We’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic here at Nintendo Enthusiast, so as a staff, we’ve been going through and ranking the best games on each Nintendo console. Following our NES and SNES Top 10 lits, we’re back with the Top 10 Best Nintendo 64 Games, complete with mini-reviews. Let’s dive in!
Perfect Dark (#10)
GoldenEye 007 is the Rare first-person shooter on Nintendo 64 that soaks up all the attention, but as far as I’m concerned, follow-up Perfect Dark is the better game. It just takes everything that worked in GoldenEye and injects much more variety and replayability.
For starters, the alien conspiracy storyline is great fun in a mildly cheesy way, and it opened the door to most of the game’s more novel elements. The campaign offers a range of memorable activities, like infiltrating Area 51 or hanging out with the president on Air Force One, and beating the game on higher difficulties unlocks some extra bonus missions.
Outside of missions, it’s refreshing to just walk around home base, admire the scenery, and test your skills with each weapon at the gun range. The futuristic setting also allows for a nice mix of familiar weapons (proximity mines!) and new weapons like the dreaded FarSight, a laser that could track and kill enemies through walls. It’s really fun just to see what every weapon does between its primary and secondary modes of fire.
But ultimately, Perfect Dark shines so brightly because of its multiplayer offerings. You can play the campaign cooperatively, or you can play the spectacularly innovative Counter Operative where you or a friend gets to play as the enemy NPCs, trying to actively stop the other person from completing the mission. Beyond that, there is the traditional multiplayer battle mode that made GoldenEye 007 so popular, except it comes with the massive addition of “Simulants.”
Simulants are essentially bots so that you can enjoy multiplayer mode without actually having multiple friends handy. However, what makes them more special is you can assign them personalities: The VengeSim always pursues whoever last killed it. KazeSims go all out to kill people. And so forth. Perfect Dark has wonderful imagination and just boundless ways to experience it, in addition to retaining the outstanding core mechanics that made GoldenEye so good. I’ve never been much of an FPS guy, but I don’t know how many dozens of hours my best friend and I poured into this Nintendo 64 masterpiece.
Review by John Friscia
Paper Mario (#9)
By the end of the 90s, Mario had long since become one of the most iconic figures in the industry. He had already dominated the gaming world as a platforming plumber, kart-racing champ, and star-stealing partygoer, but my favorite Mario adventure yet was something different. In 2000, Nintendo took a risk on a quirky RPG set in a storybook world. The result was Paper Mario, one of the most accessible, adorable, and just plain fun RPGs I’ve ever played.
Sticking Mario in an RPG wasn’t an original idea, as Nintendo had tried it on Super Nintendo with Square crossover Super Mario RPG. Paper Mario took some of the better ideas from that game and ran with them. It offered a bigger, more vibrant, fully-connected world, then filled it with unforgettable characters and entertaining quests. The biggest leap forward was the battle system, which was somehow both intuitively simple and endlessly engaging. Action Commands and timing-based special attacks keep the combat from ever getting stale, and the Badge system adds a whole extra layer of pre-battle strategy. Add in eight swappable partners for some variety, and you have a winning formula.
One of the most impressive things about Paper Mario is the way it looks in retrospect. The 3D worlds of this era were innovative and impactful, but many Nintendo 64 games are now incredibly rough around the edges thanks to dated visuals and clunky controls. Paper Mario may have chosen a less ambitious art direction, but its papercraft world ended up being not only charming but also timeless. Boot up Paper Mario today, and you’ll find that it’s just as much of a joy in 2020 as it was when it launched twenty years ago. That secures its spot as one of the Top 10 best Nintendo 64 games!
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Pokémon Snap (#8)
In a world where it seems like Pokémon has branched into every genre imaginable, the concept of an on-rails shooter still seems like a rather odd choice. But that’s where we find ourselves with the adorable Pokémon Snap. Though rather short, especially by today’s standards, Pokémon Snap provided us with arguably the closest thing we’ve had to an immersive dive into the world of our favorite cuddly critters.
For the first time ever, audiences outside of Japan got a look at a bit under half of the original generation in 3D. Not only this, but in doing so, we got to tour some of the various environments in which these Pokémon live, albeit while we were confined to a specific trail. Instead of seeing Pokémon battle each other, we got to see them run around and play. It was magical then, and that charm hasn’t gone away.
Pokémon Snap is definitely more of a casual game, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to it. Outside of simply taking pictures, the ways you interact with the environment can reveal special poses, hidden Pokémon, and even entirely new areas. If you want to see everything the game has to offer, you have to think a bit and actually put in a little effort. Even once you find everything, you can always try to top your high scores.
