The Nintendo 64 (N64) library was dwarfed by the original Sony PlayStation’s in terms of sheer quantity, but the N64 was not without its fair share of solid AAA titles. The PlayStation was easy to develop for and discs were far cheaper to manufacture than cartridges so most third-party developers took their chances on the Sony console which also benefited from a larger installed-user base. Nintendo had something going for it that Sony could only dream of: Nintendo’s intellectual properties and world-class creative and programming talent. Looking over the list of the 10 best N64 games of all-time, you will notice that Nintendo’s library was packed with first-party gems.
Killer Instinct Gold – Nintendo (1996)
Tekken and Virtua Fighter stole the limelight in terms of critical acclaim, but the pure fun of Killer Instinct cannot be denied. The game’s intricate and over-the-top combo system changed the way we viewed one-on-one fighting games and the button-smashing action provided a welcomed relief from the slow, methodical fighting of its competitors from Namco and Sega.
Excitebike 64 – Nintendo (2000)
Nintendo could have simply made a decent motorcycle racing game and slapped the Excitebike name on it with the ubiquitous ’64’ suffix and sold millions of cartridges. This was not how the iconic company did business during this era and they took the classic NES title into the 64-bit era with better controls and gameplay mechanics than any other dirt bike game of the generation.
Ridge Racer 64 – Nintendo (2000)
Namco and Nintendo Software Technology developed this title and the N64 served as a worthy host to this installment of the Ridge Racer series. The graphics were crisp, background draw-in nonexistent, speed impressive, and controls tight. The Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn were known for impressive arcade-to-home ports, but this title showed that the N64 could do more than Mario titles.
Banjo-Kazooie – Nintendo (1998)
Just as Nintendo was the dominant force in side-scrollers during the NES era, the company was able to establish itself as the king of 3D action-adventure games during the late-’90s. Building on the blueprint created by Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie advanced the genre even further. The game’s brilliant level design, impeccable control scheme, and dynamic soundtrack and audio experience created one of the most compelling 3D action-adventure experiences of the time.
Wave Race 64 – Nintendo (1996)
The water textures in this early N64 title were simply mind-blowing when the game was originally released, and although they do not stand up to the photo-realistic graphics of modern games, their beautiful design is still visually appealing. The gameplay, however, stands up with the top racing games of all-time due to its striking balance of arcade thrills and subtle finesse. Joyful game experiences like Wave Race 64 are the reason that the Nintendo name is so strong in terms of AAA software development.
Perfect Dark – Rare (2000)
The N64 is often unduly criticized as a system that pandered to the more juvenile gamer due to the system’s focus on established Nintendo properties with vivid color palettes. However, the console’s library was not devoid of mature content and Perfect Dark is a prime example of just how strong the first-person shooter genre was on the 64-bit system.
Mario Kart 64 – Nintendo (1997)
Mario Kart 64’s broad appeal made it a mega-hit with racing game fans and non-fans alike. The game was about racing, but it was about so much more and every facet of the experience reflected Nintendo’s Midas touch. Even the most jaded gamer played this game with a gleam of childlike wonder in their eyes.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Nintendo (1998)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a textbook example of how to bring a 2D adventure title into the world of 3D without the experience seeming forced. The intuitive exploration mechanics and typically intriguing storyline made this one of the most compelling reasons to buy an N64 in 1998.
GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo (1997)
The release of GoldenEye 007 was not just a pivotal moment for the N64 system, but it also marked a turning point in the way home console first-person shooters were viewed. Prior to the release of this classic shooter, home consoles were seen as the inferior counterpart to PC set-ups in regards to first-person shooters. Home consoles were just home to Doom ports and they were usually sub-par, but GoldenEye 007 was a home console original and raised the benchmark for shooters in all realms of gaming, console and PC-based.
Super Mario 64 – Nintendo (1996)
The narrative through the first three-quarters of 1996 revolved around the N64 and if the wait was worth it. Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterful vision of Mario in a 3D world was executed so brilliantly in the form of Super Mario 64 that no one cared about the dearth of launch titles for Nintendo’s 64-bit console. The title brought the gaming world’s favorite side-scrolling hero from the 2D world into an intuitively negotiated 3D realm, wowing gamers and giving the N64 a killer-app that is still widely hailed as the best N64 game of all-time and one of the best video games ever created for any system.
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