Dogs have been associated as man’s best friend for several decades, and deservingly so. However, any bro who grew up in the late 1990s knows the real truth behind what is actually a man’s best friend.
The Nintendo 64 revolutionized the video game world upon its North American release in September 1996, three months after it debuted in Japan.
The system would bring young men everywhere a wide range of satisfactions from sniping friends in shooting games to beating them with Hail Mary touchdown throws in sporting games to saving a mythical princess in fantasy games.
Although only in existence for six short years, the N64 would leave a legacy that has yet to be surpassed since its discontinuation.
Perhaps not as timeless as a dog, the N64 gave guys something more universal — a system they could play with endlessly, beginning as early as 8 in the morning and concluding as late as 4 in the morning.
It’s hard to do the system justice with a list of ten games, but I will try my best to include the ones that achieved the most during their time and are still worth playing today.
A general rule of thumb for this list: the original game reigns supreme over the sequel. I could be wrong, and please correct me if I am, but was there ever a N64 sequel that surpassed the brilliance of the first game?
Anyways, here’s a countdown of the 10 N64 games that changed our lives:
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (2000)
Known for its groundbreaking level designs and offbeat soundtrack, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater converted millions of non-boarders into obsessed fans of the sport and its culture. The career mode, as well as the control scheme, was unprecedented at the time of release, helping players unlock levels and maintaining their dedication to “beating” the game. The multiplayer modes, where you would go off head-to-head against a buddy, weren’t superior to other games by other means but one could spend a substantial period of time playing “HORSE” at the skate park.
Similar to most sporting games on this list, as well as not on this list, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is the best game ever created for the individual sport of skateboarding. Don’t believe me? Just check the sales. This original game birthed an entire franchise of successful skater games that continues to be active to this day. No matter what the version may be — Xbox, PlayStation 3, etc. — they all pay tribute to the first game in some form.
9. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
One of the staple adventure games of the console, Banjo-Kazooie sparked a franchise of single-player multi-level gaming that featured the title characters overcoming a series of challenges and ultimately saving the day from whatever villains stood in there way. In the original game, Banjo, the lovable brown bear, protects his sister Tooty from an evil witch by solving musical puzzles, rescuing endangered animals and gathering musical-themed objects. The game also included the famous character Mumbo Jumbo, who was a shaman in the duo’s adventure and provided them with magical powers to transform into objects or other animals.
Some gamers forget this absolute classic, but I find it hard to pass over a game that featured a bear turning into a pumpkin in order to defeat an evil witch. Needless to say, the creators of this game were probably big time stoners.
8. Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. (1998)
Anybody who has ever played this game remembers the ridiculous over-sized batting circles from players such as Edgar Martinez as well as the non-chalant batting stances of players such as Brady Anderson. Overall, this game is a knockout from the very beginning when Griffey welcomes with the familiar, “My name’s Ken Griffey Jr, lets play Major League Baseball.” Some people prefer the sequel, Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest, but in my opinion it’s hard to find a better baseball game on any system. The four-player home run derby and multi-player franchise modes are as good as it gets in any sports video game.
However, what really propels this game above the rest is Griffey’s impeccable commentary. “Got him,” he whispers as a pitcher fans an opposing batter to end the ending. The timelessness of this game coupled with Griffey’s survival through the Steroid Era is what makes this game still great today. You simply don’t find that longevity in most sport games.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Some background research on Zelda made me realize this franchise existed long before the N64 was created and its popularity has never really ceased. Now, growing up as a kid in the 90s, these facts should have been second nature to me considering how many late night Zelda parties there were, but over time so many games have came and gone that the Zelda phase isn’t as easy to remember as it should be. To simply put it, the game is one of the greatest games of all time, and was reviewed as such when it came out, and its protagonist, Link, is a cultural hero amongst most dudes in my age range, despite the fact he isn’t overtly manly. He is more of a finesse character than a brute and that’s exactly how to play Zelda — tact instead of force. In order to survive in Link’s world and complete the game, players have to surrender the animalistic nature most video games evoke and settle on a more delicate, subtle approach.
Zelda was the first game that ever taught me that toughness wasn’t everything in this world. And that’s a lesson I still carry with me today.
