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.