Five amazing Nintendo 64 games

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for some of the entries on this list.

Nintendo recently launched the so-called Switch online “expansion pack” – representing incredibly poor value, but that’s beside the point. Included with the subscription are a handful of Nintendo 64 titles which the Switch can emulate. It just got me thinking about one of my favourite consoles and some of the amazing games I enjoyed back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I upgraded from a Super Nintendo (or SNES) to a Nintendo 64 at Christmas 1997, and the console was my primary gaming machine for about three years until I picked up a Dreamcast shortly after the turn of the millennium. Though I had a PC as well at the time, it was underpowered compared to the console and couldn’t come close to matching it. Though we often think of PC gaming in 2021 as being the gold standard that consoles have to try to measure up to, it wasn’t that long ago where even an expensive PC would struggle in gaming performance next to a dedicated games console – and the Nintendo 64/PlayStation generation was certainly part of that era!

A transparent blue Nintendo 64 console – and its controller.

The Nintendo 64 was my first experience with proper 3D graphics. I’d played PC games with 3D environments before, and other games with 3D sprites, but it was only when I sat down to play Super Mario 64 that I got to fully experience a 3D virtual world. It felt like the future back then – and considering that the Nintendo 64 pioneered a number of features that are still part of gaming today, I guess I was right about that!

Aesthetically, I love the design of the Nintendo 64 and its controller. The chunky three-armed device was intimidating at first; “I don’t have three hands,” I remember thinking, “so how am I supposed to hold it?!” But having an analogue stick was a neat feature, one that felt like a massive upgrade from the wobbly joysticks or D-pads of past consoles I’d been able to play on. Navigating the new 3D environments needed a controller suited to that purpose, and the Nintendo 64’s analogue stick delivered – even if it seems a little primitive when compared to the controllers we enjoy today! Having a “trigger” also made shooting games feel all the more immersive.

A Nintendo 64 controller. What a weird design!

The Nintendo 64 had a stellar lineup of games – several of which I only got to play years later as they were unaffordable to me when I was younger and broke! Now I’m old and still broke – but at least there’s emulation! Actually, the Nintendo 64 was the console that got me into the emulation scene back in the early 2000s. After upgrading to a more powerful PC I found that I could emulate the console quite well, and had a blast re-playing a few favourites as well as playing titles I missed out on first time around. I can’t condone emulation – it’s a legal minefield and you should be careful – but if you have a decent computer and know what you’re doing you’ll have a far better (and cheaper) time than you would if you paid for a Switch online “expansion pack!”

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say that the games of this era represent a transitional stage for the video games industry as a whole. Most Nintendo 64 titles feel like a half-step between the rather basic, toy-like games of earlier generations and the bigger, more in-depth and cinematic titles that we’d enjoy a few short years later. The move from 2D to 3D didn’t immediately lead to masterpieces like Shenmue or Knights of the Old Republic, but the rapid pace of technological change meant that those kinds of games were finally possible. The Nintendo 64 has some games that tried very hard to tell more adult-oriented stories, and it was around this time that I felt video games as a whole had a heck of a lot of potential to be something more.

This was an era of transition for video games.

So on this occasion – twenty-five years on from the Nintendo 64’s 1996 debut – I thought it would be fun to look at five of my favourite titles. These are just a few of the games that, for me anyway, made the Nintendo 64 great. My usual caveat applies: I’m not saying these five games are “objectively the best” Nintendo 64 games out there. If you hate all of them or don’t see your favourite on the list, that’s okay! There are plenty of Nintendo 64 games out there, and we all have our personal favourites. These are just a few of mine!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list – which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

The Battle of Hoth.

A few years before Knights of the Old Republic would come along and absolutely blow me away, Shadows of the Empire took me on an outstanding Star Wars-themed adventure. A third-person action-adventure game with nary a Jedi nor the Force in sight, players take control of the Han Solo-inspired Dash Rendar for a wild romp across the galaxy – set during and just after the events of The Empire Strikes Back!

What I adored about Shadows of the Empire was the diversity of gameplay on display. Not only could Dash run and gun in a 3D world that looked so much better and felt way more immersive than any 2D Star Wars game I’d played previously, but he could also pilot several different vehicles – a Snowspeeder taking on AT-AT walkers on Hoth, his own spaceship, swoop bikes, and more.

