The Nintendo 64 was an amazing machine.
Too bad it happened to come out at the same time as the PlayStation, because that console and Final Fantasy VII stole a lot of Nintendo’s thunder.
That is because the N64 was really wickedly different from everything the Big N had done previously.
With a huge emphasis on 3D graphics and an attempt at porting the company’s classics to this new format, the N64 literally pioneered certain types of gaming on consoles that we take for granted today.
Two of them to mention briefly as 3D platforming and multiplayer first-person shooters.
As you can probably already tell, making a list of the “best-of” for this system is challenging, because there are games that are pioneering but not the best out there and then there are games that are absolutely amazing but could have appeared elsewhere.
Nonetheless, I have tried to cobble together something that I think fairly represents the N64 library. Here are the top 10 Nintendo 64 games of all time.
Oh, as usual it is one game per series, so do not scream when you can’t see the likes of Majora’s Mask and Banjo-Tooie. 😉
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10. Blast Corps (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 1997)
Is there anything more fun than being on a virtual demolition crew? That is the question that Blast Corps asks – and answers – all in one game. This is some classic arcade gaming action that really had kind of fallen by the wayside by the time of the N64’s release. Maybe that is why I love it so much? You know me, I am nostalgic for the games of the past and this feels like one of those.
Your goal is to cause as much destruction as possible because you have to clear a path for a nuclear missile on a truck that, if it strikes anything, will detonate and destroy the world. I know, it is wild. Built with beautifully vibrant graphics at the time, they are a bit aged now and not as impressive but they get the job done.
Tight controls, addictive gameplay, and an easy-to-understand core gameplay concept make this title absolutely irresistible to fans of the old arcade-style of gaming.
9. GoldenEye 007 (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 1997)
What a game. Talk about draining away hours of your life with your friends shooting rockets at one another. That is what GoldenEye 007 means to me. And you get to do it all as one of many iconic Bond film characters. But what is truly revealing about this title is that, not only is the multiplayer absolutely solid, but also the single-player experience is amazing. This is probably one of the best movie-to-film games ever made and it rarely gets counted on that list.
The game roughly follows the plotting of the film and faithfully recreates scenes from that film in the game. You have got the grande finale over the gigantic satellite dish and you have also got the graveyard of Soviet statues. It is a pretty amazing game and it is no wonder that it holds such a sacred position in the hearts and minds of many gamers.
8. Star Fox 64 (developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo in 1997)
How do you top Star Fox? Why not remake it for your much more powerful, next-gen system? That is probably how the meeting behind this gem went down and I am not complaining. There is not a lot of innovation here, really, because Star Fox on the SNES was a revelation.
This is more of a continuation of that sentiment. It is interesting that Nintendo cancelled Star Fox 2 for the SNES over fears that its sales would cannibalize the N64 in some way. The games are utterly different experiences and Star Fox 64 is way more in line with the first game.
I doubt real fans would have picked one over the other. I recommend Star Fox 64 to someone who likes shooters but finds most of what is going on today a little bit too intense for their tastes. It has got classic tight gameplay and a quality of experience that few modern titles can match.
7. Diddy Kong Racing (developed and published by Rare in 1997)
The world that Mario Kart 64 introduced me to at the beginning of the N64’s reign, Diddy Kong Racing welcomed me back with much greater fanfare. Probably the reason that this game sticks out the most for me is that it was part of the multimode racing that is now so common in kart games.
Mario Kart is amazing, and I get why it is on everyone’s list, but this game really changed things and moved the genre forward. It is also interesting how it keeps everything balanced and engaging no matter what vehicle type you choose.
Each one comes with its own advantages and disadvantages but the overall emphasis on kart-racing fun, no matter what you were riding, makes this game an absolute vision of the future now firmly in the past.
6. Perfect Dark (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 2000)
Having Perfect Dark ahead of GoldenEye 007 might sound suspicious but hear me out. This game is basically a refinement and sequel to GoldenEye 007 even if it does not have the same cast and universe. Once again, you get a solid multiplayer game that builds upon the GoldenEye 007 experience and the single-player is also right there with it.
Lightning does strike twice and Perfect Dark was an amazing success, even if it is not quite as fondly remembered as its predecessor. Sadly, things have never been the same since the company moved over to Microsoft but the string of hits that Rare churned out for Nintendo in the SNES era and in the subsequent N64 period are just undeniably great.
5. Banjo-Kazooie (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 1998)
Is Rare paying me? I promise they are not, but there are a few things I would like to note about that company. One, they really knew what they were doing by the time the N64 rolled around and, two, I cannot believe Nintendo let them go.
Maybe they started to do less well over time but I have to admit that Rare’s N64 games have me asking questions about “what if” the two had stuck together. The central conceit that makes Banjo-Kazooie interesting is that you are working with a partner who has his own little tricks up his sleeve.
Borrowing more from the Donkey Kong side of things than the Mario side of things, this game’s setting and mechanics really seem like an experimental DKC more than anything else. Good enough to spawn a series of games, Banjo-Kazooie is what good platforming is all about.
4. Wave Race 64 (developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo; JP and NA 1996, rest of the world 1997)
Another amazing racing game that takes some time to get used to in the beginning, * Wave Race 64 is an intense and utterly serious affair. While the kart racers rely upon a certain cartoony elegance to carry them over the line, Wave Race 64’s earnestness is what helps it win the day. So why so serious, to quote the Joker?
