The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third major home console release. It launched in late 1996 (early 1997 if you were in Europe or Australia) and was the only console of its generation to use cartridge media rather than the CDs used by PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Despite this technical limitation – which made many developers reluctant to create games for the console – the N64 thrived, selling 33 million units worldwide. That was thanks, in part, to an amazing software library. Here, in no particular order, are the top 25 N64 games of all time.
1. Super Mario 64
No list of the best N64 games would be complete without a mention of Super Mario 64. Arguably still the greatest launch title of all time, Super Mario 64 catapulted its humble plumber star into three dimensions, launching an entire genre as it went (while Mario 64 wasn’t the first 3D platformer, it was arguably the first good one). Mario’s movement is fluid and compelling, and the game presents an excellent series of levels in which to utilise that movement.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Nintendo 64 was home to a surprising number of games often billed as the “best of all time”. Super Mario 64 is one, and Ocarina of Time is another. Just like Mario, this game took Link and his adventures into 3D, and it utilised the new dimension to create some of the series’ most fiendish puzzles and satisfying exploration yet. Ocarina of Time is stuffed full of things to do, iconic characters to meet, and items to master.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
If Ocarina of Time is the golden child, then Majora’s Mask is the edgy sibling. Born from Ocarina assets and requiring the N64’s Expansion Pak add-on, Majora’s Mask is a profoundly weird experience, but no less great. It takes Link to the land of Termina, where the moon is set to destroy the world in three days. Link must relive the same three days over and over again in order to figure out a way to prevent the coming apocalypse.
4. Super Smash Bros.
The Smash Bros franchise has become a world-conquering beast, but here’s where it all began. Featuring a relatively humble roster of just twelve playable characters, Super Smash Bros originated the series’ platform fighter gameplay. Characters like Mario, Link, Samus, and Kirby battled one another across iconic locations from Nintendo history, with powerups and various special moves adding to the chaos.
5. Paper Mario
After Super Mario RPG showed everyone that Mario could operate within an RPG environment, Paper Mario cemented his legacy as a genuine JRPG hero. It featured the same sort of timing-heavy turn-based battling, but with a brand new papercraft aesthetic that felt simultaneously charming and cutting-edge. The Paper Mario series may be floundering now, but its original title is still well worth checking out.
6. GoldenEye 007
Much has been made of the brilliance of GoldenEye 007. It’s worth noting that the game doesn’t hold up today anywhere near as well as it might, but that for its time, the multiplayer gameplay was second to none. GoldenEye 007 also features a surprisingly accomplished single-player campaign that takes you through the events of the Bond movie on which the game is based.
Of all of Rare’s N64 platformers – and there were several – this is the only one that can be considered truly essential. Banjo-Tooie is too long-winded, Donkey Kong 64 is messy, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a little too edgy for its own good, but Banjo-Kazooie hits the sweet spot. It’s a great little collectathon platformer with oodles of character and some extremely memorable music courtesy of legendary composer Grant Kirkhope.
8. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 wasn’t the first Mario Kart game, but it often feels like it should have been, such was the quantum leap between this game and its SNES predecessor. Iconic characters from the Mario franchise race around a varied series of courses, throwing shells at each other and hoping that their friendships aren’t ruined come the morning. That might just be us, actually.
9. Pokemon Snap
An on-rails shooter in which you photograph Pokemon sounds like an oddball concept, but Pokemon Snap effortlessly made it work. Spotting and snapping Pokemon in their natural habitats felt thrilling; suddenly, these weren’t just 8-bit creatures on your Game Boy screen, but living, breathing animals, with realistic behaviours to match. Pokemon Snap’s only crime was being too short.
10. WWF No Mercy
While the WWF Smackdown series (as it was then called) was a fairly successful interpretation of professional wrestling in the gaming space, WWF No Mercy was a far more technical and involved beast. The engine is still celebrated today for offering a huge range of grapples, strikes, and other moves, while the wrestler creator function offered endless options for making your own jobber.
11. Pokemon Stadium
Pokemon Stadium and its sequel weren’t just 3D Pokemon battling games. They were that, of course, but they were so much more, offering us the chance to feel like real Pokemon trainers. The games also offered the ability to play your Game Boy Pokemon games on the big screen, as well as some surprisingly well-crafted minigames to play with your buddies.
12. Pilotwings 64
The Pilotwings franchise is a curious one. It’s a relaxing, casual odyssey through a series of idyllic locations, but it’s also fiendishly challenging at times, especially if you’re aiming for the highest possible score on each challenge. While Pilotwings can be a touch on the short side and can feel somewhat insubstantial, the N64’s iteration was a wonderful addition to the series.
