Believe it or not, the Nintendo 64 is officially 20 years old. While the console was a relative failure for the company, at least when compared to its two previous hardware releases and the enormous success of the rival Sony PlayStation, anyone who actually owned the N64 would tell you otherwise. With its incredible lineup of games and numerous innovations, the Nintendo 64 is one of the most fondly remembered pieces of consumer electronics in existence and is a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time in gaming for many. To celebrate its two decades of existence, we’re counting down the 20 biggest reasons we’ll always have a fondness for the Nintendo 64.
20. The Dawn of Mario Sports Titles
Mario has been featured in almost every genre imaginable by now, so it’s a bit strange to think of a time when Nintendo’s portly plumber hadn’t really branched out into other games beyond his own and Mario Kart. The N64 was the generation when the Mario franchise really started to get spin-off happy, giving us not only the Mario Party and Paper Mario series, but also a couple of really good sports titles in Mario Golf and Mario Tennis.
At the time, it felt weird to see Mario lacing up his tennis shoes or driving a ball onto the green, but once you actually got your hands on either game, all that doubt melted away and was replaced by the realization that Mario could make tennis, golf, or any sport under the sun FUN. Yes, golf and tennis are both fun sports in their own right, but Mario helped introduce both to players who may have had little to no interest in them to begin with (we have Mario Tennis to thank for learning the rules of the game). Both franchises have seen multiple installments since then on different consoles, but the N64 is where Mario’s sports obsession well and truly began.
19. Those Wave Race 64 Wave Physics
Jet ski games are practically non-existent nowadays but back when the Nintento 64 launched in 1996, Nintendo released Wave Race 64, a jet ski game so good that it still stands as the best of the bunch. Wave Race 64 was a true visual showcase for the console, especially when it came to its realistic physics engine. This is a game that long ago lost its visual splendor but its wave physics still hold up surprisingly well, making this one of the most impressive technical achievements on the console. It also helped that the game itself was a lot of fun, nailing that difficult to capture mix of being easy to pick up, but hard to master. Nintendo would release a follow-up title, Wave Race: Blue Storm, on the Nintendo GameCube and while it is arguably the better game, we’ll always have a fondness for the N64 release, which alongside Super Mario 64 introduced many to the wonders of 3D gaming.
18. Star Wars: Episode I Racer, A.K.A. The Only Good Thing To Come Out Of The Phantom Menace
The podracing scene is one of the few elements of 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace that wasn’t a total waste, so it makes sense that one of the few decent games to come out of that movie was all about the fictional racing sport. Star Wars: Episode I Racer captured the fast and frenetic nature of podracing surprisingly well and played similarly to other futuristic racers of its time that were based around high speed, such as F-Zero and Wipeout. Episode I Racer still stands as one of the best Star Wars racing games and although it was released on multiple platforms, it’s most closely associated with the Nintendo 64 (probably because it was never released on PlayStation).
17. WWF No Mercy
The final wrestling game released on the N64, WWF No Mercy is considered by many to be one of the greatest wrestling games of all time. A lot of this has to do with the game’s actual wrestling engine, which remains deep and nuanced to this day, but also because the game was feature-rich with engaging content. No Mercy featured a robust story mode with branching paths and was also one of the first games to venture outside the ring and let players wrestle in backstage areas. It also featured a deep character creation tool that helped extend the game’s lifespan, since players could create real-life wrestlers who weren’t included in the original roster (remember, this game came out before online gaming truly caught on). Even non-wrestling fans were hard-pressed not to be taken in by No Mercy’s charms. Sure, it’s no Here Comes The Pain, but on N64, no other wrestling game could top it.
16. Every New Game Release Feeling Like An Event
The Nintendo 64 certainly went for a quality over quantity approach with its games library, topping out at less than 400 official releases compared to the Sony PlayStation’s thousands-strong library. As such, there was frequent downtime in the N64’s release schedule, as gamers waited (im)patiently for the next big game to come out. While it was certainly frustrating to see PlayStation owners wading through an avalanche of games every month, the N64’s low output helped make every game that was released feel like an event worth celebrating.
Who can forget the anticipation for games like Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to drop? The best part of it all was that these games — especially the ones put out by Nintendo and Rare — rarely (pun unintended) disappointed, which helped make them feel extra special. Waiting for new games has become something of a running jokes among Nintendo console owners (Wii U owners have certainly suffered their fair share of release droughts) but for whatever reason, it wasn’t such a bad thing on the N64.
15. Shadows Of The Empire’s Hoth Level
Even at the time of its release, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire wasn’t a great game. The third-person shooting mechanics were rudimentary at best and the game itself was pretty much built from the ground up to be a sort of also-ran of the Star Wars universe (the main protagonist is a Han Solo wannabe named Dash Rendar whose adventures run parallel to those of the other characters). That being said, Shadows of the Empire was worth playing just for its Hoth level alone, which captured the look and feel of the iconic Star Wars battle like no other game before it. Hopping in a Snowspeeder and taking down an AT-AT with a tow cable may be old hat by now, but in 1996 it was a revelation. Better Star Wars games have been made before and after Shadows of the Empire, but it will always stand as one of the most memorable in N64 owners’ eyes thanks to that one brilliant level.