Though often underrated because of its easy-going nature, Pokémon Snap is one of the most unique and immersive Pokémon spin-offs we’ve seen to date. It left a lasting impact on many fans, and if you need proof of that, just look at the reaction to the newly announced sequel. There’s no doubt that Pokémon Snap deserves its place on our list of the Top 10 best Nintendo 64 games.
Review by Steven Rollins
Banjo-Kazooie stands right with Super Mario 64 as a quintessential N64 collectathon. At its core, the game is about exploring colorful worlds and enjoying catchy tunes while hunting for Jiggies, notes, and Jinjos. Fantastic gameplay, inventive platforming challenges, immersive levels, and a top-tier soundtrack make Banjo-Kazooie an absolute delight.
Early last year, I played Banjo-Kazooie to completion for the first time ever, and I was blown away at how well it held up. The controls fit the N64 gamepad perfectly–something I never thought I would say about any game. With its healthy assortment of whimsical, upbeat arrangements, the soundtrack is incredible from start to finish. Chief among Banjo-Kazooie’s huge list of strong suits is its bread and butter: exploring and collecting. The game whisks players through treacherous swamps, haunted mansions and courtyards, a forest’s journey through the four seasons, frozen mountains, and many more personable, eye-popping levels. The magic behind throwing yourself into one of these worlds and exploring every crevice in search of puzzle pieces and musical notes is exactly what every collectathon strives to achieve. Few ever nail it to the degree of Banjo-Kazooie.
Ultimately, the first Banjo-Kazooie game is still the best in a series that was a very unfortunate casualty of Rare’s downfall. Since the N64 classic, only a few other games in the franchise have even been released, with most of them ill-fated. The character’s enduring popularity, perfectly encapsulated by the pure hysteria that followed his fighter reveal for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, is a testament to the quality of the first two games in the series. The modern collectathon renaissance characterized by Super Mario Odyssey, A Hat in Time, and Yooka-Laylee will not feel complete until we see the bear and bird give things another go. Until then, we can take solace in the fact that their original adventure still holds up so beautifully.
Review by Andrew Rockett
Goldeneye 007 (#6)
Honestly, what can be said about this one that you haven’t heard already? Goldeneye 007 is the N64’s quintessential multiplayer game. It’s the cartridge-shaped embodiment of childhood sleepovers, screen-peeking, and pure, visceral multiplayer mayhem. Grab a pizza, a few friends, and declare “No Oddjob,” and you’ve got an excellent, fun-filled night ahead of you.
A revolutionary FPS, Goldeneye 007 triumphs from the force of the dynamic duo of a solid campaign and a completely unforgettable multiplayer mode. It’s not a team of equal contributions, however. The campaign is a solid mix of espionage and action, while the multiplayer is, of course, where it’s at. It’s an absolutely legendary experience remembered for defining the genre, as well as an entire generation’s idea of a solid multiplayer game. With tons of different settings, characters, and modes, Goldeneye 007 is a treat that never spoils. If you don’t have hundreds of memories of the game’s magic, I’m sorry for you. Whether it’s wreaking havoc with proximity mines, ruining your buddy’s day with a well-placed karate chop, or just completely destroying everything with the Golden Gun, Goldeneye 007 captured a unique strain of FPS goodness that has proven very hard to replicate.
Goldeneye 007 has not held up spectacularly, per se, but it retains enough of the original magic that it’s still a great way to spend time with friends. After a few matches, you’ll even forget any gripes you had about aiming with the C buttons as you’re whisked right back to the good ol’ days of sneaking around Complex with a KF7. This kind of nostalgia is what makes it one of the Top 10 Best Nintendo 64 games.
Review by Andrew Rockett
Star Fox 64 (#5)
Star Fox 64 is the holy grail of rail shooters. Iconic scenes and voice acting pair with battles of immense scale and thrill to make the game’s branching, score-attack campaign a joy to play through again and again and again.
Weaving through natural obstacles, erratic enemy ships, and volleys of laser fire treats players to an express tour through the wartorn Lylat System. Undisturbed oceans, deserts, and pockets of space are juxtaposed by burning cities, soulless war supply chains, and polluted planets. The huge array of sprawling, colorful environments makes Star Fox 64 a joy of a visual experience. Sweeping arrangements and heart-pounding tracks expertly document a grand galactic adventure, making the game a joy for the ears as well. The rewarding and refined gameplay, though, is the meat of the adventure. Speeding through colliding asteroids, expertly dispatching swarms of enemy ships, and discovering hidden routes and opponents create an adrenaline-fueled experience. The game is at its best in fast-paced levels like Area 6 and Zoness. Their literal hundreds of angry energy ships make for some of my favorite missions in any video game ever. Beyond specific levels, though, Star Fox 64 is endlessly rewarding for those dedicated to building a high score. Experimentation, getting great at individual levels, and simply building up the skillset necessary for Expert Mode help you determine and rock your way through the best possible seven-level route, and since missions are full of hidden enemies and secret paths, there’s always more to practice to discover.
