Developed by Omega Force, and released on September 23, 1999, by Koei for the Nintendo 64, WinBack features 31 levels of third-person shooter action, stealth, and puzzle-solving.
One of my best high school buddies had a Sony Playstation, yet refrained from the then usual "Nintendo 64 sucks" disses I often found myself on the opposite end of in those days. Yes, that was definitely the only grief anyone gave me, a person who currently manages a blog about 20-year old Nintendo 64 games, about anything back then.
As beloved as the 64 might be in the popular memory of today, it was quite fashionable to slam it as a "kiddie machine" back then. It was always nice, but also rare, to find a Playstation fan who could kindly converse about N64 games without acting like the bully from A Christmas Story.
This friend and I often gave each other updates on what we were playing. I eventually sold him on getting a Nintendo 64, and I was eventually given a PS1 that I did indeed play (nowhere near on the level of my 64), but in the heady days of late 1998, we could only swap tales...and the two biggest games we talked about were The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid.
So, you are eventually going to talk about WinBack in this WinBack review, right?
Admittedly, despite owning copies of both the original Metal Gear Solid, and The Twin Snakes version for Gamecube, I have yet to play that game. My friend sure sold me on it, though. It sounded awesome. Nintendo 64 users were promised their own Metal Gear Solid-style game a year later, but when it didn't measure up, it was quickly dismissed. That game is WinBack, and expecting it to live up to an all-time great, genre-breaking game is not exactly fair. That's kind of like my wife expecting me to look like David Beckham with my shirt off, or me expecting her to bake like Little Debbie. Man, that was a lousy, gender-conforming example, so let me switch it up. That's like me expecting my wife to look like David Beckham with her shirt off, or her expecting me to bake like Little Debbie. There, that's better.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, WinBack. WinBack could not catch a break in 1999. Many reviewers of the time were either jealous of Playstation, or biased for Playstation. I have nothing to base this on except for my own recollection of my own adolescent feelings, meaning that I am assuming my adolescent feelings were correct, and that my current mind can remember them correctly. Meaning, my original statement is definitely true.
Surely, the review will begin now.
Winback is a solid, often awesome, sometimes maddening game.
It is solid in the graphics department. The character models are highly detailed and well-animated. Bullet-casing fly out of guns as they're fired and bounce off the ground. Environments are large, though outdoor ones feature the trademarked Nintendo 64 fog that obscures the player's view after about 100 yards. Thankfully, this is only an aesthetic issue...no enemy can hide out of your viewing distance and take potshots at you.
They can hide behind boxes and do it, though. Hmm...boxes. Little Debbies come in boxes. I want some Little Debbies.The game's environments a little bland, generally coming in the warehouse full of boxes variety, the mostly grey with a few trees outside variety, and late-in-the-game,the bowels of a high tech military base...variety. The game's sound, though, is never bland. The music is fitting for each environment, intriguing as the player first enters the base...wait, tangent...what base, and what player?
If you haven't figured out by my meandering train of thought...no.WinBack's story is classic 80's/90's action-movie material. Some generic, but slightly wacky terrorists have taken over an underground military base. This base houses the controls for a satellite that can explode any spot on Earth. It's up to Jean-Luc Cougar--that's right: Jean-Luc Cougar--and his badass crew of anti-terrorist team badasses to badass away all of the terrorists and save the day. You play as David Von Panther, just kidding, Jean-Luc Cougar, as you attempt to break through the base's exterior facade, a generic office park, to get to it's middle-workings, a generic warehouse and factory, so that you can take an elevator down to the actually pretty cool military base and take out the satellite. Each stage is punctuated with cutscenes that progress the story of Jean-Luc and his quickly-getting-dwindled-by-terrorist-gunfire anti-terrorism team's mission to avoid getting dwindled by terrorist gunfire in order to defeat the terrorists. It's like The Rock meets Die Hard meets Mission Impossible...remember when that was a thing, when movies were touted as mash-ups of other movies? Or "like so and so movie on a so and so?" "Under Siege is like Die Hard on a Boat!" "Speed II is like Die Hard if it sucked!" But let's get back to the game's sound.
Cuz this guy on the other side of the barrels is "dying" to hear about it! Haha, get it? I'm going to shoot the guy on the other side of the barrels, so he is literally going to die, plus I am talking about sound, and I said "hear about it," which is a pun on that as well. It's a double pun! Get it? Man, "get it" is so much more efficient than "see what I did there," and everybody loves it when you explain your jokes to them so that they don't have to figure them out for themselves. Literally, everybody.
