The best N64 games gave us multiplayer memories that will last a lifetime and some of the most innovative experiences in Nintendo history
There’s a lot to be said about the Nintendo 64’s accomplishments, shortcomings, and legacy, but when most people think back on their time with the console, it’s hardly a surprise that they tend to focus on its best games.
While you could certainly make the argument that the PlayStation had the stronger overall library of games (or at least a greater diversity of experiences in its top 100 games), the N64 is rightfully remembered as the home of an elite group of titles that changed gaming forever as they stole the hearts of a generation who love them for their innovations, charm, and, ability to bring friends together for multiplayer memories that would last a lifetime.
Choosing which N64 Mario Party game to highlight is really a toss-up, but in case you’re wondering, the quality of Mario Party 2’s minigames ultimately put it over the top.
In any case, Mario Party 2 remains one of gaming’s greatest digital board game experiences. Equally capable of making or breaking friendships, Mario Party 2 is one of the riskiest dice rolls when it comes to game night selections. That’s honestly a big part of the reason it’s so easy to love.
You don’t hear many people talk about Wave Race 64 these days, which is quite surprising. Not only was it one of the best of the arcade-style console racing games of its era, but it’s one of the games that helped showcase the power and potential of the N64.
Wave Race 64’s visuals won’t blow any minds these days, but this game’s amazing track designs and incredible controls make it shockingly easy to pick up, play, and enjoy even if you are a graphics snob. It’s a testament to the quality of the N64’s other racing games that this isn’t higher.
I completely understand if Jet Force Gemini’s strange structure and mechanical issues make it hard for you to enjoy the game today. Even at the time of its release, this one rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
Yet, there’s something about Jet Force Gemini’s bizarre blend of gameplay styles that’s impossible to not at least be a little fascinated by. This was Rare at their most experimental, which makes it that much more of a shame that they (or really anyone else for that matter) never made another game quite like this one.
Granted, this probably isn’t the FPS you think of when you think of the most famous N64 FPS titles, but it’s always been a shame that this game has struggled to escape the shadow of some considerable competition.
Turok 2’s incredible graphics and phenomenal sound design rightfully stole the show at the time of its release, but years later, it’s the game’s labyrinth levels and unique weapons that feel like a breath of fresh air. Turok 2‘s multiplayer has even aged surprisingly well.
The Super Smash Bros. series didn’t reveal its full potential until Melee, but it’s impossible to talk about the best N64 games without giving the original at least a little love.
What should have been a gimmick turned out to be one of the N64’s most surprising hits. Anyone could hop in and enjoy playing this fighting game with friends, and most of us had the privilege of doing just that and forging some great gaming memories in the process.
Fun fact: this spot was going to go to the N64 version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, but then I remembered that port’s butchered soundtrack. It’s hard to look past that…thing.
So instead, 1080º Snowboarding gets the nod that it’s too often denied. Before every extreme sports game tried to be THPS, 1080 offered a unique and fundamentally enjoyable snowboarding experience that emphasized technique without sacrificing pick-up-and-play fun.
I still can’t believe that Rare had the guts to challenge Mario Kart in an arena that franchise pretty much built, but it has to be said that Diddy Kong Racing came closer to dethroning the king than anyone thought was possible.
Diddy Kong Racing’s incredible courses and the way they forced you to utilize different vehicles is undoubtedly one of the game’s highlights, but as an N64 gamer that didn’t constantly have someone else to play with, I’ve also always appreciated how this title featured a single-player campaign that was so much more than racing against bots.
Throughout this list, you’re going to hear the word “creativity” (or some version of it) quite a bit. Nintendo has never been afraid to get weird with it, but something about this console’s hardware and the experimental nature of game design at the time made the N64 the home of games we’ve rarely seen before or since.
Even though it eventually got its long-overdue follow-up, Pokémon Snap has to be one of the best examples of the N64 at its weirdest. A game about taking pictures of Pokémon while on a kind of glorified safari? Sure, why not. Just make sure to make it magical while you’re at it.
