Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top Ten Nintendo 64 Games

Did you know that today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Nintendo 64 in North America? Yep, it was fifteen years ago to the date that the original N64 stormed store shelves with two titles and brought three-dimensional gameplay to the masses (though there was already some form of 3D gameplay to be had prior). The N64 just made it more commonplace. The following is a top ten list of my favorite games for the little system that could. It may not have won the console war, and it may have started Nintendo's failures with third parties, but it was a fun system all to its own.

10) GoldenEye 007

The name is Bond, James Bond. Shaken, not stirred. And all that jazz. Why this game is so low on the list (it barely made it thanks to games like Conker's Bad Fur Day, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, Mario Kart 64, Mario Golf, Paper Mario, and Ogre Battle 64) is because so many FPS games have outshine this classic shooter. The controls and mechanics feel ancient to this day, but the game is still a joy to play. The varying missions depending on your difficulty chosen allowed for clever exploration of the game's marvelous and memorable levels. And that multi-player! While it did not have bots, four friends (or enemies) could frag one another all night long with the myriad of maps both small and large and a wealth of weaponry to shoot each other with. While not the top FPS on the N64, GoldenEye 007 will always have a near and dear place to my heart.

9) Jet Force Gemini

Bugs, guns, and outer space were the calls for the day in Jet Force Gemini. The group consisted of Juno, Vela, and Lupus the dog. Each character proceeded through three planets or levels with multiple areas until they made their way to Mizar's Palace. After defeating the grotesque and grand insect, the adventure was just beginning. Now players could inhabit any planet, finding and rescuing all of the Tribal characters on each planet and level using the new upgrades of each character. The weaponry was impressive as well from powerful rocket launchers to rapid-fire machine guns. The epic (a word used all too lightly on the internet, but it's the best description here) soundtrack still brings chills down my spine with its immense masterful compositions. Even the multi-player where players could select from a member of Jet Force Gemini or of one of Mizar's many drones, bugs, or baddies was a blast to participate in. For a terrific third-person sci-fi shooter, Jet Force Gemini is heads and shoulders above the rest.

8) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

The world of Termina was unlike anything a Zelda fan had seen before. This was a tremendously unique adventure with Young Link constantly needing to go back in time by three days or else the dreaded moon would crash into the planet, ending all life and giving the player an obnoxious game over. While there were only four main dungeons, there was plenty to do in the world of Termina from collecting all of the masks to journeying through the numerous sub-dungeons Majora's Mask had to offer. Transforming into a Deku scrub, Goron champion, or Zora guitarist was just the icing on this already scrumptious-tasting cake. Many complained that this game was too different from Ocarina of Time, and now they complain that games are too similar to that same game showing that the fans don't have any idea what the heck they want!

7) Super Smash Bros.

The commercial with "Happy Together" playing in the background is forever ingrained in my memory as is this terrific multi-player game. Introducing the player to a unique fighter where damage percentages were in and health bars decreasing to zero were out, Super Smash Bros. was a game where much fun was had. Seeing Mario beat on Pikachu or Samus taking on Link from The Legend of Zelda franchise was a sight to behold, and any of the slightest Nintendo fan was in awe and was enjoying their time with the game. Unlocking Captain Falcon, Luigi, Jigglypuff, and Ness enabled good times and even more varying play styles. Mario may have had parties prior to this game, but the real party was with Super Smash Bros, and while it may have been outperformed with future iterations, this N64 classic still has some entertainment value to be had.

6) Star Fox 64

Star Fox, Andross had invaded the Lylat System! We need your help! And with that, Team Star Fox, led by Fox McCloud, sprung into action with their very first mission in Corneria. Immediately Slippy Toad (who's always finding himself on the receiving end of trouble) was being pursued by a bogey on his tail. This rail-shooter with an occasional all-range mode was a high scoring affair. Destroy enough enemy fighters whether with single shots or charged multipliers, and you'd earn medals. Star Fox 64 allowed for players to choose their path to Venom with varying mission goals and bosses depending on the path chosen. Did you want to go to Macbeth or try your hand in the arid desert of Titania? The choice was up to the player. The multi-player with four friends nestled in the same room smack-talking one another in Arwings, Landmasters, or on-foot was a blast as well. There is no better on-rails game than Star Fox 64, to put it bluntly.

