We asked our staff to vote on the 40 best games released for the system. While Nintendo 64 will never be remembered for sheer selection of software (only 296 titles released) it will be remembered for the quality of most of it’s games. We had over 100 titles nominated, with the number one game snatching the top spot by only a single vote. Note: We decided not to include any titles (such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3) that were also released on the Gamecube since by that time, most of us had already moved on to playing these on Nintendo’s sixth generation console.
Editor’s Note: This list was originally published on July 10, 2018.
Special Mention: Sin and Punishment
Anyone who plays many of the games found on the Virtual Console should be familiar with Treasure, a tiny Japanese developer with a huge cult following and a back catalogue packed with classic titles including one major hit, Hideyuki Suganami’s Sin and Punishment. Originally passed over for localization, Nintendo only released the arcade-style action shooter stateside via the Wii Virtual Console in 2007. It’s the N64 game that many North American gamers imported purely on the positive buzz from respected gaming magazines such as EGM. For the unfamiliar, the game is essentially a 3D Cabal-styled shooter with a grandiose anime-inspired storyline; massively detailed levels; epic set-pieces (the ocean fleet chapter is most memorable), intricate character and enemy models and action that was so rapid, it was almost impossible to keep up. Treasure’s unique approach to game design coupled with Nintendo’s trademark polish makes this worthy of being remembered as one of the 64-bit greats and easily one of the best rail shooters ever made. Fans of arcade style games should love the fast-paced action, brilliant controls, and fantastic over the top storyline. (Ricky D)
#40. Ridge Racer
When people think of the N64, Mario Kart 64 is usually the first racing game that comes to mind, but there were so many great racing games released for the system that the N64 might just have the best lineup of that genre. Among them is San Francisco Rush, Road Rash, Beetle Adventure Racing, Micro Machines, Wipeout, Wave Race, Diddy Kong Racing, Excitebike and our first entry in this list – Ridge Racer 64, one of the best racing games ever to hit Nintendo’s system. Namco’s classic franchise hit the N64 four years after debuting on Sony’s Playstation, complete with new tracks, new cars, a four-player mode, rock solid frame rates, faster speed and an all-new gameplay mechanic to boot. This wasn’t just a port of the original game and, in fact, Ridge Racer wasn’t even developed by Namco, but instead it was the very first game developed by Nintendo Software Technology. They obviously poured their heats into making the game since everything about it is excellent! – (Ricky D)
#39. Body Harvest
If there’s one game on this list that was way ahead of its time, it’s Body Harvest. Essentially an open-world action game in which the player fights off hordes of invading aliens, the simple concept doesn’t signal even an inch of the games incredible depth and innovation.
For example, as you roam the ridiculously huge world map accomplishing your various missions, you can literally take control of any vehicle you want to help you reach your destination. Sound like a certain million dollar franchise that you’re familiar with? It also allowed you to free-roam the map, doing whatever you wanted at almost any time, rather than doing what you were supposed to be doing. Are you getting it now? It’s a franchise that rhymes with HAND DEFT GELATTO, but only kind of.
Now, here’s the thing, Body Harvest came out in 1998, and unfortunately, on a console that was way underpowered in helping it to achieve its incredibly lofty goals. Still, an ambitious failure comes out way ahead of a successful doppelganger any day, and I can guarantee you’ve literally never played a single game on the Nintendo 64 like Body Harvest. (Mike Worby)
#38. Excitebike 64
It’ll set the daredevil inside you free! Excitebike 64 is nothing like the original Excitebike. It comes with 20 stadium tracks, amazing outdoor courses, six different riders, each with a unique style, and of course, stunning 3D graphics. Following on the success of Wave Race 64 and 1080 Snowboarding, Excitebike 64 upped the ante by resurrecting a beloved NES racer with tight controls, a ridiculous number of modes and a ground-breaking track editor. Excitebike 64 was one of the deepest racers to hit any videogame system – PC or console – and what’s really surprising is how the game stands the test of time. More importantly, the game is not only fun but full of replay value. Nintendo may not have had much third party support when it came to AAA automotive sims but they had no problem in self-producing a handful of top-notch arcade-style racers. (Ricky D)
#37. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was the start of a very successful run for publisher Acclaim, which would grace the N64 with some of its most technically accomplished titles. The game went on to sell 1.5 million copies keeping Acclaim (who were one flop away from bankruptcy) in business. Looking back in hindsight, it’s easy to see why Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was such a success. By combining first-person shooter elements with multi-layered platforming and open-world exploration, Turok was somewhat ahead of its time. On home consoles, the first-person shooter genre had not yet blossomed into the money-making behemoth that it is today, but any kid who played the game back in the day was instantly hooked. Goldeneye 007 may be remembered as the game that popularized the FPS genre on home consoles, but Turok predated it and gave us a large, open-world environment that pushed the N64 to its technical limit. It was also one of the first M-rated games for the console and back in 1997, this was a huge deal for Nintendo fans. Turok may be horribly dated as a result of the genre innovations that followed, but there was very little else like it on home consoles at the time, and for all these reasons and more, it deserves a spot on this very list. Acclaim would build on Turok’s success with several sequels/spinoffs but the original stands out as a genuine classic. (Ricky D)
#36. Bomberman 64
While many franchises struggled to make the transition to a 3D format, Bomberman 64 handled the series’ evolution with a level of finesse and nuance that, frankly, I wasn’t expecting when I first played it through. Released in 1997, this game marked the Hudson’s leading mascot’s first single-player foray, turning a primarily multiplayer based arcade style action game into an action-adventure that spanned multiple worlds. As a band of space pirates begin to use a device called the Omni Cube to drain planets of their energy, they set their sights on planet Bomber, prompting our hero to travel to the world under siege and defeat the leader of the Black Fortress. Adding platforming and light puzzle sections, Bomberman 64 radically changed its own traditional formula to deliver a more entertaining experience than a few seconds of multiplayer action ever could. Across four vibrant worlds, Bomberman has to use his newfound abilities to toss and kick bombs at his enemies and the environment to progress through stages, collect hidden gold cards, and defeat inventive bosses. Familiar power-ups that increased bomb strength and explosion size were strewn throughout the game, making the gameplay feel very connected to preceding titles, while also moving the games forward.
