This is the ninth in my ’30 Best’ series of articles in which I discuss my favourite games ever on a system-by-system basis for the first time in my career. In case you missed them, the full list of other ’30 Best’ articles can be found at the bottom of this page.
’30 Best’ will now be a regular series, thanks to my lovely Patreon followers helping me reach a stretch goal. If you want to contribute, please visit my Patreon page.
Few retro games consoles are as fondly remembered as the Nintendo 64.
The history books list it as the system that was thoroughly trounced by the PlayStation, but with over 32 million sold – more than the Sega Mega Drive – its influence was still notable.
Nowhere was this influence clearer than in some of the games exclusive to the system. The N64 marked Nintendo’s first proper foray into polygonal gaming (I know, the Super FX chip, but whatever), and with it came a bunch of new concepts that would go on to shape the games we play today.
Most of them weren’t firsts. After all, there were 3D platformers before Super Mario 64, first-person shooters before GoldenEye and buckets of wank before Superman 64.
But – like the analogue stick on its iconic controller – while they weren’t the first of their kind, thanks to Nintendo’s innovation they were the first to capture the imaginations of gamers worldwide.
In the grand scheme of things, the Nintendo 64 didn’t have a hell of a lot of games. The company’s infamous split from Sony (more on that in a future article) led to not only a new console war between companies, but a format war too: CDs versus cartridges.
Ultimately, most developers sided with Sony and its use of CD-ROMs. Even though the N64’s cartridges meant near-instant load times, the fact was these cartridges cost a fortune to make.
The PlayStation CD-ROMs meanwhile could store much more data, allowed for CD-quality music, could easily handle video and – most importantly – were much cheaper to manufacture.
As such, while the PlayStation ended up with nearly 2500 games released for it worldwide, the N64 ended up with a meagre 388.
With a game list so small, you’d think coming up with a ’30 Best’ list would be tricky, since there are so few games that nearly 1 in 10 will make the cut. But the N64’s library consisted of so many gems that, on the contrary, I still had to ditch some games that will undoubtedly annoy some folk.
Well, tough. It’s my list.
The annoying notes bit
This list is in alphabetical order. Much like it’s pretty pointless deciding whether a game’s getting a score of 72% or 73%, it doesn’t really matter if Pilotwings 64 is my 23rd or 24th favourite Nintendo 64 game. Everything in this list was deemed good enough to make the cut, so I recommend them all with similar enthusiasm.
It’s also my own personal list and not a collaborative effort for a magazine or website, meaning there will be some ‘glaring’ omissions of games I simply didn’t play or didn’t like. So please don’t lose your shit because Body Harvest isn’t on here or say I “forgot” Turok 2: Seeds Of Evil – I didn’t forget it, it’s just not one of my 30 personal favourites.
If one of your own recommendations isn’t on the list, feel free to give it a shoutout in the comments below (politely though, mind) and tell everyone what it meant to you.
Some of these games are available on the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console services. For those that are, I’ve noted this. The best way to play the rest is by tracking down the original cartridges and playing them on an original Nintendo 64 console.
If you’re a European gamer, I’ve provided Amazon UK links to each game so you can see what they’re going for second-hand. Some of them are daft money (Banjo-Tooie goes for over £50) but others are selling for only a quid or two.
I won’t bullshit you: these are affiliate links. This means if my list has tempted you to buy a game, if you do it through Amazon UK by clicking my link then I get a few pence (literally) of Amazon’s revenue for referring you to them. It doesn’t cost you any extra, so it’s a win-win situation.
Buying proper carts can be a time-consuming and often costly process so there are alternatives. The most obvious is emulation, but for the sake of repetition this is the only time I’ll address it in this article. The legal implications of downloading ROMs of N64 games, many of which can still be purchased digitally, is something you should investigate and decide on yourself.
That said, take it as a given that all of these games can be played via emulation, but won’t always offer a flawless experience. N64 emulation in particular is something that still hasn’t been perfectly cracked for all titles.
Also, since I’m from the UK, all games will be listed by their European titles. Everyone outside of America has to deal with Wikipedia and the like deciding US titles are the standard for some reason, so on my turf it’s my rules. Deal with it.
Anyway, on with the list.
