Diving into the Nintendo 64’s legendary catalog, we explore the top games that defined a generation, blending innovation with timeless enjoyment, from “Ocarina of Time” to “GoldenEye 007.”
- Innovative Platform: The Nintendo 64 set new standards for 3D gameplay, thanks to its revolutionary technology and controller design.
- Iconic Titles: Games like “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” “GoldenEye 007,” and “Mario Kart 64″ are celebrated for their groundbreaking contributions to video gaming.
- Legacy: These N64 games continue to influence the industry, offering a blend of innovation and nostalgia that resonates with gamers across generations.
When the Nintendo 64 entered the market in 1996, it transformed the landscape of video games, introducing innovations that redefined what it means to play in 3D.
Today, by revisiting the best Nintendo 64 games, we celebrate not only the console’s cutting-edge technology and innovative controller, but also its extraordinary catalog that continues to capture the imagination of gamers. These titles are not just games; they are icons, pioneers that set standards for future generations.
This article is an ode to the best N64 games, a tribute to the masterpieces that marked this golden era of video games. From the timeless adventure of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to the groundbreaking multiplayer experience of GoldenEye 007, and the thrilling racing of Mario Kart 64, each game we explore represents the pinnacle of innovation and entertainment on the N64.
Selecting just 15 titles for this article on the best Nintendo 64 games was no easy task, as Nintendo’s console is so full of nuggets. Get ready to relive the wonder and joy that these legendary titles continue to inspire in gamers of all generations.
The legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ah, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” on Nintendo 64, where to begin with such a monumental piece of video game history? Released in 1998, this masterpiece wasn’t just a game; it was a universe in which many of us willingly got lost, over and over again. The brainchild of Nintendo’s EAD team, led by the visionary Shigeru Miyamoto, Ocarina of Time wasn’t just an evolution of the series; it was a revolution in the world of gaming.
Do you remember the first time you set foot in Hyrule? The immensity of it, a 3D expanse that stretched as far as the eye could see, inviting exploration and adventure in a way we’d never experienced before. The game broke with the traditional top-down view of the series, presenting a breathtakingly open and fully exploratory world. It wasn’t just about getting from point A to point B; it was about living in a world, soaking up its atmosphere and discovering its secrets at your own pace.
Ocarina of Time introduced mechanics that would become staples in the video game lexicon. The Z aiming system, for example, made for dynamic, fluid combat, making us feel like seasoned warriors rather than amateurs frantically tapping buttons. And who could forget Epona – summoning your horse with an unforgettable melody, then galloping through the halls of Hyrule was just magical.
But it wasn’t just the technical innovations that made Ocarina of Time a legend; it was the memories it left in the minds of every player who tried it. Solving puzzles in the Great Mojo Tree, the thrill of battling Ganondorf, and the bittersweet melody of the Ocarina that could manipulate time itself.
Today, the legacy of Ocarina of Time is evident in every open-world adventure that seeks to immerse and enchant. For many, Ocarina of Time remains the best game of the Nintendo 64. Perhaps one of the best games of all time, if not the best.
MetaCritic score: 99
Super Mario 64
The very mention of Super Mario 64 transports us back to the mid-90s, a time when the video game landscape was about to undergo a monumental change. Released in 1996 as one of the console’s launch games, Super Mario 64 reinvented platform games.
Imagine the transition from the flat 2d side-scrolling worlds of previous Mario games to the vast 3D open world of Super Mario 64. It was nothing short of revolutionary. Players were no longer confined to moving from left to right, but could explore complex worlds in all directions.
The innovation of Super Mario 64 was not just in the move to 3D, but also in the control of our favorite plumber. Mario could walk, run, jump, crouch and even tiptoe, with movements that felt fluid and natural. The N64 controller’s analogue stick allowed a precision never before seen in a platform game. This game taught a generation of gamers that controlling a character in 3D space could be intuitive.
