September 29, 1996 remains forever etched in the minds of video game fans as one of the industry’s most defining moments. The sun rose that Sunday morning and people across America flocked to the closest electronics store in hopes of securing a Nintendo 64 to experience Mario’s foray into 3D. But even those who bought the system on launch day probably had no idea just how iconic the system would become. Super Mario 64 wasn’t the only standout, though, which is why we’ve sifted through the console’s entire back catalog in an effort to identify the absolute best N64 games.
We took into account everything from a game’s lasting appeal, to how revolutionary it was when first released, to its overall fun factor. Then we broke the list down into genres. So for all of you N64 lovers out there, here are the N64 games we feel most deserve a playthrough.
Jet Force Gemini
Jet Force Gemini remains one of the most unique and entertaining experiences on the Nintendo 64. Developed by Rare — the studio behind GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and Battletoads — and published by Nintendo, Jet Force Gemini set gamers on an epic sci-fi adventure. It combined the mechanics of third-person shooting, platforming, and running-and-gunning, to produce an end result unlike much of what the N64 had seen thus far. While playing through each level, gamers had access to three different members of the team; Juno, Vela, and Lupus. Each world featured its own set of enemies, environments, and platforming puzzles which were best conquered by utilizing the strengths of each character. For instance, Juno could walk through magma un-harmed. Players were encouraged to explore every nook and cranny in order to advance to the next world.
Rare’s Jet Force Gemini didn’t just excel with its single-player campaign, though; it also boasted a robust multiplayer offering. Like many N64 games on our list, the game featured a head-t0-head deathmatch mode which pitted you and up to three friends against one another in an all-out battle. Players had the option of setting their desired level, the types of weapons found during the match, and the number of kills necessary for victory. The game also featured several other multiplayer modes, such as an overhead racing mini-game and a fire-range mode which placed players on rails as they traversed levels. Aside from the head-to-head multiplayer modes, Jet Force Gemini also allowed two players to play in a non-split screen cooperative mode in which one player assumes the role of a floating robot and assists the first player in various missions. Jet Force Gemini’s strong single-player offering, as well as its deep multiplayer options, easily made it a must-play title.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
When Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire released in 1996, players initially lamented the fact they couldn’t play as one of the series’ stars like Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. However, as soon as gamers assumed the role of Dash Rendar and were thrust into the Battle of Hoth, they quickly forgave the developers. Although bogged down by occasional awkward camera issues, the third-person shooting controls were easy to pick up and enjoy. Fans of the Star Wars universe will quickly recognize the franchise’s various locales as Rendar travels far and wide. Moreover, players still have the opportunity to fight alongside Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca in an effort to help rescue the captured Princess Leia through the course of the campaign.
In addition to the game’s impressive levels and intriguing storyline, its boss battles were exceptional. From battling an Imperial AT-ST (on foot!) to going head-to-head with the merciless Boba Fett, Shadows of the Empire didn’t skimp on challenging bosses. The developers set out to create a game bridging the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi over the course of the game’s 10 missions, and though it may appear prehistoric now, it was one of the N64’s defining moments when it released nearly 20 years ago.
Koei’s WinBack not only gave N64 gamers their first taste of the tactical, stealth-action genre, but it helped set the stage for many iconic video games that followed. In WinBack, players assumed the role of Jean-Luc Cougar, a member of the United Nations’ anti-terrorist unit (SCAT). When the Secretary of Defense then tasks your unit with retrieving a laser weapon from the hands of a terrorist group called the “Crying Lions,” you have no other option but to oblige. At first glance, WinBack seems a rip-off of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, though it actually influenced much of the gameplay found in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. For instance, Metal Gear Solid 2’s developers adopted the game’s unique cover style and used its revolutionary laser sight mechanic when crafting their own title.
Star Fox 64
Star Fox 64 took gamers to the skies in the sequel to 1993’s Star Fox for the SNES. Players control Fox McCloud and his Arwing as his team attempts to thwart the plans of the evil mad scientist Andross. Levels were semi-free roaming, though most of the game sees players navigating through what’s called “Corridor Mode,” which essentially kept your aircraft on rails down a specific path, though you still controlled the Arwing’s ability to go up, down, left, and right within that path. Many of the levels had at least two different ways to complete them, with alternate paths opening up if the player accomplished certain (sometimes hidden) objectives. During each mission, three teammates — Peppy, Slippy, and Falco — flank Fox and assist when necessary. Sometimes you’d receive messages from each player individually alerting you of enemies, asking you for assistance, providing part of the story, or telling you to do a barrel roll.