What it is: I’m going to shock you here, but it’s a snowboarding game. Specifically, it’s a snowboarding game programmed by a couple of Brits and developed by Nintendo EAD.
Why it was chosen: There had obviously been snowboarding games before 1080° (most notable PlayStation title Cool Boarders), but Nintendo’s offering raised the bar.
It was the first snowboarding game to acknowledge that there are different types of snow, and that they look and behave in different ways.
As such, racing through fluffy, freshly fallen snow slowed you down more but gave you more control than going over the more packed-in, harder snow.
It’s a difficult game to master, but once you get the hang of it you’ll love it, terrible music and all.
Buy it: 1080° is on both the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. If you want the cart you can buy it from Amazon UK.
Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie
What they are: A pair of 3D platformers from UK studio Rare when it was at the peak of its powers.
Why they were chosen: Obviously when you think of iconic Nintendo 64 platformers Super Mario 64 is the first that springs to mind (and yes, obviously, I’ll get to that later).
But Mario’s fifth console adventure was Nintendo’s only proper attempt at 3D platforming on the N64, leaving it up to other studios to fill the void for fans of this newly-created genre.
Step forward Rare with the brilliant Banjo-Kazooie, a platformer that was packed with fun worlds to explore, catchy music, likeable characters and a typically British sarcastic sense of humour. Its sequel offered more of the same, too.
That Rare alumni Playtonic’s recent Yooka-Laylee borrows so much from both Banjo games speaks volumes.
Buy them: Buy Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie from Amazon UK. Both games are also available digitally on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and feature on the Rare Replay compilation on Xbox One.
What it is: Another Rare release. This time it’s a top-down action game in which you’re in charge of destroying a series of buildings to clear a path for an out of control, unstoppable truck carrying a nuke.
Why it was chosen: Blast Corps isn’t as immediately accessible as Banjo or many of Rare’s other games, but that’s sort of the point.
Each level is essentially a time-based puzzle, as you try to figure out not only which buildings to destroy before the oncoming nuke hits them, but also what you’ll use to destroy them in the most efficient manner.
This is where Blast Corps’ most genius mechanic comes into play: the ability to get out of one vehicle, leg it across the game world and climb into another.
Not only does this add a massive level of strategy to proceedings, it also keeps things fresh as one minute you’re driving a bulldozer and the next you’re a giant mech that destroys buildings by somersaulting into them.
To this day, two decades later, there’s still nothing like it.
Buy it: Buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK. It also features on the Rare Replay compilation on Xbox One.
Destruction Derby 64
What it is: A needlessly late port of the PlayStation game (it came four years later) in which the aim is to smash the utter fuck out of other cars.
Why it was chosen: The N64 version of Destruction Derby is remembered far less than the PlayStation version it was based on. It’s a shame, because it looked better and ran smoother.
At its core though it’s still the same excellent crash ‘em up, with a variety of race types from Destruction Race (a normal lapped affair where you’re ranked based on how much you damaged your opponents) to the titular Destruction Derby bowl races.
Sometimes you want a game that’s simple and lets you just sit back and guffaw like a dumb prick. And that’s Destruction Derby 64.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
Diddy Kong Racing
What it is: Rare’s take on Mario Kart, which despite starring the worst Kong character and a bunch of nobodies still ended up being great.
Why it was chosen: Although Mario Kart 64 was the popular choice when it came to N64 multiplayer racing, Diddy Kong Racing offered more for the single player gamer.
It was essentially the Super Mario 64 of kart games, with a big open world hub and doors which required a certain number of collectibles before you could unlock them and play the next track.
Boss battles were thrown into the mix too. These were notoriously difficult, testing your racing abilities (and more importantly your boosting abilities) to the limit. To this day I’m adamant that the bloody Triceratops can fuck off.
It also had an interesting character roster, consisting of the titular Diddy and a bunch of others nobody had ever heard of: over time though, two of them – Banjo and Conker – would end up starring in their own games.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK. Alternatively, it was remade for DS.
F-1 World Grand Prix I and II
What they are: A pair of Formula One games developed by Paradigm Entertainment, a Texas-based studio who had previously helped Nintendo with Pilotwings 64.
Why they were chosen: The N64 generally didn’t have a wide range of realistic racing games to choose from, certainly not compared to the PlayStation with its Gran Turismos and the like.
