The Nintendo 64 is a fantastic system with an absolutely terrible controller and antiquated cartridge technology. That didn’t hold it back from having an impressive software lineup, though.
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the best Nintendo 64 games of all time.
Please note that this list will include games that are both exclusive to the N64 as well as multiplatform. We didn’t want to leave anything out. In addition, the list is presented in no particular order of quality, gameplay, or any other metric.
The game that caused blisters in the palm of our hands. Mario Party is nothing more than a simple board game with mini-game breaks between turns. Compared to other Mario titles, it was a bit lacking in content with only a handful of maps and 50 mini-games. Yet it honestly didn’t need to be more than that. The formula worked, the mini-games were fantastic, and the replayability was off the charts.
Mario Party knew what it was and what it had to be. It didn’t try to do too much because it didn’t have to. It did its job and did it quite well, helping to not just deliver an enjoyable party game, but kick off a franchise that still exists today.
Mario Party 2
The sequel took a solid foundation from the original and added plenty of personality, charm, and character. It expanded the concept of a simple board/party game and helped shape it into something more. Mario Party 2 proved that the original wasn’t just lightning in a bottle. It packed a serious punch and added tons of replayability to what was already a very replayable game.
Oh, and it added lots of mini-games as well.
Mario Party 2 was bigger and better than the original. A sequel that went above and beyond. Whether its the added costumes for flavor, the boards that could change the game in a heartbeat, or the vast selection of mini-games that were better and more balanced than the original, this was a sequel that was delivered in spades.
Mario Party 3
The third (and final on Nintendo 64) act, however, is the best the series has to offer.
While it doesn’t do much to innovate, you can argue that Mario Party 3 didn’t have to, either. The game’s tried and true formula was already well established. Instead of trying to deliver a new hook or catch, something later titles would at times force down your throat, the third installment stuck with what worked and refined it.
An excellent selection of games, an expanded roster, and a rock-solid line-up of boards all helped to create one of the best multiplayer experiences the Nintendo 64 ever saw. Considering the multiplayer choices that exist on the console, that’s quite an impressive feat.
Super Mario 64
While others struggled to bring 2D platformers into a 3D world, Nintendo knocked down the door with authority. Super Mario 64 is still to this day a massive achievement in what’s possible from a video game.
Precise controls from both the N64’s analog stick, as well as the game itself, allowed for a new level of platforming and exploration never seen before in a video game. Near-perfect level design accompanies this as well, providing curious and eager gamers plenty of secrets to discover.
It’s a game that ages well, provided you play it on a modern controller. It’s a masterclass in 3D platforming and game design. Yet, somehow, it’s not the best platforming on this list. That award goes to…
Super Mario 64 but better is something to be pretty darn proud of.
Banjo-Kazooie takes the formula from Mario 64 and improves on its (very few and nitpicky) shortcomings. It adds in more personality, accessibility, and character. It brings a wild and wacky world to life and draws you in to accept the incredibly over-the-top experiences that await you.
All of that charm would be for naught if the gameplay didn’t match up. Thankfully, it arguably exceeds it. The game’s power-ups and special moves/attacks allow for so many different creative solutions for collecting the game’s items and puzzle pieces. This helps each level feel larger than they actually are, an impressive feat that allows for easy exploration and adventure.
While still a great game, Banjo-Tooie is a textbook example that sometimes bigger isn’t always better.
Tooie offers up an absolutely massive amount of collectibles, content, and gigantic worlds and environments. In fact, at times things are a little too daunting for the player. One can’t help but wonder, though, if Banjo-Tooie was a little ahead of its time. Today’s games feature a larger-than-life scale constantly. The best developers find ways to make those daunting titles more manageable.
At the time of Banjo-Tooie, Rare was easily one of the best developers in the industry. There’s a reason why people are clamoring so much for Banjo-Threeie. Imagine the scale of Tooie combined with the lessons learned from past mistakes.
On the surface, Goldeneye 007 is an unassuming licensed FPS with ho-hum pre-release build-up.
