5) Lylat Wars
This was one of the games I had high hopes for after playing Starwing on the SNES at my cousins’ house. The VHS had been watched, Nintendo magazines clearly read and highlighted. This was going to be one of the best Christmases ever.
I was an impatient kid. I remember renting the N64 for my birthday before my brother and I got it for Christmas, playing a pre-owned version of Mario Kart 64 with untamed glee. But this was it - Lylat Wars eventually arrived alongside our version of a Nintendo 64. I can’t say our reaction was as crazy as those kids on YouTube, but it was pretty close.
What I love about Lylat Wars is its initial simplicity - it is quite easy to get into the game. My Uncle, who loves to play Microsoft Flight Simulator, took to it like a duck in water and I’ll never forget him almost rolling on the floor trying to do a barrel roll to dodge pursuing attackers. Corneria looked so different. Some tunes from the original would have be nice, but it looked like this was an epic all its own. It was lovely to hear the voice actors; it really helped with the immersive experience. I think I know the script by heart still (…oops!)
Once you peel off the simplistic layer, there’s the complexity that helps you to navigate through the system. Whether it’s to beat the hard boss, save Slippy, rack up a high number of hits, you find consequence has a huge hand to play in where you go and what events are unlocked. You can get so much replay value out of it, and that’s where the experience deepens even more. If you’ve completed Venom on Easy, why not change your route? You may find new friends, you’ll certainly find new enemies and your playing experience will be completely changed.
The music really adds to the depth. The poignant and spooky synth drawling of Sector X really paints a picture of a wasteland with floating space debris to the triumphant chords of Meteo and navigating the treacherous belt of asteroids. A reunion with an old friend is highlighted through the positive trumpet blasts and the epic tunes of Area 51 fill you with dread on what appears to be an impenetrable enemy force. The Starwolf theme with the sinister sounding trumpets herald an enemy force that you might find yourself well acquainted with.
How can you forget the villain behind the Lylat wars mess, Andross and his reign of terror? The Venom tune starts with a minor trill into a scary descent into the planet of seemingly no return. Can you prove General Pepper otherwise as you fight golems and countless of enemies surrounding Andross’ hideout?
Definitely a classic of the N64 series - if you haven’t played it, get it now! Scout it out!
4) Goldeneye 007
There wouldn’t be a top Nintendo 64 games list without the appearance of James Bond’s finest digital adventure to date, Goldeneye 007. The creators of Donkey Kong Country took a steep departure from their platforming days on the SNES to piece together a solid first person formula for the home console. Shooting games were foreign territory on home consoles at the time, but this 1997 gem helped set the foundations for what has become one of the biggest genres in the industry over a decade later.
Through the use of an unusual, but eventually natural setup, mission-based approach and sublime storytelling, Goldeneye has cemented itself as one of the most memorable and most loved titles on the Nintendo 64. Each single-player mission was crafted with intricate level designs, well paced and varied objectives and of course an arsenal of meaty weapons at your disposal. An element of stealth, NPC interaction and careful planning caused a stir amongst FPS enthusiasts. Sure, you could go in all guns blazing, but each of the levels had a unique string of objectives that created more of a cinematic experience and story, as opposed to a generic shooting game with James Bond’s charming face.
Though boasting a rich solo campaign, Goldeneye 007 also ticked all the boxes in the multiplayer department. Alongside the likes of Mario Kart 64, Perfect Dark and Mario Tennis, this game had all the necessary requirements for the perfect four player romp. Bring out the coffees, it’s going to be a long slog full of hair-pulling moments, controller slamming angst and eye-burning victory poses. Throw in an excellent musical score, some of the finest multiplayer maps in any shooting game plus a superb cast and voila, a top-notch Nintendo 64 game that’s worth your hard-earned cash.
Goldeneye 007 will be a toughie to obtain due to licensing rights, so an original cartridge is the only legal means of playing this timeless beast. It has received remake treatment recently, but the more contemporary offering is only half the man by comparison.