But beyond its technical achievements and impact on the industry, Super Mario 64 holds a special place in the hearts of those who experienced it at the time. The exhilaration of executing a perfect triple jump to reach a previously inaccessible area, the satisfaction of collecting every last star, and the wonder of discovering a new secret passage are moments etched in players’ memories.
Super Mario 64 was more than just a game; it was a shared journey into unknown territory.
MetaCritic score: 94
Prior to the release of GoldenEye 007 in 1997, the FPS genre was mainly the preserve of PCs. Consoles had their successes, but nothing approaching the depth and complexity of PC games.
Following that, GoldenEye 007 emerged, featuring a script inspired by the 1995 James Bond film ‘GoldenEye,’ meticulously designed levels, and a groundbreaking multiplayer mode.
He created a cinematic experience that followed the plot of the film while allowing players to explore beyond its boundaries. The levels weren’t just about shooting everything that moved; they required strategy, stealth and careful planning.
GoldenEye 007’s legacy is monumental. It proved that FPS games could thrive on a console, influencing countless successors like Halo and Call of Duty. It introduced mechanics, such as precision aiming and context-sensitive missions, that would become staples of the genre.
GoldenEye 007 is probably one of the best games adapted from the cinema. But it’s also one of the best games on the Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 96
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Released in 2000, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had the daunting task of being the long-awaited successor to Ocarina of Time. But rather than simply following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Majora’s Mask blazed its own dark and distinctive trail, offering an experience unparalleled in the Zelda series.
Set in the mysterious and doomed world of Termina, Majora’s Mask introduced a revolutionary time loop mechanic. You had three days in the game (equivalent to around 54 minutes in real time) to stop the moon from crashing into the world. This time mechanism influenced everything from puzzles and quests to NPC behavior. The constant pressure to manage time added an intensity and urgency rarely seen in adventure games.
What made Majora’s Mask so special was its tone. Darker, more surreal, and laden with themes of grief, loss and the passage of time – themes rarely explored in video games at the time. The game’s ability to juggle these themes with the traditional Zelda formula of exploration, puzzle-solving and combat was nothing short of masterful.
The mask system was another innovation, allowing Link to transform into different beings, each with unique skills. This not only added depth to the gameplay but also to the narrative, with each transformation linked to the poignant story of a character affected by the impending disaster.
Majora’s Mask has been celebrated for its bold storytelling, innovative mechanics and emotional depth.
Personally, I prefer Ocarina Of Time, but Majora’s Mask deserves its place in the top games on Nintendo 64. Nintendo has succeeded in reinventing a masterpiece.
MetaCritic score: 95
Super Smash Bros.
As a fan of fighting games, I’ve always found the Nintendo 64 to be sorely lacking in the genre. But when Super Smash Bros. arrived in 1999, it was as if Nintendo’s creative team had heard me. And they really let loose. Here was a game that took Nintendo’s beloved pantheon of characters and threw them into an arena to fight each other.
The concept was daring: Mario punching Link? Pikachu electrocuting Donkey Kong? It was as if all the rules of the universe had been thrown out of the window, and what replaced them was pure, unfiltered fun.
The genius of the game lay in its simplicity. Unlike a traditional Neo Geo fighting game that relied on complex button combinations and precise timing, Super Smash Bros. was accessible to anyone with a controller in hand. The controls were simple, but mastering the game in depth required a fair amount of practice. A very good job by Nintendo, who were able to offer the title to a fun-seeking audience, while still appealing to a more technical audience.
But it wasn’t just the gameplay that made Super Smash Bros. a hit; it was above all its multiplayer mode that provided hours of fun that I think only Nintendo has the secret to.
The legacy of the series continues to thrive, with each iteration adding more characters, stages, and modes, but retaining the central joy and chaos that made the original so beloved.
