The Nintendo 64 was one hell of a console. Its 64-bit processor made it the most technically advanced of the fifth generation consoles. Many of its titles were based on popular Nintendo brands like Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong, which were unavailable on other systems. Released back in ’96 while their strongest competitors made the leap to CD storage, Nintendo stuck to their guns with a cartridge system. Although CDs offered far more storage space, making N64 games relatively spare in terms of high-quality music, speech and pre-rendered sequences, cartridges had the advantage of faster loading times. Plus, where CDs are prone to damage and deterioration, cartridges are virtually indestructible. The combination of these features made the Nintendo 64 the AK-47 of the console world: durable, spartan in design, and loaded with “cartridges” popular the world over.
While the type of emulation available from sites such as Emuparadise is a legal grey area, you can either acquire the N64 console and games from auction sites or, if you own a Nintendo Wii, download many of the games through the Virtual Console service. Join us as we take a look back on some N64 titles that still have a ton of gameplay left in them:
1. Legend of Zelda – The Ocarina of Time
First things first, an “ocarina” is a flute-like instrument and, as you might expect, one rather central to the plot of Link’s fifth outing. This time around, Link is facing a fully 3D world packed with low polygon-count adversaries, with only you as an ally.
Our hero starts out as a youngster but, and here’s the Time aspect, becomes an adult during the course of the game. The clever bit is, you can jump between these two phases to solve puzzles in the game world. So, not only was this the first three dimensional Zelda game, it was also one of the first games to incorporate that mysterious fourth dimension: time!
The involving storyline and enjoyable fighting action alone are enough to make this game good. Add to that compulsive RPG elements, in the form of memorable character interaction, acquisition of new weapons and skills, and exploration of the vast world of Hyrule, and you have an absolute classic.
Incidentally, if own the original game and are thus legally entitled to play Ocarina on an emulator like 1964, you might want to check out this blog post. Fookhar offers links and installation instructions for upgrading the game’s graphics tremendously.
2. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Third-party developer Rare released some brilliant and inventive games for the N64, with Conker’s Bad Fur Day being arguably their best. The adult humor and situations found in the game make for an entertainingly twisted contrast to the bright and cheery cartoon characters and world.
Starting the game with a colossal hangover, Conker the Squirrel must find his way home from the pub to his sexy bunny girlfriend. Along the way, he encounters a host of oddball characters, from lecherous Kings, foul-mouthed weasel scientists, bosomy sunflowers and even giant poos, as featured in the eminently tasteful Great Mighty Poo Song.
The splendid graphics Rare managed to wrench out the N64’s limited texture palette, as well as the charmingly puerile characters, conspire to turn this 3D platformer into an attractive, hilarious game that’s (disdaining the obvious “rare”) one of a kind.
3. Pilot Wings 64
One of a couple of games that came bundled with the N64, Pilot Wings was something of a tech demo, designed to show off the system’s 3D capabilities. Short on storyline, the game throws you straight into the cockpit, Gyrocopter seat or jetpack harness… Yes, Pilot Wings features a variety of unusual craft in which to take to the friendly skies.
And friendly skies are what this game’s all about. There are no swarms of enemies to destroy, no colossal end-of-level bosses to combat. Instead, the gameplay revolves around simple tasks like flying through hoops or completing time-trials. You can also opt to simply explore the levels in free-flight mode. This approach, what might be called a simulator of your flying dreams, creates a surprisingly relaxing, “Zen sand garden” of a game, and an all-round unique experience.
4. Super Mario 64
The irrepressible Italian plumber returns in his first 3D outing. The addition of a third axis does nothing to diminish from the simple, addictive gameplay of previous Mario games – in fact, it enhances it considerably!
This was the second game to come included with the N64, and it set a high standard for all subsequent N64 offerings – even for 3D action games in general. Besides the colorful graphics and sheer fun of seeing all your favorite Mario characters rendered in 3D, the fantastic level design is what really made this title shine. All 15 of the stages, accessed from the central point of Princess Peach’s Castle, have their own theme and are a joy to play.
