Let me take you back to a time when awkward polygonal graphics were the way of the future and Nintendo was king of the gaming industry. I was a little Nintendo fanboy in the mid-90’s, and when the Nintendo 64 hit the scene in late 1996 I was super pumped. I have a lot of nostalgic memories of the N64. Allow me to reminisce about the good ol’ days of gaming with this list of my personal favorites from the N64 library. Let’s get started!
10. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Shadows of the Empire was a revolution in what Star Wars gaming could be. Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the game included 3rd person shooting, first person shooting, platforming, and stages that featured flying, space combat, and driving.
It had some epic boss battles with characters like Boba Fett, IG-88, and wompas that scared the hell out of me.
Shadows of the Empire was not the only Star Wars game on the N64. The flight combat game Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was excellent, and Star Wars: Pod Racer remains the only good thing to come from Episode 1. However, Shadows holds a big place in my heart because it is what got me into Star Wars.
9. Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark was very first M-Rated game I ever owned. Fans consider it a spiritual sequel to GoldenEye 007, because it used the same engine and had many improvements in visuals, animations, and multiplayer. I honestly had more fun with this title with its creative weapons, characters, settings, and even the crazy ass story. I really liked that the guns in this game all had primary and secondary functions, some of which turned them into an entirely different weapon. The split screen multiplayer with full customized games made for hours of chaotic fun with friends.
I liked that the story was a cross between James Bond and The X-Files, the female lead, Joanna Dark, and that silly alien named Elvis. While it hasn’t aged very well, it’s still lots of fun but also shows how far the FPS genre has come on consoles.
8. Pokémon Stadium/Pokémon Snap
When Pokémon Stadium was released, fans had been dreaming of a 3D version of the Game Boy classic. It would be 15 years before they before that dream came true, but Stadium was a good start. The strength of Stadium was being able to battle your Pokémon in 3D, which at the time was enough to keep me entertained for weeks. Using Nintendo’s Transfer Pak allowed players to load Pokémon from a Gameboy cartridge into the N64 game, too.
However, the Pokémon game that really stood out to me was Pokémon Snap. Snap’s unique objective was to take pictures of Pokémon. This made for a very relaxing experience, and it gave the game a lot of replay value. Sadly, it didn’t contain all 150 Pokemon, but the pictures you took of the Pokemon that were there could be printed out at special kiosks at Blockbuster stores. Pokemon Snap is a game that still begs for a sequel. The WiiU gamepad is perfect for a game like this. Make it happen, Nintendo!
7. Harvest Moon 64
Long before Farmville butchered the idea of farming simulators, Harvest Moon existed. The goal is to restore the farm by planting crops, raising livestock, and creating a nice home while socializing, exploring, and even falling in love. The core gameplay got a bit repetitive and required a good bit of time. Kind of like real farming!
While definitely not for everyone, Harvest Moon’s visuals and design have a lot of charm. It also teaches life lessons like work before fun, giving girls flowers makes them like you (not exactly), and the prettiest girl in town isn’t always the best (oh Karen…). While there have been many more games in the franchise since, Harvest Moon 64 will always be my favorite.
6. Jet Force Gemini
Jet Force Gemini was 3rd person shooter that felt like a mix between anime and Starship Troopers. You play as Juno, his twin sister Vela, and their rocket powered dog, Lupus, to stop the evil Mizar and his army of cybernetic bugs from conquering the galaxy. The game has beautiful visuals, one of the first N64 games to have dynamic lighting and sound. It also boasted excellent music, great stages, and boss fights. Jet Force Gemini has one of the most awesome and satisfying arsenal of weapons I’ve seen in any game.
Nothing is more satisfying than firing a tri-barrel rocket launcher into a group of bugs and having them explode into a goopy mess.
It also had a fun multiplayer experience similar to GoldenEye and Donkey Kong 64 as well as a co-op mode in the main campaign. It was mildly annoying trying to find all the Tribals in order to unlock the final level and finish the game, but other than that, Jet Force Gemini was an underrated N64 classic.
