25 reasons to go Ultra
The N64 was the console that represented Nintendo during an awkward transition period for the gaming industry. The SNES had delivered timeless classics but the nest-gen games started the move past 16-bit graphics and into 3D worlds. This opened up the opportunity for Nintendo's franchises to rethink the way we play games starring the most iconic video game characters in history. And by some miracle, reintroducing the likes of Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon as polygonal characters yielded some of the most beloved games those franchises have ever seen. And we haven't even touched on the third party classics that came to the console. If you're looking for the best games to play on your goofy, three-handled controller, here's our countdown of the top 25 N64 games in existence.
These days any new Tetris game that gets released has settled into the comfortable groove of gingerly updating the core gameplay, with few really challenging the formula. Not so with this inventive twist on the Tetris formula, which sadly never caught on with players enough to get a sequel. The puzzle gameplay is all about searching and exploring the multiple layers of a sphere to find the best place to drop a piece and clear an area. It took Tetris into three dimensions in a way that hasn't been done since. Other puzzle games for N64 might be a little "better," but none are as special as Tetrisphere.
24. Pokemon Snap
One of the more inventive Pokemon spin-offs, Pokemon Snaps gimmick of a first-person photographic journey through a Pokemon-rich world made the concept of the franchise more real than ever. Basically the game is a virtual amusement park ride where Pokemon are jumping out at you, though you have to work a little to make some of the rarer ones appear and allow you to capture them on celluloid. It came at just the right time as Poke fever was hitting its stride, and to this day its one of the best-looking Pokemon games. Don't dismiss it just because of its cutesy concept or light gameplay demands. Give in to the beauty of the world of Pokemon!
23. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Kirby showed up late to the N64 party when Kirby 64 hit the console in 2000, but those who still owned the system were in for an adorable treat. It brought traditional Kirby style to the system while experimenting with the formula in interesting ways. The 2D trappings were replaced with 2.5D polygonal visuals, while Kirby's enhanced copying ability allowed for Kirby to combine powers and abilities from the folks he swallowed. Add to that some interesting minigames and the usual Kirby charm and you have another memorable entry in the classic series.
22. Pokemon Puzzle League
Japanophile purists may wail and moan to see Nintendo's beloved Panel de Pon sullied with a whole lot of extraneous Pokemon window-dressings... but for the other 95% of you, here's a great puzzle game replete with Ash Ketchum-themed interludes. As the game's cosmetic component--drawn from the then-blockbusting Pokemon anime--will attest, this is a package designed with casual and younger players in mind. However, by the time you've mastered the basics, there's still some challenging puzzle play in there, and it remains a great setting for cross-generational multiplayer matchups.
21. Sin and Punishment
Compared to the SNES and NES, there weren't many great N64 games that failed to make it to America. But out of all the ones that did, Sin and Punishment was the best. And when the game was finally released stateside on Wii's Virtual Console, we were at last able to appreciate the on-rails shooter in all its explosive glory. Not unlike later entry Star Fox, S&P takes you through auto-scrolling stages with hundreds of enemies to blast to bits. It also took Treasure's unique approach to game design and coupled it with Nintendo's trademark polish. That, along with its offbeat art and story, make it more than worthy of being remembered as one of the 64-bit greats.
20. Diddy Kong Racing
By the time the 32/64-bit generation rolled around, the kart genre was in full swing, as every Muppet, Smurf, and Flintstone starred in their own racer. Only a few distinguished themselves from the crowd, but Diddy Kong and his cavalcade of furry friends eventually found a way to bust out of the mold. Instead of just settling for karts, Diddy Kong Racing added planes and hovercrafts to the mix, with multilayered racetracks made to accommodate all of the different vehicles. Though the racing might not have felt as balanced as in Mario Kart, Diddy still succeeded at karting greatness.
19. Jet Force Gemini
While Rare is known for GoldenEye and Banjo-Kazooie, it also gave birth to another franchise during the N64 generation--one that's essentially halfway between its two other popular games. Jet Force Gemini had the same focus on exploration and collection as the Banjo games, but also brought with it something neither Banjo nor Kazooie would have ever used: guns. JFG was a shooter, first and foremost, and what a shooter it was. Traveling around the alien planet and blowing apart bad guys while saving adorable tribal creatures (or shooting their heads off, as we were known to do) was incredibly satisfying. The games co-op was fantastic, too, even if it wasn't as fleshed out as it was in some other games. Beyond all of that, though, what the game had that many others didn't was originality. There simply aren't many games like Jet Force Gemini, and that's a damn shame.
