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Named for its 64-bitcentral processing unit, it was released in June 1996 in Japan, September 1996 in North America and Brazil, March 1997 in Europe and Australia, and September 1997 in France. It was the last major home console to use the cartridge as its primary storage format until the Nintendo Switch in 2017. The Nintendo 64 was discontinued in mid-2002 following the launch of its successor, the GameCube, in 2001.
The N64 was and still is a solid platform and an important work in the history of gaming.
The Nintendo 64 was launched with three games: Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 (both released worldwide) and Saiky? Habu Shogi (released only in Japan). The 64’s suggested retail price at launch was US$199.99 and marketed with the clever slogan “Get N, or get Out!”. It came with a unique controller that introduced an analog stick to Nintendo gamers, and while the Big N may not have been the first company to launch a peripheral with an analog stick, the N64 pad popularized the concept, paving the way for a host of similar hardware, including those made by its competitors. Built around three grips, the N64 gamepad resembled a lowercase letter m, and was designed alongside Super Mario 64, reinforcing Nintendo’s philosophy that software and hardware should be created in tandem. Unfortunately, few games took full advantage of the controller.
I had selected my top 10 games I loved on the N64. Of course like any top lists this is very debatable.
10. Star Fox 64
The original Star Fox for the SNES was a cool tech demo, but it wasn’t the most entertaining game from a pure gameplay perspective. Star Fox 64 successfully built upon the foundation of its predecessor by giving its colorful cast of anthropomorphic starship pilots full voice overs and a winning mix of spot-on shooting controls and clever, multi-path level design.
Twenty years later, Star Fox 64 remains the pinnacle of the franchise, which certainly doesn’t reflect well on Nintendo, but at least proves that they put out a timeless game. It’s also the rare N64 game in which we enjoy the campaign more than the multiplayer, as it’s highly replayable nature makes it perfect for revisiting and completing in one sitting.
9. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
The Nintendo 64 had no shortage of mascot platformers developed by Rare, but after releasing Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, the studio decided to try something a little different for their next effort. Believe it or not, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was originally conceived as a family-friendly game, but was reworked from the ground up to be a Mature-rated game featuring a hard-drinking, potty-mouthed talking squirrel.
Of course, toilet humor and foul language do not a good game make, but fortunately Rare was able to back it up with smart level and puzzle design that rivaled some of the developer’s best work. As already mentioned, getting Rare games onto the N64 Classic would be a miraculous feat given that Microsoft currently owns the studio and their IP, but the console just wouldn’t feel right if it didn’t feature Conker and his furry antics.
For many, GoldeneEye: 007 rarely left the N64’s cartridge slot, so addicting was the game and its competitive multiplayer. Golden guns, the Facility map, no Oddjob, screen-peeking; there was so much to love (and hate) about playing GoldenEye with your friends and the game’s split-screen mayhem paved the way for future multiplayer shooters on console, most notably Halo: Combat Evolved on Xbox. It also came out at a time when legitimately great licensed games were hard to come by, and Rare did a commendable job translating the 1995 Bond film into video game form.
Ironically, GoldenEye is one of the few fondly remembered N64 games that is actually hard to go back to, as first-person shooters have come so far in the two decades since the game’s original release. Still, for a certain moment in time in gaming history, GoldenEye was THE game and we look back at our time spent with it fondly.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
One of the stranger Zelda adventures, Majora’s Mask is a game that only seems to have become more beloved with age. A direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask moved the setting away from Hyrule and lacked important characters such as Zelda and Ganandorf. However,Majora’s Mask is much more than a rushed-to-market spinoff, as it features one of the most unique premises in the entire franchise. Link’s adventure in the doomed land of Termina is decidedly darker and weirder than other Zelda titles, as Link must work to stop a scary-looking moon from falling out of the sky and killing everyone.
In a Groundhog Day-like twist, Link must continually play out the same three days in order to successfully prevent Termina’s doom, presenting players with a challenging time travel mechanic that hasn’t been seen in the franchise before or since. While we still still feel that Ocarina of Time is the better game overall, Majora’s Mask remains an absolute treasure and even though the definitive version currently exists on the 3DS, it remains an essential part of the N64’s library.
