Written by racketboy
Note from racketboy: Special thanks goes to andymol21 for putting the majority of this guide together!
It’s pretty easy to find a list of “The Top Nintendo 64 Games” or some similar ranking, but most of them were written back when the system was cutting edge and almost all of them only compare the games against other N64 games. This is all fine if the N64 is the only console you own and ever plan to own. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to develop a list of games that are still relevant in today’s market because of their unique gameplay that has not been improved upon on other systems.
Our basic rule of thumb for this list is to determine which games are still worth playing today, even if you have a Gamecube and/or a Wii with its more modern game library at your fingertips. (But other consoles are considered as well) I thought this was an especially good metric to use as Nintendo has a habit of upgrading their biggest games each generation. Even if you don’t plan on getting an actual N64, this could also serve as a list of ones to look out for on the Virtual Console (although not all of them are available for the service)
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
It should come as no surprise that the highest-ranked games of all time is the number one reason that the N64 is still relevant. The Ocarina of Time tells the story of a young boy, Link, whose destiny leads him on an adventure that crosses two time periods and the entire land of Hyrule, in order to become the Hero of Time. The defining game of the N64, OOT was Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece, and is praised by many as being the best game ever made.
Whether you enjoy western RPGs, action packed combat, fiendish puzzle solving, or just a damn good story, this game has it all, and would still be regarded as one of greatest games of all time even if it was released tomorrow for the PS3. As the story develops, and the game progresses, you are drawn into the world of Hyrule and care about its inhabitants and future, you form a strong sentimental attachments to you horse Epona, and you dive deep into a world full of secrets and treasures to be discovered.
Never is the games direction linear; If you ever feel like you’ve had enough dungeon crawling then you can come out and search for Gold Skultula’s, or play some of the games in Hyrule Town Market, or just watch the sun set across Hyrule Lake as you ride Epona to the fishing gallery for a go at catching the Hylian Loach. On the other hand you always know what is expected of you, and what needs to be done next. Never in my life have I played a game that is so utterly engrossing, that offers so many diversions and distractions to the main quest, and that tells a story so brilliant, that I would happily pay money to go and see it at the cinema. If there is just one N64 game that you must own today, it is The Ocarina of Time.
Super Mario 64
Even after 12 years (yes, it’s been that long!) Shigeru Miyamoto’s portly plumber is still used as the yardstick by which all 3D platformers are measured against. The reason for that is simple; it is still one of the best, if not the best, examples of its genre in gaming.
On Nintendo’s first strike, they hit the ball out of the park! Every level in the game is a masterpiece, from the simple opening stage of Bob-omb Battlefield, to the magical cloud journey of Rainbow Ride, all 15 levels are distinct, challenging and interesting, and are a joy to play on. The simple graphical style means that the graphics have not aged much over the years, the music and sound effects are spot on for the actions on screen, and the mechanics are nigh on perfect.
Every jump of Mario can be judged to pinpoint precision, every shot from the cannon angled perfectly to get you to the place you want to be. This, I feel, is the main reason it is still relevant. The physics engine used in Mario 64 is so predictable that you never feel out of control, and that is something that a lot of platformers, even to this day, lack.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Ah Rare…. I remember when I was a lad, reading N64 Magazine, being so excited about the new Conker game that was to come out. With gameplay that would rival their own great Banjo Kazooie, it was going to be the pinnacle of N64 platformers. How things changed!
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is an adult oriented game involving a hung-over squirrel, a good looking bunny, and a giant poo. The brilliance of Conker comes from its writing and voice acting. The wit and charm that can be put into such despicable creatures is amazing, and a testament to Rare during their glory years.
You have to sympathize with Conker, who, after a heavy night of drinking, wakes up the next morning in a field, just wanting to go home. The game is hilarious the whole way through, though it does sink quite low with its toilet humor (see giant poo). The reason that it is worth playing today is the same reason that it was a good buy when it was new, it’s a one of a kind game, and the humor, unlike the graphics (which are still some of the best on the N64), have not succumbed to age.
On a side note, in 2005, after Rare was acquired by Microsoft, an XBox remake was made of this game featuring update graphics and sound, and an improved multiplayer. In my opinion, do not bother with this remake. Microsoft brutally censored the game, removing many of the jokes (The Great Mighty Poo Song being a notable absence) and leaving just the core Conker platforming mechanics. The N64 version is getting harder to find, and sells for high prices on eBay, but don’t go for the semi-skimmed version.
Sin & Punishment
This gem from Treasure may be one of the best N64 games of all time, but most gamers outside of Japan never got a change to play it. Until now Sin and Punishment was a rare import that was only known to the hardcore gamers that either imported the expensive cartridge or emulated the game. Now its significantly easier to obtain now that its on the Virtual Console.