18. F-Zero X
The N64 had its fair share of racing games, including the perfectly acceptable Cruisin' games and entries in the Ridge Racer series, but none owned the concept of speed like F-Zero X. This sequel took the concepts of the SNES original into 3D with pulse-pounding style. At the time some knocked it for its graphics, but the devs made the choice of sacrificing polygons for silky-smooth 60 frames per second speed. It was the right choice, as brain-melting speed is the heart of what makes F-Zero a beloved franchise. If you weren't a fan, that's just because you couldn't keep up.
17. Mario Party
Mario Party and party games in general might seem pretty stale now, but think back to a time before the genre was oversaturated beyond belief. Imagine when the concept of four friends playing a board game on your TV was incredibly fun and novel. That's why Mario Party is on the list. Almost all the best N64 games embraced the system's four controller ports, and Mario Party did it spectacularly. The minigame variety kept pulling us back in for one more game, as did the satisfaction of screwing our friend out of their hard-earned stars. Sure, a few challenges might have ripped the skin off your hands, but that was just another example of our dedication to winning!
16. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Mystical Ninja was absolutely ridiculous. 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--it would convert it into a giant stage, turning all Japanese people into dancers. Yup. And while this sort of tale could be botched horribly, Mystical Ninja pulled it off, with hilarious characters and an awesome style. All of this awesome style would have gone to waste if the gameplay wasn't strong, and, luckily, it was. Goemons 3D world was a blast to explore, and switching between ninjas made for some awesome gameplay opportunities.
15. Body Harvest
Believe it or not, Body Harvest is basically a prequel to GTA3. It was developed by DMA Design, the same company that would eventually become Rockstar North and redefine the industry. But first it had to make a game about battling giant bugs. One of the few western-developed N64 games of any note not made by Rare, Body Harvest was a sandbox game before we even knew the genre existed. You explore open cities, hop in vehicles, and complete missions, all while fighting giant bugs. Woefully ahead of its time, Body Harvest was a taste of the future for those who gave it a chance and earned recognition as a bug-killing pioneer.
14. Blast Corps
Blast Corps' plot isn't its strong suit--you need to stop nuclear warheads from blowing up, because nuclear warheads blowing up is bad for everyone. In order to prevent catastrophe, you need to... blow up stuff. Like, level cities and stuff. It might not make a whole lot of sense, but its extremely fun, and thats all that matters. Destroying buildings is just fun! That's all there is to it. Even if the graphics don't hold up, the gameplay, which is about as raw and powerful as it gets, absolutely does, making for an awesome, original, replayable experience.
13. Mario Tennis
Mario began a sporting renaissance during the late '90s thanks to developer Camelot taking Mario and friends to athletic greatness. The Mario Golf games were great fun, but it was Mario Tennis that had us most hooked, with an approachable style that held a shocking amount of depth. Each character had subtle differences to their playstyle, as did each court, making for fast and intense matches. Tennis also saw the return of Birdo and Daisy to the series (along with the notorious Waluigi). Additionally, it was one of the few games that allowed for connectivity between the N64 game and its Game Boy Color counterpart, a feature Nintendo would come to embrace more in the future.
12. Conker's Bad Fur Day
After Nintendo, Rare was probably the most dominant developer on the N64, but following a series of all-ages collect-a-thons, the UK dev needed to shake things up. So Rare went all out and created the profane, sprawling, excessively British, hilarious, bloody brilliant Conker's Bad Fur Day. Taking full advantage of the comedy skills only hinted at in other games, Conker is a thoroughly R-rated game filled with clever platforming stages and scatological humor. Expertly mocking gaming conventions and then-current films like The Matrix, Conker proved the N64 wasn't only fun for kids.
11. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
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 a Nintendo 64 at all. That's how masterful a job LucasArts and Factor 5 performed on this, the first--and in some ways, still the best--in a trilogy of superlative flight-sim titles. A dauntingly comprehensive campaign, filled with variety and authentic hells-yeah-Star-Wars moments, is capped off by a musical score by Turrican maestro Chris Hlsbeck to leave you with one of the N64's most essential shooters.
