The Nintendo Switch is just a few weeks from release. In honor of Nintendo and all that it’s brought to the gaming world, The Life of Gaming has decided to count down the top 10 games from each of Nintendo’s home consoles. Be sure to check back each week and see if your favorite game makes our list!
Today, we move on to the Nintendo 64.
The Nintendo 64 was the console that represented Nintendo during an awkward transition-period for the gaming industry. The SNES had delivered timeless classics, but the next generation of games started the move past the 16-bit graphics toward new, 64-bit 3D worlds. It was also the dividing point between the faithful cartridges, and the new technology-on-the-block, CDs.
This time period opened up the opportunity for Nintendo’s franchises to re-think the way we played games, starring the most iconic video game characters in history. By some miracle, reintroducing the likes of Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon as polygonal characters, yielded some of the most beloved games those franchises had ever seen. That doesn’t even touch on the third-party classics which also came to the console.
If you’re looking for the best games to play on your awkward, three-handled controller, here’s our countdown of the top 10 games on the Nintendo 64.
10) Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Released: April 16, 1998 Publisher: Konami Developer: Konami
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon was absolutely ridiculous, yet still overwhelmingly charming. Goemon and his ninja friends were on a quest to stop alien dancers from blasting Japan with a giant laser. This laser wouldn’t destroy the country, however, but instead convert it into a giant stage – turning all Japanese people into dancers (No, I’m not making that up).
While this sort of tale could have been botched horribly, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon pulled it off with hilarious characters, and an awesome style. All of this tremendous style would have gone to waste if the gameplay wasn’t strong, and, luckily, it was. Goemon’s 3D world was a blast to explore, and switching between ninjas made for some awesome gameplay opportunities.
9) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Released: October 26, 2000 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
The Legend of Zelda games continually reboot and reconstruct their familiar worlds. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, took that idea to the next level; spinning a dark, brain-teasing tale of two alternate universes: The one seen in Ocarina of Time and its mirror-image. The worlds collide in one of the darkest stories Nintendo’s had ever told. A major risk for the game’s storytelling.
No Hyrule, no Ganon, no Zelda. Just Link, lost in a new land, daring to stop the apocalypse. Forced to travel back in time to reset the impending doom, the game’s time-jumping mechanic upped the challenge to great effect, and made for one grand adventure.
8) Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Released: December 3, 1998 Publisher: LucasArts Developer: Factor 5
When you first boot up this semi-sequel to the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series and fly out over Tatooine, it’s almost hard to believe it’s actually running on the Nintendo 64’s limited hardware. This is how masterful a job LucasArts and Factor 5 performed on this franchise, the first (and in some ways still the best) in a trilogy of superlative flight-sim titles.
A dauntingly comprehensive campaign, filled to the brim with variety and authentic, awesome Star Wars moments. It’s capped off by a musical score from the original Star Wars ensemble, leaving you with one of the N64’s most essential shooters. This is a game Star War fans can not miss.
Released: June 29, 1998 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Rare
Banjo, the bear, and Kazooie, the bird-in-the-backpack, are on an epic quest to defeat the evil witch Gruntilda to save Banjo’s sister, Tootie. Created by Rare during the N64 era, this could only mean one thing – you’ll need to collect hundreds of random, spinning objects placed throughout the colorful, and highly animated worlds. This game is a collect-a-thon, in every sense of the word.
Some look back at this sort of collection-driven platforming with distaste, but at the time, it was a completionist’s dream. Banjo-Kazooie was essentially a game about achievements, years before Microsoft even entered the console race. This sort of gameplay wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if the game wasn’t fun, but thankfully, Rare nails it. Banjo Kazooie was simply a blast to play, with hilarious, memorable characters, and fun, zany worlds, where you couldn’t wait to see what was around the next corner.
6) Perfect Dark
Released: May 22, 2000 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Rare
Thanks to the Bond license going elsewhere for Die Another Day, Rare could never make an official GoldeneEye sequel. So, it did the next best thing. Perfect Dark took the super-spy concept, mixing in some sci-fi, and retaining virtually everything which made GoldenEye great.
