In the mid-90’s, the video game industry was teeming with activity and anticipation. It was an era in which old Japanese “wolves” Sega and Nintendo were calling the shots, and others – the newfangled 3DO and the veteran Atari – faced their abrupt and prolonged demise, respectively.
However, another youngling called Sony shook up the video gaming world with the release of PlayStation on December 3rd, 1994, whose sales were quickly gaining momentum. The old wolves were troubled. Sega’s brand new product – Saturn – which debuted only one month before Sony’s console, wasn’t selling as splendidly as expected outside Japan. On the other hand, Nintendo’s quickly aging 16-bit SNES, wasn’t living up to gamers’ expectations anymore. In 1995, all eyes were on Nintendo. What would be its next move? The answer was simple – release a console with the then-fastest CPU, and build a library of games that would become literal legends. Not only of Zelda…
Below you will find ten titles – handpicked cautiously using a combination of criteria ranging from accolades to subjective recollections – which are considered crème de la crème of Nintendo 64 game library. Without further ado, here we go!
Resident Evil 2
We open our best Nintendo 64 games list with a smashing hit from Capcom. In Resident Evil 2, a sequel to one of if not the most renown survival horror video game franchise ever, we go back to zombie-infested Raccoon City with two subsequent story lines for two fearless protagonists: a rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield – a sister of one of main heroes from RE1.
Originally a 1998 PSX game, Resident Evil 2 was miraculously ported two years later to N64 by a team of developers from Angel Studios – now Rockstar San Diego, Inc. – with significant modifications to meet N64’s technical requirements. The list of alternations for N64 version is pretty impressive: retained FMV cutscenes – a thing then unheard of due to notoriously low storage space of N64 cartridges – alternate costumes, a possibility to choose the level of gore, smoother character animations and, last but not least, the implementation of surround sound.
Far from a typical nintendo-ish bright color palette, family-friendly mood, and well-lit locations with vast open spaces, the dense and suffocating atmosphere of Resident Evil 2 gave 90’s kids goosebumps every time some mutant erupted from the wall of a narrow corridor. Much too narrow a corridor… And that horrifying gargantuan bloodshot shoulder eye of G’s second form…
Rayman 2: The Great Escape
To ventilate the list out of stuffy zombie stench, let’s pay a visit to the dashing world called Glade of Dreams, which has been invaded by an armada of interstellar robo-pirates. That’s right, it’s Rayman time!
With its name said in one breath along Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot and Sonic Adventure, the gameplay of Rayman 2: The Great Escape is probably the most balanced of the previous three in terms of linearity of the gameplay. We don’t get to freely explore the maps like we do, for instance, in Banjo-Kazooie, nor do we speed through each and every level like a sighthound on a lure coursing track.
Our brave hero runs, jumps, climbs, swims, solves puzzles, busts open cages, finds various collectibles, learns new moves with a little help from his friend Murfy, and fights the clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous corsairs. He basically carries out what every 3D platform hero does for a living. Yet there is a certain undefinable charm to it all. Was it the colors that captivated us, forcing to play the game a little more? Was it the soundtrack? The immersion?…
To this day I wonder, and can’t put my finger on the thing which made R2: TGE so magical. Perhaps it was this overall elusiveness that charmed me? I know one thing for sure – I wasn’t spellbound alone, for UbiSoft’s wonder grabbed three 2000 D. I. C. E. Award nominations – one for the Best Game, the other for Best Action/Adventure Game, and the third for Outstanding Achievement in Animation.
Your name is Bond. James Bond. And you are a super spy protagonist of the third best-selling N64 game of all time, and a holder of a prestigious D. I. C. E. Game of the Year award. Released in 1997, shortly before the next Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, a shimmering gem from Rare studio proved N64 was capable of gaining an FPS for its then steadily growing game library. And what a game it was!
With damage zones on enemies’ bodies (no limbs flying off, though, like in Soldier of Fortune), more than 20 weapons available (ahh, the Klobb akimbo never fails…), and a split-screen multiplayer to die for, GoldenEye 007 also marked an early shift from Doom/Quake-like run-and-gun action towards modern FPS playing style, employing silence and discretion, the features fully explored and pushed forward one year later in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Metal Gear Solid for PSX, as well as Thief: The Dark Project for PC.
