Super Mario 64
June 23, 1996 was a momentous occasion for Nintendo games and various children around the world. Yes, on this very day nineteen years ago we welcomed both the Nintendo 64 home gaming console and its flagship title, Super Mario 64, into our homes for the first time. Now, it’s not often that launch titles get everything right, as the developers are generally still working out how best to utilize the new technology. The first string of games is usually mediocre at best. This was definitely not the case with Super Mario 64. Mario’s first three-dimensional adventure successfully made the jump from his side-scrolling days of yore, giving players more than a dozen unique stages and over 100 challenges to complete, all while utilizing some of the best power-ups our Italian hero has seen to this day.
Mario Kart 64
While we’re talking Mario, let’s discuss the kart racer that would end all other kart racers. Only the second entry into the Mario Kart series, Mario Kart 64 redefined the genre. To date, it has sold more than competitors Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing combined, and was nigh impossible to put down. It didn’t matter who was around – you could have just as much fun playing Mario Kart 64 with your siblings and best friends as with your grandparents and babysitter. It was challenging but accessible and tested relationships the world over. If you can still find it in your heart to love your partner after they hit you with a blue shell and rob you of first place, that’s a love that will last forever.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Whether Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask is the greater entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise is a point of much contention, but the fact remains that without the former, we would not have the latter. Like Super Mario 64 before it, Ocarina of Time was the series’ premiere venture into a 3D world, and it was an runaway success. From the inside of a sentient tree deity, to the most frustrating underwater temple in the world, to the final fiendish castle where Ganondorf held the titular princess, we followed Link around the expansive overworld of Hyrule and sometimes just stopped to gaze at the awesome scenery never before seen on a home console. We even learned some sick ocarina beats along the way which allowed us to call our horse, travel back to the future, and make it rain. Ocarina of Time paved the way for Majora’s Mask and others to follow it, and is truly one of the top experiences available on the Nintendo 64.
Apologies for sounding like a broken record, but Pokémon Stadium was the first time we saw the delightful Pocket Monster in three properly realized dimensions, and it was just a treat. While the bundle of mini-games are almost worth the purchase alone (my wife and I will still fire it up from time to time just to play Magikarp Splash and Sushi-Go-Round), the highlight was definitely hooking up your copy of Pokémon Red or Pokémon Blue to Pokémon Stadium and using your own, hand-picked and personally trained team against in-game trainers or even your own friend with their game plugged in. There was little else that could get you as hyped up as watching a pokéball get tossed out into a proper arena to reveal your level 100 Charizard that you’d spent weeks training up, and absolutely thrashing your opposition.
Super Smash Bros.
So far we’ve seen the best from Mario, Link, and Pikachu. Here’s a crazy idea: what if we could use all these insanely popular, wildly successful characters in a single game, where multiple players can just kick the tar out of each other? That’s exactly what happened. With a now modest (but then quite impressive) line-up of just 12 iconic Nintendo characters including Samus, Kirby, and Donkey Kong, Super Smash Bros. made for the ultimate four-player party game. There were stages inspired by the various franchises including Hyrule Castle and Yoshi’s Island, and items from each series to boot, like Mario’s Super Mushroom and Ness’s Home-Run Bat. It was a wonderful Nintendo mish-mash that has since spawned 4 successors, with a cast that now exceeds 50 playable characters. Oh, and it had the best TV commercial ever.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Okay, obviously a game list focused on a Nintendo console is going to feature stuff like Mario and Pokémon, but what about the rest of it? The not-so-kind friendly fare that all the kids were playing anyway? Believe it or not, the Nintendo 64 featured plenty of worthwhile and respectable first-person shooters, a claim recent Nintendo consoles cannot make. The first such title to release was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Even after having to cut parts out of the game to make it fit on the Nintendo 64 cartridge, Turok still released to critical acclaim and was praised for its awesome graphics and evolution of the FPS genre. Turok was also the Nintendo 64’s first third-party developed game, which opened the flood gates for many more after its massive success. Plus, you got to get up close and personal with a bunch of dinosaurs. When is that ever a bad time?
Fact: GoldenEye 007 is the third best-selling Nintendo 64 game, behind Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 in first and second place respectively. That means it was literally more successful than every other Nintendo 64 game aside from those two (that includes Zelda, Pokémon, and Smash), and for good reason. If Turok was the instant go-to for single player FPS action, GoldenEye 007 immediately became the go-to for multiplayer FPS action. The single player campaign stood well enough on its own, but GoldenEye was the first shooter to successfully realize a fun, engaging multiplayer experience on a home console. There were five separate multiplayer modes, all of which were massive amounts of fun and fully customizable in terms of weapons and winning conditions. No other shooter even came close to topping the quality of GoldenEye until Perfect Dark arrived on the scene…
So, obviously, that’s the next item on the agenda. Rounding out the kick-ass trifecta of shooters on the Nintendo 64, Perfect Dark was developed by Rare, who incidentally also made GoldenEye. In fact, one of the reasons Perfect Dark is so good is because it’s a spiritual successor to GoldenEye, and thus utilizes many similar mechanics and features. Basically, Perfect Dark is the game you get when you’re tired of GoldenEye‘s maps and want some new stuff to try. Of course it’s three years newer, which means its graphics are three years better as well. Perfect Dark was so graphically intensive that it was one of very few games that required a Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak in order to access its single-player campaign and a large chunk of the multiplayer features. For the year 2000, this was a dang impressive game.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Nearing the end of our list, we come to possibly the least child-friendly game of the lot, and the third Rare masterpiece in a row: Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Learning 3D platforming from the preceding Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, Rare crafted a colorful and inviting world for Conker the Red Squirrel to puke all over. He starts the game wasted and stumbling his way home, and by the end he’ll have fought an opera singing mound of crap, bounced on the voluptuous breasts of a stacked sunflower, and performed an excellent reenactment of The Matrix. Aside from the color palette, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was the polar opposite of everything the Nintendo 64 stood for, and it worked brilliantly.
Capping off this celebration of Nintendo 64’s best and brightest is Pokémon Snap. If you ever read a list of the best Nintendo 64 games and Pokémon Snap isn’t on it, it’s wrong. No ifs, ands, or buts about it; that list is trash. Pokémon Snap is a game where you travel around an island in a buggy and take photos of Pokémon. It is the definition of “easy to learn, impossible to master” as you’ll always be finding new ways to interact with the Pokémon throughout the island. You’ll earn new items as you progress, giving incentive to revisit past stages to find more fun poses and groups of creatures. If you had to nitpick, the only flaws are how criminally short the game is, and how of the original 151 monsters, only 63 are featured. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s high time we got a remake.
Did we leave out your favorite Nintendo 64 game? Name it in the comments, and tell us why it’s one of the best! Happy birthday, N64!