Aside from Pilotwings — one of the system’s launch titles — Star Fox 64 was the preeminent flight simulator for the Nintendo 64. Fans of the series were treated to a massive graphics overhaul, improved gameplay, and an entertaining campaign. Nintendo also included a multiplayer mode which pit you and up to three other friends against one another in various aerial deathmatches.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
As you probably notice on this list, we’re quite fond of the Star Wars games that came to N64, and for good reason. Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Stars Wars: Rogue Squadron was a dream come true for anyone who grew up wanting to pilot an X-wing. You played as Luke Skywalker himself, leading the fleet of Rogue Squadron pilots towards the ultimate goal of destroying the Death Star. Throughout 16 objective-oriented levels, you and your fleet flew and shot your way across the galaxy in fast-paced, tense battles. The only knock on Rogue Squadron is that it didn’t have a multiplayer mode, despite being a prime candidate an exciting one.
Resident Evil 2
After its resounding success on the PlayStation, Capcom decided to port it’s survival-horror epic Resident Evil 2 to the N64 — and the results were fantastic. While many assumed the game would have a hard time transitioning to another system, Resident Evil 2’s arrival on the N64 was met with critical acclaim. Players assumed the role of two different protagonists, college student Claire Redfield and rookie police officer Leon Kennedy. Together, the duo explored the fictional town of Raccoon City while looking for survivors, solving puzzles, and fending off zombies.
Resident Evil 2 brought the survival horror genre to a system not previously associated with many adult-themed titles. It packed an expertly paced storyline, harrowing setting, and consuming gameplay into one of the best adventures on the N64. Even with a wonky control setup, the game shined. Few games keep you coming back for more while simultaneously scaring the living daylight out of you. A full, excellent reimagining of Resident Evil 2 launched on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019.
Like many popular characters who made the jump to the N64, Bomberman 64 was the first foray into 3D. Because of this, the game’s single-player mode featured an adventure and platform-rich style of gameplay. As Bomberman, players navigated through four different worlds attempting to collect gold cards and defeat the evil Altair. Each level featured unique challenges that required Bomberman to use several bomb types to advance to the next. Unlike traditional platformers, though, Bomberman could not jump, forcing him to cover large gaps by bouncing on bombs.
Bomberman 64 also features an addictive multiplayer mode reminiscent of past Bomberman titles. Up to four different players could participate in matches pitting everyone against one another in a bomb-throwing frenzy. Players won their round if they finished as the last Bomberman standing, either by killing the other three participants or surviving until the time runs out. Each of the game’s unique multiplayer levels were just small enough to incite frantic, all-out battles.
Donkey Kong 64
How bizarre is it that Donkey Kong 64, close to 20 years after its launch, remains the only 3D game in the entire series? Especially since Donkey Kong 64 was such a breakthrough game in terms of size and scope for a platforming adventure. Like its sterling side-scrolling SNES predecessors, Donkey Kong 64 is set on DK Isles and sees King K. Rool kidnap five of the Kong clan: Diddy, Cranky, Chunky, Tiny, and Lanky. Donkey Kong had to run around the island, completing platforming sequences, defeating baddies, and solving puzzles to save each of his relatives and defeat the big baddie and his minions.
DK Isles, for an N64 game, was quite large, with a diverse set of islands and levels to explore. It took roughly 30 hours to complete and was the first N64 game to require the Expansion Pak for additional memory. However, a fair portion of that lengthy runtime was spent backtracking for collectibles and unlocking new areas. You had to collect two different types of bananas to unlock new levels and to save each friend. But the backtracking was worth it since each of the six playable Kongs had their own unique play styles and guns. Diddy’s dual peanut shooters still hold a special place in our hearts. To top it all off, DK 64 had a competitive deathmatch with up to four players. Frolicking about the isles blasting each other with coconuts, grapes, and peanuts? Doesn’t get much better than that.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare makes several appearances on this list, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day no doubt goes down as the most unique title from its library. Originally intended for a family audience, Rare decided to slap Conker with a mature rating to differentiate it from previous games like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie. The resulting game featured a binge-drinking squirrel as the main character, a quadriplegic weasel as one of the villains, and a host of violence, toilet humor, and foul language. It was a bold move at the time, but again Rare struck gold. The level designs were perfect, the platforming and action were exciting, and the storyline was so over-the-top it kept players coming back for more.