The big exception to this was the F-1 World Grand Prix games, which offered realistic Formula One racing with all the official player names and cars.
For its age, it still holds up remarkably well, allowing you to play a full F1 season with full car tuning, weather effects and damage.
Best of all was the Challenge mode, which gave you a bunch of different real-life scenarios and asked you to recreate them.
These games were so far ahead of their time: it’s a shame the series didn’t continue on to future systems.
Buy them: Get F-1 World Grand Prix and F-1 World Grand Prix 2 from Amazon UK.
What it is: The sequel to Nintendo’s futuristic SNES racer. A ridiculously fast racing game with up to 30 cars on-screen at the same time.
Why it was chosen: When most people think about F-Zero they either picture the SNES original or the cult GameCube favourite F-Zero GX.
My favourite of the bunch was probably the N64 offering, mainly because of the ridiculous Death Race mode.
In this, you race endlessly along a completely straight track and attempt to destroy all 29 other racers by slamming and performing spin attacks into them. The aim is to kill everyone as quickly as possible.
Of course, you’ve also got the main GP modes and the like, but Death Race is something unique to F-Zero X that was never seen again.
It may not be much to look at in still screenshots, but lightning fast 60fps gameplay on the N64 was rarer than uncooked unicorn meat and so it ran beautifully.
Buy it: F-Zero X is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK.
What it is: Rare’s Bond-themed multiplayer classic that brought the first-person shooter to the mainstream.
Why it was chosen: Yes, I know GoldenEye wasn’t the first FPS. I know it wasn’t even the first well-known one: Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and Quake all came before it.
But as the first console FPS to make multiplayer deathmatches easy to set up and play, it introduced the genre to a whole host of gamers.
GoldenEye was groundbreaking. Play it today and it hasn’t aged too well: aiming is horrible, the character models are laughable and the frame rate is approaching slideshow levels. But despite all that it still has a charm that continues to make it fun to this day.
There isn’t a lot that hasn’t been said about GoldenEye over the years, but let me say this: it was the first game to sell 400 million copies.
I mean, that isn’t true. But at least it’s something that hasn’t been said about it.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
What it is: Midway’s arcade racer in which players guide a speedboat through a variety of waterlogged environments.
Why it was chosen: I’ve always been a big fan of Midway’s arcade racing games. The likes of San Francisco Rush and the Cruis’n games (though maybe not the N64 versions of the latter) have always been guilty pleasures of mine.
Hydro Thunder is one of the best, because of the brilliant water physics and the weird and wonderful tracks you get to race through.
One minute you’re racing through the Arctic, the next you’re in the canals of Venice and the next you’re on a flooded, post-apocalyptic New York.
It’s daft and it’s frustrating at times (the AI opponents can be a bit on the tricky side) but I still get a kick out of it.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK. Alternatively, a sequel called Hydro Thunder Hurricane is available digitally on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
International Superstar Soccer 64, 98 and 2000
What they are: Konami’s successors to its SNES football games ISS and ISS Deluxe and the early ancestors (of sorts) of the Pro Evolution Soccer series.
Why they were chosen: The first ISS was my favourite football game during the 16-bit era.
Even back then in the early days of EA and Konami’s football rivalry the idea was already beginning to form that FIFA appealed to the mainstream while Konami’s series appealed to more serious gamers.
When ISS made the move to the Nintendo 64 I was worried that the move to a new engine may have disrupted what was already a pretty solid football experience. It turns out it actually improved on it drastically.
This is partly because ISS 64 introduced two new moves to the football genre – the one-two pass and the through ball – the latter in particular completely transforming the way football games were played.
The N64 ISS games were so far ahead of anything else at the time, and while they were eventually surpassed by Konami’s own Pro Evo series, they’re still fantastic arcade-style football titles.
Buy them: Buy ISS 64, ISS 98 and ISS 2000 from Amazon UK.
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
What it is: The fourth Zelda console adventure. Link has to travel through time to stop the evil Ganondorf from getting his manky mitts on the Triforce.
Why it was chosen: Come on, you know why it was chosen. It’s fucking Ocarina Of Time.
It may have recently been surpassed by the incredible Breath Of The WIld, but Ocarina Of Time was so important to the evolution of the open-world adventure that it remains a compelling game all these years later.