You know, I might owe Excitebike 64 an apology for leaving it off a recent list of the hardest N64 games. This was a truly difficult racing game that even veterans at the time struggled to master.
It’s also one of the deepest and most bountiful racing games of the arguable golden era of the genre. Somewhere between an extreme sports arcade game and a sim, Excitebike 64’s gameplay was just approachable enough to keep you glued to the action but deep enough to ensure you were constantly challenging yourself to do better.
Even if Sin and Punishment wasn’t a pretty weird game that featured one of the strangest control schemes in N64 history (which, given the controller we’re talking about, is really saying something), its late in the game November 2000 Japan-only release date would have been enough to ensure most people didn’t play this one.
That’s a shame, because this fast-paced and beautiful on-rails shooter may just be developer Treasure’s masterpiece. Sure, this is a bit of a hipster pick, but it’s hard to walk away from Sin and Punishment and not feel your hands vibrating as your mind tries to process the intensity of what you just experienced.
Rare’s incredible run of N64 games is arguably best remembered for that one shooter you just know we’re going to talk about soon and the studio’s 3D platforming titles. So far as the latter category goes, this might just be their masterpiece.
Before Rare arguably lost its way a bit by becoming a little too obsessed with the “collect-a-thon” format, Banjo-Kazooie offered one of the most visually creative and genuinely fun 3D platforming experiences of this era. It’s no surprise many collectible-obsessed gamers can trace their addictions back to this true classic.
You don’t have to try too hard to find the design flaws in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and you certainly don’t have to try too hard to point out the many ways this game’s edgy humor loses some of its potency once you’ve passed the age of 15 or so.
Even still, there’s something wonderful about Conker’s Bad Fur Day that’s just as hard to overlook. This was essentially Rare throwing everything they had at the wall (and then some) in order to say goodbye to the N64, and you just have to love how much they ultimately packed into this game and how much fun so much of it still is.
It shouldn’t surprise you that Rare and Nintendo dominate this list, but it might surprise you to see just how high Blast Corps ranks among the greatest N64 games ever made.
What Blast Corps lacks in mechanical fluidity, it more than makes up for in design ambition and adrenaline. There’s never been another puzzle game built around clearing a path for a runaway nuclear weapon, and even if that was somehow the most popular subgenre today, Blast Corps would likely still be the king of it.
There were actually a few great Star Wars games on the N64, which makes it that much more impressive that Rogue Squadron finds itself cleanly atop that particular pack.
I’d call Rogue Squadron’s sci-fi spaceship battles “simple,” but the fact that so few games have been able to replicate their brilliance means that there’s more to this one than meets the eye. While this game’s loving embrace of the Star Wars universe may just be its X-factor, I feel it’s ultimately Rogue Squadron‘s surprisingly deep missions and incredible controls that make this game so hard to top.
There are a few logistical reasons you won’t find a lot of multiplatform games on this list, but even if more notable third-party games were ported to the N64, it’s doubtful they would have been able to steal the spotlight from this one.
Considered by some analysts to be one of the most technologically impressive N64 games ever made, the N64 version of Resident Evil 2 did things that shouldn’t have been possible. You could make the argument that it was the best way to experience Resident Evil 2, which means it’s one of the best ways to experience one of the best games ever made.
If I’m being honest, I’ve always felt that the original Star Fox was more of an impressive technological demonstration than a truly great game. It was a lot of fun, but it was also pretty clear that there was a better game at its core just waiting to burst free.
Star Fox 64 was that game. You could push aside the fact that Star Fox 64 changed gaming forever with its rumble pack support, and you’d still be left with this classic’s visually stunning action, blissful combat, incredible multiplayer modes, and brilliant controls. This is just a complete N64 experience and one of Nintendo’s best games of the era.
One of the main reasons why Nintendo hasn’t released any F-Zero games in years is that they reportedly feel like they’ve really done everything with this series they aspired to accomplish. While the GameCube’s brilliant F-Zero GX probably has a lot to do with that belief, it has to be said that F-Zero X for the N64 arguably perfected the entire F-Zero concept.