Music is very fitting, with a militaristic, suspenseful theme for the outside stages, a quiet, stealthier theme for the office missions, a fast and funky theme for the more balls-out action of the warehouse/factory stages, and a straight evil organ-led theme for the last underground stages. Also, when your health gets low, the music because more urgent, adding to the tension, particularly when it's almost at zero and the tempo amps up considerably. The sound effects are incredibly detailed, with guns sounding realistic, and even each different type of bullet casing having its own individualized sound when it jingles to the ground. Terrorists shout when they see you, and call their buddies over to help take you on. Footsteps alert the player of enemy presence, gunshots reverberate more if they're fired over water--there's just a lot of attention to detail, and the overall sound design is excellent. If there's a flaw, it's that the dialogue in the game's cutscenes is text only. Granted, the amount of cutscenes and dialogue is considerable, but voice-acting would have made these portions of the game and the sound design even more immersive.
I'm about to immerse these two guys in bullets. Get it?
All of these aspects serve the gameplay well. As for that gameplay...
WinBack can effectively be called a cover shooter. When the player is near a wall, box, or any surface they can hide behind, pressing A will cause Jean-Luc to hide behind it with his back to it. He can even do this while crouching. Another combination of buttons will allow Jean-Luc to peek out and open laser-sight-guided fire on his foes. The entire control scheme seems daunting for about five seconds before becoming entirely intuitive and easy to use. Once you've got it, you won't have to think about it again. Here's a photographic example of the hiding/shooting mechanic.
Step 1: Hide
Step 2: Shoot
Step 3: Little Debbies
The game does a good job of balancing stealth and all out action, as some portions force you to thoughtfully take your time, and some, particularly the amped up factory stages, force you to come out guns blazing, while thinking on your feet. The challenge particularly increases when the terrorists become wise to your hiding ways and start sending men to flank or sneak up behind you. WinBack also tosses several puzzles at the player, mainly based on destroying or evading the terrorists' laser traps. Often, Jean-Luc will have to hunt down and shoot a trap's power box to progress beyond it, though as the game goes on, subverting these traps become considerably more complex. WinBack also features a full rogues gallery of bosses, with each requiring a unique strategy to defeat. These boss battles amp up the Die Hard vibe even more, with bosses taunting you as they launch rockets or fire machine guns at you, while you hide behind a desk chair.
While it is very good, WinBack isn't a perfect game. It pioneered the 3D cover system, and like many pioneering 3D Nintendo 64 games, the camera doesn't always cooperate. There are times when you can't quite see what's around the corner, or when you try to peek out and mysteriously face the wrong direction. This can sometimes get you killed...though, thankfully, it isn't a normal occurrence. Still, it does happen. Also, the game only features five types of weapons, though they are all distinct. As I previously mentioned, the game's generic setting can get a little tedious, though generally, by the time you are tired of a certain setting, the game moves along to another one, or uses a storyline event to alter your surroundings, i.e. flooding them with water. Conversely, WinBack contains a multiplayer mode that, while falling into the classic "it's not as good as Goldeneye, so what's the point" arena, is actually pretty fun. The game developers came up with several fairly unique modes to keep that corner of the game interesting, even though the single-player campaign is the true reason for the game's existence.
Wow, it's basically my mom's opinion of my brother vs. me spelled out in a video game! *Sigh*...I'm gonna need some more Little Debbies.
That single-player campaign takes a sufficient amount of time to finish. Your final time on the game's clock may only be 6-7 hours, but the truth is, that's only the time in which you will succeed. The countless hours spent on attempts ending in death are not factored in--and as long as you don't play on the easiest setting, you will die quite a bit, particularly during the challenging later missions where checkpoints and health packs are few and far between. Speaking of checkpoints, the game is saved between levels to a controller pak...so make sure you have a controller pak. The gameplay is also stretched out by some cool bonuses for finishing the campaign on time--to get the good ending, you have to beat a time limit, and doing so also unlocks an unlimited ammo mode, as well as a level select. Then there's also the option of beating each level and complete campaign's top score.
1066 isn't just the year The Battle of Hastings took place anymore! Man, where are they getting all these terrorists? Terrorist 'r Us? Terror Mart? Costco?
Yeah, it's not Metal Gear Solid. But why does WinBack have to be? It's WinBack, and that's just fine with me. It might not have Metal Gear Solid's diversity or ambition, but it has its own original gameplay concept, and it flies quite high all the same. Now, time for some Fudge Rounds.