14. Finding Out You Could Surf/Skate On This Thing: (Koopa Shell)
Okay, so we definitely couldn’t maneuver as well as the guy in the video does, but who can forget the first time they took out a Koopa Troopa and realized they could ride his shell around? Remember, this predated Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater by quite a few years, so it was pretty novel to do something like this back in 1996:
13.The Rumble Pak
When Nintendo released a little controller add-on called the Rumble Pak in 1997, no one could have predicted that it would convince the rest of the gaming industry to adopt force-feedback as a standard going forward. Although it was bulky and required 2 AAA batteries to even work, the N64’s Rumble Pak introduced a whole new experience to playing games, to the point where playing a game without force-feedback just doesn’t feel right (no wonder there was huge controversy when Sony dropped it from their first-generation PlayStation 3 controllers). In particular, games like Star Fox 64 and Super Smash Bros. became noticeably different (and better) experiences with the Rumble Pak and for that, we salute Nintendo’s bulky but brilliant little innovation.
12. That Stupid Controller
Only Nintendo could come up with a controller like the N64’s. Featuring a faulty thumbstick that seemed to break with the slightest provocation and a truly bizarre design that seemingly forgot that human beings only have two hands, not three, the N64 pad is objectively one of the worst controller designs ever. And yet … we still love the dumb thing. Despite its odd design, the N64 pad was surprisingly innovative, being the first home console controller to feature a thumbstick and depending on the game, it felt like the best controller ever (Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64 all controlled marvelously on the thing). Plus, you can’t say it wasn’t unique!
And it also came in some pretty dope colors:
11. Mario Kart 64
While the debate over which Mario Kart reigns supreme is neverending (we’re pretty much locked in a three way tie between Double Dash, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart 8), Mario Kat 64 will always be a frontrunner in that discussion. Even setting aside the intense nostalgia that every N64 owner has for this game, one can’t deny the innovations that Mario Kart 64 introduced that we now take for granted. For one thing, it introduced 4-player racing to the franchise for the first time, which helped it become one of the most accessible and greatest multiplayer games on the console. It also featured one of the best battle modes in the franchise’s history, primarily because it nails the essentials (something that Mario Kart 8’s terrible battle mode seemed to forget). And while the game’s graphics certainly aren’t as hot as they used to be, the actual gameplay of Mario Kart 64 holds up surprisingly well, which is something that can’t be said for many games of its era.
10. Diddy Kong Racing Blowing Our Minds With Hovercrafts And Planes
While Mario Kart 64 tends to get more attention, Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing is arguably the better kart racer … primarily because it added racing on water and in the air to the mix! Diddy Kong Racing hails from a time when Rare was putting out incredible game after incredible game and while it blatantly rips off Mario Kart 64’s design, DKR introduced enough new ideas to set itself apart from Mario’s racer. In particular, the option to race not only in traditional karts, but hovercrafts and planes as well was an exciting touch that gave players multiple ways to experience each of the game’s wondrous tracks (although taking to the skies was always the best option). Sure, DKR’s somewhat childish design sensibilities make it a bit more embarrassing to return to now as an adult, but that’s also kind of part of the game’s charm. What a shame Nintendo hasn’t put out another one of these games or even done a solid port job on its modern consoles (the DS remake from 2007 leaves much to be desired).
9. Do A Barrel Roll!
Now a popular meme (just watch what happens when you type “Do a barrel roll” into a Google search bar), Peppy’s helpful suggestion to spin your ship to evade incoming fire in the opening level of Star Fox 64 is perhaps one of the most widely-quoted tutorial segments in gaming history, to the point where the actual game seems to be overshadowed by it. While an excellent quote that never seems to get old, “Do a barrel roll!” is an excellent reminder that tutorial segments are at their best in games when the designers find clever ways of fitting instructions in organically. Having a button prompt appear on screen telling you how to do a barrel roll is one thing, but having a character enthusiastically tell you to do it takes things to another level. Peppy’s line also helps offset fellow Star Fox pilot Slippy the Toad’s constant pleas for help. “I’m having trouble here” still haunts us to this day. Slippy, you’re the worst.
8. Mario Party
The Nintendo 64 is fondly remembered by many as being a fantastic couch multiplayer console and one of the best examples of this was the Mario Party series, which got its start on N64. Countless sequels and several console generations later, the Mario Party series is still going strong, but the newer titles simply don’t hold a candle to the first three N64 titles. While the first Mario Party featured a few too many mini-games that would absolutely destroy the N64 controller’s fragile analog stick, Mario Party 2 and 3 were solid, go-to titles for multiplayer gaming that was somehow casual and intensely competitive at the same time. Playing Mario Party is a good way to ruin friendships, but that didn’t stop us from getting a group together for virtual board game action time and time again.
