The Top 25 N64 Games

Originally published: 2011

Anybody who listens to the Winner Is You Podcast will be fully aware of Alex’s opinion on which is the greatest console ever created – the Nintendo 64. It all started with a free N64 promo VHS on the front of a Gamesmaster magazine that he watched over and over until it could be watched no more, and evolved into hundreds of great gaming memories.

Split screen multiplayer at its finest (with no multi taps!), the birth of analogue sticks and rumble packs, cardboard game boxes housing chunky plastic cartridges, and saving up pocket money for 3 months just to buy the newest £50 release are all part of a huge list of things that ruled about the time before expensive DLC, day 1 patches, loot boxes, and the morons of the online gaming world.

This was a time when console exclusivity mattered. You’ll notice that almost ALL of the games in this list were only available on the N64. Games have been selected based on a dabble of nostalgia mixed with how well they still shape up today. But mainly because they’re great.

25. Pilotwings 64

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 1/3/97

107950-pilotwings-64-nintendo-64-front-cover

A launch game for the platform that really showed off the graphical power the N64 could produce. A relaxing and enjoyable title that provided the same kind of challenge that the previous SNES title had, this time letting gamers fly about and fully explore the 3D environments. Various test of aviation had to be completed to finish the game including using jet packs and being shot out of a cannon. Despite being mainly used as a pretty tech demo for the capabilities of the console the game still holds up pretty well today because of its unique and charming take on flight sims.

Best moment: Shooting yourself out of a cannon and flying face first into the giant Mario head carved into the mock ‘Mount Rushmore’.

Playability today (out of 5): 3

24. Banjo-Tooie

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 12/4/01

1732_front

Banjo-Tooie showed up near the very end of the N64’s life cycle and, as such, never really saw as much commercial success as it probably warranted. It did also suffer from being not quite as magical as its amazing predecessor. The music’s not as catchy, the world’s not as vibrant (although it is less generic), and some additional features (like the FPS and Mumbo bits) didn’t necessarily add to the game as much as they should. The game does, however, follow much of the same collect-a-thon formula of the incredible original and still provides some of the best 3D platforming on the system.

Best moment: Running around in recently deceased Bottles’ house and the awkward conversations where our duo tiptoes around the fact that Bottles is dead. In response to Bottles’ son explaining how he and his dad are soon to play in a kickball tournament, Kazooie replies with “I don’t suppose you have any substitutes?” Nice.

Playability today (out of 5): 3

23. Pokémon Snap

Developer/Publisher: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
PAL Release: 15/9/99

n64_pokemon_snap_p_66pv3n

Pokèmon snap is a game that really shouldn’t have worked. Instead of walking around vast areas capturing, training and battling those pocket monsters, you get driven round on rails and take photos of them. Yeah, that’s it. Truly a game that should not be judged on a rather strange poke-voyeuristic premise, Pokèmon Snap is thoroughly engaging and totally addictive. Let’s not misconstrue this message – you will feel utterly ridiculous throwing apples at the ground to lure out a Dugtrio so you can snap a photo of it as a Pidgey flies past, but Pokèmon Snap really is a game for high score whores the world over. It has a cutesy childish mask but, make no mistake, this is Time Crisis with brains… and Pikachus.

Best moment: Love him or hate him, the second that yellow, electric mouse sticks his head out ready for his portrait your hands will tense up as you desperately stab at the photo button, all in an attempt to satisfy a crusty old man in a laboratory.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

22. The New Tetris

Developer/Publisher: H2O Entertainment/Nintendo
PAL Release: 15/10/99

8125_front

Home console versions of Tetris have somehow never managed to hit the high mark handheld versions have previously set. New elements that were squeezed in never seemed to improve upon original Tetris. Hey, people don’t like change. The N64 had several different updated Tetris titles; among them were Tetrisphere and, arguably better, The New Tetris, both of which added new elements to Tetris that fans didn’t actually hate.

The New Tetris stuck more rigidly to the original format than Tetrispherel, but included a new strategic risk vs. reward block-building element that, when combined with 4-player multiplayer, provided great entertainment and block-falling chaos. Hundreds of versions of the series-nobody-can-hate have appeared on consoles since, but none have fused the genius of the original with new and fresh ideas as successfully as this.

Best moment: The first time you build yourself a huge golden block and finish it off, sending the Tetris equivalent of acid rain over to your opponent’s screen, takes the satisfaction of performing a ‘Tetris’ to whole new levels. This took longer to build up to, is harder to complete and feels damn good.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

21. Donkey Kong 64

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 6/12/99

1169_front

Donkey Kong, in full 3D for the first time, was aiming to take his series to the same new heights that Mario had reached a few years earlier. Luckily for Kong fans, series developers Rare already had the perfect practise in making the fantastic Banjo-Kazooie. Although some elements felt slightly similar to Banjo, DK64 freshened up the formula in ways that Banjo’s own sequel seemingly failed to. There were jetpacks, weapons and a cast of characters that each brought different ways to play, and unlocked different exclusive areas.

