The N64’s peculiar, and slightly dreary, European exclusives

Ever since the humble N64 entered its twilight years, circa 2001, a lot has been said about its catalogue of games. It was a system often criticised for having glaring holes in its library, especially when it came to RPGs, and fighting games to rival the likes of Tekken 3 and Virtua Fighter 2. Racing games were a mixed bag on the system likewise, with even Ridge Racer 64 – both developed and published by Nintendo themselves – failing to set the standard. If you were looking for 3D platformers, party games and first-person shooters, though, the N64 had you covered. Strange bases to cover but covered bases all the same.

One thing about the N64’s library rarely mentioned is its astonishingly small number of European exclusives. It has just four to its name, roughly half the amount the SEGA Saturn received – and let’s not forget the Saturn was abandoned in the West as early as 1998. As a side note, the number of games released in Japan and Europe only, eluding the US, is smaller still clocking in at just three: 1998’s poorly reviewed AirBoarder 64 from Human, Hudson’s passable Centre Court Tennis from 1998, and Konami’s forgotten graffiti based one-on-one brawler Rakuga Kids.

Two of the four European exclusives were based upon Formula One. Ubisoft’s F1 Racing Championship, also available on PSone and later PS2, launched in 2000 and appears to have been reasonably well received. It may have struggled to reach its sales potential, however, as the N64 scored a surprise critical hit in 1998 with F-1 World Grand Prix, developed by Paradigm – best known for Pilotwings 64. This success was followed up in 1999 with F-1 World Grand Prix II, an exclusive for the N64 in Europe, with a Dreamcast version arriving in 2000. American gamers didn’t miss out on much – it was mostly seen as a straightforward annual update, adding little new other than improved visuals. Review scores were noticeably lower the second time around.

From Gremlin came Premier Manager 64, based on Premier Manager: Ninety Nine and endorsed by Kevin Keegan. Curiously, it used the Actua Soccer engine to display match footage despite Actua Soccer never being released on N64. You’d have thought Gremlin would have killed two birds with one stone here. Critical consensus was positive at the time, which is fortunate for footie fans as this was the only management sim for the system. During what was likely a quiet summer, it even managed to take the cover of Future’s popular N64 Magazine.

Video games based on region specific sports are nothing special. This makes the fourth and final N64 exclusive a curio, being a cartoon license. No, not TinTin, Asterix, or The Smurfs – or any other European cartoon/comic book series that springs to mind – but rather the Tasmanian Devil. Taz Express launched in August 2000, developed by Zed Two (of Wetrix fame) and published by Infogrames, who held the Looney Tunes license at the time. They certainly put it to good use, releasing around a dozen games on different formats. A US release appears to have been planned initially, with box art appearing in footage.

The prototype version of Taz Express had nothing to do with Looney Tunes at all, taking the form of a nightmarish Gauntlet-style action game known as Vampire Circus. After Zed Two was absorbed into Warthog – later purchased by Gizmondo – it was reworked as a Taz tie-in. Viewed from an overhead perspective, it sees Taz become a delivery man and ferry dull-looking wooden boxes through various environments while using springs and jetpacks.

Reviews were mixed; most scores were in the 70% bracket, while N64 Magazine doled out a poor 27%. French publication Consoles+ also hated it, criticising the controls before handing out a dire 5%. This would put it on par with something like Superman or Carmageddon 64, which doesn’t seem entirely fair. Or rational. Out of all the regional exclusives though, this is likely the one that will appeal to American N64 fans the most. We’d also recommend giving Rakuga Kids a try. It was seen as a bit too childish for American audiences at the time, but has amassed a cult following over the years, and the 2D animation remains timeless.