Hyrule Field doesn’t feel as vast as it did back then, and the midi music doesn’t sound quite as grandiose as it used to.
But it’s still a fantastic adventure with so much to see and do, and the 3DS re-release a few years back shows it still holds up alongside the modern equivalents it inspired.
It was ahead of its time. Which is quite fitting, I suppose.
Buy it: Ocarina Of Time is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. There was also a 3DS remake. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
What it is: The follow-up to Ocarina Of Time, though it’s set in the same world. It’s basically what expansion DLC was like before DLC existed.
Why it was chosen: Ocarina Of Time was the Star Wars of open-world adventure games: the one that broke ground, blew everyone away and transformed the way we looked at the medium.
Continuing the analogy, then, Majora’s Mask was the Empire Strikes Back of the series. In other words, it was the one that was dark and depressing as fuck.
It was also a great example of Nintendo’s ability to think outside the box and summed up the company’s tendency to make the most of limitations presented to it.
You see, with a development deadline of only one year (Ocarina took four), Aonuma’s Nintendo EAD team came up with the idea of the game’s famous looping three-day cycle. This let them use the same assets and focus on building a great narrative instead.
The result is a game that – rather than the sprawling epic of Ocarina – tells a more insular, intricate and intense story.
Buy it: Majora’s Mask is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. There was also a 3DS remake. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
What it is: The sequel to Starwing (or Star Fox, if you’re not British), Lylat Wars (Star Fox 64) saw Fox McCloud and his wingmen take on the evil Andross once again.
Why it was chosen: The first Starwing was notable for the Super FX chip, a nifty little gizmo that let the SNES display rudimentary polygonal graphics.
When it came to making a sequel for a system where polygons were the order of the day then, Lylat Wars didn’t fuck around.
Although you could sort of argue it’s a reimagining of the first game, Lylat Wars nailed the Star Wars feeling by doing everything better: better graphics, better explosions, a better soundtrack and better action.
It also introduced the world to force feedback thanks to the Rumble Pak, a chunky little block that plugged into the Nintendo 64 controller and added vibrations for the first time. The fact we still refer to it as ‘rumble’ instead of ‘vibration’ to this day is an indication of how big an impact it made.
Its on-rails gameplay may not be to everyone’s tastes and these days it’s visually very blurry and murky, but in my eyes Lylat Wars is still a fantastic slice of action.
Buy it: Lylat Wars is on the Wii Virtual Console (as Lylat Wars in Europe and Star Fox 64 elsewhere), and the Wii U Virtual Console (as Star Fox 64 everywhere). There was also a 3DS remake. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
Mario Kart 64
What it is: The second game in the Mario Kart series. You might have heard about it: it’s about a chubby prick and his pals driving around and littering the roads.
Why it was chosen: I remember when I first saw a photo of the Nintendo 64 hardware and noticed that it had four controller ports instead of the usual two.
“That’s interesting,” 13-year-old me thought, “but nobody really plays four-player games so it’s probably a waste of time.”
Oh, what a naive prick I was. I didn’t account for the glory that was Mario Kart 64 and the regular ‘bring your controllers to a mate’s house’ shindigs that followed as a result.
Before GoldenEye came on the scene, Mario Kart 64 was already cementing the N64’s reputation as the definitive party console. It’s still fun today too, even if the handling’s a bit on the pish side now.
Buy it: Mario Kart 64 is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK.
Mario Party 1, 2 and 3
What they are: A trio of interactive board games in which players move their Mario character of choice around a board in an attempt to collect more stars than anyone else.
Why they were chosen: You know when I said the Nintendo 64 was considered a party console? If you needed more literal evidence of this, get these three little beauties jammed into your eyepipes.
Essentially creating another genre that continues to grace consoles to this day (or plague them, depending on your viewpoint), the Mario Party games are the pinnacle of ‘everyone can join in’ multiplayer.
Not least of all because, being based on board games, there was a degree of luck involved, meaning sometimes yer da would be able to score a rare victory.
Some of the mini-games were notorious for making you spin the Control Stick round and round as quickly as possible. This spawned its own metagame as players tried to see what would wear out first: their controller or the skin on their palms.
If you only want to play one of them, get Mario Party 2. It’s generally considered to be the best of the bunch.
Buy them: Mario Party 2 is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy Mario Party, Mario Party 2 and Mario Party 3 from Amazon UK.