At the time, the game looked utterly incredible thanks to the invention of the N64’s expansion pack. DK64 also holds the nefarious distinction of having the one of gaming’s most unfair final acts, where players are forced to complete, TWICE, one of the most punishingly hard arcade games ever in the original Donkey Kong before they can meet the final boss.

Best moment: DK64 has so many collectibles that 100% completion must be a very satisfying feeling. If anyone knows what that feels like then please Tweet me!

Playability today (out of 5): 3

20. Mario Tennis

Developer/Publisher: Camelot/Nintendo
PAL Release: 3/11/00

10505_front

Mario Tennis is one of those classic examples of how Nintendo can somehow stick Mario into a new environment and still produce a game of arguably greater quality than the current genre stalwarts. With simple and incredibly solid controls, the usual bright colours, and cast of differently abled, yet universally strong, characters, Mario Tennis was an absolute riot and provided a truly great multiplayer experience. The game also included various bonus modes that kept things fresh and interesting for single players.

This is a prime example of how Nintendo can take on a new game genre, usually sports, and still create a decidedly ‘Nintendo’ experience thanks to their unrelenting focus on making games fun. Developer Camelot had obviously been schooled in the Nintendo ways, as this game still provides a really fun, fast-paced multiplayer experience today.

Best moment: In conjunction with the worst element of the game, there really is no better feeling than smashing a volley into the face of the ludicrously lazily named Waluigi – Wario’s, apparently long lost, brother. Beating him in a match is a victory against barrel-scraping unoriginality the world over.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

19. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

Developer/Publisher: Factor 5/LucasArts
PAL Release: 10/1/99

Star-Wars-Rogue-Squadron-Box-Front-450x319

 

There were a number of great ‘Wars titles on the N64 – Episode 1 racer was another really enjoyable title – but Rogue Squadron was so adept at pulling off what it aimed to create that it spawned several excellent sequels in the subsequent console generation. Whilst obviously not the complete Star Wars experience, Rogue Squadron did a fantastic job of putting the player in the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing in the midst of the high-octane space battles that are a staple of the classic movies.

Thanks, once again, to the Expansion Pack the game was a tremendous technical achievement in 1999, and the crisp graphics combined excellently with the brilliantly tight and realistic-feeling controls to produce one of the best Star Wars experiences of the time.

Nowadays the fogging really becomes apparent and the lack of multiplayer mean that perhaps the Gamecube versions are the way to go if you want to experience this type of ‘Wars gameplay at its peak, but Rogue Squadron nevertheless provided a brilliant experience at the time and served as the catalyst for a truly terrific Star Wars games series.

Best moment: The game’s attempts at fan-service did not go amiss, with brilliant attention to detail. The Tatooine level alone features the Sarlacc pit, Jabba’s Palace and even the droids’ escape pod from A New Hope.

Playability today (out of 5): 3

18. Shadow Man

Developer/Publisher: Acclaim/Acclaim
PAL Release: 31/7/99

1020_front

The first of only a few non-exclusive N64 title in this list (however it did appear on the console months before the Playstation and Dreamcast versions were released), Shadow Man is an example of one of those instances where Nintendo apparently has to prove that its consoles are more than Mario and Zelda and that they aren’t afraid to house more mature titles on their system. A game based loosely on a comic book, Shadow Man had a brilliant plot with gangs, famous serial killers, voodoo magic, disgusting enemies, creepy younger brothers, teddy bears and drunken Irish skele-snakes.

The game was utterly terrifying and wholly twisted, and featured an innovative combat system that allowed players to assign different combos of weapons to protagonist Mike LeRoi’s left and right hands. This allowed combining bullets with fire or magic at will, all the while travelling between the living world, as Mike, and the hellish ‘Deadside’ as the all-powerful Shadow Man.

In its time, the game was on top of its genre. 3rd person action shooters have obviously since been improved upon more successfully than, say, 3D platformers, but Shadow Man remains a compelling and brilliantly written horror masterpiece to this day.

Best moment: Shadow Man is full of entertaining and horrifying moments, but the serial killer battles are just fantastic. The dialogue between these psychos and the no-BS Shadow Man is riotously entertaining and this is no more evident than in a showdown in the London sewers with Jack the Ripper.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

17. Wave Race 64

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 17/8/97

8857_front

For a title released so very early in the N64’s life cycle, and nearly 14 years ago, it’s a real credit to Nintendo that the game’s water effects still look rather pretty. The game is one of those titles that seemingly everyone who owned an N64 had played and, despite being a rather shallow (no pun intended) overall experience, was a title that nobody could say no to.

As a pick up and play multiplayer experience, Wave Race was unrivalled early in the N64’s life. The unique arcade racing action of bobbing up and down on the gorgeous looking waves and zig-zagging between the buoys whilst avoiding obstacles and braving the differing weather conditions was an absolute blast and one that never got old and was always worthy of one more multiplayer match.

Seeing as the game was an early release for the N64, it perfectly serves the purpose of nostalgia; that ‘good old days’ feeling that encapsulates the excitement gamers had for the potential of this new machine at the time of its release. It’s one of those titles synonymous with the start of that wonderful generation of video games where so much changed and so much set the bar for today’s landscape. The Gamecube title is obviously the better version, but the memories of the impact this game had will live on much longer.