Much like the rest of Treasure’s well-known shooters (such as Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier) Sin and Punishment is filled frenetic, high-energy action that keeps pulling you further into the game. Armed with a gun and a sword, you character continues along a path while you jump, double jump and roll to avoid obstacles and enemy attacks. Much like other on-rails shooters like Rez or Panzer Dragoon, you can manually shoot your weapon in different places or set it to lock on to enemies. The sword is primarily to be used for defense and deflection for those pesky missiles that can be bounced back with a well-timed melee strike.
Sin and Punishment is one of Treasure’s few 3D games, but as usual, the skilled development house pushed the N64 hardware to the max with some impressive visuals, massively detailed levels, intricate character and enemy models and, of course, action that will make you dizzy with excitement.
I have not been the biggest StarFox fan in the past. I admit it wholeheartedly, but I recently took it upon myself to have a go and see what StarFox 64 was like. I can now admit that I have been wrong about this series for many years. Starfox sees you, Fox McCloud, fight off the evil Andross in your trusty Arwing, and is an on-rails shooter at its core. In fact, it is the last StarFox game so far that is a pure air-based combat besides StarFox Command for the DS, which has ackward stylus-based controls.
The game does not follow a linear path, meaning that any mistakes or achievements you make through a level, such as letting one of your wingmen be hit too much, directly affect the order you go through the levels. This means that you have to play through the game multiple times in order to even see all the levels the designers included.
What surprised me most about the game, is how similar the mechanics and gameplay are to some of the best vertical shooters that I have played. You find yourself using the same techniques that you use in games such as Radient Silvergun and 1942. The N64 never had a proper shump released in the west, so for anyone who wants their fix of methodical bullet dodging and mindless shooting, Starfox is a great new twist on a simple genre. The graphics actually aren’t too bad for the N64 and complement the game quite nicely. Of course it doesn’t have quite the polish that the Gamecube installments have, but it is a definate step up from the original StarFox on the SNES. So when it comes down to it, if you want the best pure-on rails shooting in the StarFox universe, StarFox 64 is still your best bet.
Who doesn’t love blowing stuff up and causing massive damage to the world around them? While open-ended destructive abilities may show up in a number of more modern games, very few, if any have destruction as such a large percentage of their focus as Blast Corps.
In Blast Corps you control around ten different vehicles and machines in order to clear out buildings and landscapes to make way for an out-of-control truck carrying nuclear missiles. The equipment you use to take care of business range from a speedy bulldozer to a robot with a jet-pack and “ground-pound” capabilities to take out large buildings.
Since you don’t always know exactly what you need to do at the beginning of each level, there is a bit of puzzle solving and experimentation involved. Even for experienced players, it will test your efficiency in accomplishing your goals. Even if you take care of the required damage, you can always cause extra destruction to rack up extra points.
You might think that a game like this would get boring after a while, but Rareware did an excellent job of increasing the difficulty as you go along and the diversity of the equipment you use (each of which takes some learning) keep things interesting. If you want a fast and furious game that is unique enough to keep your attention, Blast Corps should definitely be in your library.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Initially, I had Majora’s Mask on the Honorable Mentions list, but after reconsidering, I’ve added it to the main list. While it isn’t on my list of favorites in the series, there are quite a few Zelda fans that adore it due to its originality and involving storyline.
The main turn-off with Majora’s Mask with most gamers is the three-day cycle that the game revolves around. Many people found it annoying and hard to get used to. However, as reddit commenter, satertek mentioned “I guess it comes down to whether or not you liked the 3-day aspect. That was the game. Having all these people that would go about their schedules whether you were there or not made the game feel alive, and then getting to relive those 3 days over and over so that you get to meet and help every one of them.”
In the end, there are many other Zelda games I enjoy playing more than Majora’s Mask, but considering you can find it affordably, there isn’t a a good reason you should skip it if you are a Zelda fan.
Mario Kart 64
Due to popular demand, I’ve also included Mario Kart 64 on the main list. Personally, I have more fun with Mario Kart DS, but there are many die-hard Mario Kart fans that swear by the first 3D installment. While Mario Kart Double Dash and Mario Kart Wii have more refined graphics, Nintendo added new gimmicks that focused on teamwork instead of the flat-out competition and multiplayer moded.
I think a comment on Reddit from “ickingfudiot” was what convinced me most to include it in the main list, “Sadly, he (and Nintendo in releasing Mario Kart Wii) completely missed out on the utter glory of FFA Balloon Battle on Block Fort or Skyscraper. We still bust that out on Virtual Console. Sadly, MK Wii turned it into a team-based snorefest, particularly because of the removal of permadeath. RIP Balloon Battle ”
Also just recently, racketboy member, Ack shared his fond memories of Mario Kart 64’s Battle Mode, “I used to go to all-night parties where all we played was Mario Kart 64’s Battle Mode. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had at parties, to be honest. It was a feature that I don’t think ever got enough attention, and to this day I still say Mario Kart 64 was one of the two best in the series, if not the best(I can’t in good faith say that something was better than the original…I love them both). ”
Even though some of the graphics might be a little rough around the edges, Mario Kart 64 still puts up a mean fight against its newer siblings and it a cornerstone of N64-based gaming parties.