Super Smash Bros. is a must-have experience on Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 79
Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64, the thrill of the race, the agony of a well-placed banana peel and the sweet satisfaction of crossing the finish line first. Mario Kart 64 was a rite of passage for Nintendo 64 owners when it skidded onto the scene in 1996. Following on from its SNES predecessor, Super Mario Kart, this sequel took the chaotic fun of kart racing and supercharged it with the power of the N64, delivering a multiplayer experience that was unrivaled at the time.
The transition to 3D brought Mario Kart 64’s tracks to life, from the dizzying heights of Rainbow Road to the treacherous twists and turns of Bowser’s Castle. This leap forward allowed for more dynamic courses, enhanced by the N64’s analogue stick, which offered precise and intuitive steering.
The game introduced split-screen for four players, transforming the game into a community battlefield. The joy of throwing a perfectly timed red shell or the despair of being struck by lightning just before the finish line became shared experiences that some people still talk about today.
Mario Kart 64 offered a level of accessibility that made it as enjoyable for casual players as it was challenging for seasoned racers.
Mario Kart 64 paved the way for the series that continues to delight the Switch to this day. If, like me, you were lucky enough to play this legendary Nintendo 64 title, you’ll still be laughing your head off in battle mode.
MetaCritic score: 83
Super Mario 64 may have revolutionized platform games, but Banjo-Kazooie, released in 1998, took them to new heights. Rareware, the studio behind many of the best N64 games, won the hearts of Nintendo 64 gamers in the late 90s.
What set Banjo-Kazooie apart wasn’t just its lush, detailed environments or its intoxicating, real-time-changing soundtrack. Each character, no matter how small, had a unique voice that brought the game to life in a way that was rare at the time. The game’s witty, cheeky and endlessly entertaining humor made for a story that was as captivating to follow as it was fun to play.
Graphically, Banjo-Kazooie is a marvel, more beautiful and more alive than Super Mario 64. Rareware pushed the N64 to its limits and proved that a third-party publisher could do better than Nintendo. The gameplay in Banjo-Kazooie is flawless, as you control the two sidekicks, taking advantage of each player’s unique abilities to progress through the levels.
Banjo-Kazooie has set the bar very high when it comes to character-driven storytelling, coherent world-building and engaging gameplay.
Banjo-Kazooie is undoubtedly a 3D platform masterpiece that marked its era. Its richness, humor and ingenious gameplay make it a must-have for any video game fan. Banjo-Kazooie is the best platform game on the N64, no more, no less.
MetaCritic score: 92
Star Fox 64
Star Fox 64, what a kicker! Released in 1997, this game was not a simple sequel, but a veritable revolution that propelled Fox McCloud and his team into the third dimension.
Star Fox 64 puts you in command of the Arwing, a futuristic spaceship, fighting a horde of alien enemies. All in polygonal 3D, with fully dubbed characters. It may seem trivial today, but at the time it was a real innovation in video games.
What made Star Fox 64 unique was its branching system. Your choices and performance during missions influenced the course of your adventure, taking you to different levels and changing the endgame. It was an innovative concept that encouraged replayability and discovery.
Star Fox 64 also came with the Rumble Pak, a revolutionary accessory that would change our joysticks forever by adding force feedback to the N64. Every shot, every explosion, felt like never before.
Star Fox 64 left an indelible mark. Remember the cult phrases, such as Peppy’s “Do a barrel roll?!” The memories.
Even today, Star Fox 64 retains its charm and magic. It hasn’t aged a day and continues to fascinate. Star Fox 64 is a must-have game for the Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 88
Paper Mario, released in 2000, filled a gap sorely lacking on the Nintendo 64: an RPG. This title offered a charming 2D aesthetic, and made a resolute departure from the traditional Mario formula.
Following on from the more traditional Super Mario RPG on the SNES, Paper Mario managed to carve out a niche of its own. It offered a new approach to role-playing, with a turn-based combat system that was both accessible and deep, requiring strategy and timing beyond the simple press of a button. The addition of action controls during combat, allowing players to inflict extra damage or defend themselves more effectively by pressing buttons at the right moment, added a layer of engagement uncommon in RPGs of the time.