Best moment: Arguably the best moment of Wave Race happens when you’ve not even started playing the game properly. It occurs when you’ve spent far too much time trying to do that barrel roll over that jump in free mode and you finally pull it off, only to realise that you’ll never be able to do it in the middle of a race. Still…a freakin’ barrel roll!

Playability today (out of 5): 4

16. Mario Golf

Developer/Publisher: Camelot/Nintendo
PAL Release: 14/9/99

Mario_Golf_box

Camelot reappears in the list with another Mario sports title. It appears higher in the list than Mario Tennis, not just because it was the first of the N64 Mario sports titles, but because it was an altogether deeper experience that achieved more than the quick pick-up-then-put-down multiplayer madness of Mario’s racquet-based successor.

Mario Golf did the same job as tennis by taking a sport and adding in crazy characters, brightly coloured Nintendo themed courses, and cool powerups to make the sport of golf infinitely more exciting. There were tons of courses and a variety of different modes that could take forever to fully master and produce better scorecards. The game also had a brilliant replay mode that could let you save your best shots if ever any boasts needed backing up.

As was evidently the case with Camelot/Nintendo games on the N64, the game was made with great attention to detail and a very robust control system to allow for a perfect balance between arcade fun and serious realism. As such, what we have is another classic Mario Sports title that is still ridiculously playable today. Only 4 words are needed – Match Play Drinking Game.

Best moment: Without a doubt, there is no greater feeling in golf than hitting a hole in one, and Mario Golf’s greatest moments came on the incredibly rare occasion that you would pull off one of these miracles. Hit one on a par 4 course? Friends don’t believe you? Be prepared to feel infinitely smug as replay mode beautifully backs you up and your mates eat humble pie.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

15. Mario Kart 64

 

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 24/6/97

4974_front

It seems that if you ask 5 gamers which is their favourite version of Mario Kart, you would most probably get at least 4 different answers. Mario Kart 64 isn’t generally regarded as the best entry in the series but it can definitely be credited with adding a real sense of mayhem to the formula and solidifying Mario Kart as the terrific multiplayer experience it still is today.

Mario Kart 64 is another of those N64 titles that made 4 player split screen gaming – an increasingly distant memory in today’s faceless online world – and 4 player gaming is the focal point that stands out in the memories of MK64. The game was utterly chaotic with more and crazier items being introduced as well as those classic shortcuts that everyone remembers.

Some of the courses in MK64 were admittedly wider than those in the SNES original, but that doesn’t mean that the game required any less skill to get round the tracks. On higher classes like 150cc and Mirror Mode, drifting and boosting are necessities for success.

One of the pivotal ways a Mario Kart game can be judged is on its courses, and MK64 definitely has some of the series’ best tracks that are punctuated by iconic moments and intricacies. There’s the inclusion of Peach’s Castle landmark on Royal Raceway, the frenzy of oncoming traffic in Toad’s Turnpike, the huge river jump on DK’s Jungle Parkway and the many different routes of Yoshi’s Valley to name but a few.

Arguably a lower-tier Mario Kart title, MK64 has a number of high points but is perhaps one of the less playable today, blue-shelling it down our list somewhat.

Best moment: There are great moments of triumph in the game, but there are also moments of extreme frustration that can, somehow, be equally enjoyable, and provide more stories to tell and reasons to play the game again. Most notably has to be getting hit by the lightning bolt going over the final jump in Wario Stadium, meaning you don’t quite make it over and instead land on the track down below, having to make your way back again for another try from a distinctly worse race position. Possibly the most evil tactic in gaming when pulled off.

Playability today (out of 5): 3

14. Super Smash Bros.

Developer/Publisher: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
PAL Release: 19/11/99

7828_front

UK gamers should be very grateful we got to play this game in the first place as it wasn’t until a petitioned campaign (which I, of course, took part in) by then-named N64 Magazine that Nintendo even planned to release the title over here. And how lucky we were to get to play this simple to pick up, yet cathartically frantic, beat ‘em up featuring an all star cast of Nintendo mascots.

The fighting is controlled mainly by using 2 buttons, one for normal attacks and one for character-specific special attacks. It works brilliantly well, and has thus been kept the same for the 2 equally excellent sequels. The on screen mayhem is beefed up with a whole variety of insane items including a SNES Superscope and Pokeballs. Smash Bros is a fine example of less is more; you don’t need ridiculous combos or buckets of blood to make a great fighting game – here is a brilliant game perfectly accessible for anyone, and a simple press of the A button is all that’s needed to hit Jigglypuff in the face with a baseball bat. Who could ask fore more?

The series has definitely improved with subsequent instalments, but so good is the formula and so frantic the action that Smash Bros remains one of the most playable of the N64 titles today.