This fast, furious, and shockingly difficult racing game left nearly every other racing game in the dust at the time when it came to pure speed. Honestly, it’s faster and more intense than most of the racing games that have been released since. With the possible exception of its successor, I don’t know if there’s ever been another arcade-style racing game that just feels as good as this one.
Again, Nintendo has never been afraid of doing things differently, but Majora’s Mask still stands as one of the company’s wildest, and potentially dangerous, ideas.
Long before time loops became a popular storytelling genre, Nintendo fans everywhere wondered why the studio was making a sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time that seemingly borrowed its core premise from the movie Groundhog Day. Not everyone loves the results, but how can you possibly deny this game the credit it deserves for ambition alone? Even if this was a more traditional Zelda game, it would be one of the best.
Some say that your love of the N64 is directly related to how many people you were able to regularly play N64 games with. In the case of GoldenEye’s legendary multiplayer, there’s obviously some truth in that statement.
You know what, though? Even if GoldenEye was just its campaign, unlockables, technological achievements, and James Bond trappings, I think it might still have made this list. At a time when licensed games were mostly a joke and console FPS games were certainly a laughing matter, GoldenEye 007 felt like a bolt of lightning long before you ever discovered the joy of fragging friends until you watched the sun rise.
To tell you the truth, I was also a little surprised to watch Paper Mario climb this high up this list. I mean, just look at some of the games it’s ahead of and standing shoulder to shoulder with. I know it’s the best RPG on N64, but was it really that good?
Well, you obviously know my answer to that question. Like Super Mario RPG before it, Paper Mario proves that the RPGs you’ll willfully commit hours of your life to don’t have to be the most complicated or “hardcore.” What Paper Mario adds to that game’s formula is its beautiful art style and quite a bit of that incredible humor we’d eventually see more of in the Mario & Luigi series. It’s more than worthy of being considered one of the best.
Am I outing myself as a lifelong wrestling fan with this selection? Possibly, but No Mercy is still the best wrestling game in a console library that happens to include many of the best wrestling games ever made.
More importantly, this is still the game that modern games are trying to live up to. You could argue that some wrestling games released since No Mercy have come close, but the fact that this is still the measuring stick for an entire genre two decades after its release is an accomplishment that only a couple of other N64 games could possibly claim to match.
The Mario Kart series has this way of charming people who don’t even like video games much less racing games. It’s one of the best-selling Nintendo franchises ever, and, to be honest with you, so much of what makes this series an almost otherworldly success can be traced back to Mario Kart 64.
The original Mario Kart was obviously great, but Mario Kart 64 spun it out at the starting line with its wonderful 3D courses (which are still among the best in franchise history), incredible controls, and a multiplayer mode that might just be the best on a console that’s kind of known for them. You could still play this game today and not feel the miles it has accrued.
It’s hard to deny the ways that GoldenEye 007 has aged over the years, and a lot of those retrospective shortcomings can certainly be applied to Perfect Dark. Whereas some of GoldenEye’s brilliance hasn’t necessarily stood the test of time, though, there are elements of Perfect Dark that I’d argue few FPS games released since have rivaled.
Said elements include Perfect Dark’s amazing AI, truly innovative weapon design, wonderful levels, complicated campaign, and a multiplayer mode bursting with customization options. Call it Rare’s victory lap if you want, but I see Perfect Dark as a case of Rare trying to hand the baton off to the next generation but finding that few were ready to really take it and run.
I feel like you could justify Super Mario 64’s high place atop any list of great games by saying that it did for 3D games what Super Mario Bros. did for 2D games. That is to say that it’s the most innovative and important 3D game ever made.
However, it’s almost cruel to boil this game down to its technological accomplishments. The thing that glued people to Super Mario 64 in 1996 is the same thing that makes the game so great now: its heart. This is a love letter to the very idea of gaming that so happens to be on the shortlist of titles that you’d put in a video game time capsule.
Much like Super Mario 64, it’s hardly controversial to name Ocarina of Time one of the best (or, in this case, the best) N64 games of all time. Both were entries into beloved franchises that changed game design forever and still arguably stand tall as the best in their respective series.