Well, the Nintendo 64 was competing against machines like the PSX and Sega Saturn – two decidedly arcade oriented machines in the sense that they could pump out 3D racers without a problem. People questioned whether or not Nintendo could make a Ridge Racer or Daytona USA for the Nintendo 64, and Wave Race 64 helps answer that question in stunning clarity.
Easily one of the most beautiful games on the system – and still so – Wave Race 64’s mechanics are so different from what you would expect in a racer that it changes the way you approach it. You master jumps, learn how to overcome incoming waves, and do it all in glorious style that has a polish that is nearly blinding.
3. Super Mario 64 (developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo; JP and NA 1996, EU 1997)
Talk to some people, and this is the best game ever made. Talk to others, and it is the best game of their childhood. Talk to me, and I can tell you that this game changed the way I looked at Nintendo properties forever. Super Mario 64 was everything the Nintendo 64 needed in the beginning. It was amazing, groundbreaking, fun, instantly iconic, and totally different from what we had before.
The idea of living in and exploring the world of Super Mario like never before was the main hook for this game, but the intuitive gameplay and absolute fun you had while doing so were just part-and-parcel with the experience.
It is also a game you can come back to time and time again. In many ways, the timelessness of the first Super Mario Bros. game is mirrored in this title. It is instantly recognizable as itself, it is immediately placeable within the timeline of video game history, and it invokes emotions in everyone who has experienced it. A more modern classic title you cannot find, and a more foundational one at that is even harder to locate.
2. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (developed by Rare, published by Rare for NA and THQ for EU in 2001)
Some of us are a Super Mario 64 type of person, and for the others out there we have Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Sure, Conker owes Mario a lot and he is probably behind on his payments knowing him, but that does not take away from how utterly solid this title is.
Coming to us from the folks over at Rare, this is yet another feather in their cap and shows that Rare, probably better than any other third-party dev, got what Nintendo wanted and needed for its system. Given all of this, it is surprising that Conker is more well known for a small feature of the game rather than the solid gameplay itself.
And that is that Conker is a huge part of the 1990s “xtreme” culture and all of the humor associated with it. You get fart jokes and everything in between. You see, Conker has ‘tude and that carries through in everything he does.
While Mario is endlessly polite while he smashes skulls, Conker is mocking and irreverent. It is a fresh change of pace for a Nintendo system as it is less-than-family-friendly. Even so, it is more than worthy of a play or two, especially if you want some idea of how varied and diverse the 3D platformer genre can be.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (developed by Iguana Entertainment, published by Acclaim Entertainment in 1998)
The first Turok is a test of patience. It is amazing that they made a sequel to that foggy nightmare. It is even more surprising that people love that game enough for it to be remade in the modern era. Maybe it was just because everything was so new and novel on the N64 that gamers overlooked problems that would make any developer ashamed to show their face.
With environments filled with fog machines made in Silent Hill, Turok was just hard as hell to play since it combined the mechanics of a first-person shooter with some platforming elements. Turok 2 fixes most of the problems of the first game and takes everything great about it to the next level – as you do. It is an honorable mention because it is pretty tough to fill a top 10 list with FPS games.
Do I recommend this title today? Of course, but with some caveats: It is an older game, people really did not know what they were doing at the time, and it is best if you do not take it or yourself too seriously. If you can manage that, wow this is a good time.
Beetle Adventure Racing (developed by Paradigm Entertainment and EA Canada, published by Electronic Arts in 1999)
Racing Beetles and keeping it simple. Great graphics, cool tracks and hidden secrets are usually the perfect sauce for any action-packed racer worthy of the name, and this one is no exception. What more could you want from a racing game?
This is another one of those “classic style” games that absolutely knocks your socks off with how compelling and addictive it is.
You race Volkswagen Beetles in what could be the love child of the Micromachines game on NES and R.C. Pro-Am.
Donkey Kong 64 (developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 1999)
I struggled with this game. Namely because I expected Donkey Kong Country and I got something wildly different from that. It feels so different from the DKC trilogy that it might even have you wondering what is going on here.
It is good sure, and the platforming is on point but it is not Super Mario 64. Many people consider DKC to be on par with Super Mario World on SNES, but that cannot be the case between the 64 era games.
Super Mario 64 is decidedly better, while this is merely a good game. Also, if you are obsessive compulsive about collecting things in a game, wow this title is for you.
Time to introduce my number one pick now, but to be honest such a masterpiece needs no introduction whatsoever…
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo in 1998)
What an amazing game. When Zelda finally arrived in 3D, it was as revolutionary and groundbreaking as when Mario made his first appearance at the system’s debut.
A game that people come back to time and time again, Ocarina of Time demonstrates that the Nintendo 64 could do an action RPG on a scale heretofore unseen and totally in the realm of the imagination. Like you lived in the Mushroom Kingdom of Mario 64, so, too, did you live in Hyrule in Ocarina of Time.
It was a level of immersion that gamers had never experienced before in this way. Imagine exploring a theme park that you had always heard about but never seen with your own eyes.
That was Ocarina of Time and its locations and peoples. One of those titles that gets better with age, the spartan style that the graphics have now and the combined mechanics of the title’s solid gameplay make this the title to play if you can only pick one on the Nintendo 64.
So retro folks, what are your thoughts? What was your favorite game on the Nintendo 64? Do you agree with my list – why or why not? Are there any games you would add or take away?
Would love to hear your comments and favorite memories of this awesome system in the comments section below. Oh, and make sure you click on the red bell icon to get notified of my new posts.
Till next list!