What other game charges with you with the task of feeding your main character Alka-Seltzer to help cure him of the previous night’s massive hangover? None. And the best part is, this happens in the first five minutes of booting up the game. From this point forward, pure insanity ensues as Conker finds himself battling armies of evil teddy bears, hanging out with baby dinosaurs, and getting told to shove off whenever possible. Conker’s Bad Fur Day helped distinguish Rare as the best game developer for the N64 — outside of Nintendo itself — and remains a bonafide classic.
Super Smash Bros.
Several of Nintendo’s most famous franchises lend their likeness’ to this incredibly fun and over-the-top brawler. Players choose between 12 characters — i.e. Mario, Link, Kirby, Yoshi, Samus — and fight in some of Nintendo’s most iconic game levels. If you wanted to beat down your friends as the Pokémon Jigglypuff on Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom stomping ground, you could. The game provided an endless amount of replay value and entertainment while staying incredibly easy to pick up and play.
Unlike many fighting games of its era, Super Smash Bros. didn’t force players to memorize extensive or lengthy button combinations to pull off signature moves. Rather, players needed to learn a handful of simple button combinations to pull off special combos and attacks for any character. Because of this, the game saw wild success on the N64 and helped spawn a slew of sequels on every Nintendo home console since, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Nintendo Switch.
Duke Nukem 64
A port of Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem 64 was a refreshing taste of first-person shooter magic on a Nintendo console. Although the N64 version was toned down thematically, it still carried an M rating from the ESRB and is one of the bloodiest games to hit the console. Duke Nukem 64 was all about destruction and chaos. Most environmental props could be blown to smithereens and the onslaught of enemies was near relentless. The best part about the N64 port, though, was the inclusion of two-player couch co-op. Running and gunning with a friend significantly upped the fun factor. Of course, Duke Nukem 64 got its legs from its four-player deathmatch. Although not nearly as popular as Golden 007 or Perfect Dark, Duke Nukem 64 offered highly entertaining competitive multiplayer.
Though PC gamers had enjoyed 3D, first-person shooters for some time, console gamers were relatively unaware of them before GoldenEye 007 burst on the scene in 1997. It was released nearly two years after the Pierce Brosnan film of the same name hit theaters, but that did little to hinder its success. Players assumed the role of the iconic James Bond as he thwarted criminals from using the weaponized GoldenEye satellite upon the city of London. It was one of the first games of its kind to feature open, 3D levels which players could explore on their own and complete objectives in any order they chose.
While the single-player campaign was fun for a playthrough or two, multiplayer gave it staying power. Capable of swallowing whole weekends in the blink of an eye, GoldenEye’s split-screen deathmatches were as fun as anything on the N64. The game allowed up to four players to compete at once, on any of its 20 levels. Several gameplay modes kept it fresh, such as The Man with the Golden Gun, You Only Live Twice, or the one-shot kill mode, License To Kill. No matter which you played, there was nothing quite like roaming around Facility with three of your friends and blowing one another to smithereens.
The spiritual successor to GoldenEye, Perfect Dark took everything good about its predecessor and made it even better. It operated on a modified version of GoldenEye’s game engine and anybody who’s played both recognizes the similarities. Where Perfect Dark stood out from Rare’s original shooter was its engrossing storyline, increased functionality of the game’s weapons, and the introduction of combat “Simulants” in multiplayer. Players assume the role of Joanna Dark, an agent working for a research and development center called the Carrington Institute. After a series of events leads her down a rabbit hole of conspiracy, science fiction, and peculiar Scandinavians, Dark finds herself in the middle of an interstellar battle.
Like GoldenEye, the single-player experience of Perfect Dark is a rousing good time, but its multiplayer is where the game truly shined. You and up to three friends could participate in a split-screen deathmatch using an array of weapons and characters from the main game. Where Perfect Dark raised the bar was with its inclusion of what it called “Simulants,” which functioned as computer-controlled bots. Players could load up to eight per match and set their skill level, team affiliation, and a wide range of configurable behaviors, like targeting the player in the lead.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
When the Nintendo released the 64 in 1996, it was mostly synonymous with kid-oriented, family-friendly games. However, once Iguana Entertainment released the M-rated Turok: Dinosaur Hunter six months into the console’s lifetime, it gave mature gamers a reason to pick up the system for themselves. The game placed players in the boots of Turok, a time-traveling Native American who takes it upon himself to protect Earth from the inhabitants of the Lost Land. The game plays in a similar first-person style to the Doom franchise and features a wide range of open-world levels. Each of the game’s levels sees a variety of dinosaurs, aliens, and humans which stand between Tal’Set (Turok) and his goal to collect fragments of an ancient artifact called the Chronoscepter.