Rather than simply giving the players a jump button, Bomberman 64 maintained its own unique style by forcing players to bounce atop bombs to reach higher ledges and cross wide gaps. To compensate for the new dimension, players could both move in eight directions and manually rotate the camera to more easily navigate the world. Zones like White Glacier and Red Mountain each had distinct puzzles and enemies that required the player to approach every situation differently and had amazing soundtracks to go along with them. If there is one shortcoming of Bomberman 64, it’s that the multiplayer mode that made the series so popular in the first place is somewhat underwhelming and unbalanced. Despite having several maps and cosmetic choices for their avatar, the 4-player battle mode wasn’t nearly as polished as it was in other games, and failed to match the ingenuity of the single-player campaign. (Matt Bruzanno)
#35. NFL Blitz
Those that game with close friends or siblings will know that sometimes when you game with loved ones, tension and emotions tend to run high. Consequently, there’s nothing that quite matches the emotional cocktail that follows watching your friend intercept a ball and tauntingly run in the winning touchdown in a football game, replete with sour notes of sorrow, frustration, a hint of disbelief, and shame. And nothing quite alleviates those antagonizing sensations better than tackling your friend’s celebrating avatar after the play is already done. Therein lies the beauty of the Midway’s N64 classic NFL Blitz, a hilariously exaggerated version of an American football game. Taking inspiration from Midway’s own NBA Jam, an over-the-top basketball game, NFL Blitz ignores the aims of its compatriots, Madden and the like, to deliver the most realistic football simulator possible and delivers a laugh-inducing, fun experience so overblown it can be enjoyed by people who don’t like sports games or even the sport itself. Blitz allows players to make unbelievable plays, impossibly far passes or unfathomable blocks, go Beast Mode and stiff arm any defenders in the path to the end zone, and tackle in brutal, outrageous ways. Those tackles can even take the form of late hits delivered after a play is dead in some of the games funniest moments. Without the ridiculous likes of NFL Blitz, it’s unlikely we’d have any of the zany, off-the-wall sports games, like Rocket League, we have today. While many a game may have carried on its bonkers tone, no sports game may ever truly surpass NFL Blitz. (Tim Maison)
#34. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Although it remains one of the most underrated titles in the series, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, is my personal favorite entry in the titular mascot’s career. Following his N64 debut in Nintendo’s hit fighting game Super Smash Bros, HAL Laboratory’s mascot made the jump to a 2.5D platforming adventure that took him on a journey across the galaxy. At face value, Kirby 64 is a well designed, albeit brief, experience featuring the amazing music, bosses, and moves that the series is known for. However, what the game lacks in difficulty and length, it makes up for with replayability and entertainment value. Naturally building on Kirby’s iconic ability to copy the powers of his enemies, Kirby 64 allows players to combine two abilities to form a completely new one. This simple change radically altered the gameplay, bumping up the slim 7 original powers to a whopping 35 total forms for Kirby, introducing a level of customization that the series never had. New combinations such as the flaming sword, volcano and, my personal favorite, the refrigerator, were miles ahead of the comparatively bland base abilities of earlier games and simultaneously introduced the factor of having to actually create the combination, by swallowing an enemy and hurling their energy towards another monster to fuse them. Every level had a plethora of different powers to be toyed with, and although they were often designed to emphasize the viability of certain abilities over others, there was no one correct style to play through each world. Ingeniously encouraging multiple runs, 72 crystals were hidden throughout the game, requiring some light puzzle solving and exploration. Upon collecting them all, players were treated to one of the finest bosses in Nintendo history, the uncharacteristically disturbing 02 (accompanied by a killer battle theme). In addition to the main story, three mini-games with four difficulties could be played with up to four players, and although they were fairly simplistic, they acted as a nice bonus to top off a phenomenal Kirby game. (Matt Bruzanno)
Not a usual contender for many Top N64 Games lists, but it would be a tragedy if this gem was overlooked for its bigger, badder Sony brother.
Spider-Man sees the web-slinger brought to the third dimension for the first time, quips and all. The story follows Spidey as he takes on a “reformed” Doctor Octopus, who plans to release a symbiote virus on New York City. Along the way, Spidey fights some his classic foes, from Venom, Mysterio, Carnage, and the Rhino, as he tries to foil Doc Ock’s sinister plan. He even gets some help from friends, like Black Cat, the Punisher, and the Human Torch. The game is just chock-full of Spider-Man lore and references to keep any fan entertained, but if that wasn’t enough, the game itself is fantastic. Being able to swing through the skyscrapers of Manhattan and tie bad guys up in Spidey’s signature web leaves the player feeling more than satisfied, like they’re the Web-Slinger himself.
On the N64, the game had concessions made for the cartridge space, removing many of the voice tracks (though thankfully Stan Lee’s narration is still there) and bumping down the resolution of the graphics, but that can be forgiven as the game still plays just as great as on the PS1. One addition that they made, mostly out of necessity, was the introduction of comic-book style cutscenes in lieu of the fully-animated ones on the original. While on a technical level it may seem inferior, from a player’s perspective the comic book cutscenes evoke more of the genuine Spider-Man tone than the Sony version, and really enforce the idea that this is Spidey, coming out of the comics and onto the screen.
Whatever the case, Spider-Man (64) stands as a testament to the ingenuity developers have to make limitations work to their advantage. There’s plenty of fun to be had with this one, so definitely check it out. (Arturo Bory)
#32. Mario Party 3
Heatedly contested with Mario Party 2 as the best game in Nintendo’s mini-game infused board game franchise, Mario Party 3 just barely edges out as our favorite, due to its story mode, inventive mini-games, and amazing levels. As is the general consensus, the third game in the iconic party game series reached the perfect balance of luck and skill to keep things equally entertaining and fair. This was done by both increasing the player’s storable items from one to three, and making them more tactical and creative in general. Items like the Lucky Lamp were introduced to counter pre-existing items, retroactively nerfing aspects of the game that were considered too random. Mini-games were also greatly improved from Mario Party 2. Rather than simply re-skinning ideas from the original, many of the 71 mini-games in Mario Party 3 were completely original, and often more fleshed out experiences. Eye Sore, Frigid Bridge, and Locked Out were noticeably longer and more intricate than many games in the sequel, setting the bar high for the entries that followed it. The game boards themselves received a similar upgrading, containing more branching paths and events than prior levels, with Waluigi’s Island perfecting the developers’ style. Almost doubling the amount of levels, new “Duel Boards” allowed two players to go toe-to-toe against one another in a more competitive setting. The largest addition, however, was the inclusion of a single-player campaign, which pitted gamers against AI opponents on shortened versions of each map, before facing off with an actual final boss (a rarity for the series) The Millennium Star. Aside from being one of the best mini-games in the series, the fight somehow gave a sense of grandeur to the campaign of what is essentially a glorified game of Monopoly. (Matt Bruzzano)
#31. International Superstar Soccer 98
It goes without saying that football is a big deal; the prestigious World Cup is a big deal, but the introduction of an all-new 3-D perspective for football-specific titles was not yet a big deal. The stiff and confusing controls of the annual FIFA games failed to capture the freestyle nature of the beautiful game – EA’s dominance of the sports genre would be halted for a number of years as another videogame heavyweight entered the ring: Konami.