While your initial run through Star Fox 64 may end quickly, that’s not really where the magic lies. Experiencing every mission and earning every scoring medal is enough for several hours of practice and fun, and watching your high score climb into oblivion is enough to propel your Arwing through hundreds of playthroughs and barrel rolls.
Review by Andrew Rockett
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (#4)
Given the long-lasting legacy of Ocarina of Time, it’s no surprise that the N64’s other Zelda title, Majora’s Mask, often gets eclipsed. Despite its short development time and consequent re-use of many of Ocarina’s assets, Majora’s Mask provides a rather unique Zelda experience, even by today’s standards. With its darker story and often stressful time travel mechanic, Majora’s Mask has managed to stand the test of time and remain one of the best games on the Nintendo 64.
There were a lot of great choices made in Majora’s development that I think contribute to Termina being one of my favorite Zelda worlds of all time. From a dungeon perspective, Majora’s Mask does a lot to make each stand out as its own unique entity, despite having significantly fewer dungeons than prior titles. Each main dungeon focuses on a particular biome, race, and arrow type, making full use of this combination to provide a unique challenge. For example, in Stone Tower Temple (arguably the coolest of the main dungeons), Link must turn the dungeon upside down in order to progress.
Easily the best part of Majora for me, though, is the lore and worldbuilding. Looking back on Majora now, I realize how little I truly understood it at the time. On the surface, there’s a decent enough story about the moon crashing into Termina. But as I grew up and really started delving into things, I realized that there’s so much more to be found. Everyone in Termina has their own problems and concerns beyond their inevitable doom. This goes a long way in establishing these characters as actual people with lives of their own. Turning these stories into side quests just furthers your connection to these characters. Consequently, Termina feels more alive to me than most other Zelda worlds, solidifying it as one of my all-time favorites.
Because of the short development time and re-use of Ocarina’s assets, it’s easy to call Majora’s Mask a cheap cash grab. Because of the unique time travel mechanics, it’s easy to brush it off as gimmicky and frustrating. But doing so is a major disservice to the experience Majora’s Mask provides. Not only is it one of the best games on the Nintendo 64, it’s one of the best Zelda games in the entire franchise, and one I will always want to play time and time again.
Review by Steven Rollins
Super Mario 64 (#3)
I remember getting the call late at night, sometime towards the end of September 1996. My cousin and I were playing at his house when my dad called and told me I needed to come home for a surprise. With my cousin tagging along, I returned to my abode and found a brand new Nintendo 64. And with it, the legendary Super Mario 64.
Nothing can prepare you for those first steps. Controlling Mario in a 3D space with an analog stick provided so much freedom of movement. Sure, I had seen preview videos of the game (shout-out to those Nintendo Power VHS tapes), but experiencing it in-person was groundbreaking. The variety of jumps and learning how to pull them off, the tight circles you run around Bowser, flying through the air with the Wing Cap: it’s a magical feeling when you master the inputs for all of these various moves. Attacks and swimming were always stiff, though.
Keep in mind, I was 11 years old at the time. The scale of Peach’s Castle was one thing, but then you get to go inside paintings that are whole worlds in and of themselves? Each one has multiple objectives and stars to obtain? There are secret stars WITHIN the castle? You can change a level’s attributes by how you ENTER a painting? The gaming world had never seen anything like that before. It was enough to cause a child to break down in tears.
Does Super Mario 64 still hold up today? Absolutely. Granted, it’s a bit rough around the edges. And Super Mario Odyssey refined the 3D Mario experience to perfection. But Super Mario 64 changed 3D platformers forever. It laid the groundwork for every title in its ilk that was released after, on a Nintendo console or rival platform. Video games today owe an immense amount of gratitude to the Nintendo 64 launch game, and Super Mario 64 deserves the utmost respect.
Review by Arthur Damian
Super Smash Bros. (#2)
Nintendo is an interesting game company. In the late 1990’s, it was one of the most popular developers, with decades of gaming history, dozens of franchise series, and enough iconic characters to fill a decently sized restaurant. They were also seen as being incredibly conservative with their properties, as well as kid-friendly. With this in mind, imagine everyone’s shock when they announced a fighting game featuring their biggest stars. We all lost our minds.