When first released, Turok pushed the system’s limits and set the standard for every console shooter which succeeded it. It quickly became one of the staples among gamers’ N64 libraries and showed Nintendo that even games with a Mature rating had a place on its console. The varied level design, difficult enemies and bosses, and slew of futuristic weapons at Tal’Set’s disposal helped Turok establish itself as a must-have game for the new console. Its overwhelming success helped spawn several other games in the Turok franchise, yet none of those fared as well as the original.
Yes, Pokémon Snap counts as a first-person shooter — perhaps the most innocent FPS in existence. In Snap players took control of Todd Snap, a photographer Professor Oak commissioned to assist him with a special report. Players journey around Pokémon Island, attempting to capture as many unique and interesting photographs of the native Pokémon. The game plays like a rail shooter as the player rides a self-piloting buggy throughout each level.
At the conclusion of each ride, players select their favorite photos for Professor Oak’s report. Oak then doles out scores for each photo based on how well each Pokémon is framed, their specific poses, unique actions, or if multiple Pokémon show up in the same picture. Each level featured various hidden Pokémon, alternate paths, and specific photo opportunities that required multiple playthroughs to completely master.
Mario Party series
It’s hard to select just one of the three Mario Party games as the best on the N64; each one should easily have a spot on this list. For the sake of conserving space — and keeping this list eclectic — we’ve included the three N64 versions as one entry here. Not only did the Mario Party franchise revolutionize the multiplayer experience for the N64, but it offered a game with a massive amount of replayability. Once gamers chose an iconic Mario character, they would move around a themed game board and engage in a wide range of raucous mini-games. After each game, the winners received a helping of coins which they then use to buy stars. The player with the most stars at the end won.
Though the concept seems straightforward, the minigames were anything but. Whether you were riding around on a giant ball trying to knock your opponents off an island, or avoiding various obstacles while tightrope walking, Mario Party‘s minigames had it all. The game also did a fantastic job of keeping everybody on a level playing field and limiting advantages. For instance, just when you thought you gained the upper hand, your character would magically land on an evil Bowser square and forced to forfeit coins. Obviously, most of the moving around the game boards comes down to random chance, but it always felt like the game had something out for the leaders.
Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 not only saw Nintendo’s frontman Mario dive into a 3D landscape for the first time, but it also established the Nintendo 64 as a powerhouse console from day one. Players control Mario as he collects the 120 Gold Stars strewn about Princess Peach’s enormous castle. Like previous games in the franchise, it featured a slew of power-ups, unique baddies, and several iconic Bowser battles spanning various environments. The game introduced several new maneuvers for Mario as well, such as the ability to backflip, triple jump, and the ever-so-useful wall jump.
Aside from the revolutionary level design and enthralling gameplay, Super Mario 64 also changed the gaming landscape with the introduction of the 3D, free roaming mode. Not only did this style go on to define the Mario franchise, but it set the bar for future 3D platformers. Plain and simple, Super Mario 64 is puzzle platforming at its finest and remains one of gaming’s greatest titles of all time. It is also, appropriately, the first N64 game available for the Wii U Virtual Console.
One of the most unique (and challenging) games the N64 had to offer, Glover tested your patience and willpower at every turn. Players control the titular Glover who attempts to recover his owner’s seven magic crystals, all of which were scattered all over the wizard’s kingdom after a massive explosion at his castle. During the events of the explosion, Glover transformed the crystals into rubber balls, thus allowing them to land on the ground without shattering. For those of you who remember Marble Madness on the NES, think of Glover as a story-driven extension.
As Glover, players guide a ball through six different worlds within the wizard’s kingdom, each with its own theme and three different levels for Glover to explore before toppling the world’s boss. Along the way, players have the ability to transform Glover’s ball into four different forms — rubber, metal, a bowling ball, or its original crystal form — each of which was required for different challenges. The perfect blend of puzzles, platforming, and spot-on physics made the title a (frustrating) blast to play.
Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie
When Rare released Banjo Kazooie in June of 1998, it wowed many gamers with its incredible level-design, crisp graphics, and entertaining gameplay. Banjo took much of what made Super Mario so successful and refined that platforming even further. Banjo Kazooie became so successful that Rare created a sequel, titled Banjo Tooie, also released to critical acclaim. In both games, players assume control of a brown honey bear named Banjo and a bird who never leaves Banjo’s backpack named Kazooie. The duo found themselves constantly hassled by an ill-tempered witch named Gruntilda, who at one point kidnaps Banjo’s sister. Aided by their shaman friend named Mumbo Jumbo, Banjo and Kazooie fight through many perilous levels gathering musical notes and “Jiggies” in an effort to find Gruntilda. While the concept was as ridiculous as anything else on the N64, Banjo Kazooie’s gameplay experience remains one of the best from its era.
Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Rayman 2: The Great Escape has been re-released on many platforms, but it came out first on the N64. Commonly regarded as one of the best platforming games of all time, The Great Escape followed the trend of bringing traditionally 2D franchises into the 3D world. The plucky protagonist with a bunch of missing limbs translated to 3D with great success. Along with varied level design and excellent platforming sequences, Rayman’s abilities, from punching to flying with his glorious hair, spiced things up as you continued through the story mode. Although it certainly doesn’t top Super Mario 64, a strong case could be made that Rayman 2: The Great Escape is the second-best platformer of the N64 era.
Dr. Mario 64
A remake of the original NES Dr. Mario game, Dr. Mario 64 brought the addictive tile-matching puzzler to the N64 in 2001. For those unfamiliar with the game that sees the plumber turn into an unlicensed doctor, Dr. Mario 64 is forced on a quest to catch the culprit who stole the extra special Megavitamins. In order to do that, you had to play a grid-based match four puzzler with multi-colored pills. You could also choose to play as the even less medically inclined Wario, for some reason. Dr. Mario 64 didn’t turn the wheel on the classic subset of puzzlers, but it was nonetheless a thoroughly engaging experience rife with all of the classic Nintendo charm.
Pokémon Puzzle League
Ash was just getting the hang of becoming the very best when Professor Oak rang to tell him he had to go compete in the Puzzle League championship. Pokémon Puzzle League gives Nintendo’s match three puzzle series the pocket monster treatment. Essentially, a grid filled up with multi-colored blocks, and you had to align them into horizontal or vertical sets of three while the board constantly became more cluttered. Clear the board, and you win. Let the board fill, and you’re finished. It was a fun match three game made better with the Pokémon trappings. Once again, Ash’s original main rival, Gary, was in the picture, and you had to work your way towards earning eight badges.
One unique addition to Pokémon Puzzle League was the 3D cylindrical stages, which made each row of blocks three times longer. The expanded grid presented a much more difficult task and was one of the earliest incarnations of a 3D grid-based puzzler done right.
Mario Kart 64
Easily one of the most popular games for the N64, Mario Kart 64 is over-the-top kart racing at its finest. Players choose to race as Mario or any one of his colorful pals and rivals, before entering single-player Grand Prix tournaments or a wide range of multiplayer events. The game featured four different “Cups,” each of which had its own circuit of four unique courses. Players could grab special power-ups which endowed their driver with a wide range of weapons and kart boosts. For instance, red shells would fire off and home in on the nearest competitor. Stars, on the other hand, would give players temporary invincibility and a speed boost.
Like the games before it, what allowed Mario Kart to stand out was its addicting multiplayer gameplay. It wasn’t just about perfecting the jump on Rainbow Road or mastering power slides, or even seeing if you could win a tournament with Peach (you could). It was the perfect combination of everything which kept bringing you back to Mario Kart 64. The game went on to become the second best-selling game on the N64 — and it’s not tough to see why.
While not the best racing game on N64, F-Zero X could claim the title of fastest and most intense. The sequel to the 1991 SNES classic, F-Zero X, brought the series to 3D (familiar trend, huh?). No one would call the transition to 3D pretty, however, as the game looked downright bland in many spots. The racer more than made up for its relative drabness with its gameplay, though. Did you know that before Burnout‘s highly popular takedown mode was created, you could smash up futuristic ships in maniacal F-Zero death races?
