From Doing Barrel Rolls to Throwing Shells At Friends, We Countdown the Top 10 Games on the Nintendo 64.
Written by Jonathan Steele
This year, the Nintendo 64 turns eighteen. Yup, we’re old. Many people around my age (26) look back fondly on that console as the one that really solidified gaming as their hobby. Sure, we may have gotten started on the NES or SNES, but the N64 was the lightbulb moment. It was irrefutable proof that games can be incredibly expansive, engaging, and full of life. I can vividly recall sitting in front of that flickering CRT television with my two little brothers for hours on end, completely enraptured by the incredible 3D worlds that sprawled out before us. Nowhere else could I escape into such fantastic and wonderful places. Those games and their experiences will stay with me forever.
So without further ado, here are my personal top ten Nintendo 64 games.
Disclaimer: This list does not state the top ten games from a critical or analytic standpoint. It is simply a list of games that are ordered based on the impact they had on me during that period of my life.
10) Goldeneye 007
Released November 1995
We were never allowed to own a copy of this game when I was a kid, but that didn’t mean that I wouldn’t play it at my friend’s house as often as I could. There was nothing quite like the thrill of possibly being shot while trying to shoot everyone else. I’d never really experienced that feeling so tangibly before. Maybe it was that bucket-full of blood oozing down the screen upon one’s death, much to the horror of moms everywhere. Regardless, Goldeneye made you feel the urgency and reality of combat like no other game ever had. There was nothing quite like the satisfaction of out-smarting and out-shooting your friends. Unless you did it using Oddjob. Then you were just a stupid, dumb, cheating, [insert infinite 12-year-old insults].
9) Diddy Kong Racing
Released November 1997
It sounds like a cheap spin-off, doesn’t it? On paper, this game shouldn’t work at all. Especially considering that competing with Mario Kart is just plain impossible. Yet this little game did it. Offering an odd combination of racing, storyline, and even boss battles, Diddy Kong racing was actually incredibly fun. The courses were varied and entertaining, the overworld was vast and colorful, and the campaign progression was surprisingly engaging. But on top of all that you could fly. What?! Mario Kart didn’t have planes! Or hovercraft for that matter. Diddy Kong Racing was a risky endeavor for sure, but Rare nailed it. I can’t tell you how often my best friend and I would duke it out in Battle Mode at Darkwater Beach, or race through course after course, trying to best each other with various vehicles. This game is one I’ll never forget.
8) Mario Tennis
Released August 2000
If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s athletic. I may have a decent game of volleyball here and there, but sports were never my thing. That went for sports-themed video games as well. Never really cared to play football on screen when I couldn’t even do it in real life. But Mario Tennis? It was like it wasn’t even a sport anymore. Tennis suddenly included flaming smash shots and impossible slices, not to mention an all-star cast from the Mushroom Kingdom. Playing with the strengths and weaknesses of each character and perfecting your play style was a blast. From Bowser’s insane power to Boo’s crazy spin, tennis was anything but boring. Seriously though, why doesn’t Mario arrange to have Bowser arrested at one of these sporting events? He just acts all nice like nothing’s wrong. That dude stole your girlfriend, bro. And he’ll probably do it again tomorrow.
7) Star Fox 64
Released July 1997
“Do a barrel roll!”
Sorry… I had to. Is there anyone that doesn’t know that phrase by now? Even Google pays homage to it (just type ‘do a barrel roll’ into Google’s search bar). As much as Mario Kart can cause name-calling, Star Fox can cause nose-punching. I mean how are you still on my tail?! Are you cheating?! Ahem. Anyway, Star Fox multiplayer battles were the definition of intense, yet they were incredibly simple. Where most multiplayer games give everyone an array of weapons to choose from, Star Fox kept it scarce: one laser upgrade, one bomb. Literally the entire fight is spent desperately trying to gain the upper hand with these items. If you were late to the party, you’d better have that u-turn down pat. Possibly the game’s most brilliant feature, however, is the layout of the campaign. Beat it one time, and you’ve just scratched the surface. Unlocking the various routes and discovering hidden pathways was a thrill, and gave the game very high replay value. But seriously, whose idea was it to have us begin every campaign by saving Slippy in the first ten seconds? Ugh.