Best moment: The game is so packed with Nintendo fan service it’s hard to pick out singular moments, but finally sealing the fate of the ridiculous giant hand boss at the end of the main mode takes ages, especially on harder difficulties, and at the end of a long slog it’s a great moment.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

13. WWF No Mercy

Developer/Publisher: Aki/THQ
PAL Release: 15/12/00

53477-wwf-no-mercy-nintendo-64-front-cover

The very late 90s and early 00s was truly a golden era for wrestling games. THQ oversaw several excellent titles across various platforms that went from strength to strength. The Playstation had the, admittedly brilliant, Smackdown! titles and the N64 had WCW/nWo Revenge, Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy. No Mercy was the pinnacle of wrestling games at the time and featured several improvements over the previous game in the series – the fantastic Wrestlemania 2000.

The roster was bigger, players could now engage in ladder and special guest referee matches, backstage areas were opened up for hardcore carnage, and you could put opponents through the ringside announce table. It really was the most comprehensive wrestling game ever made and the perfect sequel to WM2000, leaving the fantastic gameplay system largely untouched.

The game’s career mode was perhaps the greatest improvement over previous games, with different stories available for each of the different title belts. No Mercy featured branching storylines that meant that you could carry on in a different direction through the story even if you lost a match.

Forget what current games boast – No Mercy has one of the greatest rosters of characters (possibly because of the era in which it was made) and one of the best and most accessible control systems ever, especially as more recent games seem to get more convoluted with each release. It will live long as a timeless classic, possessing that little bit of charm and developer care that current wrestling games simply haven’t replicated.

Best moment: Ironically, the best moment is probably due to the horrible fault that early builds of the game had where the cartridge would randomly delete all the save data during the career mode. This affected so many gamers that the BBC program Watchdog ran a special on it. Seeing Anne Robinson reading out letters from disgruntled parents who bought their kids the broken game was a sight to behold. Well, it was better than them complaining of the evils of wrestling itself anyway.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

12. Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey

Developer/Publisher: Williams/Midway
PAL Release: 10/10/97

8866_front 

Placing this game so high up our list may surprise some, but Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey is a game that never fails to provide brutal, fast-paced and high-octane multiplayer experiences that will leave you crying with laughter. Ported from arcades in ’96 in the US, Gretzky was actually the first sports game AND the first four player game to be released on the console. To say it set the standard for four player gaming on the N64 is putting it lightly.

Being originally an arcade game, it’s no surprise that Gretzky is less about simulation and more about fun, and the fun comes by the bucket load. Playing as a three-on-three game with no rules makes for the most brutal game of prison rules hockey ever. Bone crunching body checks, turbo boosts and the obligatory fighting sections make Gretzky the perfect game representation of what the essence of ice hockey is.

With the scaled down three-on-three games, the rink is made smaller and therefore the action feels faster and more compact, giving way to an absolute ruckus of non stop shots, saves, goals, checks, trips and fights. It’s one of the most perfect arcade sports titles ever made because it takes out stats and tactics and provides a chaotic experience that players who have no idea about ice hockey can still enjoy. The polygonal players may look a bit dated nowadays, but for fast and furious action for any sports fans, Gretzky still stands right at the very top for sheer balls-out nonstop action.

Best moment: The game is so fast paced and full of incident that there will be so many great moments in every match you play, but using a turbo boost to give more shot power unleashed hilarious results; knocking the goalie and net flying backwards towards the wall or even setting the net on fire.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

11. Lylat Wars

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 20/10/97

7560_front

Shhh, we’re not allowed to call it Star Fox in Europe, but no matter what you call it, it’s one the top N64 games of all time for good reason. Arguably more Star Wars than any of the ‘proper’ Star Wars games on the N64, Lylat Wars is simply one of the finest shooters around. With incredibly high production values for its time, the game really helped signal the evolution of Nintendo into the 64-bit era.

Nintendo always show third party developers how to squeeze that little bit extra out of their hardware and Lylat Wars was a prime example of that. The large amount of voice samples, full motion animation and tons of cinematic sequences on display really showed what a marvellous technical achievement the game was in 1997.

As well as a great technical achievement, Lylat Wars was also tremendously entertaining. Every level is bursting with non-stop action as Fox McCloud barrel rolls his way through asteroid fields and lava planets in his Arwing ship. The Landmaster tank levels and the free-flying dog fight sections were also utterly exhilarating and when you factor in the huge boss fights and branching difficulty routes it’s difficult to think of what more a top quality action game can do.

It’s incredible to think that Nintendo have never improved on this instalment of the Star Fox franchise since 1997, but that is once again testament to the difficulty any developer would have in trying to create a more cinematic, action-packed and dazzling game than this. This is one game that easily stands the test of time and remains one of the most playable N64 titles today.

Best moment: The various ends of the game are all spectacular. Whether dodging loads of obstacles whilst chasing a golem boss through a stone temple or fighting the giant brain form of Andross before a very ‘Star Wars’ reunion between Fox and his father, all the scenarios ensure a fitting end to a spectacular game.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

10. Paper Mario

Developer/Publisher: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
PAL Release: 5/10/01  

7803_front

Taking the successful turn-based battle system seen in Super Mario RPG and making it, er, thinner, Paper Mario succeeded because, despite changing the traditional formula usually associated with Nintendo’s main mascot, the game still oozed that typical ‘Nintendo magic’. Bright, colourful sprites and dashes of wicked self-referential humour made up a truly unique Mario adventure.