The movable camera allowed you to explore the levels in a hassle-free, intuitive way, and the tight, analogue controls did a great job of bringing the precision run-and-jump gameplay of previous 2D Mario titles to a vastly more interesting environment.
5. Mario Kart
This great title brings all your favorite Super Mario characters together for some crazy go-kart racing. After choosing Mario, Toad, Bowser or another of the gang, you can choose to race in one of three divisions and across a variety of tracks. The tracks have a kind of fantasy putt-putt course feel, all being fairly inventive and recognizably Mario-themed. The bouncy music works well with the colorful graphics to create an atmosphere of pure fun.
During the course of the race you collect power-ups, which mostly do evils things to your competitors’ vehicles, like knocking them spinning off course. There are also go-faster strips around the tracks which, if driven over, boost your kart’s speed tremendously.
As enjoyable as the action is, this game really comes into its own when played in multiplayer mode. Up to four people can race, and this kind of competitive action is sure to keep even the most jaded group of gamers entertained for hours.
6. Super Smash Bros.
Another Nintendo gem. Just like the various Zelda and Mario games, this series never seems to get old. In fact, it keeps going from strength to strength. This game for the N64 is where it all started, and the concept was an immediate winner: Nintendo’s most popular and copyrighted characters, plus some from other franchises like Pokémon, get into a brawl. Excellent.
The fights take place in large, multi-story environments, where leaping around the terrain while avoiding pitfalls is as important as the actual combat. In fact, the combat is quite unusual in that victory is not achieved by smacking all the green out an opponent’s health bar. Instead, it’s about inflicting the highest percentage of damage and bumping them off the screen.
This game is classic Nintendo, honest and immediate fun – and friendly, especially for a fighting game! Various bonus modes and unlockable characters are available to extend the game’s replay value and, like Mario Kart, it can support up to four players. Smash Bros. really shines at its brightest during multiplayer, as anyone who’s experienced its frenetic action will tell you.
7. Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask is based on an upgraded version of the Ocarina of Time engine, one that handles textures better. The graphical improvement is immediately apparent, while the gameplay remains virtually identical. The plot, however, is radically different.
The story picks up where Ocarina leaves off, with a character from the previous game falling under the sway of the Mask to become a dastardly villain. Link must stop the villain’s evil plan to destroy Hyrule within three days. An inventive twist on the previous game’s time element sees Link effectively reliving these same three days over and over, until his quest to save the world is accomplished.
This twist on the classic action-adventure theme takes some getting used to. It’s basically Groundhog Day times three as Link learns and then takes advantage of the repeating trajectories of various characters and elements within the game world. It’s a clever enough system, though this non-linear approach may disorient those used to more traditional adventures. For those with a taste for the unusual, the game is rewarding. It offers greater challenge and complexity than Ocarina of Time, while retaining all of its best gameplay features.
8. Star Fox 64
This game was a real hit for the N64, taking full advantage of the system’s rapid 3D processing. You play Fox McCloud, ace space-fighter pilot called on to fight off the Andross invasion with the help of several wingmen. They’re all talking animals too – and how. There are times you wish your wingmen would be a little less communicative, especially that damned frog…
Star Fox 64 is basically an into-the-screen-3D-shooter-on-rails, perhaps the most heavily-hyphenated of gaming genres. Every now and again though, this mechanic is switched for a more free-ranging style of play. The action is fast and furious as Fox swoops about in his nimble fighter, dodging through tight spaces and executing barrel rolls as he blasts away at the enemy. Think the Death Star trench scene from Star Wars, only with cartoon animal pilots.
There’s a lot of re-playability packed into this title, as progress through the game follows a branching path based on how many wingmen (if any) make it through the missions. Overall, the game has an enthralling cinematic feel to it, and makes for a highly satisfying, skill-rewarding experience.
9. Paper Mario
The first things you notice about Paper Mario are the excellent graphics and sound. The game requires an upgraded N64 with an Expansion Pak, but the improvements are striking. Mario exists in a crisp, detailed 3D world but, interestingly, the characters within this are all 2D. Think animated cardboard cut-outs. It’s an unusual “angle,” but very effective for what the game is – and this is the second surprise… Paper Mario is the first Mario role-playing game!