5. Starfox 64
Starfox 64 was a milestone in the N64 library. The game stars Fox McCloud as he tries to save the Lylat System from the evil forces of Andross. The game boasted fast-paced flight combat, had beautiful graphics, explosive levels, and fully spoken dialogue (the first time I had ever heard a game with spoken dialogue on a console). The revolutionary Rumble Pak technology was integrated into all console controllers from that point on. I loved this game.
I played it for an entire summer and got so good that I learned the most efficient way to get the maximum amount of enemy kills in each level.
Even though an improved version of Starfox 64 was made for the 3DS, there would never be a Starfox game that would measure up to this masterpiece.
Maybe we’ll take flight in the Arwing once again in the future.
4. Super Mario 64
I spent hours at Toys R Us kiosk playing Mario 64. This game ignited our imagination with a 3D world for Mario to explore. Mario 64 was a perfect example of what the system could do. Recent Mario games have since returned to their classic 2D platforming roots, which is too bad considering how great his game turned out.
Super Mario 3D Land for the WiiU was a better attempt to mix classic Mario gameplay with the 3D exploration but still not quite on the level as Mario 64.
A lot of other games tried to copy Mario 64‘s formula, and failed. A remake of the game was released for the DS a few years ago. Players could play as Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi with improved graphics, new levels, and stars to collect. It kind of makes the N64 version obsolete, but you just can’t beat the original.
I could probably have filled half this list with Rare games, because they cranked out hit after hit during the N64 era. One of Rare’s best games was Banjo-Kazooie, a game that took the Mario 64 mold and made it even better! A bear named Banjo and his best bird pal Kazooie set out on an epic quest to save Banjo’s little sister from the evil witch Gruntilda. It was a huge game with creative platforming and had LOTS of stuff to collect.
Banjo-Kazooie was a blast to play and really captured imaginations just like Mario 64. It got a sequel, Banjo-Tootie, which I unfortunately never got a chance to play. I’m told it’s even better than the first. Maybe one day I’ll get a chance to give it a whack. I’ll also just pretend that Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was not a thing.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask
Ocarina of Time is often considered one of the best games in the Legend of Zelda franchise, perhaps only surpassed by Wind Waker, which would come much later. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest Zelda fan. Ocarina of Time is the only Zelda game I’ve played all the way through. Zelda games just aren’t my thing, but this one drew me in. I include Majora’s Mask along with Ocarina because it is the most unique Zelda game I’ve played. Some might not like the concept of repeating the same three days over and over, but I really liked the deeper story and themes. It’s a much darker Zelda, with the end of the world looming. Majora‘s moon has become an icon of death in gaming.
Ocarina was the last game I got for my N64. I played it for an entire Christmas break during my freshman year of high school with my step-brother and it was a lot of fun, so I guess it’s a nostalgia thing.
1. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 is the only reason anyone still owns an N64. Bust out Mario Kart at a party and everyone is gonna be like ‘HELL TO THE YES!’ Seriously, this game is so much fun. It had creative race tracks, easy to learn controls, awesome/enraging items, and awesomely beautiful soundtrack. The graphics were very charming and colorful. The multiplayer was loads of fun, especially the battle mode. The Block Fort level was the best because my friends and I would fortify the block buildings and try to get into each other’s forts without dying. Mario Kart 64 is the one of the best N64 titles and one of the best racing games ever made.
And so there are my personal favorite N64 games. Now I’d like to say that at the end of May, I will be taking indefinite hiatus from game reviewing and will be hanging up the Gaming Nomad moniker. I’m doing this for several reasons, but I really do have a passion for gaming, and looking at what makes a good game and a bad game.
I like helping other gamers decide if a game is worth their time and money. I will miss doing reviews and articles about gaming but it’s just not in cards for me in the near future. Until then, I have a couple more top 10 lists coming, a review of the upcoming Godzilla movie, and coverage of Animazement. Until then, stay well, everyone.