History remembers it as one of the best multiplayer games of all time. In reality, it’s also one of the best licensed and movie-based single-player games ever too.
Everything about Goldeneye 007 just worked. The missions mirrored the film’s events with satisfying action and “stealth” (used very loosely here, it’s still applicable) gameplay. Campaign level design is doubly impressive considering the occasionally repeated locale. Don’t worry, the narrative dictates it.
Of course, everyone remembers the multiplayer as an addictive, competitive, and enjoyable console FPS. Age hasn’t done well for its legacy, but you can’t take away the glory days of everyone trying to instantly pick Oddjob.
While the Pokemon titles on Nintendo 64 weren’t the traditional baseline games, that doesn’t mean they weren’t enjoyable. Pokemon Snap offered a different way to catch ‘em all. Instead of filling your Pokedex, you caught them on your film roll.
Pokemon Snap’s chill and laid-back experience led itself naturally to plenty of replayability. It was a short and sweet affair that wasn’t too demanding of your time. Compared to the grind the main franchise can be at times, it was an enjoyable alternative to sit back, relax, and take pictures of ‘em all.
Star Fox 64
Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of playing through single-player campaigns ad nauseum. Star Fox 64 is the exception because the game had it all.
Each world offers challenges in terms of navigation and scoring. The cast of characters is memorable in their own, unique ways. Let’s be honest, though: Falco absolutely steals the show.
It’s a testament to how strong Star Fox 64 is when you consider no other title in the franchise has met the quality found here, which is remarkable considering how little actual content can be found in the game. The true value is how, miraculously, no matter how many times I play it, the game never gets old.
Mario Kart 64
A common theme on this list has been strong multiplayer titles. Mario Kart 64, for many, is the king of multiplayer. Some tracks are so well designed, they still hold up well against other Mario Kart 8 tracks.
Some have questioned the game’s legacy as future times released, but there’s something about Mario Kart 64 that’s still as addictive as ever. To quote my ranked list of Mario Kart games:
“Mario Kart 64 laid the framework for just about everything you know and love about the franchise today. When it comes to the tracks, it’s no contest; Mario Kart 64 has the best quality the series has to offer.”
I want to shout out the fact that every now and then, the computer racer will be light years ahead of you. It’s an impressive feat that makes winning races no sure thing. Or maybe I’m worse than I think I am.
Donkey Kong 64
Donkey Kong 64 has a lot of really, really big ideas. While sometimes the game can’t support them, more of than not it succeeds. Its ambition paid off with a vast selection of characters, levels, and gameplay techniques. While it may not have been the best platformer, this was the one that attempted to shoot for the stars.
Backtracking and difficulty switching between characters is the biggest knock on what is otherwise a marvelous platform. Rare took everything they learned from the Banjo titles and made it better. DK64 feels like a more refined version of Banjo-Tooie. It’s also in desperate need of some love via a re-release.
Diddy Kong Racing
Whereas Mario Kart 64 stuck with traditional kart racing, Diddy Kong Racing took to the air and sea as well. A variety of vehicles added plenty of variety to circuits and racing that we now see today in Mario Kart 8. At the time, it was a great alternative to what was more of a traditional racer. Some actually rate Diddy Kong Racing higher than Mario Kart 64.
The highlight, though, is the game’s story mode. An enjoyable single-player campaign that was more than just racing for first, Diddy Kong Racing proved you can have a capable solo adventure in what is primarily a multiplayer genre. Like its platforming counterpart, Diddy Kong Racing is desperate for a re-release to be discovered by a new audience.
Most people remember Goldeneye 007, but some would argue that Perfect Dark is the superior title. Building upon everything that made the Bond FPS great, Rare’s original IP upped the ante. No longer restrained by the confines of the licensed franchise, the only limitations for the famed developer were their own limits.
