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Down Memory Lane: The Greatest Games of the Nintendo 64
While it only had a fraction of the games the original PlayStation boasted in its massive library, it’s hard to argue that the Nintendo 64 was the clear leader of the pack in console gaming during the 90’s. Truly, it still stands the test of time with some of the most well-developed and carefully designed software that has ever been created, some even reaching as high as legendary status and routinely being ported over to portable and current-gen consoles.
With an eye for nostalgia and a handful of good memories, let’s take a look at some of the greatest games to ever grace the Nintendo 64.
GOLDEN EYE 007
The definitive first-person shooter for the N64, GoldenEye took the primitve shooter formula of the time and completely turned it upside down, leaving us with a remarkably innovative and interesting new title. Gamers played as James Bond, traversing the game’s interesting storyline as the agent while mastering multiple weapons, embarking on chases and escort missions, and even adopting small elements of stealth to accomplish objectives. Not to be overlooked, however, is 007’s multiplayer deathmatches where friends could connect a controller and join in on a level, running throughout mutliple maps as they hunted each other down. The idea not only took off, but served as a precursor to multiplayer as we know it today.
SUPER MARIO 64
Launched alongside the console itself, Super Mario 64 was revolutionary for one main reason: it was in 3D. Gamers had become so used to the classic side-scrolling platformer that Mario was known for, and when the N64 launched, it blew us away when we were able to experience Mario in 3 dimensions instead of 2. It not only gave the plumber a whole new look, but also gave us a glimpse of the future of video games as we departed from our flat, 2D roots.
LEGEND OF ZELDA: THE OCARINA OF TIME
Not only is Ocarina considered one of the best Zelda games in the franchise, it’s often considered the greatest game of all time. Throughout its extensive, 40-hour gameplay, players watched as Link grew from a child to fearless adult, making friends and taking on enemies as he traveled through time. It marked the evolution of the franchise, and is the bar that all other Zelda games are held to when reviewed.
The King of all kart racers, Mario Kart 64 set the standard upon its release. All other kart racers that came after it were often considered clones of the original, stealing conventions that had made Mario Kart such a success. Who wouldn’t want to play as their favorite Nintendo character and mess everyone up by laying out oil slicks all over the track? It was cute, it was clever, and it was mind-numbingly addictive.
TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER
With multiple collectibles, a long list of tricks and button combos to master, points to score, and multiple maps and areas to explore, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the N64 is one of the greatest skateboarding games ever made. Hours were easily skated away as you mastered the warehouse, explored all levels of the mall, and skated around town at night. Tight controls, challenging gameplay, and smooth mechanics were only the first few items on a long list that made the game so fantastic. There have been many, many installments in the series that have hit consoles after this, but the original still stands as a series best.
With a quirky story, lovable world, great platforming mechanics, clever gameplay, and more collectibles than you can wrap your head around, Banjo-Kazooie was one of the deepest and most interesting platformers released on the Nintendo 64. It borrowed elements from other platformers of the time, but then changed them enough to make them unique, fresh, and interesting. There were areas to be explored, side quests to be completed, puzzle pieces to be found, music notes to grab, Jinjos to rescue, and an evil witch to be stopped on top of it all. It was fantastic then, and Rare’s masterpiece still holds up in so many ways today.
Building on what made the original so much fun, Excitebike 64 was a game that, like Super Mario, became amazing when it was re-created in 3D. Controls were tight and responsive, tracks were unique and individual, there were more game modes and mini-games than one could possibly play in one sitting, and the overall visual quality looked great and helped keep up the game’s overall excited, frantic racing feel. The replayability on Excitebike was phenomenally high as well; after all, there’s nothing better than beating your own record lap time on a track and uncovering secret tunnels and shortcuts to help you gain the upper hand in a race.
While GoldenEye came before it, the adventure of Joanna Dark became a smash hit on the console upon its release. It took what GoldenEye was and built upon it, creating one of the most interesting and fun shooters of the N64 era. Extraordinary depth, great cinematics, storytelling, and clever puzzles were what made this game another success for developer Rare, and while her later release on the 360 was lackluster in comparison, Perfect Dark is still considered one of the greatest FPSs of a generation.
WAVE RACE 64
It wasn’t long after the release of the N64 that gamers were treated to Wave Race, a Yamaha-licensed racer with amazingly responsive controls and revolutionary water effects that made the jet ski game feel just as real as riding one. Players were able to do tricks, find shortcuts, reach power-ups, and race three others (or one other person in a two-player race) across up to 8 tracks with scaled difficulty as one moved up through the experience ranks. Few games have had the same feel and excitement of Wave Race 64, and it’s not likely any ever will be able to truly copy the power and ability the title had during its reign on the 64.
SUPER SMASH BROS
The one and only brawler of Nintendo fame, Super Smash Bros.’ legacy is that of one of the greatest multiplayer games of all time. Picking between your favorite Nintendo characters, heading into multiple arenas with their own personality, using a litany of items and power-ups to help you knock everyone around the screen and eventually out of the arena…it’s a surprisingly simple formula to use, but the gameplay itself was an absolute innovation on the fighting game genre, and it’s still influential enough to have produced a super-successful version for the Wii and is now the standard that all other brawling games are held to (and often compared to…I’m looking at you, All Stars).