The Nintendo 64 was as much of a ’90s childhood staple as Gogurt, Toonami, and Nerf blasters. From weekends with friends dodging shells in Mario Kart to traversing the deep world of the Ocarina of Time, the N64 helped raise an entire generation and expose millions upon millions to thrilling worlds far beyond our own.
We’ve decided to look back at the 23-year-old console that brought us all so much joy and analyze which of its amazing titles brought us the most joy. Because choosing the best Nintendo 64 games is like choosing a favorite child, this list is presented in no particular order.
As always, sound off in the comments to remind us what we missed.
1. Mario Kart 64
There are two types of N64 owners: Mario Kart loyalists and Diddy Kong Racing fanatics. Like many of history’s greatest schisms, friends and families have been torn apart by these stark differences in opinion.
Okay, maybe it isn’t that extreme, but generally you loved one or the other and looked down at your rival’s racing preference. For this writer, Mario Kart wasn’t merely a game, it was a lifestyle. The best games you play along friends are those that mix a bit of silliness with an intense edge. Nintendo’s collection of cheeky characters mixed with turtle-shell missiles and winding maps made this an instant classic.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
The game that ruined skateboarding, officially. Those wild 720s, those gnarly double back flips, those combo scores. This is like what skateboarding would be if it was done by superheroes. Originally a port from the Playstation, the N64 edition brought a soundtrack that remains burned in the brains of young millennials everywhere.
What made Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater iconic was the addictiveness of its levels and its clever reward system. You had to absolutely nail impossible tricks to unlock new features. The game was also bolstered by big name personalities like Tony Hawk himself, Mike Muscala, and others. The original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater would go on to create a legion of games and copycats, but nothing has ever been quite like the original.
3. Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 was such a good game that I once watched my friend play it for eight hours straight. I don’t think I touched the controller once. I watched, and occasionally coached, as we traversed a starburst-bright world in an attempt to save Princess Peach from a dastardly Bowser. Super Mario 64 used brilliant, high-jumping mechanics and a playful sense of world-building to provide constant fun.
But, that doesn’t mean Super Mario 64 was easy or frivolous. The game drove completionists crazy in their pursuit to capture every star, traverse every level, and get that sweet smooch from Princess Peach.
Goldeneye is a fascinating game because of how essential it is. Of all the games on this list, it’s probably aged with the least grace, but its impact can’t be denied. Alongside Perfect Dark, these two spawned the birth of the multiplayer first person shooter. Without these, there would be no Halo, no Call of Duty, and no screaming at 13-year-olds on Xbox Live.
Goldeneye cleverly used James Bond lore to create an intricate universe and compelling story mode. But it was in its multiplayer that the game took off. With a variety of abilities at your disposal, tension-inducing maps, and the perfect setting for trash-talking to your friends, Goldeneye was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’ve never destroyed someone with Odd Job’s hat, you haven’t lived.
5. Ocarina of Time
The Zelda game to end all Zelda games. While many N64 games reinvented how we played, none were quite as ambitious in size and scope as Ocarina of Time. It was a 40-hour trek through temples, with amazingly challenging puzzles, excellent fighting mechanics, and a lush, seemingly endless world.
Ocarina of Time quickly became the new standard for what to expect from a Nintendo RPG. Unlike some of the classic games on this list, Ocarina of Time could drop today and still feel fresh. Whereas games like Mario Kart offered wild fun, Ocarina of Time felt like a serious undertaking along the lines of an epic movie. It’s easily one of the best Nintendo 64 games ever made.
6. Super Smash Bros.
Okay, Super Smash Bros. is partially broken. Kirby is overpowered and the varieties of levels leave a lot to be desired. But few games have as much of a cultural legacy as Super Smash Bros. There’s a Rorschach test in who you choose as your character: you can just tell what kind of a person someone is when they spam Pikachu’s lightning attack.
Like all great fighting games, Super Smash Bros. escalates as you get better. It’s a fun play at first, but as you and your friends increased your abilities, the game became more interesting, more dynamic, more maddening, and more rewarding. Not only that, but Super Smash Bros. spawned a legacy unlike any other game. From Melee to Brawl and beyond, players have made millions off smash attacks.
All in all, there will never be another system like the N64. It was a giant leap forward for gaming technology, mixed with a creative house that emphasized story, world-building and playability more than any other.
What were your favorite Nintendo 64 games? Let us know in the comments below!