As well as its innovative gameplay, Paper Mario was also notable for its compelling story, admittedly not on the level of a Final Fantasy, but still worthy of note for a Mario. The background remains familiar, with Mario having to save Peach from Bowser, but the way the story unfolded – through a series of chapters each with its own unique mini narrator and characters – was new and exciting. The game was full of humor, emotion and a sense of adventure.
The paper theme was more than just a visual effect. It was cleverly integrated into the gameplay. For example, Mario could step aside to pass through the cracks. This underlined the importance of the paper concept, far beyond the graphics.
Paper Mario is much more than just an RPG. It’s a unique and unforgettable adventure that invites you to explore a charming and colorful world, experience thrilling battles and bond with endearing characters. Its captivating story, innovative gameplay and ingenious use of the paper theme make it a must-have for any RPG fan on the Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 93
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare Studios has struck again on the Nintendo 64. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, released for the Nintendo 64 in 2001, was one of the boldest titles in the console’s library. It was a game that dared to be different, breaking with Nintendo’s family image thanks to its wry humor, mature themes and a protagonist as far removed from a traditional hero as you can get. Conker, a squirrel with a penchant for drinking and getting into all sorts of misadventures, was a stark contrast to characters like Mario and Link.
The game was a technical marvel for its time, pushing the N64 to its limits with stunning graphics, detailed environments and impressive dubbing – a rarity in the days of text dialogue. But it wasn’t just this that made Conker’s Bad Fur Day stand out, it was also its gameplay. The game was a mix of genres, blending platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving and even racing into a cohesive experience that never felt disjointed.
But what really set Conker’s Bad Fur Day apart was its humor. It was irreverent, daring and often bordering on the absurd, with memorable moments and characters that have since gone down in gaming lore. Who could forget the Great Powerful Poo, singing his operatic ode to excrement, or the cat-hating Grim Reaper? These moments were shocking, hilarious and totally original.
Although Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the Nintendo 64’s best games, it was a commercial failure. This was due, in part, to its release at the end of the N64’s life and its targeting of a more mature audience than that of Nintendo’s console. As a result, it remains hard to find today.
If you’re looking for a game that will make you laugh, think and surprise you, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is it.
MetaCritic score: 92
Donkey Kong 64
Released in 1999, Donkey Kong 64 was ambitious. It was the first game in the series to feature an entirely 3D environment, following in the footsteps of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. But it didn’t just copy its predecessors. It boasted some unique features, such as the ability to play with five different Kongs, each with its own abilities and special moves.
One of the most memorable aspects of Donkey Kong 64 was the introduction of the Expansion Pak. This accessory enhanced the N64’s RAM, allowing for improved graphics.
The game was also renowned for its multiplayer modes, which offered hours of entertainment beyond the main campaign. From exploding barrels to frantic races, these modes were all the rage at parties with friends.
Donkey Kong 64 is a mixture of innovation, ambition and pure joy. It pushed back the boundaries of what was expected of a Donkey Kong game. Although the number of collectibles was a little too high and the levels were sometimes labyrinthine, it remains an essential in the N64 library.
MetaCritic score: 90
After an excellent GoldenEye 007, Rare is back with Perfect Darkreleased in 2000
Set in a futuristic world, the game puts us in the shoes of Joanna Dark, an agent gifted for stealth, strategy and action.
Perfect Dark stands out for its depth and complexity. The game expanded the FPS formula with a compelling single-player campaign, thanks to an engaging narrative. But it was in its multiplayer mode that it truly shone. Perfect Dark took the beloved foundations of GoldenEye 007 and enhanced them with new modes, customisable options and the revolutionary addition of AI-controlled robots, allowing for a robust multiplayer experience even in single-player.
Technically, Perfect Dark was a marvel for its time, pushing the N64 to its limits. It required the Expansion Pak for improved graphics and smoother gameplay.