While Mario can still jump and perform actions to progress in the game world, much of the game revolves around character interaction, inventory manipulation and Final Fantasy-style battles. Mario can recruit one ally at a time to aid him with fights and puzzle-solving. In true RPG style, success brings experience points which can be spent on increasing Mario’s abilities.
The story is well-crafted and involving: Mario must retrieve seven Star Spirits to thwart the designs of the villainous Bowser, who’s stolen the magical Star Rod and…well, suffice to say it’s something which will keep you occupied for a while. All in all, Paper Mario is a fresh new take on a familiar world, and a game that offers a lot of depth, originality and eye-candy.
10. Bust-A-Move series
There were several Bust-A-Move games released to the N64, the best of which is probably the Arcade version. In this interesting puzzle game which spawned a million imitations, you control one of the dragons from the old Bubble Bobble games.
Your dragon (either Bub or Bob) controls the angle of little bubbles fired up at a multi-colored mass of slowly descending bubbles. Sort of like Tetris played upwards, the objective is not to match shapes but rather colors. Combining three or more bubbles of the same color will cause them to pop as well as remove any bubbles directly below. If you’re playing in the exciting head-to-head mode, these removed bubbles will then be added to your opponent’s side.
It’s a simple concept that makes instant sense when you start playing. The characters, music, and sound effects offer surprisingly endearing accompaniment to the bubble-solving. Bust-A-Move, like the best puzzle games, is instantly addictive and, whichever version you get, you’re guaranteed a lot of fun.
11. Blast Corps
The designers of this game clearly knew the quickest route to the heart of a gamer is through the destructive urge. In Blast Corps, your aim is to level buildings – sometimes entire towns – before the time limit expires. You get to control a variety of vehicles, from regular trains and cars, to “con”struction vehicles like bulldozers and cranes, to giant robots and side-swiping demolition trucks… and even a one-man-demolition called the J-Bomb, a flying exoskeleton which swoops down from the clouds to flatten whole skyscrapers.
It’s not all mindless destruction though (too bad). There’s actually a fair degree of thought required to demolish an environment in the correct sequence, not to mention free trapped civilians and hit a multitude of checkpoints along the way. The background story is that a nuclear bomb is scheduled to go off, and what you’re trying to achieve in your various vehicular guises (beyond wanton destruction) is the clearing of a path for the unwieldy rescue vehicle.
This is a very novel game that offers a great deal of enjoyment. The large variety of stages and vehicles keeps the theme fresh, not to mention challenging, as you continually have to adapt your strategy. The chaotic Blast Corps is a great addition to anyone’s collection.
12. Wipeout 64
Speed. That’s what Wipeout 64 has going for it: the sensation of insane speed. The game is set in the year 2098, when cars have been replaced by anti-gravity craft. You must pilot one of these craft through a series of futuristic racing tracks.
The game plays like Mario Kart on fast-forward, with all the scenery given the Bladerunner treatment and the bouncy Mario music replaced with pulsing electronica. The same basic principles apply though: hit pads to boost your speed, collect weapons to blast your opponents, and try (just try) to avoid crashing as the game assaults your reactions.
While fairly similar to Nintendo’s F-Zero futuristic-racing game, we think this one has a slight edge in terms of track design and atmosphere. Of course F-Zero has really cool rock music, and much wider tracks with tons of vehicles on them. Still, Wipeout gets our vote for its sheer quickness – only speed freaks need apply.
Another quality release by Rare, Goldeneye was a massive hit for the N64. Following the plot of the 007 flick fairly closely, the game oozes as much style as Bond himself. Released around the time of Doom and Quake, this first person shooter for the N64 measured up to its PC rivals. It had a relatively non-linear mission structure, in which various tasks had to be completed within levels, often with the help of one of Bond’s trademark gadgets.
