3D rendered, with zooming camera, and with much more in the way of options, including Team Battle. Multiple training modes were also put in to help teach the KI system. While it’s not my favorite Killer Instinct due to the removal of a certain glowing inmate by a boxer who shall remain nameless, it’s worth a look if you can find it. Oh, and on a side note, raise the game speed to the highest setting, and KI Gold becomes even more intense.
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It’s unfortunate that this title is often overlooked as it’s actually two fighting games packed onto one cartridge with more options than you can shake a stick at. The first is a normal 3D fighter, reminiscent of Virtua Fighter, though for kicks you can turn on a 2D mode which does effect dodging and various moves. The other, and arguably better, mode is a super deformed version with RPG elements, including acquiring items to make the character more powerful in combat. Characters appear in both modes.
The title is generally considered one of the best N64 fighters to make the American market. The Japan-only sequel, S.D. Hiryu no Ken Densetsu, apparently featured a refined version of the SD segment with more characters, items, and game modes, though good luck finding it for sale. I’d say this is definitely worth owning by any fighter fans who want something for their 64.
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This is more a mecha RPG with a combat system that reminds me of a colorful Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. than a fighting game, but fans of the genre might be interested. Fights are composed in arenas with pre-constructed characters, though storyline is handled in more the standard RPG fare. Players acquire new equipment to load out their fighters, enabling varying attack means and styles.
A particular favorite of mine is to use rapid fire machine guns since enemies can be knocked into combos fairly easily, though all manner of mayhem from big bombs to lighting fast bum rushes are accessible. Unfortunately both it and it’s sequel, Custom Robo v2, were Japan only. I really liked them, I just wish I spoke Japanese.
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The plot of this game basically boils down to a bunch of kids drawing doodles that battle it out with each other in a six-button layout. It’s colorful, kiddie, and unfortunately never saw release in America, though Europe was lucky enough to get this game. The cast list is small at seven(nine counting the two bosses), though incredibly diverse: everything from a super hero to an astronaut with a ray gun to a robot to a bear tank. Yes, you read that right, a bear tank.
The game’s not the deepest, and it’s charming demeanor might not endear it to the crowd of gamers that play only M-rated games, but it’s hard not to enjoy it. It does seem a bit choppy visually and it really hasn’t aged well, but give it a chance and you might find yourself liking it.
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Mortal Kombat 4
Before we begin, I suppose I should note that this is personally my least favorite of all the Mortal Kombat games, 2D or 3D. That said, there are a lot of things that Mortal Kombat 4 did right. First, it included Goro, as did all the ports of the game. Second, it brought us a new stage and extra costumes. And third, since it could use FMV for the intro, bios, and endings, it used the in-game engine to do it.
The audio is great, using a lot of bass, and al speech is digitized, though it is unfortunately only in mono. The lighting is excellent, the graphics are well designed, and the game keeps up a consistently high framerate. Control is well implemented, definitely a step up from the test case War Gods, though it still feels like a 2D Mortal Kombat in 3D. Still, a valid title, worth owning by any MK fans who have a Nintendo 64.
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Mortal Kombat Trilogy
Often overshadowed by its superior PlayStation, Saturn, and PC ports, Mortal Kombat Trilogy still offers some interesting surprises on its Nintendo 64 version. Motaro and Shao Kahn were given fatalities. Chameleon was replaced by a female counterpart, Khameleon, who gets a full storyline. The “Ultimate Kombat Kode” was included. A new stage was added, as well as tweaks to older stages. And most importantly, three on three battles were included, allowing players to use three characters each, one after the other, to beat the snot out of each other.
Still, cartridge size did require that the classic versions of many characters had to be left out. Frames of animation were cut so character movement isn’t fluid, and boss characters are only available through cheat codes. Also, the two Sub Zeros are combined and Goro and Kintaro were cut. And audio was only used from Mortal Kombat 3 and is in horrendous quality in comparison to other ports, though all the ending themes are intact. Ultimately, I’d say it’s best to pass this version up for the CD-based ports.
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In what I consider one of the more interesting takes on the genre, Fighter’s Destiny and its sequel, Fighter’s Destiny 2, are point-fighting games. Ultimately the point is to win battles by earning the required amount of points to move on, by doing such things as pummeling your opponent, knocking them to the ground, ringing them out, or various other techniques. In this sense it is more like the sport-martial arts systems that have had heavy influence in the genre over the years.