International Superstar Soccer 98 was Konami’s chance to capitalize on the upcoming World Cup hype, and it was also a golden opportunity to ease the slippery transition from the classic isometric/top-down to 3-D. What the older titles, like Sensible Soccer, lacked in presentation they more than made up for with fun and engaging gameplay, but those days were long gone. International Superstar Soccer 98 might not have been perfect, but it laid the foundation for which EA and Konami would continue to build on for their future 3-D installments.
52 Teams, 20 players a team, 6-game modes and 3 sponsors meant ISS 98 had the content (despite not having the license for player’s names), but in the end, it was the gameplay that shone through. Every well-placed pass, hotly contesting the ball in the air and finishing off your opponent with that ecstatic goal – that you won’t let them forget anytime soon – all came together to form the tightest and most visceral football experience imaginable, one that wouldn’t be bettered until Konami released its Pro Evolution series on the PlayStation 2.
So, players, had the ball glued to their feet when they dribbled, and header parties occurred far too often thus disrupting the flow of the game, but in the end, ISS 98 captured the passion and the competition of the beautiful game. (Craig Sharpe)
#30. 1080* Snowboarding
Nintendo had something very special on their hands with 1080* Snowboarding. Already a niche market, the essence and the death-defying descents of the snowboarding world had never been captured in a video game, and with the iconic Shigeru Miyamoto as lead producer, it was never going to fail. 1080* took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s ungainly controller by encouraging the player to perform a wide range of outrageous tricks and techniques that would cover all button inputs.
Any snowboarding enthusiast will tell you that there’s not just one objective in this extreme sport; 1080* provides the thrill of winning a race and looking stylish whilst doing it. The 5 different playable characters’ help provide a compelling challenge as you explore each boarder’s strengths and weaknesses over a diverse range of courses. Discovering alternate routes adds a welcome layer of replayability, while the different modes help in augmenting player skill and preparing for that next big race with a rival friend.
If there’s one thing to take away from 1080* Snowboarding, it’s the calculated approach toward the game’s physics design. Every impact, whether that be a smooth salt-shake continuation as the player executes the perfect trick or the violent crash as the player comes tumbling down an unforgiving frozen peak, 1080* succeeds in communicating incremental movement and nuance, just one degree to the left could spell the end for that perfect run you had planned. Timing is everything. (Craig Sharpe)
#29. Blast Corps
Remember that time there was a runaway semi-truck with a nuclear warhead attached, and the only way to save the world was to level a whole bunch of cities?
Okay, that probably didn’t happen, and even in 1997, it was a flimsy premise for a game. I mean, in a world where scientists have developed a giant bipedal robot, it seems like there might be another way to solve this problem.
Luckily what this wacky premise does make for is hours of gleeful destruction, as you must clear any potential obstacle from the path of the runaway warhead as quickly as possible. Blast Corps features 8 vehicles to help you avert disaster, and the kind of categorical rating system that games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga are still using today to keep you coming back for “just one more try”. Yeah, right.
Essentially a frantic puzzle game that kind of tricks you into thinking you’re playing an action game, Blast Corps is an incredibly addictive experience, and totally worth replaying on the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#28. Wave Race 64
If ever there were an argument over the definitive jet ski racing game, Wave Race 64 would forever be on the top of everyone’s list. Nintendo outdid itself when it transformed what would have been a F-Zero successor into one of the most memorable racing experiences on the console. With accurate wave physics, beautiful graphics, and a refreshing tropical soundtrack, Wave Race 64 has it all, and continues to hold up today.
The game gives the player the choice of playing as one of four racers, each with their own skill set, as they race around yellow and red buoys, indicating left and right respectively, that give speed boosts, helping the player as they race for the gold. While the gameplay itself is simple, the controls still feel tight, and it’s a blast to play through the game’s 9 playable courses and improve your skills. The game offers several different modes, from Championship mode for the pure racing experience to time trials, a stunt mode, as well as local multiplayer to challenge friends.
If none of that is enough, Wave Race 64 also has an unlockable dolphin that can be ridden around on, which should be a selling point on its own. In general, there are a lot of unlockable secrets that can be had from playing through the courses, from alternate skins to riding alongside a killer whale. With all of that in mind, there’s no reason to avoid picking this one up on Virtual Console and taking it for a spin. (Arturo Bory)
#27. F-Zero X
Developed by Nintendo’s EAD division, F-Zero X is the first F-Zero installment to have featured 3D graphics. Unfortunately, even for the time, the visuals weren’t anything to write home about. However, what F-Zero X lacks in the visual department it more than makes up for in adrenaline fuelled, non-stop action. With an emphasis on breakneck speed and competitive intensity, F-Zero X is one of the best arcade racers released for the N64. The game’s “death race” mode and a random track generator is what I remember best about the game. In the death race, the player’s objective is to annihilate the 29 other racers as fast as possible, while the X-Cup generates a different set of tracks each time it’s played. It also features 30 vehicles on the screen at once, and an extremely fun 4-player multiplayer offering. For all those reasons and more, F-Zero X is a game I have fond memories playing. The N64 had its fair share of racing games, but few were as fast and exciting to play as F-Zero X. (Ricky D)
#26. Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Prior to its release, Rayman only had one sidescrolling, cartoony adventure to his name, and The Great Escape solidified his name as the protagonist of one of gaming’s most light-hearted, whimsical series.
Full of adventure and wonder, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is like playing through an animated cartoon film. The game radiates personality through its bright visuals, eccentric characters, and colorful soundtrack. It was one of the many games to add on to the newly-defined “3D Platformer” genre of gaming that Super Mario 64 had pioneered, and it did so with absolute excellence.
