Christmas issues of gaming magazines are usually packed to the rafters with reviews. Featuring just nine games – four of which were tiresome sporting sims – this wasnâ€™t quite the case for the November 1998 issue of N64 Magazine. Considering The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was amongst the other five games though, itâ€™s doubtful that N64 owners were concerned about their Christmas being a moderately quiet one.
A decision was made to make the Ocarina of Time review a two-parter, the reason being that Nintendo chose not to send advance copies to the press. Instead, journalists were invited to spend a day playing the game – and taking screenshots – at Nintendo’s European HQ. Sixteen years later, this is something that still occurs within the gaming industry. Anti-piracy measures, apparently.
Legendary scribe and illustrator Wil Overton was the individual lucky enough to spend a day with Link’s first foray into 3D. To quote the magazineâ€™s editorial page: â€œHe came back beaming a smile we havenâ€™t seen since he first got hold of a copy of Super Mario 64.â€
The first part of the review was a spectacular eight pager, detailing the sights of Ocarinaâ€™s early locations including Kokiri Forest, Lon Lon Ranch, Hyrule Castle and of course the small but perfectly formed Deku Tree dungeon. â€œZelda is pretty much everything you thought it would be. And, dare we say it, probably a bit more as well,â€ claimed Wil. â€œIn the day we played it, we didnâ€™t find anything in Zelda that could seriously be called a problem. If anyone doesnâ€™t like this game, then itâ€™s video games as a whole they donâ€™t like, not Zelda,â€ he continued.
Although no score was given (it went on to receive 98% in the next issue, for those curious) the review concluded with some wise words. â€œIf youâ€™re only going to buy one game for Christmas [though], weâ€™ve got no doubt that it should be this oneâ€.
To be fair, F-Zero X, Space Station Silicon Valley – both released a month prior – and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil aside, N64 owners didnâ€™t really have that many major new releases to choose from. Turok 2 had a critical eye cast over it back in October, but as it was hit by a delay due to Iguana struggling to cram it onto a 256MB cart, an updated review was provided. Acclaimâ€™s dinosaur hunting sequel walked away with a lofty 95%, with the visuals awarded a perfect 10/10. â€œThe triceratops-riding is worth the admission price alone,â€ they flaunted.
Two of the aforementioned sports sims were Madden NFL 99 and NFL Quarterback Club, which went head-to-head with one another. â€œQBC looks so much better than Madden youâ€™d think the games were running on different consoles,â€ read the joint review, which weighed up the pros and cons of each.
Despite similarities, WipEout 64 and Extreme G 2 werenâ€™t put up against each other in the same manner. Although both were given the elusive â€˜Star Gameâ€™ award, WipeOut 64 ultimately came out on top. It was a very close call however – WipEout received 88% while XG2 – as the cool kids called it – gained 85%. In the breakdown WipEout received 10/10 for sound – â€œAn absolutely storming soundtrack which is clear as bell.â€
Would you believe a third futuristic racer was reviewed in the same issue? That game was Ubisoftâ€™s SCARS. â€œIf ever there was a time not to release a futuristic racing game, then that time is surely now,â€ began the review, taking into considering that F-Zero X had only just been released too. Although SCARS wasn’t a bad game (it received 79%) comparisons with the aforementioned racers were unfavourable.
Going back to annual sporting updates for a moment, NASCAR 99 had a single page spared to it. â€œYou start a race and, by the time you finish, youâ€™re 50 years old, with three kids and a semi-detached in Welwyn Garden City.â€
The final two games reviewed were Konamiâ€™s disappointing RPG Holy Magical Century (71%) – which had a lead character called Brian, we kid you not – and Japanese import Letâ€™s Smash (67%), the consoleâ€™s first tennis game.
Previews meanwhile included Duke Nukem Zero Hour, GT World Tour, South Park, Penny Racers, Michael Owenâ€™s World League Soccer 99 – which became Mia Hamm Soccer in the US – and the import-only anime tie-in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Being an end of year issue and all, the six-strong team each chose their six top titles of the year. This tied in nicely with the fact that this Christmas issue came with a cart rack able to contain as many games. â€œYouâ€™ve got your free N64 game rack – all you need now is six brand new Christmas games to store in it,â€ began the feature, quite possibly forgetting that the majority of N64 titles were Â£60 each.
With the console only two years young at the time, a fair few games were unsurprisingly mentioned more than once. Turok 2, Silicon Valley, Body Harvest, 1080 Snowboarding and F-Zero X appeared in almost every writerâ€™s list. Often forgotten 2D fighter Rakuga Kids did however receive an honourable mention as did Glover, albeit alongside fellow close contenders NFL Blitz and WWF Warzone.
Issue 23 ended with a one of the magazine’s regular â€˜What if…â€™ scenarios, detailing an imaginary game fabricated from the teamâ€™s warped mind. This month: the â€˜shoeâ€™em upâ€™ Brogue Squadron, featuring several Star Wars: Rogue Squadron screenshots with Tie-Fighters and X-Wings replaced with shiny brown shoes. Missions would include â€œThe Battle for Stead and Simpsonâ€ and â€œBloomingdale Basement Bloodbathâ€… which allegedly was to be changed to â€œDolcisâ€™ Basement Bloodbathâ€ for the gameâ€™s UK release.
Amusingly, when Beatles Adventure Racing (Beetle Adventure Racing with musical instruments and a presumably Liverpudlian vibe) appeared in the same section a few months later, the magazine received numerous letters asking where it could be purchased from. Further teasing could have potentially ensued with Penny Lane Racers.