Unfortunately it’s not the most entertaining, as combat is a bit stop-and-go, generally in very short bursts with a short break as points are totaled after a specific move is executed, again just like point-based martial arts tournaments. The game’s also visually bland, with the actual arena never changing.
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Clayfighter 63 1/3
The continuation of the ClayFighter series brings many new characters, 3D environments, another dose of bizarre and irreverent humor, and a strange mix of styles, including a Killer Instinct Gold-esque combo system and Street Fighter style special moves, parries, and super move bars. Arenas are big, multi-room affairs, giving plenty of space for the twelve fighters to duke it out.
All the character moves are done with claymation, which is unique but leaves characters seeming stiff. Perhaps one of the biggest pluses to the game is that both Earthworm Jim and Boogerman are playable characters. The rarer and more expensive Blockbuster exclusive, ClayFighter 63 1/3: Sculptor’s Cut, adds new fighters but removes the combo system and some super and special moves. It would be the last release in the ClayFighter series. If you’re a CF fan, they’re worth looking into.
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Super Robot Spirits
This title’s not without its problems, but still a very cool idea. Super Robot Spirits is a Japanese-only 3D fighting game offshoot of the Super Robot Wars series, which incorporates many of the more popular mecha anime series in its universe. Series with characters in SRS include Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Aura Battler Dunbine, Dancouga – Super Beast Machine God, and more. It features combat both on ground and in the air, unblockable super moves, and some great audio and sound work, though graphically it’s somewhat dull and combat is a bit slow.
Super Robot Spirits also holds the distinction of being one of the worst selling N64 games in Japan, with fewer than 10,000 units sold. While it’s a bit on the mediocre side, N64 fans don’t have a lot to choose from, and fans of the various series that are represented will probably get a kick out of it.
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Some consider the Nintendo 64 version superior to the PlayStation in this fully 3D futuristic game of cyborg mayhem. Above all else, it does earn its Mature rating. Combat takes place not just on the ground in a circular arena, but also in the air, from up close to long range. Any of the eight main characters and the two boss characters(one of which is playable) can be dismembered or outright killed.
Dismemberment plays heavily into the control system, as buttons correspond to maneuvers with various limbs. Unfortunately, it is this control scheme that makes or breaks the game, and opinions on it are a very mixed bag. I found it enjoyable, but not so much that I keep returning to it.
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Xena: Warrior Princess – Talisman Of Fate
Published by Titus, the same company that brought us Superman 64, this Xena title isn’t great but surprisingly gets enough things right that it’s worth noticing. First, it allows the player to chose from a decent handful of characters from the show, including Joxer(Ted Raimi) and Autolycus(Bruce Campbell). Each character features unique attacks and special moves, and the game allows four player combat.
Unfortunately it doesn’t have much depth to the combat, and I did have some problems with targeting different opponents. Graphically it’s mediocre, though sound clips are included from the show and alternate costumes are available. It does experience some balance issues as well. Still, I enjoyed it. It’s the kind of thing I’d play for laughs with a few friends.
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Tom And Jerry: Fists Of Furry
This is a Power Stone clone, through and through, though it does its absolute best to stick to the sense of humor of its namesake. Arenas are settings from the animated series, with even the load screens looking like the cartoon title screen. Players must grab various spawning objects such as recliners or cookie jars and hurl them, go man to man with fisticuffs, or use various stage traps to deal damage to their opponents before the timer runs out. Players only start with Tom and Jerry selectable, though by playing through the game, more cartoon characters are unlocked.
Unfortunately, the amount of health players possess often makes that the only way to win a match. There really isn’t much to the game, and it is seriously hindered by only allowing two player support, though it is entertaining for a short while. This is perhaps the greatest problem with the title, as four player battles would have been epic.
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Mace: The Dark Age
At the time of its release, it was incredible looking, featuring interesting character designs, nice stage detail, and water effects that were realistic for the time. The music fits the theme, and Midway was even good enough to include options to let us listen to it; I wish we could still get that in games. A nice practice mode was included, and the game keeps a large cast.
The secret characters also prove the creators had a sense of humor. Unfortunately there are some issues with framerates and poor animations, and the controls don’t feel so great. Also, the game suffers slowdown problems. I really want to like Mace, but with all its problems I just can’t bring myself to do it. Still, it does allow me to play as a chicken.
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Transformers: Beast Wars Transmetals
This was the second Blockbuster exclusive fighting game for the Nintendo 64. It featured a slightly different cast of characters than the mass market PlayStation release of the same game, as well as a sizable selection of mini games and individual endings for each character. The game also features voice work from the Beast Wars television show, though it isn’t in the best quality and the music is pretty awful. Graphically, it’s got a few little touches, but it’s nothing much to look at. If nothing else, they could have gotten size correct. Now everybody’s the same height. Waspinator is the same size as Rattrap, who is the same size as Tarantulas. But at least they’re all shiny.