In this game, you play as Rayman, who has to free his friends from the imprisonment of Razorbeard, a robot pirate who has taken over the Glade of Dreams, and take him down. The story is simple, but very well-told through the extensive cast of quirky characters that Rayman meets along his journey. The gameplay is tight and always tons of fun as you run, jump, hover, bounce, and swim across the Glade of Dreams’ many colorful locales. And of course, the soundtrack perfectly nails a wide range of emotion and atmosphere (Including the infamous “Tomb of the Ancients” music, which surely causes many nightmares to this day).
Throughout The Great Escape, there is a sense of childlike curiosity and joy that is always apparent. The game is a joy for both young and old, appealing to anyone and everyone, and offers an incredible world to get lost in. Rayman 2: The Great Escape may have been ported to just about every other console out there, but many gamers first experienced it on the wonderful Nintendo 64. And what an experience it was. (Nathan Brown)
#25. WCW NWO Revenge
AKI’s last WCW game is bittersweet for wrestling fans. It’s a time capsule of the American wrestling industry at a time when WCW had the deepest and most talented roster in the business. The game was released at the peak of WCW’s success, and sadly two years before WCW went out of business and the industry became a veritable monopoly under WWE. No Mercy may be considered the best wrestling video game ever made, but WCW / nWo Revenge has always been my favourite, if only for the roster which includes legends like Ric Flair, Sting, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Big Poppa Pump, Chris Benoit, Bill Goldberg, DDP, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio, British Bulldog, Booker T, Eddy Guerrero, Juventud Guerrero, Disco Inferno, La Parka, Ultimo Dragon, Saturn, Roddy Piper, Hollywood Hogan, Bret Hart, The Giant, Marcus Buff, Randy Savage, Konnan, and Raven, to name just a few. Revenge is the game where AKI truly established themselves as the masters of fighting games, with a fast-paced and revolutionary grappling system and reversals that captured the rhythm of real wrestling. The controls were so successful that not only did AKI Corporation use it in future wrestling games, but they also used the engine in their Def Jam Vendetta series . Everything from the graphics, move-set library, real life arenas, instant replays and the numerous finishing moves was made right, and the games was made to stand the test of time. It won 1998’s “Fighting Game of the Year” by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and was one of the best-selling N64 games of all time. It’s a must-have for any fan of wrestling games and one of my all-time favourites! (Ricky D)
#24. Resident Evil 2
That Resident Evil 2 is even on the N64 is something of a small miracle. Originally for the PlayStation, a small team of around 20 people managed to not only cram the game onto a cartridge but actually add more features to it as well, with different costumes and new gameplay modes. On the technical side, it’s a marvel, with tons of stuff going on behind the scenes to make it work, like how it adjusts its aspect ratio based on what characters do on screen or the way the music was ported to be even better than the Playstation version.
Never mind that the game itself is still great, and many would argue one of the best in the series. It’s spooky, creepy, and exciting in equal measure as you make your way through the ruins of Racoon City. Animations and audio are top quality for the time, and the cutscenes are some of the best the N64 was able to muster. It might be a bit harder to play nowadays, especially when compared to the later Resident Evil games, and the fixed camera and wonky inventory will drive some away, but for long-time fans of the series, Resident Evil 2 remains a favorite, and it’s just begging for an HD re-release. (Andrew Vandersteen)
#23. Jet Force Gemini
Of all the games developed by Rare during the N64 era, Jet Force Gemini might be the biggest outlier. A 3rd person sci-fi shooter is generally not the kind of game you expect from Rare even today, and it was, even more, jarring back in 1999 when it first came out.
Tasking players with beating back ravenous hordes of insectile extraterrestrials while simultaneously seeking out and rescuing a bunch of Ewoks, Jet Force Gemini is far from your typical Rare game, but like fellow Rare outcast, Blast Corps, that makes for a lot of its charm.
Take, for example, Lupus, a cybernetically enhanced dog who joins the twin protagonists, Juno, and Vela, on their mission. I mean, talk about dogs of war. Seriously, though, any game that lets you play as a dog with guns mounted on his back is okay by me. Also, there’s a guy named King Jeff in this game. No really. And the bad guy is named Mizar–ya know, like “miser”.
But honestly, potshots aside, you really should play Jet Force Gemini. It’s like a weird gaming time capsule in and of itself, and it’s absolutely one of the best reasons to own the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#22. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
While the series has recently fallen under heavy criticism, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater brought immense levels of innovation to the gaming community. Intuitive physics, interesting levels, a surplus of things to do, and one of the best soundtracks of all time made this first entry an instant classic. There are few 90s gamers who did not experience this addictive skating simulator on one of the six consoles it was released on. Everyone got their hands on this game, but nobody wanted to let go.
The physics in THPS are sure to hook casual and hardcore gamers alike. Players became addicted to improving their skills and eventually chaining together impressive strings of tricks. Whether it was your first Ollie or your tenth time performing a combo of two Kickflips, a Stalefish, three grinds, and a wall ride, it never seemed to get old. Almost like learning an instrument, players everywhere were striving to be the best living room skateboarder in their town.
While the mechanics were absolutely solid, the best part of the series lies within its youthful soul. With the combination of lighthearted humor and the fantastic and rebellious soundtrack that featured Primus, Suicidal Tendencies, and Goldfinger, the developers were able to perfectly capture the carefree atmosphere that resided in this amazing decade.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the start of a beautiful franchise. The sequel is still the highest rated game on Metacritic, further showing how incredibly solid the series’ mechanics and replayability are. This game is like candy, it’s simple and sweet but so addicting that you just can’t seem to put it down. As I grow old I will look back on the 90s and reminisce on what I miss most about my childhood. I will think back on those simple times of watching Rugrats, eating Gushers, and playing Tony Hawks’s Pro Skater. (Chris Souza)
#21. WWF No Mercy
Developer AKI Corporation created four phenomenal wrestling games for the N64, each better than the previous, and their final game for the system, WWF No Mercy, was the proverbial cherry on the cake. The core gameplay between WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (AKI’s first N64 title) and No Mercy is virtually the same, but systems were refined, move sets improved, and rosters expanded. Unlike most wrestling games of the era, in AKI’s titles wrestlers have a momentum meter rather than a health bar. You can’t simply wither an opponent’s bar from green to red and render them useless. In No Mercy no matter how beaten down someone may be, a quick reversal and appeasing to the crowd could be enough to turn the tides back in their favor. This means a match is never over until the bell has rung, leading to many tense back-and-forth contests which faithfully emulate the real life spectacle.