Goldeneye contained a number of notable firsts for the FPS genre, not least of which was the split-screen mult-iplayer mode. A number of variations on the deathmatch were available for multi-play, such as the Man With The Golden Gun scenario which saw players dueling over the ownership of an eponymous one-hit-kill weapon. Other genre-defining firsts included a scoped sniper rifle fire-mode, the ability to cleanly eliminate enemies with a headshot, and varied death animations depending on hit location.
Graphically the game was excellent for its time, and really pushed the boundaries of the N64 hardware. Granted, it does look fairly basic by comparison to modern shooters. However, it has great level design and playability, putting it one up on many modern games that are all graphical razzle-dazzle and no substance. Goldeneye is the complete package, and a very worthy take on everyone’s favorite secret agent.
14. Sin and Punishment
Sin and Punishment was an obscure dash of brilliance from Japanese developer, Treasure. Largely unknown the first time around due to its limited release in Asia, it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves through the Virtual Console system.
The plot is the type of thing anime fans should be familiar with, though honestly it’s hard to follow because, well, it’s very anime-oriented – not to the point of incomprehensibility, but close to it. Not to worry however. Though all the menus and text are in Kanji script, the speech is in English, for some strange reason. All you really need to know is that Sin is a pulse-pounding rail shooter with some very impressive visuals.
You control the movement and aim of a super-soldier who runs around the screen blazing away at hordes of enemies. You can jump and roll to avoid their attacks while targeting them with your fire, either automatically or manually. Your character is also equipped with a sword to slash at nearby foes – or even bounce back their fire with a well-timed strike, Jedi-style.
The game is engaging from start to finish, with intense action and ever-changing environments and enemies to really keep you hooked. The ever-changing angle of attack, particularly on the flying stages, is enough to tax your visuo-spacial IQ to the melting point. Few games today can match the visceral excitement offered by this title.
15. Banjo Kazooie
Banjo and Kazooie are the bear and bird you control in this rip-snorting platform adventure. We don’t usually use the word “rip-snorting,” but in this case it’s justified. The storyline is the usual wacky excuse for bouncy mayhem: the witch Gruntilda (our new favorite name for massively unappealing females) has kidnapped Banjo’s sister Tooty, and intends to steal her looks with magic. It’s up to Banjo Kazooie to defeat Gruntilda and save Tooty.
And yes, it’s Banjo Kazooie, not Banjo and Kazooie. You see, you don’t just take turns controlling the characters, but rather Kazooie sits in Banjo’s backpack, and you control them as unit. It’s a neat idea, in a game full of such neat little touches, all of which together make it a significant technical improvement on the 3D platformer theme. The music is also worth a mention, as it changes constantly to reflect the state of play.
16. Mario Party
Another innovative Mario game! As the name implies, this one is geared towards casual multi-player fun. Mario Party is styled on a board game, in which you and up to three buddies (or computer “buddies,” if you’re not up to having your living room and fridge invaded) take turns cranking a random number generator and advancing the relevant number of squares.
That might not sound too exciting so far, but the real fun comes in the form of the seemingly endless variety of mini-games. The end of every round triggers one of these games, which set the players against each other in one of 50 forms of competition. Winning these mini-games awards you coins, which are needed to progress to new areas of the board or trigger certain effects. The overall goal is to navigate the board collecting the stars, which appear individually and at random. The winner is the player with the most stars when all the turns are over.
The complexities take some time to master, but once everybody’s on board the competitive fun this game offers is hard to beat. Unlike many N64 titles that are fun single-player and even better multi-player, this game is fantastic fun multi-player but pretty dull single-player. Watching computer characters complete their turns just isn’t very compelling, so make sure you have friends on hand for this one.
17. Wave Race 64
This game finds you racing jet-skis across a total of nine marine environments, all of which change depending on weather conditions. You race in championships, either against the clock or a friend, the latter mode being a real blast as always.
All the challenges require you to navigate increasingly winding and obstacle-laden courses while slaloming around buoys. Making the buoys increases your speed but miss one and you’ll slow down again. There’s also a stunt mode, which you win by launching off ramps through hoops, and otherwise endangering life and limb.