13. Perfect Dark
This spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007 didn’t have any of the licensed characters of its forebear, but that didn’t matter, because the shooting action was so much tighter. Again, if you wanted to get the most out of Perfect Dark, you needed the N64’s Expansion Pak, but if you had it, the multiplayer was frenetic, chaotic, and incredibly deep, while the single-player campaign was even better than GoldenEye’s.
14. Star Fox 64
It’s okay to say this now, we think: Star Fox’s visuals leave a lot to be desired. While the SNES game was cutting-edge when it was first released, it now looks hopelessly dated. The same can’t be said for Star Fox 64, which still holds up today. It’s short, yes, but its freewheeling dog-fight action still looks and feels great, and that iconic music still makes us feel like real space pilots.
15. Mario Party 2
It’s hard to whittle down the Mario Party franchise to just one recommended game, even on the N64 (there were three of them on this console alone!), but Mario Party 2 is the one we’re going for. It expanded the first game’s formula of board game play interspersed with minigames, featuring some of the franchise’s most iconic iterations of both. Check it out if you’re looking for something fun to do with friends.
16. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
To this day, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 remains unmatched as a skating game. Sure, it doesn’t have the simulation-level accuracy of EA’s Skate series, but it represents an era of gaming when these games were allowed to be fun without feeling tied to verisimilitude. The levels are sprawling and satisfying to explore, there are a ton of characters to unlock, and the skating is tight.
17. Rayman 2: The Great Escape
The N64 couldn’t breathe for great 3D platformers, so the fact that Rayman 2 still finds a way to stand out in that crowded marketplace should be celebrated. This is an accomplished, confident 3D platformer that doesn’t really innovate on any level, but that executes everything it sets out to do with aplomb. Rayman is just as adorable and characterful as ever, and the swashbuckling world he’s exploring here is delightful.
18. Doom 64
Contrary to what its name might make you believe, Doom 64 isn’t just a remake of the original Doom. Instead, it’s a completely original game, although it does feature many of the original game’s enemies and weapons. Doom 64 aims for more of an outright horror vibe than its predecessors, toning down the awesome metal music in favour of eerie ambient soundscapes and totally changing the feel in the process.
19. Mario Golf
Camelot sure does know how to design sports games (or it did, anyway; more recent instalments of these franchises haven’t turned out so well). Mario Golf is an excellent arcade-style golf game, featuring plenty of iconic elements from the Mario series. It’s not a realistic take on the sport, of course, but when you’re having this much fun, does that really matter?
20. Harvest Moon 64
Continuing the fine tradition of “franchise name, but with 64 after it”, Harvest Moon 64 was, as you might expect, the Nintendo 64 entry for the Harvest Moon series. As such, you’re getting the same hopelessly addictive blend of farming and life sim gameplay, and if you let yourself get into this, it will destroy your life in exactly the same way. Just one more cycle…
21. ISS 64
Remember when Konami was on top of the football gaming world? Those days might seem difficult to recall in the days of eFootball 2022, but back in the N64 days, Konami was king, and ISS 64 was the sceptre with which it ruled. Featuring a fully polygonal engine, deeply technical gameplay, and a score of modes, ISS 64 is one of the best football games of its era, period.
22. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
We’ll be honest: we mostly remembered Turok 2 for its black cartridge, which made us feel like we had something illicit and dangerous in our hands. Replaying it today, though, it turns out we did; this is still an excellent first-person shooter, complete with crisp visuals, satisfying gunplay, and a sense of irony that sets it apart from the po-faced military drudgery that was to follow.
23. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
Yes, that is the real title of this game. Ogre Battle 64 is a real-time strategy game in which you must guide your units across a series of maps, battling enemy battalions and making tactical decisions as you go. This isn’t Fire Emblem, either (which didn’t get an N64 entry, more’s the pity); it’s far more immediate and tense than that game, and it will seriously test your tactical ability even today.
24. Resident Evil 2
Forget the 2019 remake (although don’t, because it’s actually really good); this is the definitive version of the classic Resident Evil 2 experience. The porting team’s work on this version of the game is nothing short of astonishing; they managed to pack a game that came on two 700MB CDs on PlayStation into a 64MB cartridge, complete with FMVs. It’s witchcraft, and you should check it out today to see what genius looks like.
25. F-Zero X
Shigeru Miyamoto once indicated that he was puzzled as to why anybody would want Nintendo to make another F-Zero game. If you want to know the answer to that question, just play F-Zero X, which is an excellent breakneck racer. It’s so fast that you might struggle to keep up with it at first, but if you master it, you’ll find a rewarding and surprisingly tactical experience on offer.