After scrambling to find instruction manuals for SNES games, making the tattered cardboard boxes a little more presentable and placing everything neatly into the correct box. I took the huge pile of titles amassed over the years for my trusty Super Nintendo, and headed on down to one of the major video game outlets in my city center. Without flinching, I handed them all over, plus in excess of one hundred pounds, and what did I receive in return for this sacrilege? A brand new Nintendo 64 with Super Mario 64, that’s what, and boy was I happy. Little did I know that by flicking on the power switch, and picking up the three pronged trident of a controller I was not only entering the world of 3D, but also the beginnings of something arguably greater. Multiplayer experiences, the likes of which were never witnessed before on a home console, and a level of competitiveness which broke some of us down to our most primal instincts. Sat on a sofa grunting and arguing over whose turn it is next, and how we loved it!
Nintendo pulled off a master stroke when they included four control ports on their N64. Sure, four player games were nothing new, but to have the idea inextricably built into the very ethos of the machine was something else. Developers picked up on it and we, the humble gamers, reaped the rewards. Oh, how we reaped the rewards! Implications of just what we could do if me and my friends pieced together four N64 pads between us was not immediately obvious as, to be honest, I was totally engrossed in the 3D world of a certain plump Italian plumber, who had a fetish for cake and mushrooms. But once we got the right games it was a thing of a beauty. From my recollection, one of the first games I bought, which we realised the possibilities of, was Fifa: Road to the World Cup 98. Not the most distinguished of games, I know, but as a teenage football (not soccer) fanatic this was next level stuff.
What a console!
Two players on each side, and picking teams we supported, created a dense air of tension in the room as the time ran down. Eyes were fixated purely on that sprawling TV screen in front of us, tentative passing around the middle of the field, before an attack broke out that could decide the game. There would be at least two more people eagerly waiting in the wings to snatch the controllers from the team of losers, who knew it would be at least ten minutes before the next game, so winning was the only option. Missed opportunities and stray passes were met with forgivingness during the game. “It’s OK, that was a hard angle to score from anyway,” I lied, knowing full well, the opportunity missed may have just cost us our place on the game. We were able to keep a surprisingly calm facade in these situations. What we actually felt, however, was pure disgust and utter desolation, at the skewed opportunity which Stevie Wonder would have scored if he was playing the game with his feet whilst singing Superstitious and playing the piano at the same time!
Fear not though, because when the final whistle goes and the game is all over, our true feelings would be told to one another, as we hand over the controllers ashen faced, to the joyous pair who would be taking our place. Performances were dissected, arguments would break out and the buck would be passed back and forth between each other, as if it were a bomb about to decimate the ego of whoever was lumbered with it longest, and we would not have it any other way. Veritable treats of multiplayer goodness were consistently being served; it was truly a great time to be a gamer.
Mario Kart 64: Infuriating at times? Maybe; pure brilliance? Definitely.
Mario Kart 64 was just one of five racing games I can recall playing extensively in four player mode. Every cheap trick that was available in the game, we knew. Infuriating short cuts on Wario Circuit (infuriating because I could never pull it off). Royal Raceway became a minefield of carefully placed items, the section of track leading up to the jump became prime territory for a nice trail of bananas positioned diagonally across the track, so the spread was much harder to avoid. Couple this with multiple shells and you have a sure fire trip to the bottom of the lake below headed your way; ah, the joys! Any opportunity for cheap tactics like this would be taken up with a blatant disregard for the humanity (and indeed sanity) of other players, as they were knocked, for the twentieth time, from a ledge and turned into a jibbering mess, waving the controller around furiously in disgust at their misfortune, with not a shoulder of sympathy to be had from anyone in the room. Other racers like F-Zero X, Diddy Kong Racing and the battle mode in San Fransico Rush: 2049 were played feverishly with the same level of competition throughout. We were spoilt for choice and only just getting started.
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