What it is: The first in Camelot Software Planning’s series of Mario tennis games, and the debut appearance of Waluigi.
Why it was chosen: It says a lot that the N64 Mario Tennis offers more than Ultra Smash, its Wii U descendant released 15 years later.
Despite it being Camelot’s first crack at a tennis game, the Tokyo-based studio nailed the gameplay right away and it remains great fun.
With 16 playable characters (including the underappreciated Donkey Kong Jr), full singles and doubles modes, a bunch of tournaments and a few fun mini-games, there’s still lots in here to keep you entertained.
Ultra Smash, on the other hand, is shite. As my video review explains.
Buy it: Mario Tennis is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
What it is: The fifth game in the Ganbare Goemon series. It’s an action platformer known for its odd sense of humour.
Why it was chosen: Mystical Ninja is one those games that usually never sees the light of day outside of Japan because it’s just a bit too odd for western audiences.
Yet, somehow, this strange tale of a ninja trying to stop a bunch of dancers in a spaceship shaped like a peach from firing a laser that turns Japan into a stage show managed to make it to our shores.
Judged solely on its gameplay it’s a fun action platform game with responsive controls and few frustrating moments.
Add its strange comedy into the mix though and you’ve got a game that should have you chuckling bemused guffaws throughout.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
What it is: The first game in the Paper Mario series. It’s an RPG with a unique art style in which, as the name suggests, Mario and the other Mushroom Kingdom residents are all made out of paper.
Why it was chosen: Most people consider The Thousand-Year Door on GameCube as the best Paper Mario game, but the original game shouldn’t be discounted either.
It shares the same wonderful art design and hilarious sense of humour as its successor, and puts a big smile on my face every time I play it.
Of particular note is the way that, as in the second game, you can befriend ‘goodie’ versions of eight classic Mario enemies who each give you special abilities.
What The Thousand Year Door can’t boast, however, is the presence of Goombario, a little Goomba who’s Mario’s biggest fan. He’s one of my favourite characters in any Mario game.
Buy it: Paper Mario is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK.
What it is: Rare’s follow-up to GoldenEye, this time ditching the Bond licence in favour of an original plot involving secret agent Joanna Dark.
Why it was chosen: Perfect Dark was a great game for all the reasons GoldenEye was, but it just did everything better.
It looked much more detailed (thanks to the Expansion Pak which gave the N64 extra power), had a wider range of weapons including extraterrestrial guns, and had a generally more complex plot.
Most notable, though, was the improved multiplayer. As well as all the options GoldenEye players had come to expect, Perfect Dark also offered co-op and Counter Operative mode, in which one player tried to perform the single-player missions while another controlled an enemy trying to kill them.
Add to this the ability for solo players to add bots and you had a game that blew GoldenEye out of the water in every possible parameter (except Bond-iness, obviously).
Buy it: Buy the N64 cart from Amazon UK. It’s also available digitally on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and features on the Rare Replay compilation on Xbox One.
What it is: The 64th game in the long-running Pilotwings series. Nah, not really, it’s just the second one. It’s about flying and that.
Why it was chosen: Like F-Zero, the original SNES version of Pilotwings was a brilliant way of showing off the system’s Mode 7 graphics.
Unlike F-Zero though, Pilotwings was also an attempt to take a genre that was more associated with home computers – the flight sim – and make it more accommodating and accessible to console gamers.
The SNES game was great but Pilotwings 64 was where the series really came into its own, the introduction of polygonal landscapes allowing players to fly wherever they wanted and explore each environment.
Although it had standard missions like its predecessors, Nintendo’s addition of a Birdman mode was a touch of genius, letting players gently fly around each area at their own pace and soak in the atmosphere.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
Resident Evil 2
What it is: A port of Capcom’s survival horror sequel, released nearly two years after it originally launched on PlayStation.
Why it was chosen: The N64 version of Resident Evil 2 was generally ignored for one obvious reason: while it launched on the PlayStation in January 1998, Nintendo owners didn’t get it until the end of 1999, a mere ten days before the third game was due to launch on Sony’s system.
It’s a shame, because it’s arguably still the best version of Resi 2 to date. For starters, it offered a higher resolution than the PlayStation version, with 640×480 gameplay possible if you had an Expansion Pak.
