Hello and welcome to another installment of the top ten games on each Nintendo system, as voted by Nintendo Enthusiast staff and readers. Today, we will be looking at Nintendo’s first primarily 3D system, the Nintendo 64. While Nintendo’s third-party support fell off quite a bit with the N64, they put their full effort into supporting it and successfully brought many of their franchises into 3D in an era when making the dimensional jump was very risky for classic series.
Number 10: F-Zero X
The original F-Zero was made to show off the Super Nintendo’s 3D capabilities, but Mode 7 3D games didn’t exactly age well. The N64 was able to make the series fully 3D and F-Zero X was a huge step forward for it. Thirty vehicles at once smoothly zooming through twisting, gravity-defying 3D tracks was very impressive in 1998. With a high difficulty level, plenty of tracks, the aforementioned thirty vehicles, and N64’s signature four-player support, F-Zero X had plenty of replay value. The intense soundtrack fit the game perfectly and stands out on a system not known for having the best music. F-Zero X will be remembered by gamers forever, even if Nintendo doesn’t realize it.
Number 9: Mario Kart 64
Like F-Zero, Super Mario Kart was a beloved Mode 7 racer on the Super Nintendo that had some significant aging problems. Also like F-Zero, when Mario Kart came to the N64, the system’s 3D capabilities greatly improved it. Mario Kart 64’s tracks were no longer flat or forced to reuse themes and the multiplayer was twice as fun as before with the four-player support. The biggest improvement, however, was the analog control. You actually felt like you were in control of your kart; power-sliding was an advanced technique instead of the only way to make any kind of turn. While the Mario Kart series continued to evolve and there are now areas where Mario Kart 64 feels dated, nothing will ever erase the memories it gave millions of gamers.
Number 8: Perfect Dark
One of the first high profile spiritual successors in gaming, Perfect Dark was acknowledged as the sequel to Goldeneye 007 as soon as it was announced. Perfect Dark took everything Goldeneye had and added to it — more weapons, more complex levels, and an insane amount of multiplayer options. Being a later release, the graphics were some of the best on the system and there was quite a bit of voice acting for a cartridge game. The plot managed to capture the secret agent feel of James Bond while still having its own identity. I’d go into more detail about the game, but the foundation is very similar to the next game on the list.
Number 7: Goldeneye 007
Believe it or not, a Nintendo system was once the biggest force in console first-person shooters. While the N64 had some notable FPSes early in its life (Turok, Doom 64), what really tied the genre to that system was Goldeneye 007. The game’s realistic setting, objective-based missions, and (at the time) rare, fully 3D world had a lasting impact on first-person shooters. No game before it had captured the feel of being a secret agent on an actual mission so well. The four-player multiplayer mode is still one of the most beloved in gaming. While not every aspect of the game has aged well, Goldeneye’s legacy can still be felt in first-person shooters today. One of the most memorable and revolutionary games on the N64 and quite possibly the best licensed game of all time, Goldeneye 007 will always be a classic.
Number 6: Paper Mario
Super Mario RPG was the last Square game on a Nintendo system before the painful break-up that would last the entirety of the N64’s life. Despite this, Nintendo made a spiritual sequel on their own and it turned out even better than the original. Paper Mario may seem like a simple game on the surface, but the combat system actually has quite a bit of depth and the puzzles are far more complex with the addition of partners that function like Zelda items outside of battle. The story is simple but charming and always feels like a Mario game, which Super Mario RPG often didn’t. The paper look is iconic and allows for a very detailed and colorful world for an N64 game. After suffering such a severe RPG drought, Paper Mario was a fantastic addition to the N64’s library near the end of its life.
Number 5: Super Smash Bros.
There are some ideas that every Nintendo fan had at some point and a fighting game with the stars of Nintendo’s series was one of them. When it actually happened, I know I wasn’t the only one who was instantly sold on the game. Super Smash Bros. isn’t a traditional fighting game; it is better described as a hybrid between a fighting game and a platformer. Nintendo fanservice is stuffed into the game — in the characters, stages, and items. While the single-player mode is lacking compared to the endless modes present in the later Smash games, Super Smash Bros. is one of the best party games ever made and that was fully present in the first installment. With four players, this game is just as fun as it was in 1999 and everything you wanted from your childhood fantasy.
Number 4: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
After only getting three mainline Zelda games in the 90s, each one for a different system, receiving a second one on the N64 just two years after the first was unexpected. On the surface, Majora’s Mask looks like a retread of Ocarina of Time and, while the characters may all look familiar, the world of Termina is surreal and surprisingly dark, resulting in one of the most emotional Zelda games. The gameplay is just as unique, with a persistent time limit that forces you to relive the same three days over and over again while gradually making progress. Link can turn into three different species and the NPCs are still the most developed in Zelda history. While not every new idea was implemented perfectly, the game is unlike any other Zelda and a great example of how much you can change a game, even if most of the assets are recycled.
Number 3: Star Fox 64
This game is far more than barrel roll-related advice. Like the other Nintendo series that had 3D games on SNES, Star Fox benefited enormously from the N64’s capabilities. Being the first Nintendo game with full voice acting gave the game lots of personality while the great control and level design easily brought it to the peak of the rare 3D shmup genre. The game’s mostly linear levels allowed it to be one of the best aging games on the N64, the camera system is never a problem, and the levels are packed with enemies. With multiple paths through the game, bonus objectives, and unlockables, Star Fox 64 easily has the replay value to make up for its short initial length. One of the most purely fun experiences on the system, it is a must-own and we can only hope that the Wii U Star Fox matches it.
Number 2: Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is arguably the most influential game of its decade. While several genres had made the switch to 3D when Super Mario 64 was released, being able to move and jump in a large, fully 3D world was something that had barely been accomplished. A game of Super Mario 64’s quality doing those things was a spectacle that arguably no game has matched since. The sense of freedom in the level design and control was something nobody was prepared for. It managed to set the template for 3D platformers while having the best control and level design of its genre for years to come. A technical marvel that is still fun to play today, Super Mario 64 is the game that defined the N64 and what all games for it aspired to be. There’s only one game that managed to surpass it.
Number 1: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The business of hyping games has greatly expanded as time goes by. There were the old days when you were likely to stumble across games on store shelves you didn’t even know were coming out and the modern era where companies spend more on promoting games than they do developing them. Somewhere in between, hitting a perfect balance, was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Revealed with crude early screenshots near the launch of the N64, it had a seemingly eternal build-up of hype. When the game finally arrived in November 1998, it managed to live up to the hype. Zelda made a transition to 3D that was even more seamless than Mario, the game made a huge advancement for 3D control in the Z-targeting system, the levels were superbly designed, and the game felt epic in a way that no previous Nintendo game had come close to. There is far too much in Ocarina of Time to describe here, but anyone who has played it will know why it made number one on this list. One of the true classics among all of gaming.