September 29, 1996 remains forever etched in stone as one of the video game industry’s most defining moments — well, at least for some people. The sun rose that Sunday morning and people across America flocked to the closest electronics store in hopes of securing a Nintendo 64 to experience Mario’s foray into 3D. But even those who bought the system on launch day probably had no idea just how iconic the system would become.
Super Mario 64 wasn’t the only standout, though, which is why we’ve sifted through the console’s entire back catalog in an effort to identify the absolute best N64 games. We took into account everything from a game’s lasting appeal, to how revolutionary it was when first released, to its overall fun factor. Then we broke the list down into genres. So for all you N64 lovers out there, here are the best N64 games we feel most deserve a playthrough (or five). Now, here’s to hoping Nintendo’s trademark filing leads to a Nintendo 64 Classic in the near future.
‘Jet Force Gemini’
Jet Force Gemini remains one of the most unique and entertaining experiences on the Nintendo 64. Developed by Rare — the studio behind GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and Battletoads — and published by Nintendo, Jet Force Gemini set gamers on an epic sci-fi adventure. It combined the mechanics of third-person shooting, platforming, and running-and-gunning, to produce an end result unlike much of what the N64 had seen thus far. While playing through each level, gamers had access to three different members of the team; Juno, Vela, and Lupus. Each world featured its own set of enemies, environments, and platforming puzzles which were best conquered by utilizing the strengths of each character. For instance, Juno could walk through magma un-harmed. Players were encouraged to explore every nook and cranny in order to advance to the next world.
Rare’s Jet Force Gemini didn’t just excel with its single-player campaign, though; it also boasted a robust multiplayer offering. Like many N64 games on our list, the game featured a head-t0-head deathmatch mode which pitted you and up to three friends against one another in an all-out battle. Players had the option of setting their desired level, the types of weapons found during the match, and the number of kills necessary for victory. The game also featured several other multiplayer modes, such as an overhead racing mini-game and a fire-range mode which placed players on rails as they traversed levels. Aside from the head-to-head multiplayer modes, Jet Force Gemini also allowed two players to play in a non-split screen cooperative mode in which one player assumes the role of a floating robot and assists the first player in various missions. Jet Force Gemini’s strong single player offering, as well as its deep mulitplayer options, easily made it a must-play title.
‘Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire’
When Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire released in 1996, players initially lamented the fact they couldn’t play as one of the series’ stars like Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. However, as soon as gamers assumed the role of Dash Rendar and were thrust into the Battle of Hoth, they quickly forgave the developers. Although bogged down by occasional awkward camera issues, the third-person shooting controls were easy to pick up and enjoy. Fans of the Star Wars universe will quickly recognize the franchise’s various locales as Rendar travels far and wide. Moreover, players still have the opportunity to fight alongside Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca in an effort to help rescue the captured Princess Leia through the course of the campaign.
In addition to the game’s impressive levels and intriguing storyline, its boss battles were exceptional. From battling an Imperial AT-ST (on foot!) to going head-to-head with the merciless Boba Fett, Shadows of the Empire didn’t skimp on challenging bosses. The developers set out to create a game bridging the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi over the course of the game’s 10 missions, and though it may appear prehistoric now, it was one of the N64’s defining moments when it released nearly 20 years ago.
Koei’s WinBack not only gave N64 gamers their first taste of the tactical, stealth-action genre, but it helped set the stage for many iconic video games that followed. In WinBack, players assumed the role of Jean-Luc Cougar, a member of the United Nations’ anti-terrorist unit (SCAT). When the Secretary of Defense then tasks your unit with retrieving a laser weapon from the hands of a terrorist group called the “Crying Lions,” you have no other option but to oblige. At first glance, WinBack seems a rip-off of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, though it actually influenced much of the gameplay found in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. For instance, Metal Gear Solid 2’s developers adopted the game’s unique cover style and used its revolutionary laser sight mechanic when crafting their own title.
‘Star Fox 64’
Star Fox 64 took gamers to the skies in the sequel to 1993’s Star Fox for the SNES. Players control Fox McCloud and his Arwing as his team attempts to thwart the plans of the evil mad scientist Andross. Levels were semi-free roaming, though most of the game sees players navigating through what’s called “Corridor Mode,” which essentially kept your aircraft on rails down a specific path, though you still controlled the Arwing’s ability to go up, down, left, and right within that path. Many of the levels had at least two different ways to complete them, with alternate paths opening up if the player accomplished certain (sometimes hidden) objectives. During each mission, three teammates — Peppy, Slippy, and Falco — flank Fox and assist when necessary. Sometimes you’d receive messages from each player individually alerting you of enemies, asking you for assistance, providing part of the story, or telling you to do a barrel roll.
Aside from Pilotwings — one of the system’s launch titles — Star Fox 64 was the preeminent flight simulator for the Nintendo 64. Fans of the series were treated to a massive graphic overhaul, improved gameplay, and an entertaining campaign. Nintendo also included a multiplayer mode which pit you and up to three other friends against one another in various aerial deathmatches.
‘Star Wars: Rogue Squadron’
As you probably notice on this list, we’re quite fond of the Star Wars games that came to N64, and for good reason. Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Stars Wars: Rogue Squadron was a dream come true for anyone who grew up wanting to pilot in X-wing. You played as Luke Skywalker himself, leading the fleet of Rogue Squadron pilots towards the ultimate goal of destroying the Death Star. Throughout 16 objective-oriented levels, you and your fleet flew and shot your way across the galaxy in fast-paced, tense battles. The only knock on Rogue Squadron is that it didn’t have a multiplayer mode, despite being a prime candidate an exciting one.
‘Resident Evil 2’
After its resounding success on the Playstation, Capcom decided to port it’s survival-horror epic Resident Evil 2 to the N64 — and the results were fantastic. While many assumed the game would have a hard time transitioning to another system, Resident Evil 2’s arrival on the N64 was met with critical acclaim. Players assumed the role of two different protagonists, college student Claire Redfield and rookie police officer Leon Kennedy. Together, the duo explored the fictional town of Raccoon City while looking for survivors, solving puzzles, and fending off zombies.
Resident Evil 2 brought the survival horror genre to a system not previously associated with many adult-themed titles. It packed an expertly-paced storyline, harrowing setting, and consuming gameplay into one of the best adventures on the N64. Even with a wonky control setup, the game shined. Few games keep you coming back for more while simultaneously scaring the living daylight out of you.
Like many popular characters who made the jump to the N64, Bomberman 64 was the first foray into 3D. Because of this, the game’s single-player mode featured an adventure and platform-rich style of gameplay. As Bomberman, players navigated through four different worlds attempting to collect gold cards and defeat the evil Altair. Each level featured unique challenges that required Bomberman to use several bomb types to advance to the next. Unlike traditional platformers, though, Bomberman could not jump, forcing him to cover large gaps by bouncing on bombs.
Bomberman 64 also features an addictive multiplayer mode reminiscent of past Bomberman titles. Up to four different players could participate in matches pitting everyone against one another in a bomb-throwing frenzy. Players won their round if they finished as the last Bomberman standing, either by killing the other three participants or surviving until the time runs out. Each of the game’s unique multiplayer levels were just small enough — without being too small — to incite frantic, all-out battles.