“Get fucked, Chris,” I hear you say. “The PC version let you play at higher resolutions than that”.
True, but did the PC version include exclusive alternate costumes, a ‘randomiser’ mode that made items appear in different places each time you played, and a bunch of new hidden documents that revealed more about the game’s lore? Nope. So YOU get fucked.
Sorry, come back. We’ve both said things we didn’t mean. Let’s get through this.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
Ridge Racer 64
What it is: A nifty N64 entry in the greatest arcade racing series ever made.
Why it was chosen: Ridge Racer has more or less been synonymous with PlayStation over the years, the odd stray into different territory aside.
One such wander was Ridge Racer 64, the only time the series appeared on a Nintendo home console (there were DS and 3DS ones too).
It’s basically a combination of tracks from Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution along with a new desert track exclusive to the N64.
To be honest, though, it could just be a single track in which you drive round a giant toilet bowl and I’d still love it. After all, since it’s Ridge Racer, you’d be powersliding round that prick.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
Sin & Punishment
What it is: An on-rails shooter developed as a collaboration between Nintendo and shoot ‘em up experts Treasure.
Why it was chosen: Sin & Punishment was something of a holy grail for many western Nintendo 64 owners, because it wasn’t actually released here.
Despite having English voice acting, the fact Japan didn’t get it until November 2000 – by which point the N64 was essentially dead elsewhere – meant it never saw an overseas launch.
Those who did manage to play it by importing it discovered it was worth the effort too: it’s a fantastic shooter that’s also one of the most visually impressive games on the system.
Thankfully, western Nintendo fans did finally get a chance to play it seven years later when it came to the Wii Virtual Console, and it still held up (as it does today).
Buy it: Sin And Punishment is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. It was never released on cartridge in America or Europe.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer
What it is: The Episode I podracing scene that George Lucas definitely didn’t include so it could be turned into a video game, turned into a video game.
Why it was chosen: Look, we can debate back and forth about whether The Phantom Menace was actually a good film, but it’s harder to argue against one specific thing: the podrace scene was cool.
It’s no surprise, then, that the game based on that very scene also turned out to be pretty shit-hot, expanding on it by adding a bunch of playable characters and a wide variety of tracks.
While it’s been slowed down a bit from the movie version to ensure it’s actually playable – racing purely with your instincts isn’t fun if you aren’t actually a Jedi – it still runs along at a fair pace.
It’s also got a really satisfying turbo boost and cracking music. In short, it’s the best thing about Episode I. And there’s not a Gungan or a midichlorian to be seen.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Episode I: Battle For Naboo
What they are: A pair of flight combat games set in the Star Wars universe. Rogue Squadron is set between Episodes IV and V, while Battle For Naboo is based on Episode I.
Why they were chosen: When the GameCube launched with Rogue Squadron II it was quickly praised as one of the finest Star Wars games ever made. And rightly so, because it’s ace.
Spare a thought, though, for the two N64 games that preceded it, because what they lack in comparative graphical oomph they still more than make up for with gripping air combat.
Rogue Squadron in particular was notable for its brilliant unlockables. Collecting medals on each level unlocks classic Star Wars battles like the Death Star Trench run and the Battle of Hoth, while the Millennium Falcon and a TIE Interceptor can be unlocked if you beat those bonus levels.
Best of all though, developer Factor 5 snuck a hidden Naboo Starfighter from Episode I in there, a spoilerific decision considering the game launched six months before the movie.
Amazingly though, thanks to a clever code scrambling technique that meant cheat cartridge hackers couldn’t find it, the ship remained hidden on the cartridge for that entire six-month period until Episode I hit the cinemas, at which point LucasArts revealed the code to unlock it.
Buy them: You can buy Rogue Squadron and Battle For Naboo on Amazon UK.
Super Mario 64
What it is: The fifth game in the Super Mario console platforming series and the one that essentially laid out the rules for the 3D platformer genre.
Why it was chosen: Smart arses will keenly inform you that Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first 3D platform game ever made.
“I think you’ll find,” they’ll smugly smirk, “that Bug! on the Sega Saturn predates it by a year.”
Maybe so, but who still talks about Bug! these days? NAE PRICK, that’s who. That’s because Mario 64 was the first to truly define the genre, inspiring countless games to follow.
