The Nintendo 64 is often seen as the less “accessible” console of its generation, largely because of how difficult it apparently was to develop for it. However, if you owned an N64, the truth is that you had access to just as large and exciting a library as other gamers did.
Sure, it was perhaps a little more bespoke than the PlayStation’s library, but that just made it more of a certainty that any game you picked up would be worth a look. That’s no less true of the N64’s fighting game library, either, with plenty of gems to choose from if you loved competitive fighting experiences. Here are the best Nintendo 64 fighting games from this beloved console’s history.
Super Smash Bros
Super Smash Bros is the game that started it all. While gamers today are still enjoying the delights of the Switch’s Super Smash Bros Ultimate, the N64 original is still shockingly playable, with the core DNA of what the series is and what it represents still stunningly intact in this relatively primitive title. Sure, it doesn’t have a particularly large roster and there isn’t much to do beyond the core fighting systems, but Super Smash Bros is an excellent game that only gets finer with age. In some ways, its simplicity actually gives it a competitive advantage over its more complex successors.
Mortal Kombat 4
If you wanted to play the real next instalment in the Mortal Kombat series, then you needed to buy an N64. Mortal Kombat 4 was a bold declaration on the part of its developers; this wasn’t a re-release, a remaster, or a repackaged game, but a new iteration of the franchise, and its first in 3D at that. It offered lots of great twists on the classic Mortal Kombat gameplay, and although the core fighting was still pretty much identical to the SNES original, the characters and backgrounds all looked absolutely amazing on the N64.
Mace: The Dark Age
Many probably don’t even remember this obscure N64 fighting game classic, but it was one of the mainstays of the console’s fighting lineup back in the day. It originally launched on arcades before getting an N64 release, and it’s easy to see that lineage in action given how beautiful and crisp the visuals are. Of course, they’ve aged rather poorly today, and the gameplay is perhaps not the tightest and most responsive of the genre, but this game is still worth a look if you’ve got an old N64 and want to see where fighting games were at before the current genre mainstays took over.
Killer Instinct Gold
Originally released in arcades as Killer Instinct 2, Killer Instinct Gold was a brutal 2D game that acted as a sort of competitor to Mortal Kombat. The roster may not be as strong, but characters like Sabrewulf, Jago, and Orchid are still just as memorable today as they were then, and the action is fast, fluid, and exciting. If you don’t like the slower pace of games like Soulcalibur, then Killer Instinct is the antidote to those titles; it’s relentlessly quick, meaning you’re going to have to be on your best game if you want to defeat your opponents.
WWF No Mercy
The PlayStation may have been well known for its WWF SmackDown! series, but unbeknownst to many gamers, the N64 was fielding its own contender to the title belt in WWF No Mercy. If you had an N64, then you knew just how much better No Mercy was than the more arcade-style PlayStation titles. It had a more in-depth grapple system, a better character creator, and richer gameplay that felt more faithful to what professional wrestling was supposed to be. It could be difficult to learn No Mercy’s ins and outs, but doing so was hugely rewarding.
Originally, Dark Rift was in development for Sega’s ill-fated Saturn console before moving to the Nintendo 64 (and eventually getting a PC port as well). Today, Dark Rift looks a little clunky, but at the time, its fluid movements, 3D polygonal graphics, and murky atmosphere made it a great alternative to games like Super Smash Bros or Street Fighter. If you wanted to look cool in front of your friends, then you threw on Dark Rift, even though it likely hasn’t stood the test of time particularly well today. Still, it’s worth a look as a precursor to modern fighting classics.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy
Happily, the Nintendo 64 received a port of the first three excellent Mortal Kombat games, so you were spoiled for choice if you were a fighting game lover with an N64. The series’ trademark hyper-violent, brutal combat is fully on display here, complete with a huge roster of characters, stages, and Fatalities to pull off. Mortal Kombat Trilogy on N64 even has a special character in the form of Khameleon, who would later go on to make another appearance in the Wii port of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.
We end with a Japanese curio that never managed to make it to Western shores, which feels like a huge loss for Western gamers, frankly. Rakugakids is a beautiful-looking crayon drawing fighting game in which every character looks like a child’s doodle, and so robots go up against weirdly-proportioned animals in 2D fighting sequences that feel equally inspired by Street Fighter and Mario Paint. Of course, the chances of ever getting a port of this one are slim to none now, but it’s a shame, because we’d really like to see this strange game re-emerge.