The Nintendo 64 represented a huge jump in graphics and processing power, moving from the 16-bit Super Nintendo to an entirely new platform. The PlayStation was its primary competitor alongside the Sega Saturn. The improved technology in these systems allowed games to be more complex than ever before and brought the story and complexity of game mechanics to never-before-seen levels.
The Nintendo 64 is home to some of the greatest games ever made, many of which are known even to non-gamers. Narrowing down the best Nintendo 64 games out a total of 338 entries for the platform isn’t an easy task, but it just shows what a groundbreaking system it was.
Here are our picks for the best Nintendo 64 games of all time.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time pulled together the greatest elements of previous Zelda games into one sweeping adventure that spanned seven years of time. Not only is the story the darkest yet, but it introduced many elements and characters that would go on to become hallmarks of future entries in the series.
Ocarina of Time had triple the preorders of any previous game across any genre and sold more than 1 million copies in a week. It received critical acclaim from nearly every review outlet due to the new standards it set for gaming.
Since then, Ocarina of Time has seen re-releases on the GameCube and 3DS, with many fans hoping for a modern remaster on the Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario 64
As one of three launch titles on the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64 was one of the first games many players experienced—and it set the stage for what to expect on the console. Super Mario 64 was the first Mario title to feature full 3D graphics and 360 degrees of control.
It broke from the overworld maps set by Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros 3 and opted instead for a hub world, Princess Peach’s castle. The game was as much about exploration as it was about defeating Bowser.
Super Mario 64 is the gold standard for Mario titles. Since then, many other entries in the series have followed a similar pattern. Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Odyssey, etc.—they all feature huge open worlds to explore, with secrets hidden behind every corner.
If you have never experienced the simple pleasure of playing Super Mario 64, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The game is prevalent enough that copies can still be found, and playing the original is likely the best bet. The Nintendo 64 is notoriously difficult to emulate well.
Mario Kart 64
Super Mario Kart was the first entry in the popular kart-racing lineup, but while popular, it didn’t reach the levels of renown that Mario Kart 64 did. Mario Kart 64 had better graphics and allowed for four-player split screen play.
While it had four less maps than its predecessor, the maps were larger, three-dimensional, and featured numerous Easter eggs and shortcuts. There was also a mirror mode that allowed players to run the courses backwards and added even more replayability.
Mario Kart 64 made a name for itself as the go-to multiplayer title for the N64. It was the perfect balance of casual and competitive and still holds up today as a fun way to spend an afternoon.
The idea of a 3D first-person shooter was relatively unknown. Some ship-based games existed, and players were familiar with FPS titles on PC, but they had little console presence before the release of GoldenEye. The game came out roughly two years after the Pierce Brosnan film hit theaters, but held a huge appeal due to the large single player levels and expansive campaign.
But the true heart of GoldenEye lay not in its single player, but its multiplayer. Four-player split screen matches kept players for hours upon hours as they fought for control of the Golden Gun or simply for the highest score. With 20 multiplayer maps and a huge variety of game modes, GoldenEye was one of the best ways to spend a lazy summer weekend with friends.
Super Smash Bros
The worldwide phenomenon had its start on the Nintendo 64. Super Smash Bros brought everyone’s favorite Nintendo characters together in one place and pitted them against each other to answer, once and for all, the question that gamers had debated for ages: who would win?
The sheer exhilaration of watching Link face off against Donkey Kong brought no end to the excitement for gamers. While Super Smash Bros has gone on to have entries on every Nintendo console since the N64, this first title set the stage for what was to come.
The original Super Smash Bros did not have the insane number of levels or characters as the sequels, featuring eight base characters, four unlockable characters, and nine stages, but the heart of the series beats strong in the game. It also introduced all of the beloved minigames like “Break the Targets.”
How To Play N64 Today
The easiest way to experience any of these games is to play them on the original hardware. There’s just something about using the goofy design of the N64 controller that an emulator can’t match—and as stated before, Nintendo 64 emulators are finicky.
If you can’t get your hands on an actual console, there are two emulators worth trying. The first is Project64 for Windows. It’s perhaps the easiest to use emulator on the market.
The other option is Mupen64Plus, an emulator that works for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It isn’t quite as easy to use a Project64, but it delivers better audio quality. When (hopefully not if) the Nintendo 64 Mini is released, it will become the easiest modern way to experience these classics once again.
These five Nintendo 64 games are the cream of the crop, but that’s not to say they’re the only good ones. This article could go on and on, but it would be a disservice not to mention a few honorable mentions like Jet Force Gemini, Star Fox 64, and Harvest Moon 64. The N64 was a powerhouse of a console that is well worth checking out.
What are your favorites for the best Nintendo 64 games? What set them apart? Let us know in the comments below.