Sure, it had its flaws, for instance, a frame rate resembling that of Blofeld goons’ aiming. Nevertheless, after 26 years, GoldenEye007 still holds its own as an FPS, having been shaken but not stirred only by another highly-ambitious project by Rare, and the number 8 on our list. What game was it? Oh, well… just read on.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
|Genre:||Action, arcade flight|
|Developer:||Factor 5, LucasArts|
What’s better than playing an action-packed arcade-style flight game in the Star Wars Universe? Nothing! And I can prove it by asking you one rhetorical question: who has never dreamed of tripping AT-ATs up with a cable? Fortunately, my and everyone else’s dream was made possible thanks to Factor 5 and LucasArts, which published Star Wars: Rogue Squadron in 1998.
The game offers 5 crafts to control: X, Y, A and V-wing, as well as snowspeeder, each of them possessing various armament, maneuverability and speed. 9 bonus power-ups to find and several juicy crafts to unlock – Millennium Falcon and TIE Interceptor playing first fiddle here – only add up to game’s playability. What stands out the most, though, is sound design. The sound effects bear a one-to-one resemblance to the sounds from the original Star Wars trilogy. Laser blasts, engine roars, it all sounds exactly the same, boosting immersion incredibly.
If you don’t believe me, then perhaps three different sound awards (Sound Effects, Best Voice, and Best Overall Sound of 1998) from IGN are going to convince you Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is not a joke. More accolades, hmm? Well, allow me to throw in a 1999 D. I. C. E. Game of The Year nomination and Origins Award for the Best Action Computer Game of 1998. If that didn’t convince you the game is great, then it means only one thing – the force is weak with you.
Super Smash Bros
There are many fighting game franchises for many different platforms. Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, etc. But back in the 90’s, what did you get when you took a bunch of characters and locations from the most beloved Nintendo video games and combined them with somewhat unusual mode of fighting? You got Super Smash Bros. And tons of fun!
With a unique aim to knock your opponents off a stage, having their life bars add up damage instead of deplete them, you use character’s own skills, weapons and power-ups to jump around the stage freely, grab and beat up your adversaries, and dodge their attacks.
But what really made the game was the multiplayer, especially when you got three friends come over to your place. There was nothing more strangely satisfying than having Ness from EarthBound hit home run with Yoshi as a baseball or seeing a heart-melting Kirby pipe Luigi’s eyes using his famous inhaling copy ability. A well-deserved No. 6. Interestingly, Super Smash Bros also smashed the list of best-selling N64 games, placing 5th behind the all-time greats: Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
To say that Banjo-Kazooie is another highly popular 3D platform game that reached a multitude of “top N64 games” lists would be like stating obvious facts of life – that the Sun rises in the east and the water boils in 100 degrees Celsius. Of course it is!
The premise of the game is so straightforward, it borders on banality, yet its overall playability, mood, sense of humor (hats off to Kazooie’s snappy retorts!) and pure joy it kindles in our hearts – are simply unmistakable. Another spotless release from Rare studios, Banjoo-Kazooie is a game about a good-natured bear and a cheeky bird who join forces to break the former’s sister Tooty out of gnarly fingers of a jealous witch – Gruntilda.
The agile duo has nine worlds to explore – with names as amusing as Freezeezy Peak, Rusty Bucket Bay and Bubblegloop Swamp – a stockpile of moves to learn along the way, let alone rolling and rat-a-tat rapping to the ground hundreds of enemies. To wrap up the dry fact framing device, Banjo-Kazooie closes the Top 10 Best-selling N64 Games list with 3,65 million copies sold. That’s a fact that speaks for itself. Some say it dethroned Super Mario 64 as the best 3D platform on N64. I am more of a Rayman fan, so I’ll subjectively settle the matter amicably with a draw…and a second place, ex aequo for both titles. If you think otherwise, you may go sniff Gruntilda’s favorite smell – putrid parrot puke!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
It wouldn’t be “Best N64 Games” list, if there weren’t any Zelda on it, would it? The wonder franchise of the Japanese duo Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka spawned 19 official titles (the 20th is just around the corner – its release date: May 12!), with Majora’s Mask being the 6th entry.
A direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, it is set on Termina, a land parallel to Hyrule, whose existence is in jeopardy due to imminent space catastrophe – a Moon is about to fall and – yes, pun definitely intended – terminate Termina. Zelda’s main hero – Link – is bound to prevent that from happening. Majora’s Mask was universally acclaimed for its original three-day cycle game premise, writing, soundtrack, as well as wide array of graphic design features, for example: rich textures, increased number of on-screen models and a motion blur, which came at a prize – just like in the Perfect Dark case, an expansion pack was necessary to play the game.