Shadows of the Empire came at a time when the old Expanded Universe was really ramping up, and along with a novel and comic was technically considered canon until Disney expunged the Expanded Universe in 2013. However, being an official project with a high degree of involvement from Lucasfilm meant that the game slotted in well to the Star Wars universe, feeling genuinely connected to the events and characters of the films.

Number 2: Super Mario 64

Wheeeeeee!

Of course we’re going to talk about Super Mario 64! This was the only Nintendo 64 game I had at first, and I played it for hours and hours! Though I’d played some games on the PC – like Doom – which used pseudo-3D environments, and others which used 3D sprites for 2D gameplay, Super Mario 64 was the first truly 3D game that I played. The difference in how immersive and realistic the game felt, and how it conveyed a sense of scale that really made me feel part of its world are feelings I have never forgotten even a quarter of a century later!

Booting up Super Mario 64 for the first time was a wild experience, one that has stuck with me ever since. But the game itself was fantastic, too, with Mario on a quest to save Princess Peach by battling Bowser and his minions inside painting worlds. The unique premise allowed Super Mario 64 to show off a range of different levels and different environments, and new gameplay mechanics – some of which were inspired by past Super Mario titles – allowed a far greater degree of environmental interaction than ever before.

One level in Super Mario 64 that stands out is Wet-Dry World. Players could change the amount of water in the level, raising and lowering it both by jumping into the painting at different heights and within the level itself by touching special items. The idea that Mario could change the environment in real-time, and then use that gameplay mechanic to solve puzzles, was absolutely genius! And the game is full of other examples of this kind of radical, utterly transformative gameplay.

Number 3: GoldenEye 007

Pew! Pew!

GoldenEye took the first-person shooter concept and honed it, making excellent use of the Nintendo 64’s control pad and analogue stick. Without GoldenEye it’s hard to see how other first-person shooters on console – like the Halo series, which arrived a few years later – would have been possible. It was a pioneering title, and surely one of the best film adaptations of all time!

The Nintendo 64 upped the number of control pads and thus the number of players from two on the SNES to four – meaning four-way deathmatches were possible! Split-screen was the order of the day, of course – this was long before online gaming was commonplace – and among my friend group four-player matches were relatively rare. But when we could get a few friends together, playing GoldenEye was a blast! It had fun, fast-paced shooting, well-designed levels with plenty of variety – from maze-like corridors and small rooms to expansive larger environments – and 3D graphics that put you right in the action.

GoldenEye didn’t create the first-person shooter genre. But it took full advantage of the Nintendo 64’s impressive hardware to feel streets ahead of earlier titles – and even many games that were released around the same time. Fully 3D environments and characters instead of 2D “billboard” sprites and a plot that vaguely followed the events of the film made for a fantastic all-around title. Rare would further hone many of the techniques on display when they created Perfect Dark a few years later.

Number 4: F-Zero X

Try not to crash!

You might’ve expected me to put the venerable Mario Kart 64 on this list – especially considering how many times I’ve talked about that game here on the website! But F-Zero X doesn’t get the love it deserves, so on this occasion we can put Mario Kart 64 to one side and look at a different Nintendo 64 racer. F-Zero X is a futuristic-themed racing game, with players in spaceship-like hovercars – and they go really fast!

F-Zero X is an incredibly fast-paced racing game, meaning you often need lightning-fast reflexes! It was a blast, and the unique futuristic aesthetic set it apart from practically every other racing game on the market at the time.

Maybe F-Zero X didn’t have the best graphics. It certainly didn’t push the Nintendo 64 to its 3D limits in the way some other titles did. But despite that, it was an incredibly fun racing game, and were it not for Mario Kart 64 I might be tempted to call it my favourite racer of the era! There’s an odd charm to F-Zero X that I can’t quite put into words; it’s a genuinely different game, and that alone made it a ton of fun.

Number 5: Jet Force Gemini

Rescuing a Tribal in Jet Force Gemini!

