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The Best N64 Games, Ranked

The Nintendo 64 is over 25 years old, but it's still remembered for bringing some of the most influential games ever made to life.
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The Nintendo 64 isn’t remembered for having a wide library of games. It got surprisingly little third-party support, due in large part to the high expense of manufacturing cartridges for the system’s outdated media format. Those same cartridges also had stricter memory limitations than the competing PlayStation and Saturn systems, which used CD-ROMs that could store significantly more data.

This specific issue is what drove longtime Nintendo collaborator Square Enix to release Final Fantasy VII, the first 3D Final Fantasy, for the PlayStation instead of the N64. However, despite these issues, the N64 was still a fantastic console with a handful of some of the most fun, creative, and influential games of all time. While the majority of these games were made in-house, a handful of third-party titles made a huge splash on the Nintendo system.

The N64 might not have been a huge commercial success, but it was a critical darling that helped create some of the most influential 3D games of its generation. Without the N64, there’d be no Super Mario 64–and that game might be the most-imitated platformer of all time.

Star Fox 64

Star Fox 2 died so Star Fox 64 could live. The long-awaited sequel to the excellent SNES title Star Fox was intended for release in 1996, but Nintendo’s higher-ups didn’t like how its rudimentary 3D graphics compared to the PlayStation’s more advanced backgrounds. In hindsight, all of the graphics of 3D games from the mid-90s have aged like milk left out in the hot sun, but Nintendo was very sensitive to the optics back then.

Several elements from the canceled sequel made their way into the N64 title, aptly named Star Fox 64. This follow-up featured voice-acting, updated 3D graphics, and a storyline that essentially boiled down to a retelling of the first game. It’s an extremely fun on-rails shooter with some open-exploration sections in which you control a land tank instead of an aerial Arwing craft.

Star Fox 64 solidified the franchise as one of Nintendo’s coolest space-themed games, alongside fan favorites like F-Zero and Metroid. Coincidentally, Star Fox 2 finally saw the light of day in 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic mini console.

GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007 is a beloved first-person shooter released by Rare that has proven exceptionally difficult for Nintendo to remake or remaster. The presence of James Bond makes the game something of a legal nightmare, but it’s soon getting a re-release on Nintendo Switch Online. 

GoldenEye has a rather straightforward spy-thriller storyline and a fun, if forgettable, single-player mode. However, the real draw of the game back in the day was its riotously fun 4-player split-screen arena mode. In an era before online multiplayer was commonplace in shooting games, GoldenEye offered gamers a way to gather around a screen and test their aim and map sense against one another.

The game is perhaps best known for revolutionizing the concept of home consoles having first-person titles. Before GoldenEye, it was basically unheard of to see games like Doom or Wolfenstein on consoles.

Pokemon Stadium

Pokemon wasn’t just big in the 90s, it was downright gargantuan. The biggest media franchise in the world helped cement Nintendo as one of the most influential publishers in the industry, and the company was quick to provide products to an extremely hungry audience. One of the first spin-off titles in the Pokemon series was Pokemon Stadium, an N64 game that served as a prettier, full-scale version of the sprite-based battles seen on the GameBoy.

Stadium featured full voice acting from an expressive announcer, well-rendered attack animations, and a lush world that made each battle feel more alive. Players could use the adapter pack to send their Pokemon from the GameBoy game to the N64 title, allowing for much more cinematic and spectator-friendly gameplay for tournaments.

Stadium was also loaded with party-style minigames, not unlike Mario Party, which made it the perfect game for couch multiplayer with all your friends.

Super Smash Bros

Super Smash Bros came out of nowhere and impressed gamers around the world. While the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros Melee, might have become more renowned, the original remains an unparalleled display of creativity from creator Masahiro Sakurai. The seemingly simple concept was extremely novel back in the 90s: what if every major Nintendo franchise was represented in a single fighting game?

To this day, the idea of Link and Mario sharing the screen in an arcade-style multiplayer title remains one of the most inspiring things to ever come from Nintendo. The game was popular enough to spawn a massive franchise, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate is one of the best-selling games on the Nintendo Switch. Suffice it to say, Nintendo found a winner with this novel approach.