In addition to these 30 racer free-for-alls, F-Zero X also had a degree of procedural generation in its track composition. When playing X-Cup, pieces and parts of tracks were spliced together to create a somewhat unique experience each time you load it up. If you wanted speed and adrenaline on N64, F-Zero X was first in class.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
One of the few redeeming qualities of the Star Wars‘ prequel trilogy was the inclusion of pod racing, along with the video game iteration it spawned. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer put gamers in the driver’s seat of the movie’s iconic pod racers and offered an experience vastly different from other racing games on the market. The pods had the ability to fly at speeds of more than 400 miles per hour through a variety of different Star Wars-themed race tracks. The game provided a healthy offering of pod racers (23) and race tracks (25), many of which required tournament victories to unlock. Anakin Skywalker proved a capable pod racer, but many of the unlockable characters possess attributes far superior. Though many Star Wars video games survive due to their namesake, Episode 1: Racer was one of those rare games which truly earned its popularity.
Wave Race 64
Like so many games on this list, Wave Race 64 offered N64 gamers an experience they had never had before. Sure, racing games were alive and well in the mid-’90s, but never did it involve steering a jet-ski through turbulent water. What is more impressive is the fact Wave Race launched about a month after the console itself, and remains one of the system’s marquee games. The game featured just four playable characters, each with their own predetermined racing style, to go along with eight different courses. In Championship mode, players raced through a selection of tracks and acquired points based on their finishing position. Depending on the level of difficulty, players amassed a certain number of points to avoid disqualification and ending the game. The concepts were simple, but it took skill to beat the game on the harder difficulty levels.
Wave Race’s replay value rested solely with its Time Trial, Stunt, and Versus modes. In Stunt Mode, players raced around the game’s unlocked tracks and attempted to earn as many points as possible by executing various tricks and jumping through hoops. A final score came down to the number of hoops a racer jumped through, coupled with the number of successfully executed tricks. Putting down your controller without achieving a new high score was much easier said than done once you popped the Wave Race 64 cartridge in.
Diddy Kong Racing
Piggy-backing off the success of Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing took kart racing to a whole new level with the addition of multiple vehicle types — namely airplanes, cars, and hovercraft. This was adopted by the Mario Kart series on later platforms. Although initially criticized as a Mario Kart knock-off, Diddy Kong Racing proved to gamers itself with its innovative mechanics and adventure mode, even setting a Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling game at the time. It also introduced the world to Conker and Banjo, who would go on to star in their own classic games, also featured on this list.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Following Super Mario 64’s lead in transitioning from 2D to 3D, Nintendo blew the doors off the Zelda franchise with Ocarina of Time. Set in the mythical land of Hyrule, players control the iconic Link as he sets out to rescue Princess Zelda and thwart the evil plans of Ganondorf. Though the plot sounds familiar, the game was anything but when it was first released back in 1998. From its revolutionary Z-targeting system to its context-specific button configurations, the title introduced a bevy of features which became standard for 3D games moving forward.
Heralded by many as one of the best — if not the best — video games of all time, Ocarina of Time set gamers on a sprawling epic not previously seen in three dimensions. Ocarina of Time featured incredible dungeon design, an unforgettable cast of characters, and a storyline rife with an adventure that stands the test of time.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
A follow-up to Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask flipped the Zelda franchise on its head once again. Having benefited from an upgraded version of its predecessor’s game engine, Nintendo released Majora’s Mask a mere two years after Ocarina of Time. Although players once again took the control of Link, absent are pivotal characters such as Zelda and Ganondorf. The game also takes place in the land of Termina instead of Hyrule.
The story finds Link in search of his (spoiler alert) departed fairy Navi, who left him at the conclusion of Ocarina of Time. After getting ambushed by Skull Kid and robbed of his horse and the Ocarina of Time, Link teams up with the fairy Tatl to seek revenge against Skull Kid. The duo travels to Clock Town in search of Skull Kid, only to find the town facing impending doom in just three days from a falling moon. Link only can only achieve so much during the three days before he has to travel back in time and begin again from Day 1. This timer gave the game a unique and challenging rhythm.
Pokémon Stadium took the core battling gameplay of the handheld titles into the stadium for head-to-head Pokémon battles. The game didn’t feature a storyline but instead relied solely on winning tournaments and finishing the Gym Leader Castle. Each of the Cups also varied in difficulty and handcuffed gamers to a certain set of Pokémon for the duration of the tournament. For example, the first cup, the Pika Cup, limited players to Pokémon between levels 15 and 20.
Additionally, the final cup, the Prime Cup, pitted players against an array of Pokémon who all had achieved a level of 100. Perhaps Pokémon Stadium’s greatest feature was the ability to upload Pokémon from either a Pokémon Blue, Red, or Yellow game cartridge through the N64’s Transfer Pak. This allowed players to see their Pokémon from previous games come to life in all their 3D glory.
