Nintendo’s entry for the fifth generation of consoles was a favorite of mine, but remains quite polarizing for the majority of fans. Named for its 64-bit processor, the N64 was the last home console to use cartridges, and it ultimately had four hundred fewer games than its predecessor the Super Nintendo.
The Nintendo 64 would be remembered for beginning new franchises, the expansion pak, and its unique controller, but many games suffered from control and camera issues. I’d need a much longer list to go over every good game for the console, but let me share some titles that every collection needs, and others may have missed.
10. ‘MISCHIEF MAKERS’
I never knew I wanted to play a robotic maid until Mischief Makers came along and showed me a whole new world of bright colors and strange looking faces. This 2D game has a learning curve, especially with the controls and the poorly balanced difficulty. The visuals and music keep the game engaging, but it is quite short. I prefer the boss fights, which are funny and well thought out. I know it had a bad release, but this is a title I’m honestly surprised hasn’t had a re-release in some form.
9. ‘STAR FOX 64’
I feel like this fight with Andross will never end, probably because the N64 version of Star Fox is just a remake of the SNES edition. Retelling the same story, and since the new Star Fox game for the Wii U did this as well, I’m getting some strong déjà vu. This is the best one though, for visuals, controls, and the voice acting. It’s an amazing 3D flight combat game that allows players to rip through the Lylat system taking on evil, and the first title to use the Rumble Pack. What sold me was a VHS tape advertising it with crisp game footage and some ridiculous skit, but my money was well spent.
8. ‘MYSTICAL NINJA STARRING GOEMON’
I rented this game because I liked the idea of playing a ninja in a 3D environment and was really into anime. Goemon is a huge series in Japan that many Americans have never been properly exposed to, but the adventures of this pipe-wielding blue-haired warrior pack a lot of punch. In this adventure Goemon must fight to stop the Peach Mountain Shoguns from transforming Japan into a Westernized fine arts theater—because why not. This is an interesting game that had a lot of camera and control issues, remembered more for its addictive soundtrack and silly songs. The experience presents a surreal style of comedy with anachronisms, blatant references, and some fourth wall breaking. The most difficult part to learn was the giant robot fights, but they are just another reason fans love it and the game keeps rising in price.
7. ‘SUPER MARIO 64’
Nintendo’s main mascot found great success on the N64 in a lot of different titles. That’s easy to see when even Mario Tennis could easily make the top twenty-five, but nothing I played with the plumber took up the majority of my life like Super Mario 64—the best selling game on the system. I remember playing the demo for it at Toys R Us and being astonished by seeing a childhood hero in a new 3D world that captured my imagination. There was something about being able to explore Peach’s legendary castle, jumping into vastly different worlds in paintings and hidden walls, as well as facing Bowser in a whole new way. I spent a ton of hours just playing with Mario’s face on the opening screen. It wasn’t the last great Mario game, but it remains my favorite, and the last one to affect me in such a huge way. This is a title everyone should try.
6. ‘JET FORCE GEMINI’
It’s time to save a lot of Tribals with the Jet Force Gemini team in another hit for Rare. This is a unique game that combined several different forms of gameplay and melded them almost seamlessly into a new IP that is greatly in need of a revisit—other than just being in the Rare Replay collection on Xbox One. There are three different characters that each have their own abilities, where using all of them will be required to accomplish a hefty goal. The game is notoriously tedious, making players find every missing tribal without letting them die. The game is tough and the controls are a bit of a hindrance as well, but there are hours of fun to be had. This is a long game with a good bit of backtracking and head scratching. Jet Force Gemini stands as one of the system’s most original games, with incredible visuals, gorgeous places to explore, and an engaging combat system that is just the right amount of challenging.
5. ‘GOLDENEYE 007’ (AND ‘PERFECT DARK’)
Nintendo isn’t known for great shooters, but many modern games of the same type owe a lot to two of Rare’s N64 games here. Not only was GoldenEye my favorite Bond film, but the game cemented itself as the third best-selling title on the N64, and showed the world what could be done with 3D shooters on consoles. The single player campaign is incredibly fun—I’ve lost count of the hours put in—but multiplayer is where much of the nostalgia and joy stems from. There were four controller ports, allowing friends to get together and lose themselves in countless deathmatches.
Many other games tried to copy and take a shot at the crown, but only another of Rare’s creations, Perfect Dark, could be a true spiritual successor. With the introduction of the dangerous and beautiful Joanna Dark, the company perfected the majority of their work and enhanced the experience in many ways. Also, GoldenEye is currently only available on the original hardware due to licensing disputes, so pick these up while they’re cheap.
4. ‘CONKER’S BAD FUR DAY’
The fact that it stars a foul-mouthed, greedy, alcoholic red squirrel would be enough to sell most people on this one, but just in case readers need more prodding, it’s another unique game from Rare that frequently tops lists. Someone had the bright idea to turn what was originally supposed to be a family friendly excursion into a vulgar tale about Conker trying to get back to his sexy bunny girlfriend, Berri. The gameplay is varied and enjoyable with tight controls, catchy music, different appealing environments—that amazing WWII stage—and the voice acting is incredibly entertaining. All of those things are cool, but this is a game that is about the experience. The humor is raunchy in all the right ways.
3. ‘TUROK: DINOSAUR HUNTER’
Take control of a badass Native American warrior and save the universe from the Campaigner in a game I love. The controls are a bit tough at first, but after some practice, headshots with the bow come with ease, and the game will be hard to put down. Overall gameplay is easy to fall into because Turok felt like an old school shooter—but not a DOOM clone—with a new extraordinary environment and something fresh that kept a mature tone. The excellent array of simple to exotic alien weapons and strange enemies are exciting and keep me coming back for more blood—especially with cheat codes. Boss encounters like giant dinosaurs with robotic enhancements that take up so much of the screen still leave me with a sense of awe to this day—and satisfaction when I beat them.
2. ‘BANJO-KAZOOIE’ (AND ‘TOOIE’)
The evil witch Gruntilda is after Tooty’s beauty, but a bear and bird duo are standing in her way. This is one of Rare’s great works, followed up by a sequel that some consider to be their last true gem. Both games are smart and fun titles that show off true platform jumping excellence. Both titles were financial and critical successes, boasting great visuals, quality soundtracks, and intricate and immersive worlds, big and beautiful expanses that contained a good mix of interesting enemies and puzzles. Both characters have their own abilities and the second game allows players to use them individually. There is an obsessive amount of tedious collecting and backtracking, but performing these quests is fun enough to ignore that and relish the adventure.
1. ‘THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME’ (AND ‘MAJORA’S MASK’)
There are few constants in the world, but a hero will always have to search for the Triforce to save Hyrule or Zelda. Ocarina of Time is regarded as a masterpiece and is one of the best reviewed titles in gaming history, even causing a rise in the sales of actual ocarinas. Sure the bosses are predictable, items are lazy, and there are camera issues—and Navi…—but the developers took a familiar story that worked and evolved a tested formula with the technology. For me it was about that first time riding Epona on an open plane, and the Forest Temple is one of my favorite things ever. A successful sequel came only two years later. This darker Zelda title incorporated a new villain, masks that transformed Link, and time travel, coming together for another game many fans hold close to their hearts. Majora’s Mask was graphically superior, requiring the system’s expansion pak. Just play it for that creepy moon if nothing else.
Writing in the dirty South, recovering internet addict Stephen Wilds wakes up every night wrestling with nightmares of Silent Hill and stray commas. You may follow his exploits on Twitter @StephenWilds.
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