The wave effects in this game were notable for their time, though the graphics are fairly simple otherwise. In fact, the whole game is simple, but in a good way. The controls are very tight, allowing you very intuitive control of the jet-ski even as it leaps and plows through choppy waves. The motion of the waves and the turning of the jet-ski are what really set this apart from other racing games. Fun, fast and frantic.
18. Worms Armageddon
Another great party game, Worms Armageddon is about…well, worms blowing each other up. Teams of the slimy things face off on large, destructible 2D landscapes and have at each other with an arsenal ranging from battle-axes to airstrikes. The game is turn-based, switching between players’ worms until a single team emerges from all the explosive carnage to claim victory.
All your worms share a pool of weaponry, in which weaker attacks are plentiful or unlimited but truly devastating weaponry is rare and must be used wisely. Once a worm has hopped and slithered its way into position and decided on an appropriate weapon, it only remains to aim…and with wind being a factor, this is where hilarious misfortunes are bound to occur. Miscalculated attacks miss at best, and inflict friendly fire casualties at worst.
In multi-player mode, the game dynamics alternate between viciousness and hilarity, and the designers have done everything in their power to maximize these moods. Endless quirky animations and squeaky, accented voices ensure amusement, while over-the-top explosions and weapons bring out everyone’s darkest vermicidal urges.
19. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Series
Of the three Tony Hawk games available for the N64, all are great but the second is probably the best. They’re all very similar in concept: pick a pro skateboarder or create your own, then rack up as many points as possible performing wild stunts and tricks, completing challenges along the way to unlock new items and improve your player.
What makes the series so playable is the pixel-perfect control you have over your skater. The N64 sported a particularly good controller which allows you to chain together a huge number of grinds, flips, and aerials with ease. The graphics are fairly impressive, and the soundtrack of well known punk, rock, and industrial bands of the day fit the action and theme well.
The game is a lot of fun, requiring absolute concentration and perfect timing to rack up high scores. The temptation to try over and over again to chart the perfect sequence of moves across rails, ramps and pipes is strongly addictive. Just like in real skateboarding.
20. Rayman 2 – The Great Escape
French developer Ubisoft achieved a great platformer with Rayman 2. The game is off-beat and whimsical, while the graphics are fantastic, taking full advantage of the N64’s Expansion Pak. It is loaded with well-designed character models and richly detailed worlds that have great draw-distance. A word on those models – the cartoonish creatures which populate Rayman’s universe are all very creative and speak in gibberish, with Rayman himself being a funky, limbless guy with outsize hands and feet.
In fact, creativity is what this game’s all about. Sure, it’s another 3D platformer on a system which has many, but the diversity of the levels and an abundance of mini-games keep the experience fresh. Controls and camera angles are solid and simple, and make controlling Rayman a breeze. The sound is good too, from the aforementioned polyglot gibberish the characters spout to the musical scores, which take their cue from Banjo Kazooie by changing with the action. Sound effects are numerous and well-implemented as well. All in all, Rayman 2 is a solid platformer which offers a host of great surprises.
21. WWF No Mercy
Ah yes, the good old days when the WWE was the WWF. And though there were a slew of WWF titles on the N64, No Mercy is the undisputed champion of fake-fighting games about fake fighting. No Mercy has outstanding graphics, about 64 famous wrestlers (plus unlockables) and the proverbial assload of trademark wrestling moves. Adding even more depth is the well fleshed-out story mode and the ever popular Create-a-Wrestler feature. Being able to put together hideous freaks and fashion victims is endlessly amusing and almost worth the price of admission alone.
The action in the ring is fast and furious, with crowd approval being the deciding factor in whether you successfully pin your opponent. This means you have to bring your full repertoire of moves, perform high-risk maneuvers and engage in egotistical show-boating if you want to fire up the crowd. Just like real fake fighting. Oh, and the fights aren’t limited to the classic arena – cage-matches, boiler-room brawls, parking lots and more are all represented. Unique weapons – and plenty of them – are a feature of every stage and… Well, let’s just say there’s an endless array of little details to keep you coming back to this game. Best of all, playing it on a modern system eliminates the slowdown the N64 suffered in large fights, making No Mercy an all-round slick product.