After completing the campaign, and unlocking everything in the multiplayer, Perfect Dark had the same irresistible FPS multiplayer gameplay which got us to sink hundreds of hours into their previous game, Goldeneye. Perfect Dark featured an unheard-of amount of customization and stat-tracking for a console game, and the only thing that stopped it from surpassing its older sibling are some minor, occasional glitches. Luckily, as long as you had the (required) Expansion Pak, Perfect Dark was a must-buy.
5) Paper Mario
Released: February 5, 2001 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Intelligent Systems
After Square brought Mario’s first brush with role-playing greatness in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the Super Nintendo, players had to wait five long years before Nintendo would bring their famous plumber back to the genre. However, seeing as how Paper Mario is better in virtually every way, we’re glad the publisher took its time.
The flat visuals simplified the already-cute Mario world to new levels of adorableness, and the simplified, scaled-down combat made for dynamic battles that still felt deep. The localization is top-notch, with Nintendo’s usually great dialogue showing off its adeptness at humor.
An epic adventure for the ages, Paper Mario proved the N64 could have amazing RPGs when it wanted to.
4) Star Fox 64
Released: June 30, 1997 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
The original Star Fox on SNES was proof Nintendo could do a polygonal space opera, but it wasn’t until the game was remade on the Nintendo 64 that the series become truly great. The 3D adventure was perfectly suited for the system, as each stage flew by as a fully realized world, unlike anything we’d seen before. This game also introduced us to the now-standard rumble in the controller, with the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak.
With a concept any Star Wars fan could get behind, Star Fox 64 had Fox McCloud and friends hop in their Arwings and blast away thousands of ships all over the galaxy. Each arcade-style stage climaxed in a stellar boss fight. It might not be the longest game, but we dare you to play any of the stages only once.
3) Super Mario 64
Released: September 29, 1996 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
After years of dominating 2D side-scrollers, Nintendo, in only one try, perfectly translated Mario’s silly, colorful levels into state-of-the-art virtual worlds. They begged to be explored, and leapfrogged the competition, ushering in a new age of analog controls. Who could forget their first time running around the castle courtyard in full 3D?
Each world had so many things to see and do, it was easy to completely lose sight of the main goal (collecting stars to progress farther into Peach’s overrun castle). The hub-world castle offered hours of hidden areas and Easter eggs, tucked away in its many rooms. I am still proud of my ability to find all 120 stars, and reach the top of Peach’s castle.
It still blows me away that Nintendo, in one game, could make a brilliant 3D adventure, when so many still have trouble getting it right today. Granted, the early 3D visuals are getting-on in years, but the controls, level design, and the open-endedness of each area, make it a must-play even now.
2) Goldeneye 007
Released: August 25, 1997 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Rare
Though PC owners had been enjoying first-person shooters for years, the majority of console owners never understood what the big deal was – until GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. Though based on the James Bond film of the same name, the plot is basically meaningless to most N64 owners. It was the multiplayer that consumed their lives like no other.
Up to four players could enjoy the split-screen fun. Rare’s approach to gameplay made FPS action more enticing than ever-before to home console owners. Elitists may have scoffed at us, but we were too busy memorizing the Facility’s layout to care.
For every game of Halo or Modern Warfare you’ve enjoyed over the years, just know that GoldenEye paved the way many, many years ago.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Released: November 21, 1998 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
What new can be said about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? It remains one of the most historically important games of all time, as well as one of the best. At a time when other companies were struggling, and failing, to understand how to transfer 2D gaming concepts and ideas into a 3D world, Ocarina did it so effortlessly, that it’s hard to believe it was ever an issue.
Set in a world bigger than anyone thought technologically possible at the time, its mythic story spanned cities, dungeons, lakes, mountains, deserts, forest, and divergent timelines. The Z-targeting and combat set the standard for years, and the soundtrack still rings in our ears to this day.
Later games in The Legend of Zelda franchise further improved and refined Ocarina‘s formula, but it was this title which proved such a game could not only exist, but also become a cornerstone in all of gaming history.
So, what’s your favorite game on the Nintendo 64? Which game did we leave off the list? Let us know in the comments down below!