Video Game Mediocrity, Thy Name is Mission: Impossible for the N64

Video Game Mediocrity, Thy Name is Mission: Impossible for the N64

The real "Mission Impossible" was making a good movie tie-in game for the N64, am I right guys? ...Guys?

Most retro licensed games aren't regarded fondly. They're usually condemned as cynical cash-ins that deservedly languished in bargain bins before collectors snapped them up to languish on rec room shelves instead.

Licensed N64 games are especially disheartening to look at and play. Whereas 16-bit licensed games usually at least offer bright colors, most 3D licensed titles from that wild pioneer age are muddier, jaggier, and more troublesome to control than first- and- second-party N64 titles. And let's be honest with ourselves here: Even a gem like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is so visually unappealing by today's standards, nobody should fault you for breaking out its Nintendo 3DS remaster instead.

"Great, the Japanese restaurant gave me the wrong bento box, and the sky's turned two different shades of blue. What a day."

1998's Mission: Impossible for the N64 (based on the 1996 movie of the same name) is such a perfect example of this "mediocre licensed N64 game syndrome" that you may as well just use the game's name as a substitute for the phenomenon. Its controls are slow to respond to commands, its few voice clips are muffled, and its character models aren't much more than stacks of polygons with frighteningly low-res bitmaps stretched over them. The game's main character, Ethan Hunt (who else) has access to technology that lets him swap his face with high-ranking enemy commanders and whatnot, and whenever he performs his parlor trick, he looks like a psychotic clown pulling on a skin mask sewn together from unfortunate victims. Tom Cruise's likeness wasn't allowed in the game, and while I'm not a huge fan of Cruise, I'm glad the world was able to offer him that small mercy.

I don't want to infer Ocean and Infrogrames phoned in Mission: Impossible's production; it's easy to pick up the echoes of pain seeping from the cartridge. Mission: Impossible was supposed to launch in 1996, much closer to the movie's box office debut and the debut of the N64 itself. But it entered development hell for several reasons, not the least of which is "The N64 was not an easy system to make games on." The transition from 2D to 3D was tough on all developers, let alone a team commissioned to put together a movie-based game.

Cool, did I win?

I thought a bit about the challenges developers faced during this transitional period as I played through some of Mission: Impossible recently. It was an interesting activity, simultaneously informative and saddening. As much as I sympathize what Infrogrames' developers went through (including 20-hour crunch days, reportedly), and even though I understand making the switch from 2D to 3D was rough (plus the N64 had the added "Hard Mode" challenge of making 3D games on cartridges), I can't deny Mission: Impossible is one of those titles that inundates you with distracting suggestions while you play. Suggestions like, "Hey, why don't you play literally any other game that isn't this one?" The pull to play anything else isn't made easier by the fact Mission: Impossible borrows ideas from Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007—two games that are far better than the bastard offspring they unwittingly produced.

And here's the real hell of playing a game like Mission: Impossible. It's so remarkably so-so, so astoundingly mediocre, that it offers zero "So bad it's good" quality. The controls are awkward, but not useless: The music and voices are bland, but you're not forced to listen to anything that makes you want to puncture your eardrums: The gameplay is dull, but not glitched-out enough to treat you to incredible bugs like Superman 64's Darkseid floating up, up, and away through the ceiling of a parking garage. All told, Mission: Impossible is just a meh game in a meh sub-genre on a system that's garnered a reputation for a meh library outside of a handful of winners. (I'd go so far as to say it's based on a meh movie, but I don't want to start a war. I'm a goddamn peacemaker.)

"His name is Buttons and I miss him very much."

Criticizing a game like Mission: Impossible isn't exactly taking a blade to a sacred cow. Reviewers shrugged over it in '98, and there isn't anyone penning any ballads for its misunderstood brilliance in the present day, either. It's just another low-poly N64 adventure with foggy visuals that give you a good idea of what'll happen if your dog eats a tub of Vaseline and then vomits a stream of translucent slop on the screen of a CRT television.

P.S. I don't think I want an N64 Classic Mini. Mission: Impossible reminds me most of the N64 games still worth playing have ascended through at least one level of Remake Elysium. Everything else is stuck in 64-bit Purgatory for a reason.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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