A true swan song for the plumber on the N64, Paper Mario still looks absolutely gorgeous today. More importantly, it still plays perfectly too. The original Mario RPG titles were pioneers of adding ‘action commands’ to traditional RPG battle systems, and the result is a timeless and consistently engaging combat mechanic. Mario himself has an array of different moves that require varied controller inputs to pull off, and when additional party members are added to the mix, the game rarely feels repetitive – especially when a number of combat moves are carried over to help Mario outside of battle.

A gorgeous game with a robust and enjoyable combat system all tied together by a cheery, funny and interesting story – Paper Mario is one of Mazza’s finest ever outings, and it’s not even a ‘proper’ Mario game.

Best moment: The game is full of sly in-jokes, which are at their best when poking fun of gaming’s perennial bridesmaid: Luigi.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

9. International Superstar Soccer 64

Developer/Publisher: Konami/Konami
PAL Release: 1/6/97

4402_front

There are various older sports games that you can always go back to and play ‘for a laugh’ and never has that been truer than with ISS64. Arcade-natured sports titles, like ISS and Gretzky, can remain timeless because they never relied on trying to perfectly simulate their real life counterparts, instead focusing on taking the most exciting aspects of the sports and exaggerating them to produce an experience of fun above all else.

ISS64 has all the ingredients to create the perfect arcade football pie: goal ‘em up gung-ho tactics, dribbling round the entire opposition team with your goalie, hilariously terrible commentary, 40 yard screamers, referees who think free kicks are for sissies and seemingly always enough stoppage time for that last minute equalizer.

We are not forgetting as well that, at the time, ISS64 was far and away the best quality football experience available. It was the best looking, most responsive and easily the most playable football game around, with just enough of a tactical aspect that could be utilised to make sure football fans of all types could get something out of the game. And ISS64 is a title that football fans can still get something out of. It might be ridiculous, it might be over the top but it’ll always be great fun, especially in multiplayer. You simply cannot play this game without a smile on your face.

Best moment: The wonderful scenario mode is specifically designed to create unparalleled tension and excitement. It puts you in the middle of a match with time running out and tasks you with either holding a lead or coming back from a heavy deficit. It’s always a complete blast and the satisfaction of coming from 4-1 down with 3 minutes to go is utterly awesome. Special mention also to the ridiculously funny box art – “everyone get him, he’s German!”

Playability today (out of 5): 4

8. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 7/11/00

4752_front 

Perhaps another surprise to see this wonderful gem of a game so far down the list (although 8th out of 387 PAL titles is actually pretty good!), Majora’s Mask doesn’t quite break the top 5 simply because it didn’t make the same impact or break as much ground that Ocarina of Time, or indeed some of the games higher in this list, did.

Ocarina took the world by storm, being the breathtaking 3D debut of Link and topping ‘best game of all time’ polls ever since. Majora’s Mask could never have lived up to that standard, but having done more than enough to freshen up the formula and change the tone from Ocarina’s, it will have to settle for simply being one of the greatest ‘sequels’ of all time.

The game itself is typically a masterpiece of design, with the usual whimsical characters, sprawling dungeons, beautiful music, giant boss fights and a huge map with a variety of different locations. Standard high quality Zelda fare, then, but Majora’s Mask added in several unusual elements that make it a different beast to Ocarina and one of the most unique adventure games ever created.

Majora took on a much darker tone than any other game in the Zelda canon and the story has pretty much the most awesome premise of all time – get all your shit sorted in 3 days or the moon will fall on everyone. Link could use his ocarina to adjust time and could also transform into different creatures by donning masks, and these new features impressively altered the experience of the game from Ocarina.

Majora’s Mask really is a masterclass in how to retain everything that worked in an original game and still make a sequel feel like a completely different experience altogether. How many times are current generation sequels criticised for not changing the formula enough? No such problem for Majora’s Mask, which is the perfect alternative, darker companion to Ocarina on the N64. It’s yet another epic and enchanting Zelda classic that fully deserves to be recognised alongside its predecessor as a standard-setter for how all adventure games should be made.

Best moment: The use of the ocarina to slow time and return to the first of the three days was used to create many mind-bending puzzles and side quests, and none linger in the memory more than the Kafei and Anju side quest. It’s an epic and romantic tale that makes full use of the time travelling features of the game and proves the supreme ability of Nintendo to create memorable moments that you won’t find anywhere else.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

7. Goldeneye 007

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 25/8/97

ge_box_pal_display_front 

Goldeneye 007 is, without a doubt, one of the most groundbreaking and significant titles released on the N64. It was very much the game that persuaded many to buy the console in the first place, as it showed neutrals that there was far more to the N64 than Mario. It has influenced so many shooters since and, at the time, did everything right.