Ogre Battle 64
Ever since Squaresoft transitioned the bulk of their development from the Super Nintendo to Sony’s Playstation, Nintendo has never had a very strong RPG lineup. However, the Japanese development house, Quest, took it upon themselves to create a wonderful RPG that makes the most of its cartridge-based limitations.
As you could expect from the Ogre Battle series, the N64 sequel is a wonderful blend of both RPG and Tactical elements. And of course, instead of only focusing on the strategy, experience points, and item management, Ogre Battle also is blessed with an engaging story and plot that will keep you coming back for more. Ogre Battle 64 also bucks the trend of many of the games on the N64 in that it doesn’t use 3D just because it can. Instead, this sequel actually stays true to the original game with sprite-based graphics being the focus and using 3D elements in places that they are suitable such as the overworld map and as subtle accents. It’s actually quite refreshing to see such beautiful 2D graphics on a console that had such a focus on 3D.
Strategy RPG fans seem to fall in love with just about any installment in the series (on both the SNES and Playstation), but the N64 version still falls right in line with the level of quality and enjoyment. And when you look at the Gamecube and Wii lineup, the only other games that really match up would be the Fire Emblem series. The Fire Emblem series gets very high marks, but I don’t think it should disqualify Ogre Battle 64 from this list.
The best way to describe Wetrix is by imaging a 3D Tetris that has been drowned underwater… with rubber ducks thrown in. The objective of the game is to build lakes on a flat playing board step by step, raising the ground level with “uppers” to form lakes, lowering it with “downers” and filling these lakes with water. As more pieces fall, you have to constantly adapt your lakes to accommodate the extra water, or divert the water away from a hole in your land created by a bomb.
As water leaks off the side, it is collected into a tank on the right hand side of the screen, and once this tank is full, it’s game over. You can lower the amount of water in the tank by dropping a fireball into one of your lakes, evaporating it and allowing you to fill it again.
Wetrix is a novel twist on the simple block-based puzzle genre established by Tetris and is one of the few games of this type that works in 3D. It’s an addictive, but challenging game which rewards solid playing hours with the sight of rainbows and the aforementioned rubber ducks sprouting up across your lovingly crafted lakes. The multiplayer in Wetrix is one of the best of its kind, with a game between two good players being a highly enjoyable frantic dash to get ducks and evaporate water, while throwing earthquakes and ice at the other player to hamper them. A sequel, Aqua Aqua, was released for the PS2 but failed to capture the magic of the original. All in all, a very good original puzzle game, and by far the best on the N64.
Pilotwings 64 is the sequel to the popular SNES game, Pilotwings. In it, you take to the skies in an assortment of flying contraptions, ranging from Gyrocopters to Rocket Belts, in order to complete a series of predefined tasks, such as flying through floating rings or taking pictures of the pretty scenery. You are judged after each event on several factors and given an overall score.
The goal of the game is to achieve as high as possible score in each event, unlocking new challenges and vehicles. What separates Pilotwings from most other flight sims is the sense of freedom, of exploration, of flying! Like most of Nintendo’s greatest games, a lot of the fun of Pilotwings comes from jumping into the assortment of vehicles and taking to the skies with no aims in mind, just to see what you can do.
Personally, the joy of Pilotwings didn’t really display itself to me until I unlocked the Birdman stage. There are no objectives in this stage, no stress of fuel supplies or ground rushing towards you. Just you, the sky, and a pair of feathery wings attached to your arms. This stage really captures the freedom of flight. Flying through the well constructed islands, exploring each crevice, then soaring high above the skyline of a city, makes for a relaxed gaming experience and one that just can’t be found on modern games consoles (well, until Pilotwings Wii comes out)
Around the time of the N64 launch, a small company by the name of DMA Designs Limited started work on two projects: A top down racer codenamed Race’n’Chase for the PC, and a free roaming shooter for the then under development N64. The PC game morphed several times and eventually became the original Grand Theft Auto, which, of course, propelled DMA (now known as Rockstar North) into the limelight and made them a lot of money in the process.
However, their other game, Body Harvest, came out to a muted fan fare. It was given very positive reviews at the time of its launch, but was generally forgotten as the N64 progressed. Body Harvest is a 3rd person shooter in which your character is a genetically enhanced soldier sent back in time to defeat a human devouring race of aliens that landed on Earth, killing most of the population. You travel through 5 different areas at 5 different times of the invasion: Greece 1916, Java 1941, America 1966, Siberia 1991 and finally the Alien Homeworld 2046.
