Last month, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System by compiling over 200,000 user ratings from multiple gaming websites, crunching the numbers, and coming up with a data-driven list of the system’s most popular games among modern players. Now, this month brings another major video game anniversary: The Nintendo 64 was released in North America 25 years ago today, on Sept. 29, 1996.
The SNES and N64 enjoyed very different lives. While the SNES was the clear leader of its console generation, its follow-up was not: The N64 sold about 32 million units, which is less than the SNES’ lifetime sales (49 million). More importantly, it lived in the shadow of its main competitor, the PlayStation, which sold about three times as many consoles.
That said, there’s plenty to love about the N64, and critics agree: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time is the highest-rated game of all time across all consoles on Metacritic. It’s also the only title on the review-aggregating site to achieve a 99 rating. A handful of other games are scattered throughout the site’s top-100 list as well, which is impressive considering not many games were released for the N64: just 296 in North America. For reference, that’s substantially less than half the size of the SNES’ North American library (720 games).
Speaking of ratings, the aforementioned SNES rankings feature was a fun project that taught me (and hopefully you) a lot about the defining console of my childhood. So, still in data-gathering mode, I decided to make a similar list for the N64, one that can help you plan which games to play first when N64 games are added to Nintendo Switch Online, as was recently announced.
The methodology used to compile these rankings was essentially the same as the SNES list, so revisit that for more details. To summarize, though, I collected user ratings — 250,849 of them this time — for North American N64 games from Emuparadise, Grouvee, IGDB, and HowLongToBeat. Then, I calculated a Final Score for each game, based on both their user ratings and how many ratings they received, in order to weigh both how beloved a game is and how many people are still playing it today.
(Before proceeding to the list, there’s a cape-wearing elephant in the room that I’ll address before we get to it: Superman — aka Superman 64 — is fairly high up on the list, despite that fact that it’s widely regarded as a historically awful game. I attribute that to users ironically giving the game many positive ratings over the years. Thankfully, though, those shenanigans don’t seem prevalent in the data and Superman is the only notable head-scratcher that I noticed. So, if it makes you feel better, ignore Superman and nudge everything below it up a spot in your head. I won’t get mad.)
As I stated in the SNES feature, this N64 list has nothing to do with my personal opinions, just what a quarter of a million user ratings indicate. So, let’s get into it, starting at 100 and sprinting towards the top of the ranks before slowing down and getting into more detail with the top 10 games.
- 100. Command & Conquer
- 99. San Francisco Rush 2049
- 98. Turok 3: Shadow Of Oblivion
- 97. Clay Fighter 63 1/3
- 96. Shadow Man
- 95. Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA
- 94. BattleTanx: Global Assault
- 93. Quest 64
- 92. Hybrid Heaven
- 91. FIFA 99
- 90. Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear To The Rescue
- 89. Quake 64
- 88. Snowboard Kids 2
- 87. Glover
- 86. Castlevania
- 85. Spider-Man
- 84. South Park
- 83. F-1 World Grand Prix
- 82. Goemon’s Great Adventure
- 81. Cruis’n World
- 80. Worms Armageddon
- 79. Vigilante 8
- 78. Beetle Adventure Racing!
- 77. Chameleon Twist
- 76. Rampage 2: Universal Tour
- 75. Excitebike 64
- 74. Ogre Battle 64: Person Of Lordly Caliber
- 73. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
- 72. Fighting Force 64
- 71. Killer Instinct Gold
- 70. WWF WrestleMania 2000
- 69. Mortal Kombat Trilogy
- 68. Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers
- 67. Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes
- 66. Extreme-G
- 65. Mission: Impossible
- 64. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
- 63. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
- 62. Cruis’n USA
- 61. Turok 2: Seeds Of Evil
- 60. WCW Vs. nWo: World Tour
- 59. Mischief Makers
- 58. 007: The World Is Not Enough
- 57. Space Station Silicon Valley
- 56. International Superstar Soccer 64
- 55. WCW/nWo Revenge
- 54. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
- 53. San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing
- 52. Hydro Thunder
- 51. Snowboard Kids
- 50. Harvest Moon 64
- 49. Resident Evil 2
- 48. Mortal Kombat 4
- 47. Pilotwings 64
- 46. Bomberman Hero
- 45. World Cup 98
- 44. Rampage World Tour
- 43. Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire
- 42. Jet Force Gemini
- 41. StarCraft
- 40. Rayman 2: The Great Escape
- 39. Bomberman 64
- 38. Gauntlet Legends
- 37. Doom 64
- 36. Mario Golf
- 35. Blast Corps
- 34. Star Wars Episode I: Racer
- 33. Pokémon Puzzle League
- 32. 1080° Snowboarding
- 31. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
- 30. F-Zero X
- 29. Mario Party 3
- 28. WWF No Mercy
- 27. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
- 26. Yoshi’s Story
- 25. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
- 24. Wave Race 64
- 23. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
- 22. Mario Tennis
- 21. Mario Party 2
- 20. Perfect Dark
- 19. Mario Party
- 18. Duke Nukem 64
- 17. Diddy Kong Racing
- 16. Banjo-Tooie
- 15. Pokémon Stadium 2
- 14. Donkey Kong 64
- 13. Pokémon Stadium
- 12. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
- 11. Superman
10. Pokémon Snap
Release Date: June 30, 1999
Final Score: 68.64
Average Rating: 75.65/100 (82nd)
Total Ratings: 2,964 (16th)
Nintendo has historically been not as overtly violent as their peers in gaming, so when it came time to put out a first-person shooter, Pokémon Snap had the perfect kid-friendly concept: Instead of using guns to inflict harm, players can do another kind of shooting — with a camera — to capture the majesty of beloved characters through visual art.