Helped significantly by the N64’s groundbreaking analogue stick, the game had unparalleled levels of control and blended action shooting with Super Spy objectives to create the ultimate Bond adventure.

Shooters had never been better than Goldeneye – there were tons of weapons that you could steal from fallen enemies, difficulty specific objectives, smart (at the time) enemy AI, perfect controls and that legendary all-conquering multiplayer.

There simply was no other gaming pastime that could usurp 4 friends sitting around an N64 for some Goldeneye multiplayer – it defined some friendships. The maps were all totally awesome, mostly based on the single player, but perfectly fitting the multiplayer mayhem, and there were also tons of weapon sets, customisable scenarios and characters to top it all off.

If you went back 10 years, Goldeneye would easily be at the top of a lot of ‘all time’ charts, but nowadays the game hasn’t held up as well as memory serves, though its status as a classic is undeniable.

Memories of Goldeneye are something that everyone has. Wherever you went and whomever you played it with, it was always different. Everybody had their own playing style, their own favourite maps, weapons, characters and rules (no Oddjobs, anyone?). It may not hold up today, but it can still be felt in modern FPS titles – you can play many games today and say, “Goldeneye started that”.

Best moment: Dropping in on the guy on the toilet in Facility? Driving the tank through the streets of Moscow? Chasing Trevelyan through the Cradle? Using a watch laser to escape from a soon to be destroyed train? Or simply 4-player license to kill with power weapons on Temple? Everyone has their own favourite moments and that is what makes Goldeneye an indisputable classic.

Playability today (out of 5): 3

6. F-Zero X

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 6/11/98

69824-f-zero-x-nintendo-64-front-cover

F-Zero X rocks. Genuinely, it rocks so hard. It’s the fastest, craziest, most heavy metal video game ever made. Back in 1998, F-Zero X was the first racing game to run at 60 frames per second and featured 30 vehicles on screen at the same time and, for want of a better phrase, it was awesome.

Races were absolute carnage at up to 1500km/h across tracks littered with sky-high jumps, cylinders, half pipes, boosts, ice patches and even sand paper. It was a high-octane thrill ride that was utterly relentless with the action never letting up for a second.

As well as a blistering single player mode, F-Zero X had several other excellent features. The multiplayer was always an absolute riot, and this was further exaggerated by the ‘VS Slot’, which was a slot machine that allowed players who had retired from the race to exact brutal revenge on those still competing by draining all their health with three matching symbols. Being a virtual spectator to a video game has never been so much fun.

There was also the Death Race – a timed challenge for how quickly you could ruin the shit of every other vehicle on the track by smashing the hell out of everything moving. It was brutal and brilliant fun and the kind of experience leaderboards were made for.

F-Zero X definitely still holds up today. It might not be the prettiest game ever, but the sense of speed still remains and the unpredictability and sense that anything can happen makes it unquestionably ridiculous entertainment. Oh, and the soundtrack is amazing!

Best moment: The ‘X’ cup, which randomly generated a different track with each play. Sometimes the random tracks could throw up a turn so utterly heinous that it would be almost impossible to negotiate and would annihilate every vehicle on the track in an instant. This could sometimes happen so quickly that N64 magazine used to run a segment where readers attempted to send in the shortest time it took for everyone to be destroyed. Genius.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

5. Diddy Kong Racing

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 21/11/97

Diddy_Kong_Racing_North_American_Boxart

It is decided. According to this list, Diddy Kong Racing out Mario-Karted Mario Kart. DKR is ‘officially’ the greatest kart racing title to not involve the portly plumber himself. It was more colourful, more charming, had better music, and a vastly superior single player than MK, and it was an absolute joy to play alone or with friends.

The game changed up the random item box feature of MK and added in coloured balloons that denoted which type of item a player would get, and could be doubled or tripled to increase their power. It was a system that greatly rewarded skill over luck and made the player feel like they were more in charge of the racing carnage in DKR than MK, as pure racing skill would win out more often than not (arguably something MK fans have missed since the original SNES title).

There have rarely been more charming games than Diddy Kong Racing. The crazy characters with their silly voice clips were all adorable and the relentlessly upbeat music was among the catchiest and most enjoyable soundtracks ever made. Each character was perfectly balanced in the right hands, and so multiplayer races and battle modes were furiously contested affairs.

The single player adventure mode was easily the highlight of the game and the reason that it excelled above Mario Kart. The free roaming island was an utter delight to navigate. There were also awesome (and punishingly difficult) boss battles, and the brilliantly challenging silver coin challenges that totally changed how you had to race. It’s a unique and enduring formula that really jazzed up the kart racing single player experience, and it’s astounding that MK hasn’t followed suit since.

After its first 2 weeks on sale, DKR was the fastest selling video game ever, and it’s such a lovingly crafted, charming and unique experience that it’s easy to see why. A game that changes a tried and tested formula so expertly just needs to be experienced. Even though it hasn’t seen the continued growth and number of releases as Mario Kart, it will always be king of N64 racing.

