Kids of the ’90s can recall with glee the time they first unwrapped a Nintendo 64. Like losing your first tooth or getting a driver’s license, it was not a moment you soon forgot. In fact, it was such a memorable phenomenon that it spawned one of the internet’s all-time greatest memes.
In the past nearly 50 years of gaming history, few consoles have been so monumentally influential as the N64. Released in 1996, the beloved black and gray box became a place for developers to push the limits of the medium, leaping triumphantly into new graphical dimensions, and giving the industry some of its most enduring and cherished video games of all time.
Breaking ground with 3D gaming, titles like Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time expanded the visual and narrative depths that a video game story could explore, all while introducing to gamers new mechanics that today have become echelons of the medium itself. The N64 has dozens of renowned titles in its catalog. We tried our best to narrow them down to just 10. It wasn’t easy, but here are our top picks for the greatest N64 games of all time.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
10. Wave Race 64 (1996)
Launching shortly after the console’s initial release, Wave Race 64 helped prove what the N64 could do via fast-paced, rough-water jet ski racing. The mechanics and physics of this racer were ridiculous for the time, and the game packaged them perfectly, showing us that water in video games can sometimes be fun. —C.S.
9. Pokémon Snap (1999)
Snap plays like a 2019 indie game for a console that’s older than some of the developers who work in gaming today. Basically predicting Instagram, the title put players on a sort of “It’s a Small World” ride through the land of Pokémon, snapping photos of their favorite Pocket Monsters doing cute and silly things. It was so weird. But it worked so well. —D.N.
8. Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
This was a game so good you literally needed an expansion pack to run it, making it the original DLC. Donkey Kong 64 gave us Donkey Kong in three whole dimensions, a breakthrough that he unfortunately doesn’t revisit much anymore. With tons of collectibles and one of the best side casts in video game history (looking at you, Lanky Kong) Rareware killed it with this 3D platforming collect-athon. —C.S.
7. Mario Kart 64 (1996)
There have been many, many Mario Kart games. The franchise has improved upon its core mechanics time and again over the past few decades. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be the franchise’s best title, Mario Kart 64 is still its most enduring, and most beloved. People are picking up N64s to race each other in this one to this day. I’ll see you on Rainbow Road. —D.N.
6. Star Fox 64 (1997)
Do a barrel roll! Star Fox 64, easily the best title in the franchise’s history, is the perfect pick-up-and-play game. No complicated level-up systems. No super-long cut scenes. No microtransactions (of course). An easily accessible spaceship game with a whole lot of depth, Star Fox is an all-timer. —D.N.
5. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
Topping our “Best Kart Racers of All Time” list, Diddy Kong Racing was a kart racer that many people slept on. It featured a wacky cast, including Banjo and Conker (before he was a scumbag), and some of the most interesting race mechanics on the system. While Mario Kart 64 is an absolute blast, Diddy Kong perfected some of the frustrations MK 64 brought to the table. Nintendo, bring Diddy Kong Racing Deluxe 8 to Switch. —C.S.
4. GoldenEye 007 (1995)
Game mode: Golden Gun. Level: Facility. Characters: anyone but Oddjob. Rare, the game developing goliath of the N64, created one of the best licensed video games out there, even to this day. GoldenEye had a thrilling story and addictive multiplayer mode, with cartoonish sounds and design that made it an instant classic. It also allowed for intense, adrenaline-filled gameplay that few other games supported at the time. With loads of characters, maps, guns, and more, there was a ton this title offered, even by today’s standards. —C.S.
3. Banjo Kazooie (1998)
The Bear and Bird royalty of old will finally see some public attention again, thanks to the announcement that they’ll be joining the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lineup this fall. That still seems unbelievable to the vast majority of us. Banjo Kazooie was a wacky and totally original title with inventive platforming, lovable characters, and a ton of worlds, levels, and content. With a truckload of collectibles and tools at your disposal—and some of the most boppin’ music in gaming history—Banjo Kazooie was a must for every N64 owner. Here’s to hoping we’ll finally get a Banjo Threeie. —C.S.
2. Super Mario 64 (1996)
From Bob-Omb Battlefield to the Endless Stairs, Mario 64 blazed new paths for 3D platformer games. Fitting an unfathomable amount of depth into a modestly sized hubworld, the iconic game managed some huge feats, launching with the N64 console all the way back in 1996. One small jump for Mario, one enormous triple jump with the flying cap for video game history. —D.N.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
It’s been almost 30 years since Link first drew the Master Sword and traveled through time to defeat Ganondorf. In that time, countless Zelda titles have been released, and we’ve seen Link in everything from Smash Bros. to Mario Kart. But in the history of the franchise, no adventure for the Boy Without a Fairy has been quite as elegant or affecting as Ocarina of Time. It’s not only the greatest game for the N64, it’s the best damn video game of all time. —D.N.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below