Aside from the remarkable core gameplay, No Mercy has some amazing additions that made it really stand out, such as it’s in-depth story mode. In most wrestling games, including AKI’s prior work, if the player were to lose a match during a campaign the game would simply prompt the user to try that match over again until success was achieved, however in No Mercy if the player loses a match the storyline continues but branches off in a completely different direction, leading to unexpected rivalries and intense matches. Add to that the fact that No Mercy featured the best Create-A-Wrestler seen yet, the first time inclusion of popular modes like the ladder match, and it was the first WWF game that allowed players to venture backstage and the first game that allowed players to smash their opponents through the fabled Spanish announcer’s table.
The game still holds up well today, even 15+ years after its release. WWE 2K16 may have more polygons on one wrestler’s face than there is in all of No Mercy, but once you step into the ring it’s clear that the N64 classic still reigns supreme when it comes to gameplay. (Matt De Azevedo)
#20. Diddy Kong Racing
Latching on to the kart racing boom of the late 90s, Diddy Kong Racing proved that it was much more than just a quick Mario Kart-wannabe cash-in. The game offered a unique experience compared to the cavalcade of kart racers on the market at the time.
The first non-sidescrolling game in the Donkey Kong franchise, DK Racing was another Rare-developed classic for the N64. Bright and cheerful, this game offers a fantastic cartoon world with plenty of fun characters, some returning to the series, and some new to the game. This is an excellent multiplayer game, with endless opportunity for comical racing fun. There is also an open-world adventure mode that caters to single players, and it proves to be just as fun as its multiplayer counterpart.
The most unique aspect that DK Racing had to its name at the time was most definitely the different modes of transportation that the player could drive around in. These include regular karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes. The wide amount of options when it comes to transportation were a huge draw for this game, and the best part is, each one each worked like a charm. These different driving mechanics are still rare to find in kart racers today, with Mario Kart 8 for Wii U finally including these flying and hovering options a whole 17 years later. And to this day, it is still incredibly fun to have an airplane or hovercraft race, thanks to the tight controls that the game offers. DK Racing totally nailed the different driving vehicles over a decade earlier.
Every aspect that you could want in a kart racer is here: tight controls, great level design, memorable music, an awesome world to explore, and easy-to-grasp, fun gameplay. Diddy Kong Racing is ahead of its time classic that will always provide a great time to any gamer. (Nathan Brown)
#19. Star Fox 64
When the industry made the incredible leap into the 3D gaming world, some series did not translate well into these new and improved visuals. Thankfully, Star Fox 64 gracefully accepted this new world of gaming and gave players an experience that they have never seen before.
Slippy, Peppy, and Falco all join Fox McCloud in another game filled with intense space combat. Star Fox must team up to defeat the evil scientist Andross and bring peace to the universe, and players must take control of the Arwing, Landmaster, and submarine in order to stop him once again. With multiplayer, a variety of modes, and an immense amount of replayability, it is no surprise that this installment is still regarded as one of the best in the series. Players became easily addicted to receiving medals and the branching leveling system.
Innovation was certainly a prominent theme in this installment. After becoming one of the most popular rail-shooters of all time, Nintendo pushed the envelope even further by incorporating new elements of gaming into this series. Star Fox 64 was the first Nintendo 64 game to have included support for the Rumble Pack. While we may take this feature for granted now, it opened a whole new sense of gaming. There was a time where we could only see and hear gaming, but now we can feel it. This was a powerful transition that began with Star Fox 64.
At the time, rail-shooters were not exactly rare but Nintendo took a popular idea and gave it their signature charm, creating a memorable and fun experience for gamers of all ages. It is not an easy task to make an on-rails shooter massively replayable, but Nintendo certainly proved it was possible. (Chris Souza)
#18. Pokémon Snap
One of five Pokémon games released for the Nintendo 64, Pokémon Snap is a rare example of a linear title that manages to instill a sense of adventure and curiosity in the player, sending them on voyages through various locales to take photos of classic first-gen Pokémon. It felt like every time you played through one of the game’s seven courses, you discovered something you hadn’t noticed before, and that something would lead to you getting that last snapshot you needed to get the next item. Getting Porygon to hit the switch & reveal the entrance to the cave level, knocking Charmeleon into the lava to reveal a roaring Charizard, getting Pikachu to pose on a surfboard & getting Snorlax to dance for you are only a few of the things you can discover by experimenting with the items at your disposal, such as the Apples and Pester Balls.
Pokémon Snap was a pretty addictive game; I always found myself going back to certain courses to improve certain snapshots, each time getting a few points more than the last. It wasn’t as if you could just snap a Pokémon at whatever angle or distance you saw fit and call it a day; no, you had to factor in the Pokémon’s size, its position in frame, the type of pose it was holding, and whether any other Pokémon were in the shot with it. It was a rather complex system, and it really managed to get young Pokémon fans to hone their photography skills to beat their highest scores. Considered a cult classic nowadays, fans have been clamoring for a sequel for years now. Whether or not we’ll ever see one is up in the air, but for what it’s worth, I certainly wouldn’t mind returning to Pokémon Island with my trusty camera one more time. (Matt Niyomina)
#17. WWF WrestleMania 2000
These days Vince McMahon’s WWE has a near-monopoly when it comes to the wrestling market in North America, but back in the 90’s / early 2000’s things were different. There was a time when the WCW and WWF were neck-and-neck in the war for television ratings, and that battle reverberated into the video game market. Due to the success of WCW/nWo Revenge and other THQ published wrestling games, World Championship Wrestling was leading the way in the digital ring, and Mr. McMahon couldn’t just stand idly by and let that happen. In order to get the upper hand, the WWF dumped their long-time partner Acclaim Entertainment and signed a pact with THQ. This upset WCW, causing them to end their own partnership THQ and turn to Electronic Arts as the future publisher of WCW games. After the dust settled it was the WWF that won out big time, as THQ went on the produce many high selling WWF games, while EA’s wrestling games sunk, much like the WCW itself.
After joining forces with the WWF, AKI Corporation simply took their engine from WCW/nWo Revenge and slapped a WWF skin on it, so the core mechanics were excellent right off the bat. Where the PS1 wrestling games featured annoying and complicated button combinations, AKI’s N64 games have smooth and intuitive controls that somewhat resemble the Super Smash Bros. series, making their games easy to pick up and enjoy. WrestleMania 2000 was the first THQ-published wrestling game to feature a Create-A-Wrestler mode, and since they already had everything animated AKI carried over many moves and taunts from WCW/nWo Revenge, which allowed fans to easily create their favorite WCW wrestlers. While the game doesn’t allow players to edit the move sets of the existing roster, their appearances can be altered, and each wrestler is able to have multiple alternate attires. WrestleMania 2000 featured other advancements such as the inclusion of accurate entrance music/videos, and new features like the First Blood match.