Had it been made today, Jet Force Gemini would surely have kicked off a whole franchise! As it is, this Rare-developed title remains a one-off, but it’s an incredibly fun and exciting sci-fi adventure. Jet Force Gemini is one game I would absolutely pick to bring back for a full remake, because it seems such a shame to me that it’s all but forgotten, abandoned in the Nintendo 64 era.

An action-adventure title set in a unique sci-fi world, Jet Force Gemini had a fun and engaging story. It also had smooth shooting and a trio of fun main characters who each got a turn in the spotlight. The game had beautifully-designed levels, with some being pretty big and expansive offering different paths to get to the end.

Rescuing the Tribals – cute teddy bear-like critters – was an additional gameplay element that added a lot to each level, though the game’s insistence on finding every single one could feel like padding sometimes! But the Nintendo 64 era saw games trying out new gameplay mechanics, and the idea of having hidden collectibles would be honed and refined in future titles. Overall, Jet Force Gemini was a lot of fun – and I’d love to see its world and characters return one day.

So that’s it! Five amazing Nintendo 64 games.

The familiar Nintendo 64 logo.

There were loads more titles I could’ve chosen, so stay tuned! This is a topic I may revisit in future. The Nintendo 64 was a great console with some fantastic games. Though it does represent a half-step between older, more basic games and the immersive, cinematic experiences that were soon to come, it’s also a console that pioneered or refined many of the concepts upon which newer games – and even games today – rely.

The Nintendo 64 also had plenty of amazing games in its own right, and while it is an interesting machine from an interesting era in video game history, it’s also a console that I had a lot of fun with in the late 1990s. Back then it didn’t feel like a half-step – it felt cutting-edge, bringing 3D worlds to life and showing off far more realistic graphics than I ever thought possible! It isn’t just the nostalgia talking – the Nintendo 64 was a fantastic machine.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo and/or their respective developer, publisher, owner, etc. Some images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games that I’d remaster (if I could)

A few days ago I looked at the possibility of a remastered Mass Effect trilogy. While unconfirmed, this project has been rumoured to be in development for at least the last six months, and while I could certainly consider the argument that we don’t need a remaster less than a decade after the trilogy wrapped up, it got me thinking about games that I really would like to see given a proper update for 2020.

When it came to choosing titles, I excluded anything from the last couple of console generations, as those are new enough – in my opinion – to hold up reasonably well in 2020. I excluded titles that have been remastered already, as well as one title (Super Mario 64) that has been the subject of intense speculation regarding a potential upcoming remaster. I considered a number of titles from the 1980s and early ’90s, but despite some good contenders, the titles I ultimately chose are all from the mid ’90s through to the mid 2000s. Remember that these are just my opinions; the list is subjective.

This list is just a fantasy. Some of the games below may one day be remastered, but others are so obscure that I may be one of only a handful of people who knew they existed even when they were new! So don’t get excited at the prospect of an impending remaster; if you must play a title on this list… I dunno. Try eBay?

Number 1: Star Trek: Generations (PC, 1997)

Data and Picard in stellar cartography.

When it comes to naming my “all-time favourite” game, I struggle. There are so many good video games that I’ve played over the years, and what I enjoy playing changes with my mood. That said, the PC game Star Trek: Generations has to be a contender. Part Doom-clone, part puzzle game, part tactical ship-to-ship combat game, featuring fully-voiced characters and some great sequences set in stellar cartography that I don’t even know how to categorise, Generations was a fantastic and incredibly well-rounded experience. It’s such a shame that it released way too late – several years after the film – and was overlooked by even the hardest of hardcore Trekkies.

A first-person away mission.

The main part of the game is a series of Doom-inspired first-person missions to various planets. Generations took a randomised approach – there are a number of planets that the villainous Dr Soran can visit, and which ones he travels to differs with each playthrough. All of the main characters from The Next Generation have their own missions, and the final act of the game lets players take on the role of Kirk. The story sticks to the film in the beginning and near the end, but diverges greatly in the middle during some of the away missions. It’s a fantastic title, and a few years ago I was able to track down a copy on eBay. I’ve been intending to replay it but haven’t got around to doing so yet.

Number 2: Jet Force Gemini (Nintendo 64, 1999)

Saving a Tribal in Jet Force Gemini.

