The first glimpse of a future where immensely powerful computing will be as common and easy to use as our televisions.
-Michael Krantz, Time Magazine
64 flavors of amazing await, NPCs!
Welcome to Day 12! Today I’m proud to feature a person who has quickly become one of my goodest online friends. Yes, it’s that paragon of musical expertise and honest reviewing, the ABXY Mage (aka ABXY Reviews). You can find him on Twitter with that link or you can find him… here! He does some great work at TWRM!
It turns out that our personal skeletor had some plans knocking around in his skull. He told me he single-handedly played through as many N64 games as he could all over again and applied the 8-bit review system we use here to help figure out which titles should appear on his list. Some of his favorites he intended to include didn’t even make the cut. That’s dedication!
Jazz hands, dude. Jazz hands.
-The Well-Red Mage
Thanks to the split between Nintendo and Sony on the SNES CD, and Nintendo’s disastrous partnership with Philips, Sony was able to get the jump on the 3D Video Game Market with the release of the PlayStation. Because of this, and because of the massive success of the Super Nintendo, people were very intrigued and excited to see what Nintendo’s eventual response would be when rumors of the N64 eventually, first surfaced. A 3D Nintendo console… Even after the acclaim and love the PlayStation had already gained, people were dying to get a look at the next Nintendo offering. Finally, in 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released.
For some reason, there is now a “too cool” mentality about the N64, and it receives far more vitriol than it deserves. While there are plenty of fair criticisms to be discussed, especially in retrospect, it’s hard to deny the fun that most people had playing N64 (especially with their friends) or the ways that some of the games influenced and progressed their genres. It might not have the largest library of a Nintendo console, but it certainly has some fantastic games that can still be enjoyed and appreciated today. These are those games. The cream of the crop.
Banjo-Kazooie is one of the most beloved 3D platformers on the Nintendo 64, and there are several reasons why. The music is enjoyable and fun, which should come as no surprised based on the title. The platforming works well and has the right amount of challenge, requiring you to use the different moves and maneuvers in your arsenal. The story is presented basically like a fairy tale which works thanks to the characters and setting. While some criticize the abundance of collectibles, others see them as a reason to come back every now and then to fully explore the world of Banjo-Kazooie.
#6. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare made a lot of good games for the Nintendo 64. For one, they made the last entry, Banjo-Kazooie. When they first developed Conker’s Bad Fur Day, it was looking like another Rare 3D platformer with solid gameplay, just like the others. However, initial test audiences found it too similar to other 3D platformers of the time. Thanks to those heroes, Rare decided to change Conker’s Bad Fur Day into a drunken, poo-filled, sailor-mouthed, warped children’s story for adults. There are some who say the humor doesn’t hold up, and while not all of it does, some of it will still make you laugh. It’s not all fart and poop jokes. Much of the subtle humor and many of the funnier interactions with other characters still hold up. On top of that, it has good voice acting, challenging puzzles and platforming, an absurdly comical story, and great sound effects. In fact, Conker won a BAFTA for sound. A solid and unique 3D platformer.
#5. Goldeneye 007
The best James Bond video game ever, as well as one of the best games based on a movie, of all time.
Before the advent of the twin-stick FPS, Goldeneye reigned supreme. Even after the shift on controls, Goldeneye continued to be a favorite of a generation. Goldeneye 007 took the story of the blockbuster movie it was based on and added even more to it. Many people actually felt that the game was better than the movie. The solo campaign took Bond all over the world and allowed you, the player, to play as both a silent assassin as well as a one-man army. The one-player mode offered three levels of difficulty which all came with their own ups and downs. The easiest setting, Secret Agent, provided minimal mission objectives, more ammo, and more armor, and completing it unlocked the Aztec level. The middle setting, 00 Agent, provided less ammo and armor, but more mission objectives to complete, and completing all missions on 00 Agent unlocked the Egyptian level. This meant that not only did additional playthroughs provide extra challenges, they also included new levels. Completing certain challenges in specific levels also unlocked cheat modes which added even more to the game. Oh, the music! It’s the perfect combination of 007 and video game music.
Obviously, we have to talk about the multiplayer. Split-screen, four-player, rage-inducing, friendship-building, friendship-ending fun. Multiple modes, a variety of weapons and maps, secret passages, and something that (sadly?) is all but gone from gaming: screen-looking (that’s what we called it anyway). Goldeneye 007 literally lead to people duct-taping pieces of cardboard to their TVs to prevent screen-lookers. Side-note, screen-looking is not cheating. It’s part of the game. The only people who ever complained about it were the people who weren’t able to use it effectively to their own advantage.
