I adore my humble N64. It was my second gaming console, and I think I’ve put as much time into it as I did into the old NES. I’ve got three N64 games floating in my Alternate list of my favorite games, with plenty of others not too far behind, so I have plenty of solid memories of the system. If I had to pick ten essentials for the platform, these would be them (note! If the title is on the VC, I’ll have an asterisk [*] next to its name, or if it’s on Xbox Live, it’ll have a pound sign [#]):
Super Mario 64* (Nintendo)
I once held Ocarina of Time as the greatest N64 game, but I don’t think time has been as kind to it as it has to Mario’s triumphant debut. This also remains my favorite Mario title by a long shot. Why do I love it so? Perhaps a quick look at my 1996 Looking Back piece will explain!
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time* (Nintendo)
Yes, perhaps age has been a tad harsh of Ocarina. Twilight Princess and Wind Waker both made significant strides in improving Link’s mobility and smoothness, and going back to Ocarina is a step back. Honestly though, that’s the only factor of its age. The dungeons, the music and the overall quality still shine through. I’ve got plenty more to say about the game elsewhere, with my best comments here in my 1998 Looking Back article.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber* (Atlus/Quest)
Before being gobbled up by Square-Enix, Quest was an independent developer best known for the Ogre Battle/Tactics Ogre series of games, with this entry being a highlight of the N64 lineup as its best RPG. It takes a hands-off approach in terms of battling: the player is in the commander’s seat, issuing commands to squad leaders marching on an overworld map, equipping those armies with gear, changing classes of your troops, and keeping an eye on the coffers in the midst of all this. Despite battles being CPU-controlled (you can issue commands to retreat, alter formation or, if you have them, unleash powerful Elem Pedra spells in the hope to take advantage in a tight battle), it’s gripping stuff. It remains my favorite strategy RPG (side by side with Fire Emblem), and I can highly recommend it for fans of the genre.
Body Harvest (Midway/DMA Design)
I like this game a lot. I’ve written an article for HG101 on it, which may indicate that I enjoy the open alien-filled worlds of Body Harvest more than most people. Despite me taking a more or less impartial stance in that article, I think it’ll explain my passion for it better than a paragraph here would.
Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo/Rare)
Ah, Mr. Bond. You went and shocked the world with your amazing game back in 1997. Incorporating a first person shooter with objectives that change depending on the difficulty, a wide cache of weapons to carry out your mission, and surprisingly not sucking like so many other movie-based licenses do. While time has not been entirely kind to you, with so many refinements and advancements in the genre in the years following your arrival, I still consider you a 00 agent worthy of deployment. More to be said in my ‘97 Favorite Games.
Perfect Dark # (Rare)
Joanna Dark is not as quite an effective agent as 007 was, alas. Her single player campaign starts off very well but fizzles out when aliens enter the picture, culminating in a terrible final boss encounter (see here). However, PD truly shines in multiplayer, despite some frame rate problems. I’ve spent over seven days in multiplayer mode with friends and/or AI bots, and it takes a significant amount of time for it to get old. It was perhaps too ambitious a project for the humble N64, but I’m glad I had a chance to experience it nevertheless.
International Superstar Soccer ’98 (Konami)
Konami did support the N64 pretty well in its third-party drought, with the ISS series standing out as their gem. This is, without question, the best sports game I have ever played. It’s incredibly smooth, the AI is sharp, the ambiance is great, and the frame rate holds firm in gameplay (chugging only for the celebrations). Bar none the greatest game of pitch you could find. I’d like to try the Pro Evolution games, since they spun off from this, but I’m afraid I will be disappointed.
Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)
Capcom ditched Nintendo for most of the N64 lifespan, finally showing up to the party well after most of the other guests went home. Luckily, they did bring along two of their more acclaimed PS1 games (this and Mega Man Legends), as well as a goofy Disney Tetris game. Resident Evil 2 happens to be one of the technical masterpieces of the hardware. It managed to compress two CD’s worth of data onto a large cartridge, kept in the voice work and FMV, and magically doesn’t look atrocious at all. The models look better than the PS1 original, but the textures (the bane of any N64 developer) aren’t as sharp. This game kicked off my RE fandom, so that ought to be a decent indicator of how good this port was. It’s the best of the old-school RE’s, in my opinion.
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask* (Nintendo)
The boldest Zelda title since Zelda II on the NES, Majora’s Mask took many creative risks, and most of them worked out in the game’s favor. The three-day cycle was a neat gimmick that Nintendo built a proper town life around, making it seem one of the more true-to-life locales in any game up to that point. Link’s transformations added some variety to the Ocarina template, and the dungeons, while fewer in number, stand as some of Zelda’s most intriguing. Add in some ominous mood (in part thanks to the creepy Moon hovering over you all the time) and some truly bizarre characters (Tingle?) and you’re in for an interesting ride.
Banjo-Kazooie # (Rare)
Rare’s attempt to mimic Mario 64 wasn’t quite as stellar as Nintendo’s effort, but it certainly packed in more variety. Banjo and Kazooie’s ever-growing moveset made the experience a little Metroid-like, and it played up the platforming level tropes with much success. Rare’s finest platformer on the console, without question.
Blast Corps (Nintendo/Rare)
Starfox 64* (Nintendo)
Waverace 64* (Nintendo)
Mario Kart 64* (Nintendo)
1080 Snowboarding* (Nintendo)