7. The Glory Days Of Rare
Ever since Microsoft purchased Rareware from Nintendo for a hefty sum back in 2002, the development studio has been a shell of its former self, but Nintendo 64 owners remember Rare fondly as the console’s greatest creator of games outside of Nintendo itself. Blast Corps, GoldenEye 007, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjoo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark are just a few of the many incredible games Rare put out over the course of the Nintendo 64’s relatively short lifespan and these titles helped bolster the console’s paltry library in between major Nintendo releases. Waiting for the next Rare game was arguably just as exciting as waiting for the next Mario or Zelda and never before or since has a publisher had such consistent and prolific success on a single console. Whether or not Rare ever finds their groove again, at least they’ll always have the N64 era.
6. Four Controller Ports
The Nintendo 64 may have lagged behind its main competitor, Sony’s PlayStation, in a number of categories, but it had that console absolutely beat when it came to multiplayer offerings and a lot of that has to do with the console shipping with four controller ports, whereas the PlayStation only had two. The ability to plug four controllers into one console was instrumental in establishing the N64 as the go-to console of its day for local multiplayer mayhem. Experiences on par with Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros. were few and far between on the PlayStation, which required the purchase of a peripheral known as the Multitap in order to support four players. Fortunately, couch multiplayer has been a defining feature of each of Nintendo’s console ever since, but the N64 is when that legacy truly began.
5. GoldeneEye Multiplayer
For many, GoldeneEye: 007 rarely left the N64’s cartridge slot, so addicting was the game and its competitive multiplayer. Golden guns, the Facility map, no Oddjob, screen-peeking; there was so much to love (and hate) about playing GoldenEye with your friends and the game’s split-screen mayhem paved the way for future multiplayer shooters on console, most notably Halo: Combat Evolved on Xbox. Ironically, GoldenEye is one of the few fondly remembered N64 games that is actually hard to go back to, as first-person shooters have come so far in the two decades since the game’s original release. Still, for a certain moment in time in gaming history, GoldenEye was THE game and we look back at our time spent with it fondly.
4. Super Smash Bros. Teaching Us It’s Okay For Our Favorite Characters To Fight
The Smash Bros. series has moved far beyond the N64 original in terms of its character roster and features, but it’s still kind of amazing that the first game was even made in the first place. The game’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, had so little faith in Nintendo approving his idea for a fighting game featuring the company’s mascots that he developed a prototype in secret and did not show it to Nintendo until he was confident they wouldn’t be able to say no.
In truth, it would have been difficult for any Nintendo fan to not want to buy a game that let you pit the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, and other Nintendo characters against each other, but the first Super Smash Bros. still holds up remarkably well as a decent fighting game in its own right. Sure, it’s been easily eclipsed by its predecessors, but when you look at the core concept of Smash Bros., not much has truly changed since the first game was released in 1999.
3. Perfect Dark’s Perfect Multiplayer
GoldenEye may elicit more nostalgia, but Rare’s other first-person shooter Perfect Dark was arguably the better multiplayer game. Although Perfect Dark was a completely different franchise, it took what worked in GoldenEye and improved on it in almost every way. The main draws of course were the game’s futuristic weaponry, which mixed in all sorts of creative gadgetry alongside the traditional shotguns and machine guns, as well as the ability to add A.I. bots to help fill in multiplayer matches when human players couldn’t be found.
It’s fitting really that Perfect Dark was one of the final important releases on the Nintendo, as it is a game that was arguably ahead of its time and one that truly pushed the console to its limits (the updated release put out on Xbox 360 really highlights how hard it was for the N64 to run this thing). It may be dated by today’s standards, but back in 2000, no other console first-person shooter was on the same level as Perfect Dark, which remains one of the N64’s very best games.
2. Ocarina Of Time
Admittedly, we prefer The Wind Waker but for a game that’s nearly two decades old, The Legend of Zelda: The Orcarina of Time holds up remarkably well. At the time of its release, many hailed it as the greatest game of all time and that distinction remains justifiable today. Emerging onto Hyrule Field for the first time and realizing you can go pretty much wherever you want is a moment burned in the memories of millions of gamers worldwide and few games before or since have been able to deliver the same sense of wonder and spirit of adventure as Ocarina of Time.
Whether or not it’s your favorite 3D Zelda adventure, there are few games like Ocarina of Time that remain must-plays almost two decades after release. We could heap accolades on this game all day but we’ll just leave it by saying that if you’ve never played it, pick up a copy immediately, and if you have, why not play it again?
1. The First Time We Played Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest achievements in video game history and everyone can remember the first time they got their hands on the Nintendo 64’s awkwardly designed controller and started playing Mario’s first 3D adventure. This was the future of gaming and nobody ever wanted to go back … until years later when 2D style Mario games made a comeback, that is. No other game truly encompasses the Nintendo 64 experience quite like Mario 64, which single-handedly ushered in an entire new era and proved that Mario was a character who could stand the test of time; 20 years later, so too does his first foray into a whole new dimension.