Several months after Sony shipped Tarzan for the PlayStation, Activision released the same game to Nintendo 64 owners, perhaps in an attempt to satisfy those N64 fans who might have heard that the earlier Disney animated-film-to-game translation actually fared quite well. In both versions, gameplay is fun, diverse, and not just a cross-media no-brainier licensing affair. However, the N64 game does fall short of the previous version, in a couple of areas that do not necessarily impair the overall quality of the game. But first, on to the details.
The single-player platform game follows the recently released animated film's plot exactly, and that's a very good thing, as the movie's pacing is conducive to the challenges you expect from a video game. Actually, what Tarzan captures, surprisingly, is the simplicity (with challenge) found in classic games. You play as Tarzan most of the time, first as the young ape-man in training and then later as the perpetually "prime of life" Tarzan. When you're not playing as Tarzan, you're running through the jungle as Jane, in a Victorian dress, attempting to flee a pack of baboons, or you're tearing up the campsite as Terk, Tarzan's she-ape companion.
There are 14 levels in all, and, surprisingly, each level and the objective therein is strikingly different from one another. Sure, there are conventions that reoccur in some levels, such as swinging on vines or sliding along fallen trees. However, these consistent features contribute to your overall grasp of the gameplay and become more demanding as you proceed (yes, demanding, on anything other than the "easy" setting, which is insanely novice, yet good for beginning gamers, no doubt). About half the levels are composed of standard 2D platform jumping, while you grab items and avoid animals until you reach the end. The rest of the levels take advantage of action scenes in the movie. In the Stampede level, for example, you control Tarzan as he runs ahead of a pack of elephants Crash Bandicoot- or Herc's Adventures-style. You move from side to side and jump when necessary. This parallels the stampede scene in the movie. In the SaborAttacks level, you fight the leopard, Sabor, with a spear and with tricky jumping moves a number of times until you conquer him, just as in the film. The aforementioned event with Jane is the Baboon Chase level, which follows the movie so closely that it has Tarzan swinging in to save you, hence navigating the chase at that point.Bonus levels exist as well. To earn one, you must collect four pieces of Jane's baboon drawings scattered around the environment. If you do so, you'll glide down a stream on a raft, grabbing tokens and fruits until the timer runs out, or you'll ride through the jungle on a stork, doing the same, or you'll slide along the fallen trees in the style of Crystal Dynamics' Pandemonium, ducking limbs and jumping over others. What's the point of tokens and fruit? It's all pretty intuitive. The tokens, in lots of 100, give you an extra life, and the fruits (yellow, purple, red, and blue of varying strengths and availability), are for you to lob at animals that get in your way. You'll also pick up other objects, such as a stone blade, to use against close-range predators. Bananas are used to increase your health meter and are pretty readily available throughout the game. If you collect all the letters in Tarzan's name (also scattered throughout each level), you open up movies that move the game forward. Worthy of mentioning, too, is the fact that you can go back and replay saved levels, should you want to find all the tokens, drawing pieces, or letters to gain extra lives (necessary for some of the later levels) or acquire a better ending score.
One problem with the N64 Tarzan is that the controls aren't the greatest. The PlayStation version was moderately plagued by similar shortcomings, yet the N64 stick does not respond well to climbing, swinging, or fighting tigers. In fact, the analog offers entirely too much freedom - a feature that Tarzan gameplay doesn't require. Stick with the D-pad or nothing, for the most part, through most of this game.
You'll usually deal with the animals (sometimes your enemies, sometimes there to give you a lift) immediately, but if you don't, you'll discover fairly quickly that the AI isn't too swift. In most cases, the animals are predictable and can be dispelled with fruit bombs or avoided altogether with little effort - with the exception of the evil, evil birds. We also noticed that the collision is occasionally laughable. Several times we managed to use our knife, which is more of a handheld stone blade, to dispose of pesky animals without even making contact with them. But this wasn't a repeated offense, so it's forgivable, considering the game's strong points.
In the sensory areas, Tarzan doesn't really look too fantastic on the N64. The PlayStation version (all hail the disc!) offers animated cutscenes from the movie to progress the plot along, while the N64 version tosses you into the gameplay, so as a result the N64 game doesn't have the same degree of plot coherence. Some slowdown is apparent if too much action is happening on the screen, which can be annoying on levels such as the Baboon Chase, wherein you're trying to knock apes out of your way as you run from baboons and avoid other obstacles. In a word, consistency in speed is mandatory to get through such challenges successfully. Also, the N64 cart doesn't support the rich sound you expect. It's somewhat muddled-sounding.
However, all in all, Tarzan on the N64 is a pleasant surprise that rises from its rough spots with a fair amount of success. While the game is not particularly mind-stumping or sophisticated, it is challenging and does require a good amount of skill, whether in jumping from place to place, knowing where hidden items might be, or fighting belligerent leopards who lunge a lot. Even if movie-license games turn you off, this game is an exception and worth taking a look at. If you can't stand Disney and have no interest in the franchise, this game is still worth looking at.