Banjo, a bear, and Kazooie, the bird that lives in his backpack, are on an adventure to defeat the evil witch Gruntilda, and you're in control. Granted, this was a Rare game for the N64, so when we say that they are on an adventure to defeat the evil witch Gruntilda we mean they need to collect hundreds of random, spinning objects placed throughout the world. 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 if the game wasn't just so damn fun. Banjo-Kazooie was simply a blast to play, with hilarious, memorable characters.
9. 1080 Snowboarding
After the early success of Wave Race 64, Nintendo decided to stick with the more extreme side of racing, but traded in water for snow. 1080 took snowboarding games to new heights and stands out as the best sports game the system saw. Boasting amazing graphics and physics for its time, many proclaimed it the best realization of snowboarding in gaming to date. Also, it ably mixed tricks and racing in a way that EA eventually made famous in its SSX series. One of the hippest games on the console, it's too bad that Nintendo has basically abandoned the series after its GameCube sequel.
8. Perfect Dark
Thanks to the Bond license going elsewhere to 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 that made GoldenEye great. After playing the campaign to unlock everything in the multiplayer, Perfect Dark had the same irresistible FPS gameplay that got us to sink hundreds of hours into a whole new Rare game. Perfect Dark featured an unheard-of amount of customization and stat-tracking for a console game, and the only thing that stops it from surpassing its older sibling are some minor glitches here and there. But so long as you had the Expansion Pak, Perfect Dark was a must buy.
7. Paper Mario
After Square brought gamers Mario's first brush with role-playing greatness in Super Mario RPG, players had to wait five long years before Nintendo returned the plumber to the genre. But 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 similarly scaled-down combat makes for dynamic battles that still feel 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.
6. Mario Kart 64
If your family's home had an N64, it had better have had four controllers on hand, or you weren't getting all you could out of the system. One of the first games to prove to owners the fun of split-screen competition was this particularly addictive version of Mario Kart. Super Mario Kart created the kart racing genre with such ease there was little room for improvement, but Mario Kart 64 offered some up anyway. Whether we were drifting around Moo Moo Farm, having hyper-competitive balloon fights, or doing our best to shave seconds off our ghost runs, this game inspired a real dedication in us. Other Mario Karts look prettier, but for many this was the Kart they played the most.
5. Star Fox 64
The original Star Fox on SNES was proof that Nintendo could do a polygonal space opera, but it wasn't until the game was basically remade on the N64 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. 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.
4. Super Smash Bros.
The original Super Smash Bros. seems like such an obvious idea, its astounding that nothing like it had really happened before. Until that point Nintendos many franchises had been pretty separate, but SSB brought them all together in one incredibly frantic brawler. Dream matches like Mario vs. Link or Pikachu vs. Samus played out over and over in levels slathered in Nintendo love and nostalgia. Fighting game purists may complain that SSB is a cheap, shallow affair that has no right being called a fighter, but the fans know better. The cheapness, the insanity, the unbalanced nature of the fights, all of it adds to the total chaotic pleasure of the whole thing. In no time at all SSB became one of Nintendos most successful franchises, thanks in no small part to Super Smash Bros. fans being some of the most dedicated in the world.
3. Super Mario 64
After years of dominating 2D side-scrollers, Nintendo (in one try, mind you) perfectly translated Marios silly, colorful levels into then-bleeding-edge virtual worlds that begged to be explored, leapfrogging the competition and ushering in a new age of analog controls. 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 Peachs overrun castle). Said castle offered hours of hidden areas and Easter eggs tucked away in its many rooms. It still blows us 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 open-endedness of each area make it a must-play even now.
2. GoldenEye 007
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. Though based on the James Bond film of the same name, the plot is basically meaningless to most N64 owners, as the multiplayer consumed their lives like no other. Up to four players could enjoy the split-screen fun, as Rare's approach to gameplay made FPS action more enticing than ever before to home console owners. Elitists may have scoffed at it, but we were too busy memorizing Facility's layout to care. For every game of Halo or Modern Warfare you enjoyed, know that GoldenEye paved the way for it.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
There's little new to be said about Ocarina of Time, as 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 a problem. 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 Zelda games further improved and refined Ocarina's formula, but it was this title that proved such a game could not only exist, but be this extremely good.