Jet Force Gemini was a Nintendo 64 exclusive just before the turn of the millennium, and it was a fun sci-fi adventure in an original setting. The game gave players three characters to control: twins Juno and Vela, and their dog Lupus. An action/adventure title with some basic 3D platforming sections, the game had a slightly over-the-top story that involved saving teddy bear-like creatures and defeating a nefarious villain. Considering how many sequels and franchises exist right now in all forms of entertainment, Jet Force Gemini could offer something different – or at least something most players in 2020 haven’t experienced before!

Lupus the dog.

Developed by Rare, the game had weapons that could be upgraded as well as an open level design that was comparable to other Nintendo 64 titles at the time. Though it was included in the Rare Replay compilation a few years ago, no remaster – or even a sequel – has been attempted, which is a shame. If a title like Jet Force Gemini were to launch today it would undoubtedly spawn a whole franchise!

Number 3: Knights of the Old Republic I & II (PC & Xbox, 2003-04)

I talked about Knights of the Old Republic a few times during my playthrough of Jedi: Fallen Order, because some aspects of the two titles are comparable. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t enjoy the Star Wars prequels, and the first two films were especially bad. But in the aftermath of Attack of the Clones I got to have two of my favourite ever Star Wars experiences – these two games.

With all the discussion around a Mass Effect remaster, Bioware’s Star Wars game hasn’t been mentioned. But it should be – both Knights of the Old Republic and its Obsidian-developed sequel are phenomenal. The Star Wars franchise has struggled to break away from its original trilogy and characters for a long time, but Knights of the Old Republic took a genuinely original and interesting setting and told a story that took place millennia before the films. These games did wonders for the Star Wars brand at a time when two crap films had tarnished it, and playing them again but with the enhanced graphics of a title like Jedi: Fallen Order would be amazing.

Number 4: Blue Stinger (Dreamcast, 1999)

Protagonist Eliot explores Dinosaur Island.

The only Dreamcast exclusive on this list was a bargain-bin find even at the time it was released! But that’s such a shame, because if you can look past the hammy dialogue and silly premise there’s a fun game hiding just beneath the surface. Blue Stinger didn’t pretend to take itself too seriously. Its dinosaurs-from-space apocalypse setting precluded that! But not every game – or every film – has to be dark and gritty; there’s plenty of room in the gaming realm for titles like this.

Fighting a monster.

What I liked most about Blue Stinger was the fact that the game offered a lot of customisation. Different outfits and different weapons for the multiple playable characters all contributed to making my playthrough feel unique, that I was having an adventure all my own. Few games at the time offered that kind of experience, and I appreciated it.

Number 5: Arx Fatalis (PC & Xbox, 2002)

An underground lair.

After playing and loving The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the original Xbox, I was looking for another fantasy-inspired roleplaying game to play. There were a few such titles around, but after finding Arx Fatalis and seeing little more than the box art I was convinced it was going to be the next big thing. The PC version of the game – which I didn’t play – is generally considered to be better, as its spellcasting system involves using the mouse to draw symbols in the air. That extra sense of immersion must have felt great!

The magic system.

Arx Fatalis’ underground setting was amazing, with towns and settlements built into caverns, and I had a great time exploring the dungeons and caves of this unique world. There was a decent amount of choice, both in what quests I could take on and how to go about completing them. While Arx Fatalis arguably offered less than Morrowind, it was a solid and decent title nevertheless. Sadly it didn’t sell very well, partly due to being overshadowed by Morrowind, and remains in relative obscurity.

Number 6: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Future’s Past (SNES & Sega Mega Drive, 1994)

Riker, Worf, and Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise-D.

You knew that there was going to be at least one more Star Trek title on the list, right? Future’s Past (or Echoes from the Past if you got the Sega Mega Drive version) plays out like an extended episode of The Next Generation in a lot of ways, and there are things to do on the bridge of the Enterprise-D as well as on away missions. A team of up to four crew members – including both redshirts and major characters – can be assembled for away missions, and different combinations of characters can yield different results.

An away mission.

The away missions take a top-down view, making the game a kind of real-time tactics game as well as being a fun Star Trek adventure. Some of the game’s systems are quite in-depth for a mid ’90s title, and performing tasks like navigating the ship from one star system to another actually made it feel like you were a crewman on the Enterprise-D!