But enough of the technicalities, let’s talk accolades, shall we? Why don’t we start with D. I. C. E. Awards. Majora’s Mask got two: for Action/Adventure Game of the Year and Game Design of the Year. It was a runner-up for GameSpot’s Best Nintendo 64 Game and a nominee for Best Adventure Game. It also won a contest held by gameFAQs.com, earning Game of the Decade (2000-2009) title. It sold over 3,36 million copies worldwide, securing 12th place on the best-selling N64 games list. In a nutshell, the only Zelda which overshadowed Majora’s Mask was Ocarina of Time.
|Genre:||FPS, stealth, action|
Another undisputed masterpiece form Rare, and the righteous spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark pushed the limits of N64 so hard you might have almost smelled the boiling plastic case of the console. It took full advantage of N64’s expansion pack, without which the single-player campaign was automatically disabled (sic!). However, the said requirement paid back with interest.
Perfect Dark lived up to its name and offered a perfect gameplay with 9 long missions (4 more to unlock) having vast array of objectives to complete. Apart from the regular single-player campaign, there were a co-op and counter-operative modes available – the latter having an exceptionally convenient option for the opposing player to take control of any given opponent, just like agents in The Matrix did. Both of the modes were topped off by a ridiculously customizable multiplayer with AI-fuelled bots.
It all fully compensated for the hyper-clichéd plot of two alien races in a state of war, providing two high-tech military corporations on Earth – Carrington Institute and dataDyne, themselves sworn enemies – with their R&D advancements, blah, blah, blah… extraction of a scientist…blah, blah, blah. Anyway, you didn’t play Perfect Dark for the plot. You played it, because it was fun. Oh, and before we move on to the next game on our list, it’s worth mentioning that Perfect Dark won – of all accolades possible – the Satellite Award for the Best Game in 2001.
Super Mario 64
A game which doesn’t need any introduction. A game which was praised and prized so much it almost feels like it was a lead-pipe cinch. For many – THE 3D platform game. For almost everyone else – a timeless classic which comes to mind first when one hears the word “Nintendo 64”. Period. Released simultaneously with the console, it brought the mighty Italian plumber to the third dimension.
Dynamic camera system and 360-degree analog control really allowed you to look around and freely explore the bright, colorful locations. New moves, like wall and triple jumps, improved Mario’s agility, although there weren’t any Fire Flowers, so you would have to resort to melee attacks. The number of accolades it received overwhelms, to put it mildly. Only during 1997 Golden Joystick ceremony, the game grabbed awards in three different categories: Best Looking Game, Nintendo Magazine Best N64 Game, and, of course, Game of the Year. Super Mario 64 is also No. 1 best-selling N64 game with over 11,9 million copies sold, surpassing then whole franchises like The Legend of Zelda. Now that’s what you call a pipe down!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Now, did you really expect to see 1080° Snowboarding here? Beyond a reasonable and unreasonable doubt, No. 1 pick for the best N64 game of all time has to be Zelda. Yes, THAT Zelda. Ocarina of Time is the ultimate entry in The Legend of Zelda franchise. It is what you call an epitome of Adventure Game. And a masterpiece with a capital M.
For those of you who were incapacitated in the Temple of Time for too long – or have simply lived under the rock for the past 25 years or so – a quick and clumsy bullet recap of the story: young Link is destined to become a savior of Hyrule again. He obtains a titular instrument from Princess Zelda and embarks on an adventure through time and Hyrule’s nooks and crannies to defeat the evil Ganondorf who treacherously took over the kingdom. Not only was Ocarina of Time the first Zelda installment to use 3D graphics, but it also introduced a target-lock system and sensitive-context buttons, thus setting the modern standard in gameplay for the action/adventure games to come.
It would be unwise to list all the trophies Nintendo EAD snatched out of other first, second and third-party studios’ hands thanks to Ocarina of Time, because…it doesn’t really matter. What matters, though, is vivid emotions and fond memories the game carved into the pounding hearts and racing minds of nearly half of Millenial generation lucky enough to have stepped into Link’s shoes at least once. Yes, it really took only a couple of minutes to get totally hooked and immersed. The sense of partaking in something of utmost importance, of something so essential we could feel it rushing through our veins – that was the magical song Ocarina of Time mesmerized our souls with. And we loved every note of it. That particular quality is why there can only be one No. 1 Nintendo 64 legend. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.