The Nintendo 64 oversaw the era of Nintendo beginning to lose steam with the steep decline in popularity for Nintendo home consoles. Nintendo would lose the majority of their third party support with their decision to maintain cartridges as the console’s medium rather than the disk-based media the Sony Playstation would adopt. Relying almost solely on first party titles and their ace second party Rareware, the N64 was unable to create a vast library. However, what the system lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality, as the following 10 games are some of the best games to ever be released on any console.
10. Star Fox 64 (1997)
Simple, arcade-style gameplay presented in Star Fox 64 never proves dull or uninteresting. Rather, flying in space proves to be so much fun that Star Fox 64’s shortcoming can be overlooked. Star Fox 64 does not allow for level selection, instead opting for a requirement to play through early levels every time through. This flaw may be debilitating for lesser titles but the game overcomes it with its smooth and stylistic gameplay, making you want to play through every level again. With complete voice acting (a rare feat for an N64 title, let alone an early one) and beautiful graphics maintaining a constant framerate, Star Fox 64 represents the glory days for Nintendo. With the inclusion of the rumble pack, a packaged peripheral that connected to controllers and allowed force-feedback imitating the feeling of flying and being shot, this game was an experience. The rumble pack was so influential that Sony would copy and include it during the remodel of their controller. All future controllers would have the device built-in, so the influence and legacy lives on.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
The second and final Zelda game to arrive on the N64 console, Majora’s Mask attempted to deviate itself from Ocarina of Time as much as possible. Whether this was a wise decision is up for debate, as Ocarina of Time was universally applauded. However, Nintendo is always taking risks and rarely releasing identical sequels, often preferring to move in a separate direction in order to feel fresh. Enter Majora’s Mask, a game that essentially plays like the original N64 title while at the same time being truly unlike any Zelda title in the franchise. Inventory remains the same, the game appears aesthetically similar, yet a mechanic that ends the world after three days during the game changes everything. This foreboding element always keeps the tension high, making this one of the most difficult Zelda games ever made. That is a huge change for the series, where titles are generally very easy to complete once players know where to go next. Majora’s Mask is tense and difficult at all times, a fact that is much appreciated.
8. Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
Released at a time when “collect-everything” type of 3D platforming gameplay had been overdone, Donkey Kong 64 was initially miscast as a disappointment. Having to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest series of all time did this title no favors. However, we must applaud the positive aspects of DK64 while judging it in an unbiased fashion. Containing five playable characters, enormous worlds, and enough collectibles to deem this one of the largest games of its generation, DK64 is anything but a bust. While the gigantic levels forego exceptional draw distance in order to make them work, they are just as varied as the original levels presented in Donkey Kong Country. DK64 requires plenty of back-tracking, an element often panned in videogames, but this game is able to get away with this due to the amount of fun had on these quests. With challenging mini-games and difficult boss fights, this is one meaty quest with more content than many can handle.
7. Perfect Dark (2000)
Nostalgia is a powerful tool. Many gamers would place 1997’s GoldenEye on this list but the truth is that its spiritual successor Perfect Dark re-created the GoldenEye engine and improved on it in nearly every fashion. While no longer operating under the James Bond license, the creators at Rareware were allowed to craft their own story. This allotted creative freedom gave birth to a delicate, intricate plot that proved far more engaging than the canon they were previously influencing. The single-player mode improves on story alone but missions became more varied and therefore more interesting as well. Perfect Dark’s biggest draw, however, is the inclusion of AI “bots” to the multiplayer gameplay. While GoldenEye was the original king of multiplayer, it could not be played alone and was best suited for four players (which was also the maximum number of players). Perfect Dark allowed for up to eight computer-controlled players and four human players, making this multiplayer mode far superior.
6. Mario Kart 64 (1997)
A sequel to the 1992 revelation that was Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64 moved the series into 3D and never looked back. While the single player portion was quite hollow and far too easy to master, frenetic multiplayer action evolved from this game and carries this ranking. Taking advantage of the four controller ports built into the N64, Mario Kart 64 was the party game to own. Four-player races played deep into the night, two-player grand prix circuits providing hours of smack talk, and of course, the unforgettable battle mode remain the fondest gaming memories for many. The aforementioned battle mode is quite possibly the high point in the series. With small courses forcing players to interact, this addictive mode proved to be both strategical and engaging. Future iterations of the game would abandon this thought by forcing players to have teams for battle rather than free-for-all. As well, later level design, while highly original, became far too large for this type of gameplay. Mario Kart 64 nailed its four battle courses perfectly in size and in dimension.