Best moment: As much as I loved Diddy Kong Racing and played it to death, the second Wizpig battle took me NINE years to finish. It was a challenging and heartlessly punishing race that my younger form simply could not overcome. Then, nearly a decade later, I came back to the game and finally took that piggly son-bitch to the woodshed! There has been no greater payoff in my gaming life than crossing that line (barely) in the lead and I will take that feeling of beating a giant pig riding a rocket over a Forza or Gran Turismo win every single time.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

4. Banjo-Kazooie

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 17/7/98

1726_front

If it wasn’t for the huge and ground-breaking impact that Mario 64 had on the videogame world, Banjo-Kazooie would be higher in this list. Mario 64 changed everything about platform games forever, but BK is actually the superior game. There, I said it (even if, technically, this list won’t). Back when Rare were the jewel in Nintendo’s crown they could seemingly do no wrong and, as such, Banjo-Kazooie is one of the finest and most inventive examples of platform gaming ever produced.

The gameplay was, admittedly, similar in some ways to Mario 64, but BK had a unique spin on almost every aspect that could be related back to the moustachioed one. The addition of Kazooie the bird in Banjo’s backpack meant that a variety of acrobatic moves could be utilised as well as flying using feathers and shooting eggs.

The numerous different worlds were beautifully vibrant and significantly varied – all accessible through a wonderful and massive hub world. Collecting Jigsaw pieces, musical notes and learning new acrobatic moves allowed the bear and bird to open up different routes through the hub world, and the non-linear nature of progression was both refreshing and ingenious.

Banjo-Kazooie differed from Mario 64 most notably through a much more central and refined story. The humorous writing was typically dry and very English, but added a lot more substance to the game. The wacky bunch of characters met along the way all brightened up the dialogue with ridiculous noises to go along with the text and it was clear the developers must have had a blast when recording the sound effects.

Banjo-Kazooie is an incredible platform game that controls like a dream and remains fresh and challenging throughout. The puzzles are wickedly diverse and fiendishly tricky and the challenge of gaining a jigsaw piece never feels the same twice. The bright colours and beautiful landscapes combine with the infectiously amazing music to create a truly stunning experience that, Mario aside, has never been bettered within its medium.

Best moment: The final Gruntilda battle is the definition of a ‘reet bastard’ and it’s immensely satisfying to complete the game, especially with all jigsaw pieces and musical notes in Banjo and Kazooie’s grasp. The ride along the way is filled with great moments like sledging down a giant snowman, flying around as a giant bee and being flushed down a toilet as a pumpkin… yeah.

Playability today (out of 5): 5

3. Super Mario 64

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 1/3/97

7790_front

The N64 was made for Mario 64. The controller was designed around it. Nintendo was evolving into a new 3D era and Mario was the always going to be the flagship that showed just how much the company could achieve in the new medium. It’s just that nobody expected them to achieve so much at the first attempt. Mario 64 was a breath-taking introduction to 3D platform gaming, and to the N64 itself, and ensured the console hit the ground with a thunderous impact, deservedly becoming the console’s best selling title.

Super Mario 64 is to modern gaming what Super Mario Bros was to gaming in general. It was the must have title and one that had a subsequent ripple effect that could be felt for a seemingly unimaginable length of time. The first time players ran across that massive field to the front door of the Princess’ castle, there was that feeling that something special was happening and gaming was about to be changed forever.

Current gaming owes so much to Mario 64 thanks to the genius of its design and indeed the genius of its designers. Mario 64 gave birth to the analogue stick – giving greater control over movement in a 3D space – the adjustable camera, the interactive game hub and much more. The game’s graphics were mind blowing, the level of fluid control unparalleled, the music impeccable, the different worlds huge and lavish, and the puzzles ingenious and entertaining. This was as complete and perfect as video gaming had ever been.

Mario 64 had so much for players to do, never leaving a dull moment in the memory. There were the huge and expansive levels, secrets hidden throughout the castle and the superb Bowser levels and subsequent boss fights. It’s still an immensely enjoyable title today, with levels still providing as much of a challenge as they do a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Mario 64 is proof positive that Nintendo has an undeniably strong claim to the title of best games developer the world has ever seen, always setting trends and pushing boundaries, and Mario 64 is the big N at their game-designing, revolutionary best. The word classic is thrown around far too much in gaming (probably even in this article), but no one will ever take that title away from this incredible and utterly unforgettable game.

Best moment: Simply turning the game on for the first time was a huge event. You were first met with Mario’s beaming, stretchable face before being given free licence to use this amazing new piece of kit for the first time. The analogue stick was a match made in heaven for Mario and this was definitively showcased in the amazing Bowser fights. Spinning that stick round and round before letting go to watch Mario launch the big galoot onto a bomb was genuinely satisfying, and a true sign of the evolution of gaming into the 3D world.

Playability today: 5

 

2. Perfect Dark

Developer/Publisher: Rare/Nintendo
PAL Release: 30/6/2000

11981-perfect-dark-nintendo-64-front-cover 

Rare simply didn’t make bad N64 games. Producing several of the N64’s best ever titles (more than half of this top 5 list) they strongly cemented themselves as one of the most versatile and talented developers in the world. A lot of that acclaim was down to the astounding quality of their two main N64 shooters. Goldeneye 007 brought console FPS gaming to the masses when it was previously thought not possible, and Perfect Dark improved on that game in every single way to become easily the finest shooter of its generation.

