Every console generation tends to have a ton of must buy games that define what that console is about. The Playstation had Final Fantasy, the Xbox had Halo, and Nintendo often relies on their large cast of mascots to get them through each generation. For many these games become the cornerstones of our childhood experiences.
Due to this, a lot of games get lost in the shuffle in the end. Some titles find an audience during their lifetime, while others fall into obscurity completely. Others become the epitome of a critical darling—a game that was well received by critics, but vastly underrated in terms of sales and popularity. Today’s subject is one such a game for the Nintendo 64, a puzzle-platformer named Space Station Silicon Valley.
Space Station Silicon Valley was developed by DMA Design and released in 1998. The Scottish-based studio was founded in the 1980s and was responsible for the development of the Amiga-based Lemmings series and Shadow of the Beast. Later DMA developed their flagship franchise in 1997: Grand Theft Auto.
Produced by their longtime collaborator Take-Two Interactive, the game has you play Evo the robot, along with his partner Danger Dan, who travels to the mysterious space station named Silicon Valley, which has returned from the depths of space after 1,000 years. The space station, now on a crash course to Earth, is to be intercepted by the duo before its too late.
Moments after crash landing into the space station, Evo loses his body, with the exception of his microchip brain. Before your chip fries, you need to possess the robotic animals throughout the space station to not only put your body back together, but to also take control of Silicon Valley before it’s too late. The premise is bizarre and cartoonish, with human characters reminiscent of the animation style of Nick Park’s Claymation series Wallace and Gromit.
The game is chock full of style and presentation, where you have different objectives throughout the games 30 different levels. Part of the charm of Space Station Silicon Valley is the numerous animals you can deactivate and possess; the animals are divided into four distinct world zones, and each have different characteristics from each other. Sheep, for example, can float in the air and baa, while a mouse can use its motor engine and four wheels to scurry fast and impale foes with its pin-like tail. Animals are fast and slow, durable or very weak, and their different attributes need to be used to solve the game’s puzzles throughout. There are over 40 different animals you can take over, and on a given level, a combination of these animals will help you survive the treacherous space station.
Space Station Silicon Valley is a puzzle game first, a platformer second. Most of the time you will be scouring the levels to find a way to hit a switch or find a specific animal to use; part of the puzzle solving involved using the right animal for the job, and each level has what you need, plus extra animals serving as obstacles or enemies. Other objectives include racing and shooting games, herding objects, or even boxing. Unlike other games, which would present these a mini-games, Silicon Valley tends to blend them into the game proper—there is no prompt for a majority of the activities.
The variety of gameplay is complemented by the game’s platforming, which is smooth and challenging. The in-game camera is quite good, especially for the Nintendo 64, where platformers suffered from dodgy camera-work, and the platforming is well thought out—if you can’t make a jump, you need a different animal to do it. The game is also scaled very well; the challenge and difficulty in future levels grows bit by bit as the game introduces more complex animals in each level.
The game is perhaps most endearing of its humor. Space Station Silicon Valley is actually quite clever in how it presents cartoonish depictions of violence. One level, for example, has you rounding up the frozen heads of the former occupants of the space station—large, human heads at that—to preserve them in one area. Other levels show dead bodies preserved on conveyer belts, half-stuck in a toilet, and so forth, dropping hints to how the animals have not only taken over the space station, but possibly murdered everyone in the process. The macabre humor meshes well with non-sequitur jokes and childish word gags—your rather useless partner Danger Dan being the catalyst for most of them—offering a game that is begging to not be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, Space Station Silicon Valley is not a perfect game. In an example of games before patches, several bugs come with the cartridge, such as compatibility issues with the N64 Expansion pack that would occasionally freeze the game. That bug, thankfully, is quite rare, although one bug is found in every copy of the game and is actually game-breaking, making it impossible to achieve a 100% completion rate in the title. This eventually leads to missing out on a secret level, and the game’s true ending, although you can access both thanks to an in-game cheat.
This is one of the problems with older games that contain bugs, and in the case of Space Station Silicon Valley, relatively obscure, low copy production titles that will never get a second run. Yet in spite of a game-breaking bug that affected every copy, the title went on to be an underrated hit for the Nintendo 64. Critics enjoyed the challenging puzzles and quirky level design, and found the overall package a great game.
Sadly, the series would die in the same era. Space Station Silicon Valley was only on two systems, the Nintendo 64 and the Game Boy Color, which received a mixed reception. A Playstation version, renamed Evo’s Space Adventures, was released in Europe two years later in 2000, to little success as well. DMA would never revisit the series, and by 2001 they would officially become Rockstar North, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive. As Rockstar North, they are responsible for most of the GTA series, and titles like Red Dead Redemption, which have been met with critical acclaim.
It is good to see how far back the Roots of Rockstar North go, though. Space Station Silicon Valley is an innovative, fun game that combines several genres together rather smoothly, to create something wholly unique for the Nintendo 64. It is certainly a game worth playing, provided you can grab a copy of it today.
Thank you guys for reading this week’s Games You Never Heard Of. If you have any questions or comments, or you would like to suggest a game for the series, please leave your comments below or contact me on twitter @LinksOcarina. See you next time.