It seems like the year of major anniversaries in all things Nintendo, as this week we celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Nintendo 64. The good old N64 was released on 29th September 1996 in North America and introduced 3D polygon graphics at a level that hadn’t been seen before. Throughout the course of this week we will look at the good and the bad parts of the N64, as well as reflect on its legacy in the history of Nintendo and video games as a whole.
There’s only one way to kick off the celebrations, however, and that is with a poll on the most memorable N64 titles. Our Game Boy Advance poll divided opinion, and we suspect that this will be no different. Once again our team have been debating the titles that should be on this list following very specific guidelines: only one title per franchise (though Mario titles in entirely different genres are excused), and the focus is on producing a list that encapsulates the variety of gaming experiences on the N64. This is not a top ten based on critical ratings, but rather a collection of games that are memorable and worth revisiting. Some will be predictable, while some may surprise you.
Super Mario 64 – You knew this would be there, right? In many ways this was the ultimate launch title for any console. Not only was it an exceptionally well crafted platformer, but it provided a revolutionary first step into 3D gaming. From the moment Mario’s fully rounded polygon head appeared on the title screen, it was clear that this was going to be a wonderful gaming experience. Challenging difficulty and swinging Bowser by the tail, what else could a gamer want?
GoldenEye 007 – In the case of some of the Nintendo 64’s greatest games, time has not been kind. If you play this title today, the graphics appear muddy and blurred. At the time however, they were extremely impressive, and the gameplay revolutionised the FPS genre on home consoles. Memorable moments such as aiming down the sniper scope, enemies reacting to injuries in specific body areas, and four player split-screen multiplayer were all captivating.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – There’s only room for one of the console’s Legend of Zelda titles, so we thought Majora’s Mask deserved some recognition. Ocarina of Time is absolutely exceptional, but has already enjoyed plenty of attention this year with its re-mastered 3DS release. Majora’s Mask, on the other hand, arrived late in the N64’s lifespan and receives far less focus. That's unfortunate, because it has an imagination and sense of place that is truly engrossing, with an entirely different challenge represented by an impending doom, with a time-limit, for Link to resist. With impressive graphics (utilising the Expansion Pak), this game brought a darker shade to the Zelda universe, and should be experienced by all fans of the series.
Sin and Punishment – One of the memorable aspects of this title is that the original release wasn’t available in PAL or North American regions. This bullet-hell rail-shooter therefore developed its own legend, as a thrilling game from developers Treasure that only import gamers could enjoy. Its legendary status was justified, with a bonkers storyline accompanying a title full of intense, exciting gameplay. It eventually arrived on the Wii Virtual Console, and we all finally had the chance to experience some classic on-rails gaming.
Mario Tennis – We said that eyebrows would be raised. Mario Tennis appears on the list simply because it's accessible and terrific fun. Multiplayer was a major part of the Nintendo 64’s appeal and this title, particularly in four-player doubles matches, was best enjoyed with friends. Solid gameplay, with zany Mario touches to shake things up, meant that this was a staple for casual multiplayer fun.
Super Smash Bros. – The first game in the Smash Bros series, it has become eclipsed by the flashy, feature intensive follow-ups on GameCube and Wii. In fact, firing up this game today may not inspire modern gamers. At the time, however, this was yet another example of the hardware and game design bringing a different experience. While specialised 2D fighting games encouraged practice and attaining combo expertise, this title was simple, manic and best played with others. It can’t live up to the modern titles, but in 1999 it was a must-play experience.
Banjo Kazooie – Another terrific title on the console from developers Rare, Banjo Kazooie was a critical and commercial success-story. In fact, many will argue that this 3D platformer trumps Super Mario 64 in terms of visuals and gameplay. Boasting a wonderful sense of humour to accompany the landmark gaming experience, it's just a shame that, due to Rare’s move away from Nintendo, Wii owners can’t experience this gem on the Virtual Console.
Mischief Makers – This is a title that may not earn universal praise, but its level of invention and personality make it a memorable experience. Not just a simple 2D platformer, but a game with puzzle levels, as well as an intricate control scheme that some may find too challenging. Take the time to understand the gameplay and progress through the game, however, and the creative spirit in the design and execution can be a delight.
F-Zero X – A follow up to the excellent Super Nintendo original, this Nintendo 64 iteration took the concept of racing on wacky tracks at ridiculous speeds to a whole new level. A smooth frame-rate contributed to the true sense of speed, and the significant amount of single and multiplayer content helped this title to stand out. A true great in the high-speed racing game genre, and it still stands up today.
International Superstar Soccer 64 - A selection from our UK staff in particular, this is perhaps a choice that European gamers will remember more fondly. This title represents what could be achieved with a sports title on the N64, aside from Mario-themed sports. In 1997, the 3D animation was a treat, and this was a football (or soccer) game that captured the most exciting elements of the sport. With skillful moves, slick control with the analogue stick and the hilariously named players due to licensing issues, this is a title full of fond memories for N64 gamers who love the ‘beautiful game’ of football.
Constructing this list was a difficult task, and some classics missed out simply because their genre was already suitably represented. Some titles were so close to selection that they merit an honourable mention. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is first, memorable for its exceptional 3D action platforming, impressive graphics and ‘mature’ humour, which is truly hilarious for an audience that is old enough. It originated as a cute and cuddly children's title before transforming into the raunchiest game on the console; it was also the last Nintendo 64 title from one of the console’s finest developers, Rare. Space Station: Silicon Valley, meanwhile, was a platform game praised for its level design and concept: the developer, DMA Design, would later become Rockstar North, creators of the Grand Theft Auto series. Wave Race 64 earns a mention due to some strong overtures in its favour from the team, as well as the impressive standards it set in terms of graphics and gameplay. Yet more Rare titles round-off the honourable mentions, with the third-person-shooter collectathon Jet Force Gemini commanding some loyalty within the team. The final addition is Perfect Dark, a title with remarkable gameplay similarities to Goldeneye 007, though taking place in a futuristic sci-fi world.
So there you have it, our list of ten memorable Nintendo 64 titles with another five that missed the list by a whisker. What games on the N64 stick in your memory? We’d love to hear in the comments below, and you can also vote for your favourite from the list in our Facebook poll.