The game also suffers from shoddy hit detection, tracking shots that don’t always connect, and the dreaded unblockable attack. But you can transform between Beast Mode, Robot Mode, and Vehicle Mode. There are better games out there, though fans of the series may enjoy it. Unfortunately it’s somewhat rare due to its exclusivity and one of the most expensive fighters on the console. Also, if you manage to pick up a Japanese version of the game, you can use the Nintendo 64 Transfer Pak to unlock information in the Japan-only GameBoy Color game, Ketō Transformers Beast Wars: Beast Senshi Saikyō Ketteisen.
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Powerpuff Girls: Chemical X-Traction
This title was one of the last to ever be officially released on the Nintendo 64. It wasn’t worth the wait. It does include the flagship characters of the series as well as a horde of enemies, though much of the exuberance is gone. First off, the game operates like a bad version of Power Stone. While it’s not the only clone of that game, it does feature shoddy collision detection, poor controls, and a camera that doesn’t understand how to properly zoom. This is especially hazardous when considering the levels are irregularly designed, leading players to become trapped or even not shown. But even when the camera does catch the action, poor particle effects can obscure the play field.
The voice acting is limited to pained outbursts, and not by the actual voice actors, and the one song is the Powerpuff Girls theme. It’s not so bad at first, but after ten minutes, your ears will be bleeding. Still, the 3D intro is pretty cool. I’d avoid this game and watch the intro on YouTube.
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This is the sequel to Criticom, and one of the first fighting games on the Nintendo 64. It’s also notable as the first game on the Nintendo 64 to hit 60 frames per second. Unfortunately that’s where the good parts end. On its release, Dark Rift was generally slammed for poor gameplay, with its graphics being the high point. And those graphics really haven’t aged well.
Factor in that some model televisions are incapable of rendering the game in color(I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened on one of mine), and this game doesn’t seem worth it. Still, it’s ok for a short amount of time, and if nothing else the character design is on the inventive side. The PlayStation-only Cardinal Syn is the conclusion to the trilogy.
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G.A.S.P.!! Fighters’ NEXTream, sometimes known as GASP in Europe and Deadly Arts in the United States, has some nice stuff going for it. There are multiple unlockable characters, the game featured a character creation system that could be saved over to the Nintendo 64’s Memory Pak, and the music is passable. It’s too bad the system was terrible and the controls were garbage. Plus, the game just isn’t that difficult and just doesn’t entertain.
To add to the problems, character design and stage design lack anything to set the game above the pack. This is a case of a good company, Konami, just making a bad game. This is one to generally avoid.
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Basically, if you took a 2D Mortal Kombat, put it directly into 3D, removed all of the characters and plot and threw in a bizarre story about ten people finding magic stones. And while some of the characters are reasonably based on mythic immortals, such as Anubis or a Valkyrie and gladiator, or an Aztec priest or a Pagan witch, there are a few that will raise an eyebrow, such as the cyborg.
And then there’s my favorite description ever, from Wikipedia: “Warhead (Radioactive American soldier with missiles).” I have no words for that. This game was literally Midway testing a 3D gameplay engine for Mortal Kombat 4, and attempting to make some money in the meantime. Seriously, don’t bother.
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Duel Heroes has the express honor of having once been voted the worst video game in the world by the readers of Nintendo Gamer magazine in Australia. It’s not exactly highly considered in any other country, either. Fights generally end with you mashing only one button, either punch or kick over and over again as the shoddy AI stands there and takes it. Still, there are some interesting ideas, such as the “gamer” selection. The player must choose an opponent “gamer” who then picks one of the eight playable characters to use against you.
All of the “gamers” have different speeds and preferred tactics, which could have seriously helped the game if the system weren’t garbage already. There’s also Robot Mode, which enables you to train the AI by showing it various techniques and combinations, so it will use them against other opponents. Oh, and it doesn’t help that the graphics make me want to stab out my eyes with a fork.
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So there you have it folks. All of the fighters on the console, not including sports titles like wrestling or boxing titles. As you can see, the console does feature the genre, though quality isn’t always their strongest suit. But if you’re sitting there on a rainy day, hankering for both a fighter and a 64 game, you do have a few options. And yes, I do own most of these, though not all…yet.