Featuring 2D characters set against 3D backgrounds, Paper Mario played almost exactly like the classic SNES game Super Mario RPG, as it strayed from the traditional running and jumping of the prior Super Mario 64. However, like most Mario games, players assumed the role of Mario and played through a variety of levels in an effort to rescue the kidnapped Princess Peach. He makes several allies throughout each level, many of whom were foes in previous installments, each designed to help the titular character through a gauntlet of puzzles and obstacles.
Along the way, Mario and company venture through eight different chapters in search of the seven “Star Spirits” necessary to topple Bowser. Fans of Super Mario 64 were no doubt shocked to find Paper Mario differed greatly from the former title, though once they understood the gameplay, it was easy to see how great the game actually was, and it has since spawned numerous sequels on other Nintendo platforms.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest
We believe all baseball games should have Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover wearing a backwards hat. Sadly, developers haven’t followed our wishes over the years. Nevertheless, Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest, which brought the now defunct franchise to the 3D era, stood out at the time as the rare good baseball game on N64. The batting was especially great. The system tasked you with moving an oval over the correct area before swinging at the pitch. This style of batting more or less became the norm over the years. Despite taking itself mostly seriously, Slugfest, as its name suggests, was a home run bonanza. It also had an awesome pitch called the super fastball. Straddling the line between arcade and simulation, Slugfest was a great time for both serious and casual fans.
Midway Games perfected arcade style gaming in the ’90s, so when its zany NFL Blitz made it to the N64, it was already a bonafide hit. Similar to the studio’s NBA Jam franchise, NFL Blitz featured over-the-top sports action which used actual NFL teams and all the league’s top players. Instead of fielding the regular 11 players on either side of the ball, Blitz featured just seven of each team’s top players. Because of this, players like the Cowboys’ Deion Sanders would play on both offense and defense.
Another notable omission from the game was the yellow flags thrown by referees. Players had the ability to perform any and all hitting penalties on the opposing team, which included pass interference. If you saw a man wide open down the field, simply switch to your safety and knock the guy clean out. The ball would sail past the fallen offensive player, or in the more likely scenario, your defender would pick it off. Even for non-sports fans NFL Blitz was a riot and remains fun to play to this day.
Having already dabbled in the world of high-flying basketball with NBA Jam, Midway decided to take a different approach with its new basketball franchise NBA Showtime. Taking the presentation elements from the NBA on NBC telecast, NBA Showtime gave gamers a front row seat to the craziest games of basketball imaginable. Players controlled two teammates from any of the 30 available NBA teams, most of which had at least four or five different characters to choose from. Want to roll out two gigantic centers? Choose the Cleveland Cavaliers and select Shawn Kemp and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Enjoy firing shots from long range? Then Chauncey Billups and Nick Van Exel of the Denver Nuggets were the way to go. The options were endless, and once you started creating a player the games became even wackier.
Though creating players, picking your team, and attempting to enter in the big-head mode cheat kept you entertained, the actual gameplay was an absolute blast. Players had the option of playing against a CPU team, against a friend, or teaming up with said friend to take on the AI. No matter the game mode, nothing beat watching your players fly through the air for a giant dunk, or seeing you and your teammate achieve team fire. NBA Showtime may lack a deep offering of game modes, but just like NFL Blitz, the arcade-style gameplay is fun for hours.
There’s not much Nintendo’s fearless mascot Mario can’t do. From saving Princess Peach from the grips of the evil Bowser to racing his pals in go-karts, Nintendo made Mario a busy guy on the N64. Mario Golf continued the trend, and like the other games, it was incredibly addicting and entertaining. The game featured a bevy of popular Mario characters to choose from, each sporting their own strengths and unique abilities that cater to a particular style of play. Wario — an unlockable character — drives the ball up to 230 meters, though his shot always fades. Mario, on the other hand, drives the ball up to a staggering 250 meters while his shot always draws.
Like other traditional golf games, Mario Golf uses a slider to determine your shot power and accuracy. Before any hit, the game allows you to see where your desired shot might travel, and lets you account for any wind or hazards in your way. Though relatively straightforward with its approach to its controls, Mario Golf offered occasionally frustrating challenges on some of the more difficult courses. The game’s single-player mode allowed you to go head-to-head and unlock many iconic Mario characters, but it truly shined with its multiplayer, which pit you against up to three of your friends in either traditional match play, skins match, or mini golf.
