TheConsoleThatTimeForgot: Before the wii was the gamecube, and it was good. Before that was the Nintendo 64 which was mighty in it's time, but now lays forgotten like so many other systems of it's day.

Before the wii was the gamecube, and it was good. Before that was the Nintendo 64 which was mighty in it’s time, but now lays forgotten like so many other systems of it’s day.

Which is a shame, because the wii has a lot in common with the N-64; the same bright and breezy characters, the same focus on fun, the same instant playability. Over the last few days I’ve been fiddling with Nintendo 64 emulators for both Linux and Windows with surprisingly good results.

Probably the best N-64 emulator for Linux is mupen64. Even on my very average spec laptop it’s fast, and handles most games perfectly well. It can be a little fiddly to configure the graphics – as with most emulators – but using the glN64 video plugin I get good results. Some games, most notably Mario Golf, Tony Hawks and Mario Tennis barf badly enough to be unplayable, but Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are perfect even at full screen 1280×9640 resolution. Lovely stuff.

A better alternative is project64 for Windows. I’ve been able to play every game but Star Wars Rogue Squadron on that, and the graphics are pixel gorgeous. Some games require a certain release of the video engine (all Tony Hawks Pro-Skater games need release 1.5.2 and won’t work under 1.6 well at all), or a few configuration tweaks. It would be good if you could store per-game configurations, but it’s no biggie to switch before starting the games.

Here’s a quick rundown of a few of the hits I’ve found from the wonderful world of Nintendo 64 emulation.

Super Mario 64

This is the daddy of them all, and showcases the kind of game the N-64 did so well. It’s the undisputed king of the 3D platform game, and Super Mario 64 is the king of kings. It’s fun, fast, and all too tempting to play just for a few more minutes to see what’s over the next hill. It plays well in both emulators, though project64 (as usual) has the graphical edge. Mario is a strange beast; I let me boys play on this and there weren’t interested at all, yet I love it. Despite Mario’s kiddie graphics, it seems to appeal to the older gamer than the young. Strange, that.

Star Fox 64

It’s impossible not to like this game. It’s a fast 3D shoot-em-up with a fox in a starship as the lead role. What’s not to love? Controlling it by keyboard is a little tricky, but nothing a good keyboard configuration can’t sort out. Highly recommended.

Zelda: Ocarina of Time

If you only need on reason to grab a Nintendo 64 emulator (or even the genuine console), this is it. It’s right up there in the ten best console games of all time. Better people than me give if a perfect 10.0, and who am I to argue?

Paper Mario

I played with with a huge grin from ear to ear. Mario in a paper cut-out world is just genius, and so well implemented it’s hard not to be drawn in (pun not intended). It’s the little touches in the game, such as paper walls falling away when Mario steps into buildings, that make it. Under emulation there are a number of graphics glitches, especially if there’s a lot of content on the screen. It’s well worth persevering beyond that, though it does mar the game somewhat.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1, 2 and 3

I’m managed to only get these games to work under Project64 with version 1.5.2 of the graphics engine; with that setup, it’s pixel perfect and heaven to play. My eldest son described it as “Sims with a skateboard”, and it’s a good comparison. Under free-play you’ve complete freedom to skate your heart out on many courses and your gorgeously rendered simself does exactly what you ask. It’s worth noting that Career mode is hard; you’ll need to spend many hours in free-play mastering the moves before you’ve a chance of advancement. Using the keyboard as a controller doesn’t help either!

The list goes on…. there’s Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kajooie, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye, all of which are every inch as playable now as they were in their prime. The mighty Gamespot has reviews of them all, and more.

Well, what are you waiting for?

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