The top 10 N64 games
As will be the case for many ’90’s kids’, the N64 is possibly my all-time favourite console.
Here’s my list of what I deem to be the best N64 games, all of which still hold-up well today:
10. Body Harvest
Back in the day when monthly games magazines were all you had to go by for gaming info, I remember going into Body Harvest without a clue what to expect after renting it from Blockbuster. As I played, it gradually dawned on me that the game wasn’t telling me where to go, or confining me in any way. In fact it was rewarding me for exploring, with new guns and vehicles. Even though the controls and graphics were raw, they couldn’t detract from the job of the freedom the game was granting me. With Body Harvest, DMA laid the ground for what would become the Grand Theft Auto series, but it does stand tall as a great game in its own right.
You can pick up original copies of Body Harvest for right here on Amazon.
Wetrix is a Tetris-inspired puzzler that has the player build walls to contain water. As a session develops, the player is forced to strategically drop missiles and deploy wall-destroying earthquakes with the aim of retaining as much water as possible. It’s a delightfully simple premise that makes for a very addictive game, and one I still play today.
Wetrix is available here on Amazon.
8. Lylat Wars (Starfox 64)
Probably the most cinematic game on the N64, Lylat Wars is a blast. Despite each run-through of the game taking a couple of hours, what the game does really well is encourage multiple playthroughs, with secret levels and bosses unlocked for completing levels in a certain way. And getting a medal on every mission is no easy feat. My favourite element of the game though is the controls themselves, the vehicles’ (and the Arwing in particular) manoeuvrability feels just right, striking the balance between weightiness and agility – and the lock-on-combo-point system adds just the right amount of depth to the gunplay.
7. Mario Tennis
The N64 was something of a golden-era for the Mario spinoff games, with Golf, Kart and Party franchises all enjoying solid entries. Mario’s excursion onto the tennis court however was the pick of the bunch, serving up one of the best games in the genre. The controls hit the sweet-spot between accessibility and depth, and the characters were well-balanced enough to make most of them viable options. The processes of curling a wide serve with Boo or nailing a drop shot after a lob remain etched in my muscle memory.
Mario Tennis is available here on Amazon.
One of the several genre-changing games on the system, setting the gold standard for console first person shooters. Unlike a lot of shooters today, Goldeneye excelled in both the single player and multiplayer components. Why more games don’t opt for the excellent Agent/Double Agent/ 000 Agent system of increasing difficulty whilst adding objectives I don’t understand – it adds a real layer of depth and replayability to each level, whilst allowing for gamers of all skill levels to enjoy the game in a way that isn’t patronising to better players. The now-legendary multiplayer probably doesn’t need mentioning – it was the best time you could have with three other friends around a TV for three years until Perfect Dark arrived.
Goldeneye is available here on Amazon.
5. Banjo Kazooie
This si the first game I remember experiencing ‘hype’ for, after seeing Banjo on this cover of the Official Nintendo Magazine. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint, offering an expertly crafted platformer oozing charm, humour and production value. Gradually unlocking all of Kazooie’s moves was a satisfying endeavour, and despite setting the template for the infamous ‘collectathon’ genre that Rare became notorious for, it never felt bloated or got boring. Despite not requiring the Expansion Pak, for me BK is the best looking game on the console, boasting draw distances that remain impressive today.
BK can be bought on Amazon here.
4. Super Smash Bros.
The predecessor to the now-idolised Smash Bros Melee, the N64 version was very much a joy in its own right. The novelty of Nintendo’s mascots coming together in a fight for the first time was enough to sell the game to most people – myself included – so the fact that Nintendo bothered to add a revolutionary fighting system really is a testament to their care for their IP. One the players grasps the simple yet impossible-to-master mechanics, the game possesses a raw addictive beauty, putting the player in a zen-like state of concentrated flow that few games manage to achieve. I recall countless 1v1 Kirby-on-Kirby matchups on Hyrule Castle with my cousin – I just wish the game had the same stat-tracking as Melee.
Original copies are pretty rare, but can be grabbed here on Amazon.
3. Super Mario 64
Even if you take away the incredible influence this game had on the videogame landscape when it released, SM64 remains the benchmark against which all other 3D platformers are judged. Running around with Mario in the courtyard still feels fun, racing a penguin down an ice slide still feels fun, and swinging Bowser around and around into a huge mine still feels fun.
I’m not sure I’ll ever have the same feeling I had when first playing this game – perhaps the imminent dawn of VR or augmented reality in our living rooms will provide that spark again – but even if I don’t I can just keep collecting 120 stars and know it will still be fun.
Original copies are avaialble here on Amazon, and it can be played via the Virtual Console.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Heralded by many as the best of the series, and the best game of all time by many people, OoT was a staggering epic of extremely high quality when it was released. I remember playing it and thinking that games could not get any better.
Although the freedom you felt you had as a player was one-of-a-kind at the time (spot of fishing? Horseback racing? Maybe I’ll go check out that castle in the distance…) what I really love about this game, and what still holds up to this day, is that sense of grandeur – no game before or since has elicited that fantasy-medieval-epic atmosphere quite like OoT. The unbelievably good score for the game is probably the main player in this regard – every Ocarina song has been written with such care and skill by Koji Kondo. Every tune from the Lost Woods to Death Mountain is just perfect.
The excellent 3DS remaster of Ocarina of Time is available here on Amazon.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
In terms of atmosphere, originality, design, challenge, narrative and depth – Majora’s Mask takes the cake as the best game on the N64. There hasn’t been a game in any series before or since that trumps MM in these crucial areas. The Groundhog Day structure is a genius piece of design that really just needs to be experienced to be really appreciated. Discovering the masks and by proxy the plight of the inhabitants of Termina invokes what I believe to be a truly unique feeling for the player. I can only hope Nintendo revisit this formula in a subsequent title.
The brilliant 3DS remake is available here on Amazon.