AKI released a new N64 wrestling game every year for four straight years, never overhauling but simply adding and refining. WrestleMania 2000 wasn’t their best work, but it was a huge success and a necessary stepping stone towards No Mercy. (Matt De Azevedo)
#16. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out of nowhere to revolutionize gaming in 1999. It set a pretty high standard for the genre, and sports games in general. It made Tony Hawk a household named and set in stone a franchise that would last until this very day. It took only a few months for Activision to release a sequel, adding in manuals and establishing a gameplay mechanic that would remain in the series across three console generations and two decades. This improved players’ ability to string together high-scoring trick combos and many other tricks were introduced for the first time, as was the option to edit the combinations for tricks.
Three new professional skaters were introduced to the series on this game (Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, and Eric Koston) and it was also the first of the Pro Skater games to feature Create-a-Skater and Park Editor features, now staples in the series. Combine that with perhaps the best stages in franchise history and a soundtrack that includes Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine, and you have one of the very last great games to come out on the N64, just months shy of the release of the Gamecube. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is still one of the most critically acclaimed video games ever made, and the second highest-rated video game of all time on Metacritic. The first Tony Hawk game may have set the bar, but the sequel landed a perfect 1080 and is still to this day the second best entry in the series, losing out only to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. (Ricky D)
#15. Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire
Shadows of the Empire was a huge multimedia project by Lucas Arts consisting of a book, comic, video game, and toys (so many toys). The story was created to fill in the gaps between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi; following the adventures of the mercenary Dash Rendar as he attempts to recover the frozen Han Solo from Boba Fett. The game compliments the book while still remaining accessible to those that haven’t read it. Shadows brilliantly build upon the lore from the movies by recreating the Battle of Hoth and using familiar characters like Boba Fett and the robot bounty hunter IG-88, who was briefly seen in during one scene in Empire Strikes Back. The game features both a 1st and 3rd person firing mode as well as a wide array of weapons and vehicles to experience. Shadows finally gave the player the Boba Fett fight that was so lacking in Return of the Jedi as you hunt him across the galaxy to an epic encounter against him and his terrifying ship, Slave-1. Coming out only a few months after the launch of the N64 in the U.S. Shadows of the Empire showcased the power and creativity the N64 could have and if that isn’t convincing enough the game also includes AT-STs, grand space battles, a crazy speeder bike fight through the streets of Mos Eisley, secret endings, and the nightmare-inducing Wampas. While Shadows of the Empire may no longer be canonical, it is a fun story any fan of the series will enjoy. (Ryan Kapioski)
#14. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
The horror …
Make no mistake, this game was not easy. Aside from difficulty, Rogue Squadron is remarkable for its application of the Star Wars license, but it was also just a great dogfighting game with outstanding graphics.
To the first strength, the game took direct influence from the opening Hoth level of Shadows of the Empire, and in contrast to previous X-Wing games, was a much more arcade-style experience. As a result of LucasArts’ stipulations against using scenes from the films, the game expands on the Star Wars universe in many interesting ways – intersecting with characters from the films on planets both familiar and new to fans.
The developers at Factor 5 were also inspired by the Expanded Universe comics and novel of the same name, introducing young players to events only implied by the existing Star Wars films. The dogfighting controls have since been improved upon, but were excellent at the time, offering much more mobility than the all-range levels in the previous year’s Star Fox 64.
And finally, the graphics: was there ever a better year in console gaming than 1998? Rogue Squadron, along with Banjo-Kazooie and other second-generation games, showed what the Nintendo 64 was truly capable of putting out. Eventually, Rogue Squadron‘s sequel on the GameCube would look even better, but compared to the blurry textures of Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron almost looked like the movies it was based on. A pity about that distance fog, though … (Mitchell Akhusrt)
#13. Donkey Kong 64
It’s hard to discuss the N64 without bringing up Rare games, and while not their last or greatest game on the system, DK64 is an outstanding platformer, and some would argue it even overshadows Nintendo’s own Mario 64. The levels are massive, there are tons of collectibles to go after and secrets to find, and the variety in the worlds is impressive. Better yet there’s five different Kongs to play as, each with their own unique abilities and collectibles to go after. It’s a game so chock full of stuff Rare had to package it with the N64’s expansion pack just to make sure it worked.
DK64 is a game pushing the N64 to its absolute limits. The graphics are some of the best on the system, with real-time lighting effects throughout the levels. The audio is nothing short of legendary, with reactive music that changes as you move through the worlds, creating an audio rollercoaster that adds so much to the experience. On every level, DK64 is a game that needs to be played by any fans of platformers and is a must-have for N64 fans. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Once upon a time, a bear and a bird traveled through many strange and varied worlds in their quest to stop an evil witch. Their adventure became legend, and Rareware’s platformer collect-a-thon prowess was once again beyond doubt.
Two years later, they were back with an equally beloved sequel, Banjo-Tooie, a game whose reputation has soured a bit since 2000. Reviews of the Xbox 360 re-release were not as kind as the Nintendo 64 original, citing its monstrous size and an unwieldy number of collectibles. But rather than dwell on negatives, why not nail down why Banjo-Tooie actually deserves another look?
Let’s face it, Super Mario 64 will always be a hard game to beat, and the first Banjo performed admirably to even come close. Banjo-Tooie, however, deserves to be considered another genre altogether. Like Metroid Prime, Dark Souls or Tomb Raider, the sprawling, interconnected levels of Tooie betray Rare’s true intentions: to create an adventure game like no other – simply in the guise of a 3D platformer.
Viewed today as a semi-open-world Metroidvania, Banjo-Tooie can go toe-to-toe with any other adventure game. The controls are tighter than Banjo-Kazooie, the graphics are second only to other Rare games, and the art (though much kookier) rivals the Zelda games for best fantasy designs on the console. And that’s all without mentioning Rare’s signature British weirdness, only a few notches below the adults-only Conker’s Bad Fur Day in terms of humor (or in the UK, humour).