You might say that Body Harvest is a pretty standard 3rd person shooter, but the thing that makes Body Harvest stand out from other shooters of its time is the interactivity of the world and the ability to hop into any vehicle on the map. Essentially, Body Harvest was the foundation blocks for GTA3, where the developers were first trying out the designs and techniques that would later go into their prime franchise. Although the graphics have dated a bit, the manic gameplay and free roaming elements make this an enjoyable and overlooked game. If you are interested in the heritage of GTA, or are just looking for a fun way to kill a few bugs, Body Harvest is well worth your time.
Space Station Silicon Valley
Space Station Silicon Valley is gem by DMA Designs, and is still a classic to this day. To be honest, I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this 3D action platformer so good. The level design is superb, ranging from pathetically easy in the opening stages to joypad-crushingly-difficult as you reach the games climax.
The animal switching mechanism (another nod to future GTA projects) works wonderfully, meaning that each new level usually has you playing as an entirely new character, with different abilities and stats. This also means that any enemy that you kill within the game can be “possessed” and you can use all of their own abilities against other animals, leading to a leap frog effect as you climb the food chain up to the top.
The game plays for the most part like a puzzle game, with challenges being presented to you through the environment and the tools to solve them given by the animals you can inhabit, but has some hardcore platforming stages too, which rival some of the best in the business. The most striking thing about the game though, is its style. Diesel-powered foxes chase electric mice with sharp tails and turbo boost, while buoyant penguins throw snowballs at steam powered polar bears, who are laying mines in order to kill the wolves on skies, as they fire missiles launched from their back. The wackiness and brilliance of the character design meant that there is always something to come back to, always some new and inventive way of killing that damn Rocket Dog! Needless to say, Space Station Silicon Valley absolutely floored me when it came out, and has continued to impress me every time I plug the cartridge in.
You may be wondering why one of your all-time favorites are not included on the list above. There are many games that were ground-breaking in their day and are still very fun, but have either been much improved upon or are in a genre that has experienced a great leap in quality since the N64 era. Here are a few of the most popular N64 games that aren’t quite as good as their newer counterparts.
- Goldeneye 007/Perfect Dark – When these games came out, they were the best console shooters ever made. I cannot recommend them highly enough, they are easily two of the best games for the N64, BUT (and it’s a big but!), the console FPS market has moved on leaps and bounds in the past 10 years. These days, brilliant FPSs are 10 a penny on home consoles. Halo, Team Fortress 2, Bioshock, Half Life 2, Timesplitters Future Perfect or even Metroid Prime! All of these games are just better than the Rare duo, and they cannot stand up against the quality of games with nostalgia alone.
- Super Smash Bros – An absolute classic, but really very outdated now, especially with the two sequels out. Good fun when it came out, but just has dated extremely badly with time. Try it on an emulator; you’ll see what I mean. However, some experienced Smash Bros players claim that each installment has its own unique flair to it. So it would be understandable if some prefer the original. To each his own.
- The Mario Party Series – I’m not a huge fan of the games, but they can be fun if you are in the mood. Many fans of the series claim that the earlier N64 version are actually the best in the series. (Personally, I’m been more of a fan of the minigames on New Super Mario Bros on the DS.)
- Rayman 2 – Still an excellent 3D platformer, but you could find better one a newer console or you could even play the higher-quality Dreamcast or PS2 versions as well.
- Banjo Kazooie/Tooie – Another duo of Rare games, and another honorable mention. The Banjo Kazooie games are so much fun to play, but pale in comparison to Super Mario 64. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t highly recommend them to anyone who is looking for quality N64 titles, it’s just that they didn’t do anything that Mario hadn’t done before, and do not have quite as much sparkle to them now. They are old games, and I think you can see that when you play them.
- Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh – This insane import shooter from Treasure is definitely worth trying out, but the Dreamcast version (known simply as Bangai-O) is has enhancements and will be much more affordable.
- Paper Mario – The original Paper Mario is still and excellent RPG adventure, but I would probably still recommend the newer installments first and then maybe come back to this one if you still want more of the same.
- Jet Force Gemini – One of the later N64 games, I remember it being hyped for months leading up to its release. Like every game in this list, it was very good new, but just like the Perfect Dark/Goldeneye duo, 3rd person shooters are very common on consoles now, and Jet Force Gemini doesn’t have any unusual or different features to make it stand out from the prettier games of today.
- Wave Race 64 – Yes it was quite groundbreaking at the time with its amazing water effects, but Wave Race Blue Storm on the Cube nailed that as well.
- Star Wars Episode I Racer – Great fun, but there were superior ports on the Dreamcast, PC, and Mac