5) Diddy Kong Racing

Simply outclassing Mario Kart 64 in every category imaginable, Diddy Kong Racing is simply a meatier experience. It introduced an Adventure mode which had players collecting pieces of the Wizpig amulet by participating and winning races, beating bosses, playing mini-games like a deathmatch or egg-carrying game, and collecting eight silver coins placed in precarious locations in order to face the sinister Wizpig who wished nothing more than to take over Timber Island and obliterate it. Diddy and friends weren't just relegated to karts either. They could float along the water in hovercrafts or take to the skies in airplanes as well. The music by Dave Wise was unforgettable as well. For a multi-player experience that you won't soon forget, Diddy Kong Racing holds up greatly even over a decade later.

4) Super Mario 64

The game that the Nintendo 64 controller was built for, Super Mario 64 still holds up well to this day. With 120 stars (a popular number to this day as evident by Super Mario Sunshine and the Galaxy games) to collect, fifteen main worlds with six objectives each (such as Dire Dire Docks and Hazy Maze Cave), an open-world approach so to speak, numerous new enemies to tackle, bosses to bash and beat, and a memorable score composed none other than by veteran Koji Kondo, Super Mario 64 is 3D platforming bliss. The ability to move the camera around with the C-buttons was novel then, and it still works now. Whether you're catching MIPS the bunny in the hollowed castle hallways or collecting 100 coins for a star on Tick-Tock Clock, there's always something to do in Super Mario 64, one of the greatest platformers period. But it's not the best on this list!

3) Perfect Dark

Although the game suffers heavily from framerate drops when the action gets heated, Perfect Dark is still near-perfection in my eyes. With more interesting levels, better guns and gadgetry, cooler and more well-designed multi-player maps (including three borrowed from GoldenEye), the addition of differently themed bots that could be programmed to act in certain ways, four difficulties with varying objectives depending on which you chose, and challenges in the Combat Simulator which unlocked new maps, simulants, and weapon layouts, Perfect Dark simply has many more options and content than her predecessor, James Bond, and it makes for one unforgettable experience. I was enamored with this game way back when, and when the XBLA-enhanced port came out, I was in seventh heaven.

2) Banjo-Kazooie

With a hub that was a labyrinth of passageways and rooms, containing secrets and hidden goodies all around, themed worlds with ten Jiggies (the stars of Banjo-Kazooie) apiece, and a humor all to its own, Banjo-Kazooie was Rare's attempt to outdo Mario 64. In my opinion, it succeeded handily over its competition with better level design, more feats to accomplish, better visuals, and more moves than you could shake Banjo's backpack at. The constantly rhyming Gruntilda was a great new villain, and her thirst to be beautiful drove her to bear-nap Banjo's lovely younger sister. The game was so addicting that you'd want to collect just one more jigsaw piece, and that trend would continue into the wee hours of the night.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Listed as my favorite game of all time way back when, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a force to be reckoned with. It introduced a Z-targeting system which locked on to enemies and centered the camera on foes for a simple-to-use combat camera. It brought Zelda into the world of three-dimensions, allowing for a whole new dimension of secrets and discovery. Hyrule never looked so good or had so many hidden things to find. It brought forth the nefarious sole Gerudo male, Ganondorf, into Zelda lore, and oh, what a villain he was. Who could forget leaping over the fence with Epona the horse and exploring the sunset-soaked hills and valleys of Hyrule Field? Certainly not this gamer. All these reasons combined and more make Ocarina of Time my personal favorite Nintendo 64 game of all time.


There ends my list, but what are your top ten Nintendo 64 games? What fond memories do you have with Nintendo's graphical powerhouse? It may have been known by the moniker of the Nintendo and Rare box with the occasional third-party game thrown in, but it was a doozy of a console. The droughts were long, yes, but I wouldn't give up the high quality of the gaming library any day because of that. Add your comments below, and let's reminisce on this 15th anniversary of the Nintendo 64.

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