5. Banjo-Tooie (2000)
Significantly larger than its predecessor and with a much greater difficulty level, Banjo-Tooie is an excellent game, although it potentially falls short of the heights reached by the original Banjo-Kazooie. Tooie picks up where the last game left off and will at first appear similar to anyone who played the original. Gamers will quickly realize this is not a carbon-copy once they venture into the various game worlds. One aspect of Tooie that has changed from the original game is that the majority of the game worlds connect to one another. This was a revelation at the time but unfortunately, this mechanic creates a lot of back-tracking in the game. Tooie enforces this gameplay with quests carrying you from one world to another and they do eventually become tiresome fetch quests, despite the presence of warp points. The game itself has the standard Rareware humor and is absolutely fantastic in its own right. It simply proves that bigger isn’t always better in the case of videogames.
4. Super Mario 64 (1996)
The premiere launch title for the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64 ushered in 3D gaming. Constrained 2D worlds were shifted into open spaces and gameplay design was forever changed. While this was a detriment for the difficulty level, as enemies could now be avoided for the most part (rather than being a true obstacle), the benefits far outweighed the negatives. Scope, scale and sense of adventure were heightened and new challenges regarding exploration were created. Mario 64 was a breathtaking world that captivated audiences. The fact that Mario 64 remains so engaging for newcomers today is a testament to how strong the level design was. This was the first 3D world of its kind and remains one of the best. Mario 64 is the ultimate Nintendo classic of the era and a textbook example of videogame design.
3. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
Proof that Nintendo produces excellent titles geared for mature audiences arrived far too late in the development cycle of the N64. By the time Conker’s Bad Fur Day was released, Sony’s PlayStation brand had taken a large portion of Nintendo’s audience. One major factor for this shift was the perception that Nintendo’s games are for children while Sony catered to a wider net. While this was not entirely true, Nintendo was to blame for allowing this reputation to take hold. Conker’s BFD is a crude and very explicit game; the likes of which not many expected to ever see on the N64. It wasn’t vulgar simply for the sake of being mature but it did stand out amidst an array of titles generally aimed for younger audiences. Hidden behind the shock value is an excellent adventure game that is often hilarious and pushed the system to its full capabilities. With addictive multiplayer thrown in, it is a shame that this title was missed by many.
2. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
Yes it’s true: Banjo-Tooie was an amazing game that did attempt improvements on the Banjo-Kazooie format but in this case, the original game remains the highpoint. Originally viewed as yet another Mario 64 clone, Banjo-Kazooie would prove to be so much more and then some. With unforgettable music, addictive gameplay and a “collectathon” that proved to be enjoyable rather than cumbersome, Banjo-Kazooie set the bar for 3D platforming and has yet to be definitively overthrown despite many further imitations. With the perfect mix of adventuring and platforming, this game design is easy to pick-up-and-play, can prove challenging during initial play and will always prove fun on subsequent plays. Being able to complete Banjo-Kazooie in a modest time is a plus for the gameplay. It allows for greater replay value as it is not as intimidating to complete again. Collecting musical notes and jigsaw pieces has never been more fun.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Ocarina of Time continues the Zelda format established in 1991’s A Link to the Past while taking the series into 3D. Just as in the Super Nintendo title, Ocarina presents two alternate worlds that the player must alternate between. This time, instead of a light and a dark world, the game presents a time traveling component as the player travels seven years in time between young Link and an adult version of Link. This mechanic presents so many interesting choices as characters Link once knew age, environments change drastically and the player must switch back and forth to solve various puzzles. Add in a night and day mechanic where some events unfold only at specific times during the day and one of the deepest game designs of all-time was born. Ocarina of Time has enough side quests to fill an entire game’s main story. As an entire package, Ocarina of Time may never be surpassed.