Thinking back to 1998 on the N64, there’s more than a good chance you’d think of Ocarina of Time, but a mere month before arguably one of the most influential games of all time hit shelves, we got to experience the quirky little puzzle/platformer Space Station Silicon Valley. The colorful, upbeat game was created by developer DMA, whom you may know better under its current title: Rockstar North, and garnered primarily positive reviews at the time of its release. Having nothing but fond memories of the game as a child, I decided to dust off the Ol’ N64 and get a better look sans nostalgia glasses and child-like wonder.
The story of Space Station Silicon Valley centers around, shockingly enough, a space station. The station was launched and then promptly went missing 7 minutes later, along with its large cargo of animals, scientists, and the station’s creator Dr. Cheese. Years later the space station reappears, and as it turns out, is on a collision course with Earth. It’s up to the heroic duo of Danger Dan and his robot EVO to stop it, but not before crash landing on the station and reducing EVO to a microchip.
The gameplay is primarily EVO hopping into the carcasses of the robotic animals that fill Silicon Valley’s many biomes. Each animal has unique abilities, attributes, and uses for advancing in a level. Take on the form of a sheep and you can float across gaps and let out a meek “bah”, or jump into a husky dog outfitted with guided missiles, a rocket boost, and skis. Hyenas can literally laugh someone to death, wheeled foxes have a short dash, and king penguins can command regular penguins to fight for them.
Becoming familiar with each type of animal is crucial to solving Silicon Valley’s many puzzles, especially when the difficulty ramps up in the later levels. Early missions consist of finding a dog to herd sheep into a paddock, or using a motorized mouse to race a rocket propelled dog, but make it to the jungle levels later on and you find yourself having to counterbalance switches with an elephant corpse stuck in a tree. Luckily controls are tight and the automatic camera is responsive. If you die, its not due to input delay. I noticed a few frame-rate drops here and there, particularly in areas with lots of moving parts and platforms, but it wasn’t enough to derail the experience.
Visually, Space Station Silicon Valley holds up fantastically. It’s not as good as some of Nintendo’s own IPs but I still love looking at it. The animals are simple and cartoony yet creative mishmashes of flesh and steel. I mean, a rabbit that uses its ears like helicopter propellers? Half hyena half motorcycles that roam in gangs? What money I would pay for an art book from this game. Water sparkles, grass grows and melds into metal, and the stars of space outside move as the space station grows ever closer to earth.
One of the coolest things I saw was in the first snow level. You have to hit a giant switch, and accidentally activate the station’s secondary thrusters. If you look up at the glass dome encasing the level you see the stars speed up considerably. Little touches and animations show that love and effort were put into this game, and I found myself saying things like “they didn’t need to put that there.” I love how the cyborg animals breathe and bop their heads to the background music when left to idle.
Speaking of the music, the game’s score isn’t half bad. Its all pretty pop-py and sounds similar, but its by no means annoying. Soundtracks are thematically appropriate to each biome and it sets a very light hearted mood to a game that, when looked at from a distance, can get a bit dark sometimes. Killing sentient robot animals and using their corpses to your own end is a bit morally questionable. Regardless, it’s not something I’d necessarily add to my music library, but pleasant. That the music has an in-game reason for being there (it’s broadcast over the speakers) is a funny touch as well.
I’d say Space Station Silicon Valley absolutely holds up, and I could easily see it being a hit in the digital marketplace by today’s standards. Unfortunately I doubt there’s any plans for an HD remake or port of any kind, so one’s options for playing it are limited to the N64 and original Playstation. If you’re able to find a cheap copy of either, or perhaps a ROM if you’re so inclined, I’d recommend giving it a shot. The “mission complete!” jingle will be stuck in your head for weeks.