At the time, it was also a rare example of a 3D Pokémon game, and while it followed Pokémon Stadium by a few months, Snap offered something that Stadium didn’t. While Stadium was more or less a distillation of the Game Boy RPGs’ battle system, Snap gave fans the opportunity to explore the world of Pokémon in a 3D environment, making Snap the best way for Pokémon enthusiasts to feel like they could go on their own monster-catching journey and be the very best like no one ever was.
9. Star Fox 64
Release Date: June 30, 1997
Final Score: 69.15
Average Rating: 84.75/100 (30th)
Total Ratings: 3,397 (14th)
The original Star Fox game for the Super Nintendo was an impressive technical marvel, as it brought 3D to a platform that wasn’t known for it. While that was a great start, the N64 sequel improved on a lot of what the SNES original did, making it one of the finest games in the N64 library.
Aside from the fun sky-bound shooting gameplay, the game also impressed with its level branching system, and its cutscenes make it perhaps the most cinematic game on the N64. On top of that, the game has multiple multiplayer modes that add a ton of replay value, especially if you have friends who can’t resist a good barrel roll.
8. Paper Mario
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2001
Final Score: 70.77
Average Rating: 88.51/100 (7th)
Total Ratings: 6,257 (8th)
RPGs were huge on the Super Nintendo and Nintendo themselves had multiple great ones for the system, including Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars. When it came time to continue the red-hatted RPG series on the N64, they did so with Paper Mario, which stood in firm defiance of the hot new 3D technology. Yes, the environments are made of polygons, but as for the characters and many other elements, they could pass as higher-res SNES graphics.
In some ways, functionally, Paper Mario was a 2D game in a 3D environment, making it a departure in a time when every game developer this side of the Mississippi felt the need to flock to 3D gaming, even if they were nailing it in the 2D space and ended up stumbling in the next console generation. In classic Nintendo fashion, Paper Mario is a tremendous balance of the old and new in gaming, all while feeling distinctly like the latter.
Release Date: June 29, 1998
Final Score: 71.65
Average Rating: 87.9/100 (10th)
Total Ratings: 5,667 (10th)
Super Mario 64 is the clear leader in N64 3D platformers, but that doesn’t mean it was the only worthwhile one. Given the then-novelty of 3D console gaming, a lot of platformers popped up during the ’90s and ’00s, and in that crowded environment, Banjo-Kazooie did more than enough to stand out as a unique and worthwhile experience. Some, in fact, have argued that Banjo-Kazooie is actually superior to Super Mario 64; In a 1998 review, IGN’s Peer Schneider called it “the best 3D platformer I have ever played, and a more than worthy successor to Super Mario 64.”
The game has been praised for the depth of its gameplay mechanics, level design and aesthetics, and music, all of which help make Banjo-Kazooie a collectathon that makes players want to explore its delightfully rich world, a primary goal of the era’s 3D games. Whether or not it truly is superior to Mario 64, we can just be glad they both grace the N64 library.
6. GoldenEye 007
Release Date: Aug. 25, 1997
Final Score: 74.11
Average Rating: 85.88/100 (23th)
Total Ratings: 8,711 (5th)
When GoldenEye 007 was released, first-person shooters were thought as more of a PC gaming thing, but the James Bond title helped show console gamers that they too could have a gun-wielding hand on the bottom of their screens as they take out ne’er-do-wells. In so many ways, GoldenEye paved the way for first-person shooters, making it an origin of the species for today’s FPS-dominated gaming market.
There’s also the fact that GoldenEye is a game based on a movie, which more often than not are low-quality rush-jobs churned out to serve as little more than promotional material. GoldenEye, though, is just an all-time great game that happens to be based on a movie. Not to mention, the game’s multiplayer mode was essentially the first of its kind, and we all know how big a role multiplayer elements have in modern shooters.
5. The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2000
Final Score: 76.91
Average Rating: 88.62/100 (6th)
Total Ratings: 7,935 (6th)
In many ways, Majora’s Mask isn’t all that different from Ocarina Of Time. Both games use the same engine and a lot of visual assets. That said, despite the similarities, the two games are far from the same.