Perfect Dark presented a wide variety of improvements and enhancements over its “predecessor.” Joanna Dark’s arsenal of weapons and gadgets is second to none. The stealth gameplay is definitely improved over Goldeneye, as well as the futuristic sci-fi-inspired setting.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
After a run of charming and adorable platformers (plus successful shooters, too!), Rare’s farewell is a vulgar, vile, and mature action-adventure romp that’s easily one of the console’s best. Conker’s Bad Fur Day stars a squirrel who’s more at home in a college frat than he was in Diddy Kong Racing.
The game would fall apart if it wasn’t for the precise and enjoyable controls and platforming that Rare had become known for. While the collect-a-thon of some of their previous titles was abandoned, Bad Fur Day is still a title that’s worth being placed alongside Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.
Aside from the target demographic, of course.
It’s hard to believe that this was the first branded Mario Golf game released. This is partially due to the fact that it’s an enjoyable and accessible game of golf.
It’s also because the Mario sports games are beyond milked dry nowadays.
Mario Golf was able to combine a pick-up and play style of gameplay with some of the more advanced intricacies in the game of golf. While later titles added more depth and content, the original absolutely nailed the framework and foundation.
Honestly, I can just copy and paste everything I said about Mario Golf here. It’s a testament to how a simple yet polished approach worked so well for these Mario off-shots. It’s no wonder why Nintendo is employing the same strategy with their sports titles today: it works and people are going to buy them.
Wave Race 64
Speaking of games that are simple yet polished, may I present to you Wave Race 64. A game, and franchise, that has unfortunately been lost to time.
Wave Race grew from a tech demo for the Nintendo 64 console. While it can easily be classified as a simple launch title, the game’s physics and racing was the highlight. An absolute delight not just to play and race with others, but also to jetski your way through the ocean at high speeds. Its predecessor was nowhere near as successful or beloved, but here’s to hoping a release on Nintendo Switch Online can spark some new interest in the series.
Some have called Wave Race “F-Zero on water.” For those that are unaware, that’s incredibly high praise.
With each subsequent release, F-Zero pushed the boundary further in terms of not just visual style, but also high-speed racing. The intensity has been second-to-none throughout the entire franchise and the N64 outing is no different.
With the game coming to Nintendo Switch Online, it’s a title that’s worth your time. Here’s to hoping we eventually see the franchise return.
A personal favorite of mine, Vigilante 8 was an over-the-top car destruction game that I spent way too much time playing.
While the PlayStation franchise had Twisted Metal Black, this was the only option available for N64 owners. The result was a multiplayer mode that ran incredibly smoothly, a surprise given all of the action that would take place.
Personally, I always found the characters and flavors in Vigilante 8 to be far more enjoyable than Twisted Metal, but then again my taste in games has always been questioned, so what do I know.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Imagine a bigger, better, more cinematic version of Star Fox 64. That’s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. It packs an incredible punch in that little cartridge.
It features voice acting, a wide variety of locations and ships, and plenty of arial combat. Rogue Squadron is a rare example of a game that offers serious depth, especially when compared to its successors on the GameCube.
Rogue Leader, the second game in the franchise, gets all the buzz and hype. That doesn’t mean the original isn’t worthy, either. It’s definitely worth your time, as well as some wishful thinking to see it appear on Nintendo Switch Online.
It’s not the first Mario RPG, but it’s the debut of an iconic franchise. Paper Mario has always been an inventive series with a great cast of characters and gorgeous visuals. The game is also easily one of the best-looking Nintendo 64 games as well.
Its accessibility has been a point of conversation for sure, but I’d argue that it’s a selling point for the game. Paper Mario is a great pick-up and play RPG that allows players to explore their surroundings and enjoy the story without having to worry about grinding levels or difficult boss fights.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
One of the greatest games of all time, Ocarina of Time does for action-adventure games what Super Mario 64 did for platformers. The world of Hyrule is expansive and inviting, with a sense of wonder and excitement around every character.
While (virtually every) past Zelda titles were able to present a world worth exploring, Ocarina of Time removes any limitations past offerings had. Everything felt open and ready for exploration. Dungeons offered a new depth and sense of wonder.
