Guiding Nintendo through an awkward transition period in the wider gaming industry, the N64 did a lot for the company's prestige. The SNES had delivered timeless classics, but it would be the N64's job to transport the company into the world of 3D worlds beyond the 16-bit graphic days. 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 – aside from Tetris 99 of course. 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 Snap's 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 it's 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 the 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, Sin and Punishment 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. Travelling 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 game's 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 GTA 3. 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 that's 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.
Turn to page two for our top 10 best N64 games...