3) Majora’s Mask
Like Link’s Awakening before it, Majora’s Mask took a different approach to the familiar Zelda and Ganon storyline, instead bringing Link to the mysterious land of Termina, a parallel version of Hyrule, threatened by devastation from a falling moon. In one of the darkest plots in the series to date, Nintendo was able to convey a lot of emotion to the player by giving the citizens much more fleshed out personalities, each with their own independent approach to dealing with an inevitable doom.
A brand new gameplay mechanic revolved around only having three days to save the world. Link would use his trusty ocarina to slow down and travel back in time, giving himself the chance to explore and take part in events held at different times. This also tied into non-playable characters’ daily schedules, where everyone went about their set routines over the three days. Trying to help out with people’s problems and interfering with their days had knock-on effects with others, leading into many different outcomes and interesting dialogue.
Introduced into the game was a heavy focus on collecting masks, with every single one being put to use in some shape or form. Not only were there plenty of strange and unique varieties like the Bomb Mask to blow things up, or the Bunny Hood to run faster, there were also transformation masks, allowing Link to be a Deku, Goron and Zora, complete with their own special abilities. These accessories were a core element, with transformations required to complete temples and certain people only revealing important information or handing over items if Link wore a specific one. Side quests were an even larger focus in Majora’s Mask, with masks again needed to complete plenty of them. Unlike previous Zelda titles, which saw the player going from one dungeon to the next without too much to do in between, the sequel to Ocarina of Time had a stronger emphasis on completing quests in each of the four regions of Termina in order to gain access to the next temple. At the cost of less dungeons than its predecessor, this kept gameplay fresh and fun.
Taking the terrific playability of Ocarina of Time and throwing in a heap of innovative ideas and a twisted storyline, Majora’s Mask was absolutely one of the best games the Nintendo 64 had to offer, and is still one of the best of all Nintendo’s library to date.
Only one other company in the days of the Nintendo 64 could have even come to close to bettering Nintendo’s sublime Super Mario 64: Rare. However, they didn’t just come close; they did better it. Banjo-Kazooie was and is the pinnacle of 3D platforming perfection.
The concept wasn’t anything groundbreaking, coming after Nintendo’s debut 3D Mario game, but it improved on just about every aspect. The hub area of Gruntilda’s Lair, which belonged to the witch that kidnapped Banjo’s sister to steal her good looks, was a giant level in itself, with plenty of secret areas housing Jiggies and Cheato codes. Amusingly, the backing track to the lair was a darker and creepier variant of the children’s song Teddy Bear’s Picnic, appropriate given the game’s central character. Each world was massive, hoarding collectables here, there and everywhere, but not to the point that it would get overbearing to find all the musical notes needed to unlock level entrances. Each area’s sound was addictive and a pleasure to listen to. Not anywhere would you find an annoying or boring theme tune.
Acting like conjoined twins, Banjo wore a backpack that kept his pal Kazooie inside, allowing for all manner of unique abilities. Whereas in other platformers the player would leap off thin air to double-jump, Kazooie would spread her wings off Banjo’s back to get some extra distance. Trudging up slopes required Kazooie to poke her legs out, lifting Banjo onto her back, feet in the air and all. Swimming, flying and ground-pounding all used Kazooie to her best, with Banjo mostly doing the jogging and pawing a few baddies. Come to think of it, Kazooie did most of the work!
The comedy aspect of Banjo-Kazooie was one of the reasons this game was so refreshing and a joy to play, though. From Gruntilda spouting silly rhymes as you trotted about the lair, to laughing out loud at the insults cheeky Kazooie would throw poor Bottles the mole’s way, as well as a whole host of hilarious characters the bear and bird come across, Rare’s humour shone through at all times.
Charming, merry, magical, fun. These are just a few words that describe Rare’s masterpiece. It is without a doubt one of the best platform adventure games ever made, and probably the perfect example of the quality of old Rare during their time as a Nintendo second party. If you never managed to play the game during the N64 days, do your utmost to bag a copy of it or go for the Xbox Live Arcade version. If you are one of the lucky souls to still own this gem, do yourself a favour and dust off that Nintendo 64. Remind yourself why Banjo-Kazooie is one of the greatest games to have graced a console.
What do you think of the Cubed3 Top 20 Nintendo 64 games? Are there any titles you would have liked included, likewise are there any we chose that you disagree with?