Once again, Nintendo’s workhorse — Mario — delivers yet another top-tier Nintendo 64 sports title. This time around, Mario and friends decided to ditch the golf clubs for tennis rackets in the endlessly fun Mario Tennis. Like Mario Golf, players choose from a wide range of characters from the Mario universe, each of which features its own special abilities and play style. Only Mario and Luigi feature an all-around skill set, while other characters either specialize in power, technique, speed, or tricky play.
Mario Tennis featured several game modes from which to choose, including Tournament Play, Ring Shot, and Exhibition. Tournament Play allowed players to unlock several characters in addition to more difficult tournaments. While this gave Mario Tennis an incredible amount of replay value, once again, the multiplayer modes reigned supreme. Players chose between playing head-to-head with another friend or engaging in a doubles match with up to three other people. The game allowed you to select how many sets you’d like to play, ranging from one-set matches to epic five-setters, the latter of which tested your endurance as much as your patience. Much of what made Mario Tennis so great is still on display in recent entries like Mario Tennis Aces.
When Nintendo released 1080 Snowboarding in 1998, many gamers had never played a snowboarding game before. Despite the initial hurdle, though, the game quickly received critical acclaim and instantly became a hit on the system. Praised for its graphics, smooth controls, and impressive soundtrack, 1080 Snowboarding was a blast to play. Players chose one of five different snowboarders, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Depending on how you liked to ride, players could sacrifice speed or technique for jumping ability or power. The game also featured a variety of different boards you’d choose from to complement your style.
Players could engage in several different modes spanning the title’s six available courses, such as Match Races, Time Trials, or Trick Attacks. Players also had the option to cruise through the Half Pipe game mode, trying to pull off as many big air tricks as possible or attempt to pull off one huge trick while playing the Air Make mode. Though relatively light on course selection, 1080 Snowboarding still provided a solid amount of replay value and was arguably the greatest snowboarding game of its time.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was as capable as any game on this list at consuming entire weekends. It helped usher in a franchise which has since seen 18 different Tony Hawk titles, encompassing a variety of systems and platforms. In Activision’s initial offering, gamers had their choice of 10 different professional skaters such as Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, or Bucky Lasek. Each rode differently than the others, allowing for a variety of styles. Additionally, players outfitted their skater with several different skateboard setups, including the types of trucks they wished to ride and the wheels. Part of what made this game so great was tinkering with the different customization settings and figuring out your perfect skater and accompanying skateboard setup.
The game also featured several different game modes which you either tackled by yourself or with a friend. Whether you played Career Mode, Trick Attack, or just tooled around in Free Skate, nothing beat pulling off an incredible string of flip tricks, grinds, and airs to best your previous top score. Perhaps one of the game’s best modes was challenging a friend to a round of “Horse.” Like the basketball version of the game, skaters had to execute tricks that their opponent would then try to match. The last skater standing after their opponent accumulated the letters in “horse” won the match. After spending some time with this classic, it’s not hard to see why it spawned an incredibly successful gaming franchise.
WWF No Mercy
The follow up to 1999’s WrestleMania 2000, WWF No Mercy was the pinnacle of wrestling games on the N64. Although the hit title featured a slew of upgrades over its predecessor, No Mercy’s biggest claim to fame was its expanded Create-a-Wrestler feature. The mode allowed players to choose from a wide range of moves, body types, and clothing options when creating the wrestler of their dreams. The game was also one of the first of its kind to allow the creation and use of female wrestlers. The storyline mode saw players reenacting popular feuds and alliances from ’90s wrestling while creating a path to the championship for a wrestler of your choice. The controls were tight, the gameplay was solid, and nothing beat dropping an elbow on the Rock with the most ridiculous wrestler of your own creation. The game was a proper tribute to WWF and even non-wrestling fans could find joy in this solid title.
Yes, StarCraft 64 led to Blizzard stopping console support until Diablo 3, but it’s better than many seem to remember it. Containing both the original game and the Brood War expansion, StarCraft 64 contained an impressive amount of content. Even more impressive, though, was how Blizzard retooled the control scheme with action buttons to make the complex real-time strategy classic playable on the N64’s funky boomerang controller. Obviously, real-time strategy games are better suited for mouse and keyboard controls, but for console players, StarCraft 64 offered a worthy glimpse at what everyone was raving about in the late 1990s.
- The best Nintendo Switch games
- The best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles for December 2019
- The best Nintendo Switch exclusives
- The best games of 2019, from Fire Emblem to Untitled Goose Game
- Pokémon Sword and Shield blow past franchise launch record