Banjo-Tooie is an ambitious action-adventure that also happens to be a sequel to a 3D platformer, and played on its own terms it is a massive and rewardingly-twisted fairytale world to explore. (Mitchell Akhurst)
#11. Pokémon Stadium
Before fans were blessed with Pokémon Showdown, online battle modes or even VGC, we had the original Pocket Monster fighting spectacle, Pokémon Stadium. At the height of Nintendo’s pop-culture hit, the big N released a fully 3D battle arena in 1998… exclusively in Japan. Luckily for international audiences, the developers quickly reacted to the original game’s criticisms (like its brutal difficulty) as well as the overall positive reception to its release and put out a sequel to the game the next year. Officially arriving in English speaking countries in 2000, the second game in the series was dubbed Pokémon Stadium to avoid confusion, and was bundled with the Transfer Pak, a device that allowed players to trade, battle and store their own Pokémon from Red, Blue, and Yellow. Despite lacking a traditional story mode or some of the complexities of the handheld series, the game was a massive success. Gameplay was solely comprised of one-on-one battles against trainers and gym leaders, while a diverse set of rules, conditions and challenge modes kept the tedium from ever setting in.
For standard battles, players could compete in one of four tournaments (Poke Cup, Petit Cup, Prime Cup, and the Pika Cup), each with their own strategies and limitations. Dedicated fans could either import their own Pokémon from their Game Boy cartridges or rent pre-made replacements, appealing to both veterans and newcomers alike. For a real challenge, trainers could take on the Gym Leader Castle, that pit their team against the original 8 Kanto Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the Champion before facing off against Mewtwo himself, and unlocking a harder difficulty setting. Additionally, a few mini-games were included as extras, presumably for players to wind down from battle- but in reality, this just caused gamers to destroy their controllers with button mashing. While some critics find the lack of an actual narrative RPG experience to detract from Pokémon Stadium’s quality, it completely accomplished what it set out to do. (Matt Bruzzano)
#10. Paper Mario
Even in the N64 era, folks were nostalgic about 2D Mario games, and since Nintendo was essentially at war with Square at the time, Paper Mario wasn’t just the easiest way to revisit some Super Mario World nostalgia, it was also the closest thing fans were getting to a Super Mario RPG sequel.
Borrowing the button-tapping, action-RPG mechanics from Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario traded in the rest of the package, probably to avoid tricky legal ground over their former joint venture with Square. Luckily the game turned out great, not just in spite of these obstacles, but in some ways because of them.
The 2D perspective meant that the developers could make the game look gorgeous (for the time) since they didn’t have to design and animate entire free-roaming environments. It also helped matters that the button-tapping mechanics of the previous game actually better fit the platformer style perspective, rather than the isometric point of view of its forebear. Add in a cast of almost totally new characters, and you have an essential classic for the N64 era, and the first in a self-referential series that is still ongoing even today, both in handheld and console form. (Mike Worby)
#9. Perfect Dark
One of the most eagerly anticipated games released for the Nintendo 64 was none other than Rare’s spiritual successor to GoldenEye. After Rare and Nintendo lost the rights to the James Bond license in a bidding war with EA, the masterminds at Rare decided to flex their creative muscles with a completely new concept. Without the restrictions of a 007 license, Rare was able to implement whatever crazy ideas they had into the shooter genre. That game was Perfect Dark, and in my opinion, it is bigger, and better, than its groundbreaking predecessor. Goldeneye is a classic, and yes without it, Perfect Dark would never exist. Goldeneye set the bar, and it was hugely important for the genre, especially for console gaming, but just because it came first, doesn’t make it the better game. Goldeneye may have set a standard, but Perfect Dark improves upon it, in every way possible.
Yes, Perfect Dark borrows many functions from GoldenEye 007, the most obvious being the control scheme and general gameplay, but Perfect Dark also has more weapons, better production value, an original story, slick graphics, a killer soundtrack, tons of cheats, a trove of hidden secrets, a co-op mode, a counter-op mode, and an anti-hero who just so happens to be a highly skilled marksman, a lethal hand-to-hand combat fighter, an expert pilot, and an eager bounty hunter with a wicked sense of humor. (Ricky D)
#8. Banjo Kazooie
Having undoubtedly proved their platforming pedigree with their Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo, Rare set about the seemingly impossible task of following up the prolific Super Mario 64. With game design legends such as Gregg Mayles and Chris Sutherland at its helm, Banjo-Kazooie was released exclusively on the N64 in the summer of 1998. Although the game was initially labeled as a rip-off of Nintendo’s nearly perfect 3D platformer, it actually built on the standards that it set for the genre and even surpassed it in many ways.
To be clear, the two games do share an immense amount of similarities. Both were primarily adventure based platforming, collect-a-thons that had the player traverse a hub world that branched out to several, more distinct areas. Where Banjo-Kazooie first set itself apart from Miyamoto’s magnum opus was its approach to the hub world itself. Peach’s castle served as an adequate means of connecting the more vibrant worlds of the game together but lacked a sense of character and cohesion that Banjo-Kazooie prides itself on. As the titular bear, Banjo, and his partner, Kazooie, scaled the lair of the evil witch Gruntilda, the vain antagonist would occasionally berate the player to impede their progress and mock their failures, motivating gamers not to give up in an entertaining, self-aware, fashion. This quirky nature was also evident in the actual levels themselves, featuring more interesting NPCs, detailed locales and ambient music that made the paintings of Super Mario 64 look like cardboard cutouts by comparison. Instead of rigidly sectioning off the worlds into multiple missions, Banjo-Kazooie had completely open levels with multiple different objects to collect such as music notes, Jiggies, and Jinjos, that could all be pursued simultaneously. Environments like Treasure Trove Cove and Freezeezy Peak were non-linear, multi-pathed levels that still serve as guiding examples for modern game design.
By building on the 3D framework that Nintendo conceived, Rare delivered one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time. (Matt Bruzzano)
Since its release in 1997, no game has captured the glitz, the glamor, and the glory of James Bond-like Rare’s golden hit, GoldenEye 007. The perfect adaptation of the Bond flick, GoldenEye, GoldenEye 007 is a free-roaming, first-person-shooter putting the player in control of everyone’s favorite double-O agent: Bond, James Bond.
The atmospheric campaign perfectly captures the film’s tension and excitement, giving players a variety of experiences, from stealthy infiltrations, to run and gun bonanzas, all layered with familiar Bond elements, like some familiar gadgets and guns, to truly make the player feel like a secret agent. On top of a brilliantly crafted, truly immersive campaign is a revolutionary four-player multiplayer, pitting players against one another in an all-out brawl.