PD’s Improvements over Goldeneye fill an exhaustive list. There were more weapons and gadgets, more single player levels that could be co-operatively or counter-operatively completed, more multiplayer maps, a host of bot challenges that could also be completed in co-op, improved AI, graphics and pacing, and a new and original story.

One of Goldeneye’s strongest points was its multiplayer and Perfect Dark’s blew it completely out of the water. Players could add computer-controlled bots to mix in with their friends, all of which could be customised. You could have ruthlessly tough killers who go after just the leader, pacifists who refuse to use weapons, or even Shigeru Miyamoto in a cocktail dress. It added to the chaos brilliantly and could change the required strategy over and over. You could see who could possibly win against the Perfect Sims, or simply which one of your mates could rack up the most kills against the walking targets that were the Meat Sims. It was fresh, it was exciting and it was ruddy fantastic.

Perfect Dark featured a host of utterly stupendous and imaginative weapons that have bizarrely never been improved upon since. Some of the weapon design was tantamount to violent genius. Alien weapons that could see and shoot through walls, laptop guns that could double up as a sentry turret, remote controlled rockets, grenade launcher attachments and guns that had a cloaking function. All brilliant, and giving players so many different tactics to use that multiplayer was never the same twice.

Perfect Dark is an absolutely incredible shooter and one of the finest ever created. The frame rate on N64 suffers a fair bit today, but the Xbox 360 remaster solved all those problems, and anyone who claims to love FPS titles owes it to themselves, and to the genre, to pick up a download of one of the most creative, exhilarating and action packed games of all time.

Best moment: The combat simulator was a brilliant addition to the single player element and, as well as providing the incredible and unrivalled multiplayer, housed the awesome combat challenges that allowed you and up to 3 friends to take on bot challenges that increased in difficulty and covered all the multiplayer modes. Towards the end they got ridiculously hard and completing the later ones is an achievement to be proud of. Clearly paved the way for the countless co-op elements in shooters today.

Playability today (out of 5): 4

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo/Nintendo
PAL Release: 11/12/98

4762_front

Herein lies the difficulty of creating a list of the greatest games on a console that’s been around for nearly two decades and defined a generation of nineties gamers, especially when the title at the top of the list is widely regarded as the greatest video game ever made. What do you say to do the game justice? What can be said about Ocarina of Time that hasn’t already been said? The fact that this is a problem goes to show how universally loved Ocarina of Time is.

Ocarina is the perfect example of exploration and adventure. The game oozes that childish charm and wonderment that Miyamoto had when he used to go exploring as a boy, and his video game vision was now fully realised in 3D. What was created was an absolutely staggering achievement in ’98 – the game was beautiful, it was long and it was utterly engrossing from start to finish.

The N64 controller, much like for Mario 64, was the perfect fit for Ocarina. The lack of a jump button sounded absurd but worked perfectly and the Z-targeting on enemies and use of the C buttons for Link’s inventory were strokes of genius.

This list has been all about memories, with every game previously mentioned having several standout moments, but Ocarina is the only game in the list where you fondly remember everything. Everything is a standout moment, breeding a desire to own your own master sword in a pedestal so as to travel back to the past and discover it all for the first time again.

Ocarina is such a masterfully created whole that it is almost an insult to single out the individual aspects that made it great. Nevertheless, the game took the Zelda franchise into 3D and did for Link what had previously been done for Mario. The controls were perfect, the graphics were incredible, the story and characters were spellbinding, the boss fights were jaw dropping, the music was utterly beautiful, and the list could go on.

For me, Ocarina of Time is the pinnacle of video games. Never, before or since, have I been more fascinated and enchanted by a game so much that I feel it deserves to be called a work of art like Ocarina does. Maybe because games have moved on to a level where quality is more consistently high, but when Ocarina came out it felt like this was it – gaming had reached its peak.

Never has there been a game that holds such a nostalgic power over me that I simply cannot go back to the game and feel it has aged, or that it has become boring. The memories and great experiences I had with the game shaped my love for the industry and a return visit to Ocarina always feels like a beautiful reunion.

The game is undeniably a timeless classic and should the soon to be released 3DS update (whisper it) actually improve on the original, then there will have to be a new game at the top of the ‘best of all time’ lists. Either way, Ocarina of Time will always be there in one form or another.

Best moment: It’s almost insulting to dissect the greatest work of art the gaming industry has ever produced as every single minute spent with the game is one of excitement, discovery and wonder. From the moment link rolls of out bed to the beautiful music and lush greens of Kokiri Forest, to when he leaps over the gate of Lon Lon Ranch on the back of Epona and, of course, finishes his adventure with the epic final showdown with Ganon, there is not one moment that isn’t perfectly crafted and utterly breath-taking. Well, apart from the Water Temple…

Playability today (out of 5): 5

Alex Aldridge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s