Rare let loose with Perfect Dark. They didn’t just deliver a sequel to GoldenEye 007, but a bold FPS that influenced countless shooters to follow. The game’s focus on a strong female protagonist was also ahead of its time, paving the way for more diverse representation in video games.
Perfect Dark is one of the best FPS games I’ve ever played, and not just on Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 97
Diddy Kong Racing
Diddy Kong Racing, released in 1997 for Nintendo 64, transcended the model established by Mario Kart thanks to its striking innovations. The game stands out not only for its varied choice of vehicles – cars, hovercrafts and airplanes – but also for its strategic, non-random object system and the introduction of a narrative single-player mode.
It offers a captivating adventure across Timber’s Island, an open world that acts as a hub for access to themed circuits and boss battles, enriching the experience with a narrative that adds weight to every victory.
Diddy Kong Racing takes full advantage of the N64’s capabilities, offering colorful graphics and varied environments. The catchy and memorable soundtrack adds to the unique atmosphere of each race.
The cast of characters, including Diddy Kong, Banjo, and Conker, adds an extra layer of charm to the game. Their presence, combined with a dynamic multiplayer mode, has ensured that Diddy Kong Racing has become a firm fixture on the N64, promoting joyful competition with family and friends.
Although clearly inspired by Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing made its mark with these distinctive elements, demonstrating Rare’s ability to innovate and enrich the genre. Diddy Kong Racing is a timeless classic and one of the best racing games on the Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 88
F-Zero X, released in 1998, was a futuristic racing game that revolutionized the genre with its dizzying speed and demanding gameplay. Unlike other racing titles of the time, F-Zero X stands out for its sci-fi setting, where players pilot anti-gravity vehicles on tracks packed with loops, tight turns and spectacular jumps.
The game shines for its technical fluidity, racing at a constant 60 frames per second, even with 30 competitors on screen – a remarkable feat for the console.
One of the major innovations of F-Zero X is its ‘Death Race’ mode and the ‘boost’ system, which allows players to sacrifice part of their energy to accelerate, adding a strategic layer to the competition.
The F-Zero X soundtrack, with its energetic rock compositions, perfectly complements the futuristic atmosphere and frenetic speed of the game.
F-Zero X features a cast of unique characters and vehicles, each with their own unique characteristics.
Its critical reception was largely positive, praising its speed, playability and technicality, making F-Zero X a cult classic and one of the most influential racing games on the Nintendo 64.
MetaCritic score: 85
Wave Race 64
Wave Race 64, released in 1996, made a lasting impression with its exhilarating jet-ski races. The game stood out for its breathtaking graphics, particularly its realistic rendering of the water, which, combined with sunsets on heavenly beaches, was an invitation to travel.
The physics of the water, influenced by dynamic weather, added a whole new depth to the gameplay, making each race unique.
Although Wave Race 64’s lifespan may seem short, it remains a must-have for the Nintendo 64 and a benchmark in the field of water sports simulations. Its varied game modes, including time-trial challenges and championships, as well as its multiplayer, have contributed to its classic status.
Despite the years, Wave Race 64 remains indispensable in the Nintendo 64 catalog.
MetaCritic score: 92
As we come to the end of our list of the best Nintendo 64 games, it’s clear that this iconic console has left an indelible mark on the hearts of gamers and on the video games industry. Each of the titles we’ve revisited is a testament to the boldness, creativity and innovation that defined the N64 in its day.
The best Nintendo 64 games on this list have shaped generations of games and gamers, setting standards of quality and immersion that still inspire video game creators. From the fantasy epic of Ocarina of Time to the multiplayer innovation of GoldenEye 007, these games remain benchmarks in their respective genres.
Looking back at the best games from the Nintendo 64, it’s impressive to see how much this Nintendo console has influenced subsequent generations of games.
We thank the Nintendo 64 for shaping the very soul of video games.