Year of N64 – February: Body Harvest

If GoldenEye 007 was one of my most played Nintendo 64 games, I suppose it makes sense to follow it up with one that I have never played and know virtually nothing about. For the sake of contrast, you see.

Indeed, I had never played Body Harvest before The Year of Our Lord 2014. I had barely even ever heard anything about the game. I remember reading an early preview of it Nintendo Power, but I don’t recall ever seeing any actual coverage of it in the magazine. Googling seems to confirm there was never full coverage of the game, just a few hints stuffed into the Classified Information section.

On top of that, Nintendo really gave Body Harvest the shaft. The game was originally supposed to be a launch title for the N64, with Nintendo as the publisher. But they didn’t like it, and dropped it, leaving the game sitting in limbo for a little over two years before it was finally picked up and released. The developer, DMA Design, later became the studio that people know much better as Rockstar North.

So if you think about it, if Nintendo had played nicer with DMA, maybe Grand Theft Auto would have been a Nintendo game, or at least multiplatform thing instead of a big hit for the Playstation. Maybe.

But Body Harvest was released, against all odds, and it reviewed pretty well! Better than a lot of the 3rd-party games on Nintendo 64, anyway. And that just makes it even sadder that Nintendo refused to get behind it. Instead of being a pretty great launch title, it got released with no fanfare and nobody ever played it. Poor Body Harvest.

It’s not all kicks to the groin for Body Harvest though, ad the final product ended up being a fairly good game! It’s certainly unlike anything else on the Nintendo 64, although that might not be saying a lot, as there aren’t a ton of games to compare it to.

Body Harvest is a very ambitious game. It takes place over five stages, the first four of which are massive open-world maps that let you explore to your heart’s content. Though there are alien barriers separating each map into several sections, they’re all part of one consistent environment, and once you’ve opened paths through the barriers, you can travel anywhere in the level without having to stop and load.

Travelling is where the comparisons to the GTA series really come from. There are a wealth of vehicles scattered all about each stage, and you can hop in and out of them at will. Some, usually military vehicles, are locked until you talk to a certain person, but it’s almost never a pain to get what you’re looking for. The scope of vehicles is also quite wide. Land vehicles come in every shape and size, from hot rods to ice cream trucks to hovercrafts to tanks. There are quite a few different aerial vehicles to choose from as well, including several types of planes and helicopters, and even UFOs. You’ll spend some time in boats as well, but they’re not very common, mostly showing up for use in specific setpieces.

Sometimes you’ll just have to go it on foot though. Walking around in slow and obviously less fun than driving, but you won’t always have a choice. There are buildings that you can enter all over each map (they’re especially common in the America stage), and when you’re indoors, the action slows to a crawl as you plod around and search dressers and treasure chests for goodies. It’ll happen outside too, as your vehicles aren’t invincible. Each one has it own heath bar, and will promptly explode when it takes too much damage. You also need to keep your vehicles fueled up, or else they’ll just stop and become useless. Fuel is a fairly scarce resource, but it’s not too often that you’ll be in the same vehicle for so long that it runs out.

Body Harvest is also a brutal game that does not want you to win. There are many, many ways to die, and there aren’t any checkpoints to ease the pain of a game over. This is made even worse by the fact that you only get one life. Save points are few and far between, and only unlock as you defeat the mini-bosses at the end of each section of a level. Dying in Body Harvest usually results in a lot of lost progress, and that can really sting. I found it so disheartening that deaths often caused me to turn the game off and move onto something else for a while.

I chose to play on easy mode, which seemed like a great boon early on. While I often found myself dying by ending up in a body of water that I couldn’t escape (you can’t swim very far before drowning), combat seemed pretty trivial and I didn’t feel like I had to worry about being killed by enemies. The difficulty level really shoots up once you hit the America level though, as the enemies get considerably tougher, and the big ones are able to murder your pathetic butt very quickly if you’re not in a vehicle. The final stage, Siberia, is even worse, with dive-bombing enemies that can literally kill you in one hit.

The only thing that the game does to help you is to give you an option to reset every vehicle on the map. So if you accidentally drove your tank into a lake, you can get it back. Of course, this requires travelling back to the nearest save point, warping back to your dropship, telling the computer to respawn all vehicles, and then getting all the way back to where you were. This is a lot more trouble than it’s worth, but I think the feature is mostly there so you aren’t completely screwed if you lose a mission-critical vehicle. Though in reality, it might be quicker to just reset and try the stage again.

Speaking of missions, there’s actualy a decent variety of things that the game makes you do. Most of the time you’re just trying to find the way forward while blasting waves of aliens, but there are plenty of other little one-off missions to accomplish. Early in the game you need to find a firetruck to extinguish a burning village, and then later on you get to bombard the side of a mountain with artillery shells to clear a path. One mission has you driving a cruise ship full of refugees through boiling waters next to an erupting volcano, and another has you racing to destroy a number of doomsday devices before they blow up the planet. Of course, there are also a few fetch quests and anything that takes place indoors is boring, but pobody’s nerfect, right?

Body Harvest is a really interesting game, and it’s fun despite the horrible setbacks you suffer if you die. But I still can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if it ahd released on time. Would it be a totally different game? Would it have been a smash hit? All that really matters is that the final product is pretty darn cool, and I really wish I’d played it back in 1998, as Li’l Ryan would have been absolutely blown away by it. So if you’ve got the urge to try something a little different, if somewhat dated, maybe give Body Harvest a go. You could certainly do a lot worse.


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