“One four-player, star-studded slamfest. Only on Nintendo 64.” Super Smash Bros. did things different from the start. Instead of depleting a health bar, you damaged opponents and knocked them off the stage. Items were plentiful, and every stage had its own quirks and obstacles, not to mention great music. Instead of memorizing button sequences for special moves, each attack was mapped to a direction and the A or B button. There were different modes to enjoy and plenty to discover. But the most important factors in the popularity of Super Smash Bros. were the roster and the number of players.
Nintendo was a multimedia behemoth and Mario was more recognizable to American children than Mickey Mouse. No other company could put a dozen iconic characters into one video game with that level of love. At the time, and possibly even now, no other company had that kind of cultural cache.
Finally, making the game for up to four players allowed more people to get in on the fun. Everyone got to sit and play and no one had to watch. Combined with the characters, the simplified controls, and the somewhat chaotic nature of the game, Super Smash Bros. cemented itself as one of the best party games, one of the best fighting games, and the single best crossover game of all time. Until the sequels, of course.
“So happy together,” indeed.
Review by Dominick Ashtear
Ocarina of Time (#1)
By the mid-90s, Nintendo had already established the Zelda franchise as a gaming icon. The original game helped popularize the adventure genre, and A Link to the Past refined and improved that formula, setting a new standard. Now, armed with the power of Nintendo 64, it was time for another revolution, this time in 3D.
Ocarina of Time brought the legendary realm of Hyrule to life like never before. Who can forget taking those first steps into Hyrule field, Death Mountain looming in the distance? The 3D setting allowed players to immerse themselves in the game, feeling for the first time like they were truly exploring an ancient temple or descending into the depths of a volcano. And each one of these beautiful settings was matched by equally beautiful music, perfectly setting the mood.
But Ocarina of Time offered so much more than just visual and audio enhancements. Operating in 3D space allowed for combat innovations, like the Z-targeting system that is still influencing Zelda games to this day. The new dimension also allowed the developers to rethink level design and puzzle-solving, resulting in memorable dungeons that influenced a generation of developers.
All of these improvements were impressive, but it’s Ocarina of Time‘s story that truly sets it apart. The game’s iconic cutscenes delved deeper into the lore of Hyrule than ever before, and the vibrant settings and lively characters made it all feel so personal. It’s a coming of age story filled with magic and mystery, death and rebirth, humor and tragedy, love and loss. Zelda always offers an incredible adventure, but Ocarina of Time took players on an incomparable emotional journey. In many ways, it feels like the series is still trying to capture just a piece of that magic in each new entry.
Expectations were impossibly high for Zelda‘s first 3D venture, and Nintendo still delivered far beyond what anyone thought possible. Ocarina of Time is easily one of the most influential games of all time, and it undoubtedly deserves a top 10 spot among the best Nintendo 64 games.
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Diddy Kong Racing
Upon its release, Diddy Kong Racing was arguably the best kart racer ever made. Differentiating itself from Mario Kart with multiple vehicle types, a challenging, lengthy single-player mode, and photo-finish races with no margin for error, Diddy Kong Racing holds up well today as a unique entry in its genre.
Colorful tracks, boss races, multiplayer minigames, and much more all flesh out the Diddy Kong Racing experience. Swapping between planes, hovercraft, and cars every couple of tracks keeps every Grand Prix exciting and greatly expanded the developers’ ability to build inventive courses. All of these bells and whistles are an awesome time, but the game thrives the most thanks to a fantastic single-player mode and its mechanical depth. The single-player mode is loaded with hours and hours of time trials, boss fights, challenge races, and more. Mechanically, Diddy Kong Racing relies on perpetually close, strategic races to deepen the experience relative to most kart racers. Short tracks that often take only thirty seconds to a minute per lap greatly limit opportunities to recover after messing up.
For added strategy, Diddy Kong Racing abandons randomized items. The game has only a few different types of items, and its color-coded item balloons mean that you always know what you’re picking up. You can strengthen items by popping multiple of the same color balloon in a row, presenting you with a constant choice as the final finish line rapidly approaches: should you fire off those missiles now so that you can pick up a boost, or should you grab a few more red balloons so that you’ll have a pack of homing missiles? This sort of decision making creates a unique sort of competition and battle within every round of Diddy Kong Racing. It’s an incredible experience that might never be replicated quite right.
Kart racers have evolved in the decades since Diddy Kong Racing, but Diddy’s racing adventure still stands strong as one of the genre’s best. The young franchise never got a chance to grow – the sequel was shelved thanks to Rare’s untimely acquisition by Microsoft – but the N64 original is thankfully the sort of experience that never gets old. It may not have made our Top 10 list, but it deserves some recognition all the same.
Review by Andrew Rockett