Now more than 20 years old, it’s still bloody addictive and still feels better to play than many modern platformers: proof that Nintendo absolutely nailed Mario’s jump from 2D to 3D at the first time of asking.
Buy it: Super Mario 64 is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. There was also a DS remake. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
Super Smash Bros
What it is: The first in the series of Nintendo’s four-player all-star fighting game, starring the likes of Mario, Link, Pikachu and Samus.
Why it was chosen: It may look positively prehistoric now compared to the Wii U and 3DS versions, but the N64 Smash Bros still has a lot going for it.
Like so many other N64 games on this list, it’s a testament to its mechanics that playing it still feels similar to the vastly visually improved sequels released in the decades since.
It also had a cracking single-player mode – something the most recent instalment can’t exactly boast – which incorporated 14 levels including the three mini-games.
It’s basic, then, but get a bunch of people to play it and you’ll still be laughing and calling each other all the pricks under the sun.
Buy it: Super Smash Bros is available on the Wii Virtual Console (but not the Wii U one). Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and 3
What they are: The second and third games in Activision’s groundbreaking skateboarding series, which were so successful they’re often credited with reviving the sport’s popularity.
Why they were chosen: The first Tony Hawk game was great for its time, but it wasn’t until its sequel was released that it really started to pick up the pace.
The introduction of the ‘manual’ move in Pro Skater 2 let players chain certain moves together, creating combos that transformed the way the game was played.
Pro Skater 3 took it further by adding the ‘revert’, letting players continue combos after landing from half-pipe jumps and theoretically allowing for enormous score multipliers.
These two additions turned the Tony Hawk games from fun skateboarding sims to hardcore high-score challenges. And they were incredible.
Buy it: You can buy Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 from Amazon UK. Pro Skater 3 was only released in the US so it isn’t available on Amazon UK.
Wave Race 64
What it is: The much-anticipated sequel to Wave Race on the Game Boy. Okay, so nobody really wanted a sequel to that but it turned out for the best anyway.
Why it was chosen: Nintendo fans keep asking the Japanese giant for a new F-Zero game, but if I’m honest I’d rather have a new Wave Race instead.
There’s something oddly satisfying about whipping your jetski around corners, getting flung about by the unpredictable waves.
Continuing the theme of Nintendo nailing it the first time around, Wave Race 64 was its first attempt at doing realistic water physics and even today it’s still believable.
What I wouldn’t give to see a modern version on the Switch. Or even a Virtual Console re-release of its GameCube sequel Wave Race: Blue Storm.
Buy it: Wave Race 64 is available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Alternatively, you can buy the N64 cartridge from Amazon UK.
WWF No Mercy
What they are: The second of only two WWE-licensed games developed by AKI Corporation, the Japanese studio known for making arguably the best wrestling games.
Why it was chosen: WWF No Mercy was released in November 2000 and there still hasn’t been a wrestling game since then that’s been more entertaining to play.
Yes, the WWE 2K series looks incredible and has more features than a man with four heads, but when it comes to the actual grappling gameplay on offer it’s still lacking No Mercy’s depth.
It’s a slow-paced game but a wonderfully tactical one: put two No Mercy experts in the ring and the result is a technical masterclass in reversals, risks and Rocks.
It also had a ridiculous roster of 74 wrestlers – dwarfing anything at the time – with such bizarre unlockable characters as Linda McMahon, ring announcer Howard Finkel and one of pimp character The Godfather’s… um, lady friends.
Buy it: Buy it from Amazon UK.
So there you go, that’s 30 games, that should be enough to keep you busy for a while.
What’s that? You want more? You insatiable rogue. Okay then, here are another 15 that didn’t quite make the ‘big list’ but are still cracking games.
* Available on the Wii U Virtual Console
** Available on both Wii and Wii U Virtual Console
Beetle Adventure Racing
A nippy little EA racer that, you guessed it, focuses on VW Beetles. Looks great and has some lovely long tracks.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare’s notorious action platformer game starring a foul-mouthed squirrel. Puts the ‘nad’ into ‘third person adventure’. Okay, I accept, that was rubbish.
Sadly underrated racer released when the N64 was on its arse. A great motocross game with a brilliantly realistic feel of momentum when jumping.