Careful attention to detail and immense amounts of fan service escalate an already fantastic experience to make it one of the most memorable games ever made, from the familiar blood-soaked screen that falls every time the player dies, to favorite foes, with cameo weapons and gadgets, and even multiplayer modes named after other films. This game has it all, but with Bond, even the world is not enough, so Rare stuffed the game with everything imaginable. Hilarious, unlockable cheat codes ensure the game has immense replayability, complete with the scalable difficulty, on top of other unlockables like the cast of twenty-four characters that make their way in to the multiplayer.
Still an immensely fun shooter to this day, in its time the game was revolutionary, pioneering a whole genre in gaming that’s shaped up to be perhaps the most popular and prevalent today, introducing staples and fixtures such as shooters tendency toward more realistic tones and zoomable sniper scopes. GoldenEye 007, like diamonds, is forever and it’s a truly timeless gem. (Tim Maison)
#6. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 remains, to this day, one of the greatest titles that Nintendo has ever created. Mario Kart 64 features eight different racers classified into three different weight categories, 14 unique power-ups to inflict friendship-testing amounts of rage (darn blue shells), and 16 tracks with an extra mirror mode that flips all the tracks to create an added difficulty. The tracks are comprised of hidden shortcuts, dangerous obstacles, and little surprises around every turn.
While the sequels have improved upon the racing formula and customization, nothing has quite captured the heart-pounding intensity of the Battle Mode. Friends duke it out to pop each other’s balloons in four small arenas with the power-ups provided on the map or as vengeful bombs. Mario Kart 64 offers a bit of something for everyone, with the Grand Prix for friends to compete against each other and computers, the Battle mode to lose to those friends, and the time attack mode to improve upon your skills and feel better, now that you’ve lost those friends. Mario Kart 64 is the 2nd bestselling game on the N64 for good reason, as it is truly a masterpiece that still stands the test of time. (Ryan Kapioski)
#5. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Judging by the Disney-like presentation, some may think that Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a harmless video game about a squirrel who is trying desperately to save his girlfriend. Rare, however, opted to deliver something flamboyantly vulgar and determinedly self-referential. Conker received critical acclaim from video game journalists, who praised its visual appeal and smart, funny humor, but due to limited advertising and a release towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s life cycle, it was a commercial flop.
Regardless, twenty years later Conker has earned a loyal cult following due to its unique style and its boundary-pushing story. Rare’s final Nintendo 64 game is perhaps the N64’s most visually impressive. The game pushes the console to its graphical limit and contains almost two hours of cut-scenes with fully animated character faces perfectly synced to some impressive voice acting. Apart from the opera-singing pile of crap, the stunning visuals, the catchy soundtrack and the lovable protagonist, one of the main reasons why the game resonates with so many people decades later, is because of the bleak and emotionally devastating climax.
It’s easy to see why Conker’s Bad Fur Day is so beloved after all these years. Conker was, and is everything that Nintendo has raised audiences to believe heroes are not. He’s crass, selfish and talks with a vocabulary that would make Eddie Murphy blush, but in those final moments that mirror Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Conker shows he’s no different than us.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a rare game that hits you in the head and stomach simultaneously. The only rule it adheres to is that tropes are made to be eviscerated, turned upside down, and crushed. Conker’s Bad Fur Day has the shape of a Nintendo IP but the soul of a Stanley Kubrick film. (Ricky D)
#4. Super Smash Bros.
The most recent installment of Nintendo’s classic beat-em-up franchise has 58 playable characters available to wreak havoc with; some are first-party favorites, while others are unexpected third-party newcomers. Back in 1999, it was a much simpler time. Only twelve of Nintendo’s most iconic characters were at the players’ disposal in the original Super Smash Bros., and it laid the foundation for what would become one of Nintendo’s most popular series. One of the console’s most popular multiplayer offerings, it can be said that Nintendo wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the help of Smash Bros. I can recall countless memories of scrambling around Hyrule Temple and Sector Z with a beam sword in hand, laying the smack-down on now-veteran characters like Donkey Kong, Fox and Jigglypuff without a single inkling of pity or mercy in my young, innocent soul.
Looking back on the original Super Smash Bros. reminds us of a time when Smash wasn’t really considered a competitive fighting game like many consider it now. It was more of a goofy party game that you’d play with a handful of your friends, all huddled around a CRT TV to watch Luigi crack Samus in the face with a baseball bat while wearing cutesy bunny ears. With all the excitement surrounding online play and competitive tournaments today, recalling those lazy nights when you’d blast through the single player campaign with your favorite fighter to defeat Master Hand at the end feels nostalgically refreshing. With enough replay value and frantic gameplay to keep players coming back time & time again, Smash was, without a doubt, one of the N64’s absolute essential titles. (Matt Niyomina)
#3. Super Mario 64
Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and featured relatively large areas which are composed primarily of true 3D polygons as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.
There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat – and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time — the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)
#2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
How exactly do you make a follow-up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.
Taking place a couple months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused a lot of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.
From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed from its very inception.
As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)
#1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Nearly 20 years later, it’s no surprise that everyone is still talking about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Along with Sony’s heavy nostalgia hitter, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time regularly finds itself in the conversation for not only the best game ever released on its particular console or in its individual series but the best game of all time, full stop.
That’s no accident. Coming off the heels of arguably the best game on the SNES, Ocarina of Time already had some pretty big shoes to fill, a problem which was compounded by the fact that this would also be the Zelda series’ first foray into the realm of the third dimension. However, Nintendo made sure to put in the time and effort to guarantee that Ocarina of Time delivered at any cost, and deliver it did.
A huge game at the time, and a large game even today, Ocarina of Time was a marvel for the wide-eyed gamers of the late 90s, and reasonably so. Few gamers will have forgotten the first time they left the safety and comfort of Kokiri Forest and entered the vast expanse of Hyrule Field, and with good reason. There had never, mark my words, never, been a game that had unleashed that kind of freedom on a player in the history of the medium. Sure, there had been huge worlds and giant world maps in the past, without a doubt, but never with the level of technical polish and scope that Nintendo had managed to convey here.
That level of initial wonder extends all the way through what might be Link’s finest adventure to date, and, as such, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still lives on in the annals of all-time classic video games, a place it has earned with full honors. (Mike Worby)
From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights
If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.
There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium.
A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss.
Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle.
At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?
As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place.
That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules.
In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that.
“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)
What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight.
From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights.
As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive.
Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing.
It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam.
Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes.
By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole.
Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns.
Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively.
No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics.
Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again.
Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on.
By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more.
When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale.
Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
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