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The top 25 best N64 games of all time, from Wave Race to Zelda

(Image credit: Nintendo)

When it comes to a console that was home to The Legend of Zelda; Ocarina Of Time, Super Mario 64, and the iconic GoldenEye 007, picking the best Nintendo 64 games is a tough job. Despite these classics, the N64 actually had a relatively small library of games, its 393 licensed games falling thousands short of the PlayStation’s gargantuan library or the Saturn’s 1,000 plus titles. And yet there’s something about Nintendo’s machine that has rightly earned it a legion of fans worldwide. Here then are the games we consider essential if you’re planning to start your own collection.

If you're looking for something a bit more current, dive into our best PS4 gamesbest Xbox One games, or even go deep into our best MMORPGs or best co-op games lists.

25. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

(Image credit: Konami)

Goemon games have a checkered history when it comes to reaching the west, so we’re glad Konami made the effort with this one. Yes, it has clunky controls and an errant camera, but it’s also filled with zany charm, wearing its Japanese goofiness proudly on its sleeve. Few games on the N64 allow you to transform into a mermaid, switch between multiple characters on the fly, use a camera to uncover hidden ghosts or trash villages as a giant rollerskating robot, but Konami’s game does all this and more. The 1998 sequel is equally bonkers, but far trickier to find.

24. Excitebike 64

Excitebike 64

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Left Field Productions’ racer is a world away from the arcade cheerfulness of the NES original (which coincidentally, is included as an unlockable extra). It’s an extremely challenging game with a maddeningly high difficulty level, but that just makes it all the more satisfying when you do finally master its almost sim-like controls. The learning curve may be steep but the results are many thanks to a raft of extras that range from a comprehensive track editor to a challenging stunt course, 3D remake of the original game, and even a bizarre soccer mode.

23. Mario Party 2

Mario Party 2

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Mario’s second board game outing remains the best on the system thanks to some glorious looks, more interesting game boards, and a number of enjoyable modes beyond the core board game traversal. It’s the many minigames that always sell a Mario Party game though and there are very few duffers among the 60-odd featured in Mario Party 2. Even the 21 games that return from the N64 original have been suitably spruced up and are far more fun to play as a result.

22. Pokemon Snap

Pokemon Snap

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The N64 received a number of Pokemon-based spin-offs and this is one of the most charming. While there are only a piddly number of Pokemon to actually snap, the desire to constantly improve on your best photo is a powerful one. As a result, you’ll constantly return to the recognizable locations in order to coax Pikachu into the perfect pose or catch that missing behavior shot that eluded you the first time you visited. The on-rails nature of the game means there’s little chance to explore, but it’s offset by the sheer thrill of being surrounded by seemingly living and breathing Pokémon.

21. Wave Race 64

Wave Race 64

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo EAD’s dynamic water-based racer remains one of the most satisfying experiences you can have on the system. Like many similar games of the time, it’s low on available tracks but excels because of how well-designed they are. What really elevates Wave Race 64 over its peers however is the dynamic water physics, which remain some of the best of the era and still impresses today. You not only feel every crest and bump of each wave but quickly learn how to use them to claw back every last second, which becomes critical to your success when tackling the later difficulty levels.

20. Fighters Destiny

Fighters Destiny

(Image credit: Ocean Software)

Nintendo’s console had a pretty rough deal when it came to one-on-one fighters, but it did receive this rather magnificent brawler from Opus Corp. Although the combatants themselves are incredibly generic they all boast varied fighting styles and take a good amount of time to master. What really sets Fighters Destiny apart from other brawlers of the time is its clever points system that scores you on everything from ring outs to throws and knockdowns, which creates a lovely back and forth to each bout. A sequel does exist but the original offers a purer fighting experience in our opinion.

19. Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong Racing

(Image credit: Rare)

Few studios would attempt to outmaneuver Mario Kart 64, but Rare’s racer proved a more than worthy alternative to Mario’s slick karting shenanigans. Rather than simply stick to karting, Rare’s racer opened things up and allowed the game’s colorful characters to race across water and take to the skies as well as hard asphalt. Although the core racing and track design aren’t as strong as Mario Kart 64’s, the adventurous single-player mode and challenging opponents make it far more enjoyable when you can’t rustle up a few mates.

