Many moons ago, when blogging was still relatively new to me, I did what I imagine most games bloggers above a certain age have done and wrote a to ten N64 games list. It was a pretty indulgent thing to do but I nevertheless enjoyed it immensely.
Looking back on this now, I didn’t do the best job, not really justifying my picks in any detailed sort of way. Also, I have played a few other games since then which very much need to be taken into account. Therefore I give to you my latest attempt at singling out ten games, out of a plethora of good N64, as the ‘best.’
Naturally I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree, for that nice feeling of shared experience, or passionately and pointlessly arguing against someone else’s perfectly valid opinion.
- Super Smash Brothers
The game that launched a franchise which was destined to become one of Nintendo’s most profitable of all time, this game does not need much in the way of introduction. The success of this game was purely down to its simple concept of throwing together the most iconic characters that Nintendo could find and making them beat the crap out of each other. Not only did this settle some childhood arguments about the relative strengths of different characters, but it also allowed a whole generation to fall out with each other and sulk for days. Satisfying gameplay, simple controls and an addictive re-playability, combined with Nintendo’s triple A intellectual properties made this a smash hit paving the way for later instalments. Unlike most of the games on this list however, it doesn’t hold up so well now. Playing it after being used to its more polished, lightning fast successors really does feel both slow and clunky. Or maybe I’m just not playing it properly. Either way, Link for the win!
- Jet Force Gemini
Perhaps one of the few on this list which could possibly be described as underrated (or maybe not, I just don’t know anyone else personally who owned it.) Nevertheless, this game really did show off the huge amount of talent that Rare had at its disposal. Not to mention that the concept of the game is so good. Space heroes, including a flying dog, out to save small bear-like creatures from the predations of giant ants? Yes please! Add buckets of ant-gore, satisfying action and that dark humour which become so synonymous with Rare, and the result is a really excellent third person action/adventure. The only issue with this is that in order to finish the game an incredibly long and arduous process of saving every tribal and finding all of the scattered space ship parts has to be overcome and completely de-rails the flow of the game. Still an excellent experience though.
- Snowboard Kids
Possibly a game doomed to fade away into obscurity, this game deserves to be on this list and it really was a coinflip between having this game at seven or eight in this list. This polished snowboard racer really does have everything; chaotic items and weaponry, excellent course design, a reward system for pulling off complex tricks, and one of the best soundtracks to feature in any game, ever. Seriously, neighbours could be forgiven for thinking that you were mid-way through a pretty good rave once this game gets dusted off. Really wouldn’t bother with the sequel though…
- MarioKart 64
Does this game really need its merits explained? Well, lets go over them anyway, if only for the sake of thoroughness. Building on the huge success of the first instalment on the SNES, this game has to go down as one of the best MarioKarts to date. Fantastic track design, which really brings out all of the character of the Mario universe, coupled with frantic races, cheating computers and a battle mode, (not to mention the utilising of a number of Nintendo’s best characters) combined to not only create a good game, but ensured the long term success of the franchise. This remains one of my favourite entries to date despite some slight issues with the somewhat slippery handling. It would be reasonably safe to say that this game was a triumph for multi-player gaming, and has created fond memories and excessive combativeness for a whole generation.
- Donkey Kong 64
Another piece of Rare magic, and another IP which made the transition from 2D to 3D seamlessly, this game took a classic and re-made it into a fantastic 3D platform adventure game. The inclusion of 5 playable Kong’s, the innovative and breath-taking worlds to explore, hilarious special powers, and fruit based weapons, and overall feeling of quality, made this an unforgettable experience. The bright levels, unbelievably good level soundtracks, and awesome boss fights ensured that this game was played over and over again (despite the part of the game which demands beating the original Donkey Kong to get to the final boss being SO FRUSTRATING!)
- Banjo Tooie
Seriously, what was Rare on in the late nineties/early noughties and where can I get some? I agonised for a long time between putting this at the 5 or 4 slot on this list. This is definitely one of my favourite games of all time. As an adventure platforming game, this pretty much has everything. Great level design (particularly like Hailfire Peaks) most amazing, kick ass soundtrack (every tune will have you humming for days after), having a character that can split in two and or travel as a pair assisting each other with their respective skills was pretty refreshing for the time, the narrative was smart and, of course, that wickedly dark Rare humour just oozed out of the dialogue. Banjo and Kazooie have some hilarious and dark dialogue which still makes me laugh every time. This game misses out on being my favourite adventure/platforming game only due to the next entry…
- Super Mario 64
For many, this is game that really launched 3-D platform gaming. On a personal level I will never forget the feeling of watching 3-D Mario leaping out of the pipe and then seeing Peach’s castle looming in all its glory. That’s all before you get inside; greeted by Bowser’s sinister laugh to see all the rooms and corridors sprawling off into the distance. This game, more successfully than others of the time, managed to make every world and course completely unique and engaging, including hidden secrets and stars to find and outrageous world bosses. Rather than go on, suffice to say that this game is pretty close to perfect and is held back only by the limitations of its hardware. Then again, would this really be improved with more technical power behind it? Not really, I didn’t like the DS version of the game anywhere near as much (mostly because trying to play a 3-D game on a D-pad is just dump, and don’t get me started on trying to control with the touch screen.) This game still features in many people’s lists of best games of all time, and deservedly so.
- Goldeneye/Perfect Dark
To some, it may appear heretical to lump these two games together, particularly as they are both such outstandingly good titles. However, I really couldn’t call between the two in terms of my own preference, and they largely provide the same sort of thrills. Perhaps more than any of the others, these two Rare titles are the ones which have become synonymous with N64 quality. It is very difficult to say which the better game is. Technically Perfect Dark has the edge, utilising the expansion pack to give a more polished and graphically superior game. By all other standards though, they both are too close to call. Both offer superb and engrossing storylines and excellent FPS action. Goldeneye has all of the Bond charm of the movie; Perfect Dark captures the essence of futuristic government conspiracy. Both have great multiplayers (possibly slightly better in PD due to the ability to have extra NPC combatants.) The only clear difference between the two games is that the enemy intelligence is far better in Perfect Dark.
- The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time
This is the game that really launched my obsession with games and remains one of my favourites to this day. I’m sure there is no need to explain why this game is good; you almost certainly already know why (and if you don’t what was up with your childhood?) This game has literally almost everything. So why is it at second? Well…
1. The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask
Building on what made Ocarina so good, this game delivers in spades. I know that putting this ahead of Ocarina might be an unpopular choice, but out of the two I really do prefer Majora’s Mask. Sure, it doesn’t have as many temples and the boss fights are a little easy in places, but apart from that I think Mask has the edge. The sheer overwhelmingly large amount of challenges and quests to complete, coupled with the darker, more mature content (dealing largely with loss, regret, fear and death) create a far more immersive world as you get so heavily involved in the lives of the denizens of Termina. The use of masks to give Link different skills and forms adds further depth to an already winning formula. Pure magic.