6. Mario Kart 64
While the debate over which Mario Kart reigns supreme is neverending (we’re pretty much locked in a three way tie between Double Dash, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart 8 ourselves), Mario Kat 64 will always be a frontrunner in that discussion. Even setting aside the intense nostalgia that every N64 owner has for this game, one can’t deny the innovations that Mario Kart 64 introduced that we now take for granted. For one thing, it introduced four player racing to the franchise for the first time, which helped it become one of the most accessible and greatest multiplayer games on the console.
It also featured one of the best battle modes in the franchise’s history, primarily because it nails the essentials (something that Mario Kart 8’s terrible battle mode seemed to forget). And while the game’s graphics certainly aren’t as hot as they used to be — okay, they’re pretty terrible — the actual gameplay of Mario Kart 64 holds up surprisingly well, which is something that can’t be said for many games of its era.
It’s been argued that Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie is just a Super Mario 64 imitator and while that accusation is true to a certain extent, it discredits the sheer amount of work and creativity put into the game’s design. One of the purest mascot platformers ever made, Banjo-Kazooie takes the formula established by Mario 64 and tweaks it in interesting ways, from the way its two title characters’s move sets are intertwined to the varied level design, which rivals that of Nintendo’s iconic platformer.
While mascot platformers have largely fallen out of favor these days, Banjo-Kazooie remains one of the most beloved entries in the genre, to the point where a spiritual successor is only months away from release at the time of this writing. Although the game’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie, is arguably just as good as the first, we had to give the nod to the original in this case.
4. Super Smash Bros.
The Smash Bros. series has moved far beyond the N64 original in terms of its character roster and features, but it’s still kind of amazing that the first game ever even got made. The game’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, had so little faith in Nintendo approving his idea for a fighting game featuring the company’s mascots that he developed a prototype in secret and did not show it to Nintendo until he was confident they wouldn’t be able to say no.
In truth, it would have been difficult for any Nintendo fan to not want to buy a game that let you pit the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, and other Nintendo characters against each other, but the first Super Smash Bros. still holds up remarkably well as a decent fighting game in its own right. Sure, it’s been easily eclipsed by its predecessors, but when you look at the core concept of Smash Bros., not much has truly changed since the first game was released in 1999.
3. Perfect Dark
GoldenEye may elicit fonder memories, but Perfect Dark remains Rare’s magnum opus and the best game they put out on the Nintendo 64. Although Perfect Dark was a completely different franchise, it took what worked in GoldenEye and improved on it in almost every way. The main draws of course were the game’s futuristic weaponry, which mixed in all sorts of creative gadgetry alongside the traditional shotguns and machine guns, as well as the ability to add A.I. bots to help fill in multiplayer matches when human players couldn’t be found.
It’s fitting really that Perfect Dark was one of the final important releases on the Nintendo, as it is a game that was arguably ahead of its time and one that truly pushed the console to its limits (the updated release put out on Xbox 360 really highlights how hard it was for the N64 to run this thing). It may be dated by today’s standards, but back in 2000, no other console first-person shooter was on the same level as Perfect Dark, which remains one of the N64’s very best games.
2. Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is one of the most important video games ever made, proving not only that Mario could successfully make the jump from 2D to 3D, but also that 3D gaming was the future of gaming. Everyone can remember the first time they got their hands on the Nintendo 64’s awkwardly designed controller and started playing Mario’s first 3D adventure. This was the future of gaming and nobody ever wanted to go back … until years later when 2D style Mario games made a comeback, that is.
Still, no other game truly encompasses the Nintendo 64 experience quite like Mario 64, which single-handedly ushered in an entire new era and proved that Mario was a character who could stand the test of time; more than 20 years later, so too does his first foray into a whole new dimension.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Still considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time — nearly two decades after it was originally released — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time is especially notable for how well it holds up. Emerging onto Hyrule Field for the first time and realizing you can go pretty much wherever you want is a moment burned in the memories of millions of gamers worldwide and few games before or since have been able to deliver the same sense of wonder and spirit of adventure as Ocarina of Time.
Whether or not it’s your favorite 3D Zelda adventure, there are few games like Ocarina of Timethat remain must-plays almost two decades after release. While Mario 64 helped prove the N64’s capabilities, if we’re talking about the one game that defined the console, it has to be Ocarina of Time. We just hope that the N64 Classic version improves the game’s performance, as the frame rate on the original version is just atrocious, especially by today’s standards.