#4. Paper Mario
For those of us who love turn-based RPGs, and especially the library offered by the SNES, Super Mario RPG: Legend of The Seven Stars was the marriage of JRPGs and Mario that we always wanted. And, it was so good, that when it was over, we were left wanting more. A sequel. We all wanted a sequel. When the N64 came along, it only seemed natural that the next game in the series would see its release on the console. However, somewhere in its development, the sequel to the SNES classic shifted its tone slightly. Instead of following in the graphical footsteps of its predecessor (I assume due to the limitations of the N64 after how beautiful Mario RPG looked on the SNES), the art style was changed–and the title, to match.
Paper Mario does so many things so well. The art style is not only cute, but eye-catching and original. It takes many of the mechanics from Mario RPG, most obviously in the battles, and expands the cast of characters and places to give you a familiar yet new experience. In a possible homage to the theory that Super Mario Bros. 3 is a play on a stage with built sets, Paper Mario looks like an almost puppet show being done using construction paper and cardboard dioramas. The best part of the game’s art style is that allows the game to avoid many of the graphical pitfalls of other games on the system, which helps it hold up even by today’s standards. It’s fun, it’s charming, it’s accessible, and it’s just as good today as it was at release.
#3. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 took everything that made Super Mario Kart great–except Koopa Troopa–and made it better. It’s the true blueprint for the rest of the Mario Kart series, and the game that the next several entries would be measured against. While the courses, graphically, have some of those famous N64 trademarks, the characters and karts still look good today. Mario Kart 64 added new power-ups (like the Blue Shell and the ability to hold multiple items), as well as new characters (Wario and Donkey Kong), that would go on to become staples, and favorites, for generations to come.
As you might expect from a game on a console with four built in controller ports, Mario Kart 64 was best enjoyed with friends. The gameplay was so perfectly crafted that it’s just as good now as it ever was. In fact, Mario Kart games are mostly still just building off of this entry in the series. These are some of the many reasons that racing and battling for bragging rights with your friends became a lot more serious when Mario Kart 64 hit the scene.
#2. Super Mario 64
Like Super Mario Bros. did in 1985, Super Mario 64 changed the playing field for games. It set the bar for the 3D platformer and nearly every 3D platformer after Super Mario 64 was influenced by it. While previous Mario games contained different “worlds,” the 3D style and large areas of Mario 64 made them so much more wondrous. Introducing an (at-the-time) near-open world aspect with varied objectives in each world also helped players to enjoy exploring and getting lost in the different variations of the different levels.
In addition to the main story, there were dozens of challenges to increase the replay value. Super Mario 64 also gave us the first truly imposing Bowser, depicting him as a giant monster in comparison to a small Mario; the final battle had an added weight and increased eventual sense of accomplishment. Like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World before it, Super Mario 64 has the perfect blend of variety, challenge, fun, and feelings of wonderment. This is a game that could be remastered with every new generation and people would never complain.
#1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not only the best game for the Nintendo 64, it’s one of the greatest games of all time. Fight me. As soon as you awake as Link, you are drawn in to the magical, and for it’s time, huge world of Hyrule. Link’s first 3D adventure would change the series direction on non-portable consoles forever with a captivating story, dozens of temples, side quests, collectables, weapons, and characters to interact with. It was difficult, but it was accessible. It was beautiful, even if it wasn’t always. The ability to befriend and ride Epona was something many gamers will never forget. Same goes for the moment you first travel through time. There’s a stealth section, hunting, puzzles, boss battles, and even a day/night cycle that had different effects depending on the time.
It’s not perfect, but few games are. While it may have its flaws, it has more than one attribute to make up for each one. Is the Water Temple frustratingly confusing? Yes, but plenty of us figured it out before the ease of looking it up on the internet, and the fight with Shadow Link is one of the coolest fights in the entire game. Is finding all of the Gold Skulltulas tedious and not actually worth your time? You bet, but the side quests where you collect and use the different masks are fun and rewarding. Is every boss battle the best thing ever? No, but in addition to the many exciting ones that there are, the final battle with Ganon is the cinematic fight Zelda fans had always wanted.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of those games worth going back to every few years, just to remind yourself of how good it is (and how wrong the haters are).
So, there you have it. Inevitably, you will disagree with some or all of this list. That’s fine. Let me know which games you wish were on my list, or let me know what your top seven list would look like. Let the comments section be our Honorable Mentions list.
Oh, and remember…