Number 7: FIFA 97 (Multiplatform, 1996)

Though the FIFA series had been running for three years by the time FIFA 97 arrived on the scene, it was the first iteration that I owned. FIFA 95 had introduced club teams after the first entry only featured national sides, but it was only available on the Sega Mega Drive. FIFA 96 was the first truly multiplatform release, and after the excitement of the 1996 European championships in England I was craving a football game to play!

FIFA 97 had a choice of indoor or outdoor stadia to play in!

Nostalgia is big in entertainment at the moment, as people look back fondly on the past. What could be absolutely fascinating to see, as a football fan, is a recreation of the various leagues and divisions as they were in the 1996-97 season, but with the graphics of modern FIFA titles. I think such a game would play on the nostalgia that football fans have for the players, stadia, and kits of their younger days, and if it were successful, there could even be a whole range of legacy FIFA titles going all the way back to the inception of competitive football leagues! Can you imagine a FIFA game set in the 1890s featuring clubs like Northwich Victoria, Glossop North End, and Small Heath? Maybe it’s just because I’m a history buff but I’d love something like that!

Number 8: Pirates of the Caribbean (PC & Xbox, 2003)

Ship combat in Pirates of the Caribbean was great.

Despite the name, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean has very little connection to the film series – the first iteration of which was released the same year. Though the Black Pearl makes an appearance, the story is really that of Captain Nathaniel Hawk, an original character. Hawk must put together a crew and then can sail across several islands in a shrunk-down map based on the Caribbean. There’s a main quest involving a war between England and France, and a number of smaller side-quests too.

The player character – Captain Nathaniel Hawk.

The popularity of titles like Sea of Thieves and Assassin’s Creed IV shows that gamers love a good pirate-themed title, and I think the under-appreciated Pirates of the Caribbean could work brilliantly in 2020. It had a fun and engaging story, and was a title that allowed a decent amount of player choice.

Number 9: Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64, 1999)

The DK rap…

As I mentioned at the beginning, Super Mario 64 has been rumoured to be the target of a remaster. But the Nintendo 64 also saw the first 3D adventures of that other great Nintendo character – Donkey Kong. Where the Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES had introduced Diddy Kong and a couple of others, Donkey Kong 64 kicked things into high gear by having five playable characters.

Diddy Kong with his twin pistols.

The game is similar to both the aformentioned Super Mario 64 in terms of its 3D platforming as well as titles like Banjo-Kazooie, which was also developed by Rare. It had a multiplayer mode, well-designed and diverse levels, and while the plot was pretty basic it was a lot of fun. The game was re-released on the Wii U as a download title, but wasn’t remastered.

Number 10: Max Payne (PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, 2001)

Max duel-wielding his handguns.

Despite receiving two sequels and a feature film adaptation, no attempt has yet been made to remaster the original Max Payne. I’ve often talked about how Shenmue on the Dreamcast was my first experience with a game that felt genuinely cinematic – well Max Payne was the second such game I played. Gaming before the turn of the millennium was a lot of fun, but as an art form and entertainment medium, it hadn’t fully hit its stride. Many games had stories which were childish, over-the-top, or just silly; Max Payne was a classic detective/noir adventure that would have been just as at home on the big screen.

Taking out an enemy with a shotgun.

The story and even 95% of the gameplay would need absolutely no adapting; this is one game that just needs to be updated using today’s better graphics! The story is what makes Max Payne worth playing. Its sequels were fine, but nothing can top the original experience. Though the game’s signature “bullet time” has since been reused in many other titles in the years since its release, the story underneath the gameplay is still one that players today could enjoy.

So that’s it. Ten games that I’d remaster if I could. In the years since I got my first home console in the early 1990s – a SNES – I’ve been lucky to play many different games on a range of platforms. These are just a few that I’d love to remaster – if I had a studio, an unlimited budget, and a willingness to lose money!

This has been a fun topic, and it’s one I may revisit in future. I had at least ten more titles lined up that could have made the list, and with so many great games from the past, there’s no shortage of options! It was great fun to talk about some games of yesteryear that I enjoyed during the 1990s and early 2000s.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developers, studios, and/or publishers. Some screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.