Jet Force Gemini
Another Rare gem, this third-person shooter in which you gun down hordes of insects is also available as part of the Rare Replay compilation on Xbox One.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards**
An old-school 2.5D platformer in which Kirby has to defeat the evil Dark Matter while collecting pieces of a sacred crystal. Story of my life, eh folks?
Camelot doesn’t just do good tennis games, you know. This golfing effort was also a solid affair with a generous eight courses to play through.
Mickey’s Speedway USA
One of the Rare Nintendo 64 games that most people tend to forget, this was no Diddy Kong Racing but still offered a load of karting fun for Disney fans.
Monster Truck Madness 64
A N64 port of the cult PC game, featuring a bunch of off-road races with comedy floaty physics. It also included trucks based on WCW wrestlers for some reason.
NFL Quarterback Club 99
The best American football game on the N64, best known for supporting the N64’s rarely used 480p hi-resolution mode (instead of its normal 240p mode). It looked great.
A Pokemon shoot ’em up. Of course, by ‘shoot’ I mean with a camera. What did you think I meant? Did you think I meant WITH A GUN?! HAHAHAHA YOU FUCKING
Top Gear Rally 1 & 2
A pair of rally games that had great physics and realistic suspension for the time. A genuine challenger to the Colin McRae games.
WCW vs nWo: World Tour, WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF Wrestlemania 2000
Before there was WWF No Mercy there were these three other offerings from AKI Corporation, the same developer. They all have the same engine, so are worth playing too if you fancy trying a different roster out.
The only game in the generally PlayStation-focused series to appear on a Nintendo system, and a bloody good one at that. It had an iffy frame rate and load times (rare for an N64 cart) but its analogue steering gave it an edge over the early PlayStation entries.
World Cup 98
FIFA 98 was the first proper kick up the arse for EA’s football series and it was great fun to play. I always preferred this World Cup edition, though, mainly because of its bonus World Cup Classics mode which let you replay old World Cup Final matches.
The sequel to Yoshi’s Island. It was criticised at the time for being a little too short and easy, but with the likes of Yoshi’s Woolly World and Kirby’s Epic Yarn these days showing that isn’t a bad thing, it’s aged well as a result.
The ’30 Best’ series to date:
The 30 best Nintendo DS games
The 30 best GameCube games
The 30 best Dreamcast games
The 30 best Amiga games
The 30 best Wii games
The 30 best SNES games
The 30 best PlayStation Vita games
The 30 best Wii U games
If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my Patreon account. ’30 Best’ is now a regular series because of my lovely Patreon friends helping me hit a stretch goal.
Good list can’t really argue with them,I’m slowly replacing my PAL collection with NTSC,currently at 19. Glad you put Sin in there been on the fence about getting this due but you’ve swayed me ;).
Shout out for Road Rash 64, by far the best N64 multiplayer game that no-one played. I’m not even joking when i say i feel it’s up there in the fun vehicular combat stakes with Mario Kart 64.
I’m so glad you put World Cup 98 in the honourable mentions. Personally, it would be really high on my list, but anyone mentioning it is good enough for me. What a game.
I had pretty much every game on this list back in the day.
Great list, and has made me want to dig the old guy out of the cupboard when I get in, but, I have to ask about Body Harvest…!?
Whoa, I always thought Superman 64 was the first EVER bucket of wank. That’s me told!
I’ll tell you this Chris: WipEout 64 is the only game in the series with decent analog controls to this day.
The PS1/2/3/PSP sticks were all far too twitchy and it took too long to move it from left to right. It’s still the only racing game I can think of that is better played with a d-pad.
64 had lovely analog controls that had a flow to them. It also had a proper Tim Wright soundtrack and a fantastic secret track called Velocitar which sounds like a Pokemon.
Snowboard Kids was my favourite game not featured here. Then maybe Spacestation Silicon Valley. But it’s the console that i remember more than the games, some unforgettable memories!
Wetrix was a great little puzzle game. I’ve found crappy emulations of it but the N64 cartridge version was the best.
I haven’t played too many N64 games outside of some of the big ones like SM64, OoT, and MM, but Sin & Punishment is one of those N64 games I can go back to anytime of the day. Glad it made it on this list.
Great article Chris, I have to say, I missed out on a bunch of these.
I’m goin down to kick your ass gonna have myself a time, you for got to feature south park