It’d be easy to dismiss Winback without a second thought. Developed by Omega Force — nowadays famous for the long-running Dynasty Warriors series and associated Musou spin-offs/crossovers — and released for N64 back in 1999, it’s probably the least well-known of the Switch Online service’s initial Nintendo 64 offerings; a title that falls under the unflattering banner of being a perceived ripping-off of the venerable Metal Gear Solid. This, however, is inaccurate. There’s a compelling argument that Winback, for all its flaws, is one of the more prominently influential N64 titles, with measurable influence on some of the biggest games of all time.
That’s not contrarian gum-flapping, you know. This third-person shooter brings in some innovations that became full-on conventions, and it doesn’t really get the appropriate credit for them. Its cover system, which sees you tap ‘A’ to get in position behind a wall or a crate or any such scenery, then peer out to take pot-shots? Pure Gears of War. You’ve also got the laser-sight for free aiming, which returned in spectacular style with – most prominently – Resident Evil 4.
Of course, Winback isn’t as good as either of those classics, but it’s not half bad fun, either. It reminded us most of Dreamcast games, specifically Sega’s predilection toward short, sweet and arcade-y romps through linear setpieces. It’s all very simple to pick up, and for once the Switch controls – as adapted from the original N64 controller – actually feel quite natural for the game, with ‘ZL’ used to crouch (essential in firefights) and the ‘R’ button combined with ‘A’ used to aim and fire. It is a little archaic in practice, but still easy to get along with if you’re not playing with an N64 pad.
There’s a stealth bent to proceedings, with the ability to run up behind enemies and cold-cock them, but this is a shooter through-and-through, with slick cover-based blasting married with rather strong linear stage design, basic collectables (ammo pouches for higher capacity, etc) and partially-destructible environments. We’d compare it, perhaps a little confusingly, to Die Hard Arcade / Dynamite Deka (but with more shooting) in the way it funnels you through its piecemeal levels, offering a score tally after each one.
It’s also bonkers in that marvellous way that only games like this are; a bizarre plot and even stranger turn of phrase lend character to Winback — character, of course, being what tends to define games of this era and elevate them above what may be their relatively unimpressive parts into a much more enjoyable whole.
Bafflingly, if you’re playing via Nintendo Switch Online rather than original hardware, the lack of Controller Pak emulation for renders it impossible to conventionally save your game. The Switch Online app’s in-built save states go some way towards remedying this, but it’s a genuinely troubling oversight and one that could severely limit the usefulness of the Nintendo 64 function of the Switch Online Expansion Pack; hopefully Nintendo will remedy it soon.
Despite this, Winback remains an enjoyably compelling little game to dip into and a nice little deeper cut for the Switch Online selection. It’s not going to set anybody’s world on fire, but the clear, clever level design and speed-run potential of the slick gameplay make it stand out more now that it would have done at the time of its original release. There’s even an uninspiring Versus multiplayer mode, although good luck getting anyone to play with you.