In the opening sequence of Rare Limited’s classic GoldenEye 007, we see a first-person shooter ready to go with his Walther PPK and the determination of a gamer holding the Nintendo 64 controller.
Of course, it was challenging to move James Bond through the game with NPCs trying to kill you at every turn—and more buttons in your hand than you knew what to do with. But that was all part of the fun in the groundbreaking video game.
The Nintendo 64 system wasn’t just a gaming console; it was THE gaming console. The last bastion for gaming cartridges, and featuring a controller that was surprisingly ill-fitted to human hands.
However, millions of gamers found a way to use the three-pronged unit and spent hours thoroughly enjoying their favorite games.
We’re looking back at the best video gaming experiences offered by the Nintendo 64. Here are our picks for the best Nintendo 64 games of all time, ranked up to the very best.
8. Super Mario 64
The evolution of Mario across Nintendo systems has always been fascinating; however, when Super Mario 64 arrived, it felt like a giant leap forward—and everyone felt it.
The game had 3D graphics (genuinely incredible for the time), a story that could keep you entertained for hours, and it was part of a franchise that’s written into the base code of gaming itself.
What made the game so much fun was this: long after the novelty of the 3D graphics had worn off and you’d gotten used to Mario in 3D glory, the game still had all the charm and panache of a Mario game.
In playing through the story and finding the Power Stars and defeating Bowser, Super Mario 64 had something that appealed to everyone.
7. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Becoming a fighter pilot in the Rebel Alliance was the second greatest ambition of any young Nintendo 64 gamer. The first greatest ambition was to become a Jedi, obviously.
So, when Star Wars: Rogue Squadron arrived and put you in the cockpit of an X-Wing? Well, it was a moment long remembered.
The feeling of flying through space and blowing up Tie Fighters is something so many Star Wars games have been trying to recapture ever since, but this was the first time gamers felt like they were truly playing a part in defeating the Empire themselves.
It’s often forgotten that the gamer played as Luke Skywalker in the game. Yet, the visceral feeling of free-flying all manner of Rebel crafts would last long after the N64 went in the trash.
6. Mario Tennis
Before games such as Top Spin arrived on the market and allowed gamers to become elite tennis players themselves, the original Mario Tennis brought the fun of your favorite characters into a game that you never knew you’d love.
The sound effects, the character selection, the incredibly fun multiplayer system—all of it combined to make Mario Tennis a game that the whole family could enjoy on the blandest of days.
The thing Mario Tennis did so well was to keep the feeling of harmless fun that came along with the Mario franchise, while incorporating the spirit of a competitive game unlike any other Mario.
A classic rescue adventure, Banjo-Kazooie captivated audiences with its great gameplay, fun graphics, and lovable characters.
While some might note the similarities between Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64, the games came during an era where players adored these kinds of innocent adventure games.
The friendship between Banjo and Kazooie was enjoyable to be a part of, and the game had a great sense of fun exploration.
It could be said that Banjo-Kazooie knew its target audience better than almost any other game in history, and played directly into the hands of those that would love it, thus becoming beloved as a result.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The hours that gamers spent on guiding Link through Majora’s Mask could never be described as wasted because of just how phenomenal the game was to play.
When Link is sent into a parallel world of Termina that’s in imminent danger from a falling moon that’s about to decimate everything in 72 hours, you must find a way to stop it and save everybody.
The Legend of Zelda series is all about being the hero, and few games have given gamers that feeling as well as Majora’s Mask, with gamers forced to meet the challenges Link faces with determination and grit.
In hindsight, the time was a golden age for the Zelda series, and the N64 was the perfect home for those industry-defining games.
3. Perfect Dark
Anyone who managed to pick up a copy of Perfect Dark—or borrow it from the local Blockbuster—will swear, to this day, by its brilliance.
Perfect Dark was a product of Rare Limited (the same company that made GoldenEye 007) and the game felt every bit as epic as its spiritual predecessor—and even more so.
The player controls Joanna Dark, who operates under her codename “Perfect Dark” for the Carrington Institute and performs all kinds of missions, unraveling an alien conspiracy along the way and encountering various Kojima-style plot twists.
For the time, Perfect Dark had stunning graphics and gameplay, really making the gamer feel like they were in Perfect Dark’s story. It all came together to make Perfect Dark one of the best gaming experiences in history—not just on the Nintendo 64.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
While The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time wasn’t a true open-world video game, it’s hard not to draw parallels between Ocarina of Time and Grand Theft Auto III. The games are fundamentally different in tone, but the ability to roam permeates both.
Ocarina of Time held gamers in ways that no other game had managed before. Link was still the series’ main character, but the innovative use of 3D graphics and the proto-open-world around the player redefined what video gaming could be for the masses.
As a story, as a game, Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece that remains one of the finest console gaming experiences ever. It set a standard that few games have ever lived up to, and is considered a perfect example of what video games should be.
1. GoldenEye 007
It takes a very, very, very special game to rank above The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time—and that game is GoldenEye 007.
It was more influential on the gaming industry than most other games that came before it. The style and graphical interface inspired all first-person shooters to come, and GoldenEye 007 fundamentally reimagined what first-person shooter games could be.
It proved there was a market for video games based on movies, and more importantly, it made the gamer feel like they were James Bond. The weapons, the multiplayer, the graphics all created an experience that no other game based on a film has ever topped.
Your Nintendo 64 wasn’t complete without GoldenEye 007, and anyone who played it still pines for a similar experience to this day. And that kind of legacy is why GoldenEye 007 was the best N64 game.