6. NFL Blitz (1999)
Shocking and disturbing, NFL Blitz is nowhere to be found on the list of best-selling N64 games. Luckily, this countdown isn’t about sales or popularity, because Blitz isn’t a game that stands out in those two categories. Regardless, the game does have a tremendous cult following and that’s in large part because it brings players back to an era of NFL football that is often forgotten about, when Kordell Stewart was marketable enough to be put on a video game cover and Donovan McNabb was a hapless rookie in Philadelphia. Let’s not forget though that the game also features several Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including John Elway, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and, a very young Peyton Manning. Yet, one could argue Stewart is the best to play with in this game because of his mobility and his ability to throw Da Bomb (the game’s version of the Hail Mary).
However, what set this game apart and makes it belong this list is the way it allowed users to play the game of football. Pass interference? Doesn’t exist in the realm of NFL Blitz. Showboating and excessive taunting? Only makes you better. And what about late hits? Well, they’re the reason why you pick up the controller in the first place.
5. Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (1996)
I am by no means a hockey guy, but this is a game I can play until 4 a.m. on almost any night without breaking concentration and that’s why it sits above all the other sports games on this list. The game play is remarkable for when it was made and the over-the-top fighting is a highlight of the N64 era. Besides that, the game broke the multi-player barrier in 1996 when it was released with the first-ever four-player mode on the N64.
If that wasn’t enough, the aforementioned arcade-style of game play allowed players to do everything with more power, ranging from power saves to power checks. In case you don’t remember this, the goaltender would legitimately turn into a brick wall on saves and players would be sent to the hospital after being checked. I think that says it all. Right?
4. Super Smash Bros. (1999)
The legacy of Super Smash Bros. is relatively simple: it’s the single greatest idea to ever exist in the N64 universe. If you reread that sentence and look at it ranked No. 4 on this list, then you must be asking why isn’t it the best N64 game of all time? Sometimes great ideas lack thorough execution. Although this isn’t the case for Super Smash Bros. — its creators did a flawless job infusing all our favorite characters into one multi-player battle royal-type game, the reality is that three better games exist in the N64 realm.
I don’t even know if this ranking is fair, because unlocking Ness in Super Smash Bros. provided me with my favorite childhood video game moment. I feel like slotting it this low will come back to haunt my dreams with a magical, overpowering hammer that just keeps whacking until the arcade music fades, so I just have to move on.
3. Super Mario 64 (1996)
The top-grossing N64 video game is the first game I ever played as a child and it’s a memory I will never forget. There are so many great levels and great challenges in this immortal and legendary game that I simply don’t think I have the space, nor the energy, to go into great detail. However, if anyone wants to dispute this and say this ranking is influenced by popularity and not by personal preference, I will happily respond with a very long argument as to why I feel this game is one of the best three all-time on any system.
From the opening letter from Princess Peach to the final level in which you get to destroy Bowser and rescue her, Super Mario 64 has all the elements of what make a great video game as well as what make a great story. While the good versus bad plotline may seem redundant, how the user goes from beginning to end is simply revolutionary.
2. Mario Kart (1996)
Drinking and driving? We are all guilty of it at one point or another, but most of that guilt comes from doing it in this simulated go-cart world where Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Peach, Toad, Yoshi and Wario all come together to race for gold, silver and bronze trophies. If you’ve never played it, your identity as a bro is not just challenged, it’s non-existent. I can still remember beating my older brother for the first time on the beach level — forgive me, drawing a blank on the title — and how upset he got, as if I were destined to keep losing every time we picked up the sticks.
Mario Kart is the video game that spawned all other multi-player, multi-level games and because of that I hold in the highest regard because it’s still a game I play at least every month with a group of friends to pass the time. With that said, it can’t top…
1. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
Without question, the best single-player game ever to be made, GoldenEye 007 also features one of the best multi-player modes of all time. Perfect from soundtrack to setting, every detail of this blockbuster game is top notch. While most games failed to surpass the 10-level plateau on the N64, GoldenEye has 25 mind-blowing levels ranging from Facility to Statue to Jungle to Archives. The excitement is continuous from the opening bungee leap in Dam to the final helicopter jump in Cradle. Like the age-old Pringles advertisements once said, “once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” As for multi-player, what else is there to say than a game that lets you blow up your friends with rocket launchers or outsmart them with proximity mines. And one can never forget, the golden rule of Bond: the man with the golden gun is a force to be reckoned with.
Final thoughts on the single-player: I remember playing GoldenEye for seven straight hours one night, peeing only once. That was when I was 10 and had the stamina of a little boy. It’s sad how the world changes.
Honorable mention: Diddy Kong Racing; 1080 Snowboarding; WWF No Mercy; Mario Golf; NBA Jam; Star Fox 64