6) Mega Man 64
Released January 2001
If you insist on describing Mega Man 64 as “awful,” I won’t blame you for a second. It was a technical nightmare. Poor graphics, horrible sound, and one of the worst control schemes I’ve ever encountered. Yet I’ve completed this game at least 6 or 7 times now. Maybe I’m crazy, but that opening level had me absolutely spellbound with its mystery. And the game lived up to that mystery without a doubt. Beneath the smiling, happy town of Kattelox was a massive network of dark and dangerous caverns brimming with treasure and upgrades. Each major ruins site felt more creepy and inviting than the last, as there was no telling what strange ancient robots and epic technology you would discover. Even better was the fact that you could combine what looked like random trinkets into incredible weapon add-ons, thanks to Roll’s mechanical skills. The gameplay concepts, story, and action were so fantastic that they nullified any other issues, and that is quite a feat.
5) Super Smash Bros
Released April 1999
Nintendo characters beating the snot out of each other. What more do you want? This idea seems like something Nintendo would never consider, yet here it was on our TVs. I still maintain that the later installments do not feature moves that are as responsive as the original. If you knew your character, you could unleash a flurry of attacks in rapid succession. The controls were precise and the timing was exact. I’ll never forget being introduced to this game by my friend Casey. After a few rounds, I was hooked. I bought my own copy immediately and started mastering it. My brother and I would compete fiercely day after day, me playing as Link and him playing as Fox. We would memorize each others’ moves and the fights became more and more even, but I could always beat him!… on this version. We won’t talk about Smash Bros. Melee…
4) Mario Kart 64
Released February 1997
I’m not sure if one can really be considered a gamer if they haven’t played a few rounds of Mario Kart. You have not tapped into the true depths of your emotion until you have had certain victory stolen from your grasp at the last possible second by the pure evil of the blue shell. Mario Kart matches were just a go-to. Everyone could enjoy it at any skill level, and those races just never got old. My friends and family were always busting out Mario Kart 64 at parties and gatherings. I have countless memories of trash-talking with my friends during heated matches, and yelling at the many injustices committed during a race. There is nothing really overwhelmingly spectacular about Mario Kart. It’s just a sure-fire good time. If there’s nothing else to play, just play some Mario Kart. You won’t regret it… Unless I’m playing, that is. Cuz I’ll beat you. And it won’t be pretty.
3) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Released November 1998
“You put Ocarina of Time as number three?? Blasphemy!” Alright, calm down. The sad truth is that I somehow missed Zelda games entirely until I was in my mid-teens. It’s hard to believe considering I am now the most die-hard Zelda fan I know. Ocarina of Time was my first one, but I played it on an emulator after the N64 had already retired. Nevertheless, I was absolutely enthralled by it. I distinctly recall being stuck in the first room of the Deku Tree, having no clue how to get out. I had never heard of the concept of solving a puzzle while playing an action-adventure game. I thought everything just worked like Mario. My friend showed me how I could pull out a Deku stick, light it, and set the other torch on fire to open the door. I was completely floored. It sounds so simple now, but that idea just blew my mind. I slowly worked my way through the rest of the game over the next few weeks, and was forever hooked on Zelda. I don’t even need to tell you why Ocarina of Time is such an amazing game. There are dozens of reasons, and pretty much everyone agrees by now that it’s one of the greatest games ever made. And don’t worry, I did go back and beat the old classics.
2) Super Mario 64
Released September 1996
I played the original three NES Mario games into the ground. Just ask my mother. There just wasn’t anything in my life as exciting as Mario, it seemed. So on that Christmas morning when I flipped the power switch on my shiny new N64 and saw Mario standing there in all his 3D glory, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Super Mario 64 amazed me from opening courtyard to final King Koopa showdown. Mario was a whole new idea now. There were huge worlds to explore, tons of enemies to defeat, and so many things to collect! This game is what got me hooked on the idea of open-world adventure games, and it’s still my favorite type of game. Good story and solid combat are great, but give me a colorful open world to explore and I’ll be happy for a long time. I’m pretty sure I’ve completed this game over twenty times by now. I never thought there could possibly be any game I loved more than Super Mario 64, but alas…
1) Donkey Kong 64
Released November 1999
Yup. This is it. Donkey Kong 64 had every single thing I loved about Super Mario 64 times ten. The worlds were bigger and better looking, there were five unique playable characters, and the list of collectible items was massive. I was shocked when I read articles that claimed DK64 was a big miss for the franchise, or how it’s a boring collect-a-thon. For me, it was an impossibly huge adventure across beautiful and challenging worlds full of life and excitement. Each Kong had three unique super-abilities on top of their already varied move set, plus their own fruit gun and deadly musical instrument. It seemed like the game had no limits. There was just so much to do, and so many ways to do it. I have yet to play an adventure style game that I have enjoyed as thoroughly as Donkey Kong 64. I highly doubt they’ll make a sequel, but I’ll never stop hoping for it.
So what about you? What are your favorite games from the N64 era? Do you agree with my list, or would you make some changes? Let us know in the comments below!