Paper Mario

Speaking of brand-new takes on older concepts, Paper Mario took the template of Super Mario RPG from the SNES and pushed it to the next level. Paper Mario treats the Mushroom Kingdom as the backdrop for a surprisingly epic JRPG, complete with well-written side characters, menacing villains, and a downright hilarious script.

The game uses small numbers and simplistic graphics to appeal to a younger audience than some “crunchier” JRPGs, but it maintains a sense of sophistication that keeps older players engaged. It also spawned a delightful sequel, the unparalleled Paper Mario and the Thousand-Year Door on GameCube. 

Sadly, no other entry in the franchise has recaptured the magic of the originals, with recent entries Paper Mario and the Origami King and Paper Mario: Color Splash feeling like hollow imitations of their excellent progenitors.

Banjo-Kazooie

Rare was one of Nintendo’s biggest third-party supporters throughout the N64’s lifespan, and several of their games for the system rank among the best titles ever made. Banjo-Kazooie, a cartoony and zany 3D platformer, is one of these titles. Starring the titular bear Banjo and his bird pal Kazooie, the game tasks players with collecting golden jigsaw pieces to venture further into an evil witch’s lair. 

As the player progresses, they unlock new special moves for the playable characters and collect a wide assortment of items, ranging from musical notes to silver masks. The game is one of the earliest examples of 3D-platforming “collect-a-thon,” a genre that Rare would further flesh out with the game’s sequel, Banjo-Twoiie, and spiritual successor, Donkey Kong 64

Sadly, Rare was purchased by Microsoft in 2002, ending the studio’s long-running partnership with Nintendo and crushing any hopes of a third proper entry into the Banjo franchise. While the series got a sequel on the Xbox 360, it was far from the traditional 3D platformer gamers had long hoped for. 

Super Mario 64

It’s hard to overstate how monumental the release of Super Mario 64 was. Only 11 years before its release, Nintendo put out the original Super Mario Bros on the Famicon. In 1996, when it released the fully-3D Super Mario 64, it once again changed the landscape of the gaming industry and essentially created a new genre out of thin air. There had been a handful of 3D platformers before Mario 64, but they didn’t look anything like this.

Mario let players control the camera, a revolutionary mechanic at the time. It featured a protagonist who was fun to simply control, as moving Mario around the wide, open space in front of Peach’s castle could be just as engaging as tackling the levels hidden in the paintings inside. It featured a wide variety of worlds, showcasing the creativity and imagination of the series director, Shigeru Miyamoto. 

Basically, every 3D platformer to come after Super Mario 64 owes something to the legendary game that created the modern version of the genre. Games with numerous collectibles, replayable sandbox-style levels, and thoughtful 3D platforming are all, in some way or another, spiritual successors to Nintendo’s legendary 1996 title. It’s as close as any game has ever gotten to perfect–except, maybe, for the next game on this list.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

In much the same way Super Mario 64 redefined both its own franchise and the genre it inhabited, The Ocarina of Time invented the modern blueprint for fantasy adventure games. Never before had a 3D RPG felt so alive. The sense of place on display in Nintendo’s beautiful rendition of Hyrule was breathtaking, with Link’s epic adventure taking him from underwater temples to towering volcanoes. 

The sense of adventure and scale found in The Ocarina of Time was unlike any other video game out at the time. Fans of classic tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons finally had a video game that emulated the feeling of navigating a dark dungeon, surrounded by monsters, with only your wits and your sword at your side. 

Ocarina has cast a long shadow over the gaming landscape in the 25 years since its release. Future 3D Zelda games are measured up against it, and even 3D RPGs from other franchises are often compared to the 1998 classic. It wasn’t until 2017’s masterful Breath of the Wild that the Zelda franchise truly stepped away from the formula created in Ocarina, and, even then, it’s clear the franchise’s entire look and feel can be largely attributed to that 1998 classic.