18. Sin & Punishment

Sin & Punishment

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Treasure’s final N64 release is a technical tour de force that pushes the console to its limits and bristles with creativity. In typical Treasure form, Sin & Punishment pushes against conventions and uses the analog stick for aiming, and requires you to move with the D-pad or C buttons. It makes Treasure’s game a tough one to master, but also makes it extremely rewarding when it finally clicks. The plot’s not much to write home about but it serves as a brilliant background for all the carnage and explosive excitement that takes place on-screen. Only Starfox 64 betters it for sheer arcade thrills.

17. 1080º Snowboarding

1080º Snowboarding

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Snowboarding games were big business in the nineties and the N64 had no shortage of them. 1080º left the biggest impression on us because it was so demanding to play - partly because of the aggressive AI of your rival racers and partly due to how hard rotating that analog stick was on your poor thumb. You felt every twist and rotation while playing Nintendo EAD’s game and setting high scores in its trick modes became almost as compulsive as the time trials in Mario Kart.

16. Pokemon Puzzle League

Pokemon Puzzle League

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The N64 may not have received a traditional Pokemon RPG but it did get this outrageously good puzzle gem. Nintendo Software Technology fused the popularity of the Pokemon anime with the proven mechanics of Panel De Pon and ended up mining puzzle gold. Thematically it’s a delight for Pokemon fans, but the numerous available gameplay modes, including a brand-new 3D option that uses a rotational cylinder, as well as challenging difficulty levels ensure there’s more than enough here to keep traditional puzzle fans happy, too.

15. Blast Corps

Blast Corps

(Image credit: Nintendo)

If you’re one of those jaded gamers who are convinced that escort missions are tremendously tedious and exceptionally unfair try this wondrously destructive effort from Rare. Blast Corps is essentially one big escort mission that allows you to run riot in eight different demolition vehicles that range from bulldozers to mecha-sized robots and you’re required to do nothing more than trash everything that threatens to get in the way of your nuke-loaded carrier. While it’s simple in concept, Blast Corps’ cleverly constructed levels mean there’s always a good reason to return to them and attempt to best your high score.

14. Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

(Image credit: THQ)

There’s a lovely kitchen sink approach to Rare’s final N64 game that makes it quite unlike anything else the studio released for the console. While some of its cruder jokes and movie references have certainly dated it, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer amount of creativity and variety that accompanies the potty-mouthed squirrel as he attempts to meet up with his girlfriend, Berri. Brimming with scatty (and sometimes scat-based) humor and brought to life by a terrific voice cast, Conker’s Bad Fur Day remains one of the finest adventures on Nintendo’s system.

13. Pilotwings 64

Pilotwings 64

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo’s sequel uses the same structure as the SNES original but utilizes 3D space in a way the first Pilotwings could only dream of. Missions start off simple, but you’ll soon need to gain complete mastery of each available craft (hang-glider, gyrocopter, and rocket belt) in order to have any hope of achieving gold medals in every challenge. While the main game can be completed in very little time, that need to constantly perfect your score, along with the sheer relaxation that the Birdman bonus mode offers, will ensure that you’ll always return for one more go.

12. Perfect Dark

Perfect Dark

(Image credit: Rare)

Losing the James Bond license to Activision actually did Rare a favor as it allowed the developer to be far more ambitious with its GoldenEye follow-up. Perfect Dark is effectively GoldenEye turned up to 11 and while it suffers from an overly cheesy sci-fi plot and pushes the console so much at times you can almost hear it creaking, the core gunplay is every bit as good as you’d expect from the creative masterminds behind the N64’s best first-person shooter. We’d argue that the multiplayer is even better than GoldenEye’s thanks to the inclusion of AI bots and ridiculously silly levels of customization.

11. F-Zero X

F-Zero X

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The N64 is not short of arcade racers, but few of them can match the thrills offered by Nintendo’s blisteringly fast sequel. It might look simplistic, but those reduced polygons allow F-Zero X to run at a deliciously high frame rate, meaning you can simply focus on tearing around the exceptionally designed tracks. It’s not just the track design that impresses, however, as the challenging AI ensures that the pounding of your heart from each close race is just as loud as the thunderously pulsating soundtrack.

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Darran is so old that he used to play retro games when they were simply called games. A relic from the Seventies, he’s been professionally writing about retro gaming since 2003 and has been helming Retro Gamer since its resurrection in 2005, making him one of the UK’s longest-running editors of a games magazine. A keen board gamer, nature photographer and lover of movies, Darran’s writing credits include GamesTM, Play, SciFi-Now, Official Xbox Magazine, SFX, XBM, Cube, Total DVD, World Of Animals and numerous others. You’ll find him online discussing everything from bird photography to the latest 4K Arrow releases, as well as the ever-increasing prices of retro games.

With contributions from