Ocarina of Time earned its place amongst the best games of all time, though if you ask me, there’s a better Zelda title on the Nintendo 64
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask was a bold move for Nintendo.
Following up one of the best games of all time with the hook of having to relive the same three days over and over again was risky. Suffice to say, it worked out in the end.
A darker, more mature, and challenging title, Majora’s Mask had a slow burn. It wasn’t as warm and inviting as Ocarina of Time, but it was far more rewarding to those who stuck with it and made the investment. If you ask me, everything here was better than its predecessor.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer
The best part about the Star Wars prequels was the podracing in Episode I. Making a video game out of that scene was a no-brainer.
Episode I: Racer was a bit lacking in terms of presentation value, but it made up for it by delivering an F-Zero-esque experience with a familiar cast of characters. The circuits and tracks were demanding.
But the best part about the game was that you could play Sebulba and right the wrong from the movie. How could a puny little kid ever beat the mighty Sebulba? Come on, get real.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
When the HD remasters were released last year, it was like stepping back in time. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater helped launch an entire genre of skateboarding games that still exist today.
To call Tony Hawk anything other than magic is sacrilegious. Its combination of addictive and replayable skateboarding with an absolutely killer licensed soundtrack can cause hours to vanish in the blink of an eye.
The short and sweet two-minute runs were always much longer when you consider the number of times you start a level over after messing up a combo you’ve been practicing. It makes those moments even sweeter when you finally pull it off.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
There’s a lot of sequels on this list and for good reason. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is the original but better. New music, new levels, new collectibles, but more importantly: better and tighter controls. THPS2 handles like an absolute dream to allow for more precision when skating across the levels.
One of the game’s new features was a level editor, allowing players to customize skate parks. It helped make a game already full of replay value even better.
There were many weekends spent with friends trying out the levels they’ve been working on all week, as well as conversations in school concerning what we were all working on.
Resident Evil 2
This is a game that honestly shouldn’t exist, yet somehow does. The fact that this PlayStation classic is able to exist and run as well as it does on Nintendo 64 is nothing short of miraculous. It’s an absolutely fantastic port of an amazing game.
Speaking of the actual game, it’s a title that has managed to stand the test of time, even if the controls haven’t necessarily aged well. A launching point for the future of the franchise, Resident Evil 2 defines what it means to be a survival horror game. If the original was a low-budget horror flick scrapped together with no funding, the sequel is what happens when the filmmakers get an actual budget and full artistic vision to work with.
Super Smash Bros.
The original Super Smash Bros., like every other Mario sports title on our list, was a simple game that offered a new way to play with your favorite Nintendo characters. The formula wasn’t overly complex, but it didn’t have to be.
In the case of Super Smash Bros., that’s doubly true. The simple concept of Nintendo icons beating each other to a pulp on iconic stages was more than enough to create hundreds of hours’ worth of fun. The game’s single-player was also short and sweet and somehow just as addictive. Every time you’d complete the “story” and defeat Master Hand, a sense of accomplishment would fill you.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
Turok 2 is a massive game with completely over-the-top weapons. Its sprawling levels and creative arsenal led to plenty of lost weekends killing dinosaurs in the most gruesome way possible.
What Seeds of Evil were able to truly accomplish, though, is having one of the best control schemes for a console FPS ever. Yes, that includes both Perfect Dark and Goldeneye 007. Developer Iguana Entertainment was able to nail FPS controls on a controller with one analog stick. It made traversing the levels and dealing with enemies far more manageable than it could have been.
Snowboard Kids 2
While Nintendo’s own snowboarding title, 1080° Snowboarding, was an enjoyable affair, it paled in comparison to Snowboard Kids 2. It’s ironic because this is a game that feels like a Nintendo game more so than the actual Nintendo offering.
Snowboard Kids 2 is what you would get if you wanted to bring Mario Kart to a snowboarding game. A wonderful cast of characters, courses, and racing all deliver for an incredibly underrated and underappreciated Nintendo 64 gem. It’s a game that truly deserves to be talked about amongst the console’s greats.