22. Space Station Silicon Valley
Space Station Silicon Valley was a real sleeper hit for the N64. Created by the team that eventually went on to make the Grand Theft Auto games, some of the style and gameplay elements already foreshadow GTA.
Take the humor – reminiscent of Conker’s Bad Fur Day in its irreverence, it likewise conceals its subversive nature behind cheery, cheesy graphics. As an example, the game starts off with the hero characters, Dangerous Dan and his robot Evo, crashing into the space station they’ve been sent to save. Their spaceship crushes a dog and sheep sharing a tender, romantic moment. The robot is damaged in the crash, and its central CPU emerges from the wreckage, only to enter the dog’s body. And so, basically what you have is GTA in space, only instead of jacking cars, you’re jacking dead animals.
All pretty peculiar really, but it works well. The animals all have different abilities necessary to solve problems in the world. It’s great fun doing so too, mostly because the animals become increasingly bizarre – and rude! From the dog, you soon take over the sheep, then onto wheeled-mice, explosive-pooping-rats, pink hyenas, and so on. All this makes for an unusual and often hilarious 3D platformer/adventure hybrid.
23. Donkey Kong 64
Another 3D platformer from Rare, with all the great things we’ve come to expect from that developer – excellent graphics, music, sound, and controls, all accompanied by a witty and charming style.
Donkey Kong 64 is a great 3D reinvention of everyone’s favorite monkey, offering plenty of thrills and spills and a lot of interesting moves. It’s a shame to put it at the end of the list, but with the N64 you’re spoiled with choices for quality platformers. Donkey Kong 64 doesn’t quite stand out as much as it would on any other system, but that reflects more on N64 being a great system than on Donkey Kong 64 not being a great game.
24. Starcraft 64
One of the greatest games ever released on PC, Starcraft makes the transition to the N64 with surprising grace. The sci-fi strategy masterpiece isn’t quite as easy to control without a mouse, but new content goes a long way towards making up for this. At least 50 new levels are added to the existing Starcraft (and Brood Wars) levels, making for a lengthy game. And the two-player split screen mode, it must be said, is pretty damn awesome. It adds a whole new layer of strategy not possible on the PC version. For these reasons, Starcraft 64 breathes new life into a genre-defining classic, and fans of Starcraft on the PC are highly advised to check it out.
An absolutely brilliant puzzle game, Wetrix has you terraforming a flat landscape so that it can contain as much water as possible. This is done, in true rock star style, by dropping various “uppers” and “downers” before the flood of liquid arrives. Far from choking to death on your own vomit however, the objective here is to build a series of lakes, reservoirs and dams to trap all that wetness.
Wetrix is a cool 3D reinvention of Tetris, and even uses similarly shaped blocks as its “uppers” and “downers.” One thing it has over Tetris is a firebomb, which will evaporate the water wherever you drop it, and even soak up any excess water which manages to dribble off the landscape into your “drain.”
Wetrix is a deceptively simple game that’ll have you tearing you hair out in no time. It’s original and challenging, and worthy of a place in any puzzle fan’s collection.
26. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
Now we’re the first to admit that the Episode 1 of the Star Wars series left something to be desired. The Gungans were more annoying than a baby on a plane, the CGI battle sequences looked like, well, like something you’d play on an N64, and the acting – not so great. It wasn’t all bleak though, and one of the highlights was the Pod-racing. Lucas got those scenes right, and this game gets them just as right.
You choose from about twenty Star Wars characters, then tune up your Pod before hitting the track. Racing is a simplified affair, with no powerups or weapons to worry about – just your course through narrow canyons and around corners, dodging obstacles and other racers all the way. The game gets tough as you go along, and you really need the first prize rewards for Pod upgrades in order to stay competitive. If you’re a fan of Star Wars or racing you will enjoy this game – and if you’re a fan of both you’ll love it.
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