Majora’s Mask is noted for its darker themes and its looping three-day cycle, the sort of thing that wasn’t really something you saw in games at the start of the millennium. Another novel concept was the use of masks: There are 24 of them in the game and each gives Link new abilities and change the game in other ways. All of Majora’s Mask‘s unique aspects compel you to think differently than you do when playing most other games, which isn’t something that many titles, for the N64 or otherwise, can claim.
4. Super Smash Bros.
Release Date: April 26, 1999
Final Score: 80.75
Average Rating: 85.24/100 (27th)
Total Ratings: 16,230 (4th)
A ton of key Nintendo franchises either reached an important peak or were established on the N64, and perhaps the most pivotal of the new ones is Super Smash Bros. While Melee may be the series’ defining title, the magic began with the original, which can still hold its own today.
Not only is Smash Bros. one of the N64’s premiere multiplayer experiences, but it’s also the platform’s best celebration of Nintendo. Smash Bros. took iconic characters like Link, Mario, and Pikachu out of their respective universes and brought them together under the same umbrella to show off their firepower, both in terms of their place as pop culture heroes and in terms of how much literal damage they can inflict on their Nintendo co-workers.
3. Mario Kart 64
Release Date: Feb. 10, 1997
Final Score: 82.14
Average Rating: 86.18/100 (21st)
Total Ratings: 16,573 (3rd)
While the PS1 beat the N64 to claim the throne for its console generation, it could be argued that the top games on the N64 were more influential than the premiere PS1 titles. (Which are still great, by the way. We’re not trying to disparage the PS1, an excellent console.) But, like the next two games on this list, Mario Kart 64 is essentially a prototype for its genre.
Super Mario Kart helped establish the wacky character-based racing game as delightful fun, but Mario Kart 64 helped the genre successfully transition into the 3D era. Aside from laying the foundation for the rest of the uber-successful post-2D Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 64 offers rock-solid gameplay that can be as basic or complex as you want to make it, as the competitive speedrunning scene has proven.
It’s also probably the best party game on the N64 (sorry, Mario Party, a game with “party” in its name): If you turn on the TV and hear the “welcome to Mario Kart!” title screen in a roomful of friends, excitement and fun will abound, whether or not they consider themselves “gamers.” This glee can last for either just a few minutes or however many courses you can get in before things get too competitive, tensions boil over, and somebody does something they regret after getting blue-shelled right before the finish line.
2. Super Mario 64
Release Date: Sept. 29, 1996
Final Score: 86.83
Average Rating: 87.45/100 (13th)
Total Ratings: 26,993 (2nd)
I posit that of all the games on this list, none of them have a stronger influence on modern games than Super Mario 64. It’s not the first 3D platforming game ever, but it’s the one that made the world realize how fun it is to move around in 3D environments (even if the embryonic camera system isn’t perfect) and established a lot of 3D gaming norms. It’s fair to say that in a way, Super Mario 64 paved the path for virtually every important game that followed it, everything from Minecraft to Fortnite to Grand Theft Auto.
When the game was released, critics and fans knew immediately that Super Mario 64 was a legendary title. A lot of 3D games of the era have not aged well, but Super Mario 64 is still tremendously fun to pick up and play today. Nostalgia factors aside, the game’s varying worlds remain fun to explore, especially if you didn’t get that far into the game as a kid and haven’t seen some of the later levels since the ’90s. While you can’t control Mario here as well as you can in Super Mario Odyssey, it still feels intuitive to make Mario go exactly where you want him to.
Super Mario 64 is the N64’s best-selling game, and fans are still eating it up. Aside from its high ranking on this list, it’s the defining game of the speedrunning community, as it has been run more times than any other game ever. On that note, the speedrunning leaderboards are a testament to the game’s depth: World records for the game have been set in the past few months, indicating that even 25 years later, there are still things to learn about Mario’s first 3D adventure.
1. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Release Date: Nov. 23, 1998
Final Score: 94.89
Average Rating: 97.01/100 (1st)
Total Ratings: 59,812 (1st)
Ocarina Of Time isn’t one of those games that didn’t get its due back in its day and eventually became a cult classic: The Zelda series established its footing on the NES and SNES, so fans were pumped to see how the game would work in 3D. While 3D games in the 90s aren’t as polished as their modern successors, there isn’t much Ocarina Of Time did wrong.
It wasn’t just great for its time, as it continues to resonate years later: As mentioned in the intro, it’s the highest-rated N64 game on Metacritic, but it’s also the top 3DS game on the site thanks to its 2011 port. Unsurprisingly, many reputable publications have deemed Ocarina Of Time the best video game ever, N64 or not.
What does Ocarina Of Time do well? Basically everything. The world is detailed and vibrant, it introduced gameplay mechanics (like Z-targeting) that made the then-clumsy world of 3D gaming environments easier to negotiate, and all in all, its influence on future RPGs is hard to overstate. Link proved he was great on his NES and SNES adventures, but Ocarina Of Time made him a legend.