When the Nintendo 64 hit the stores, gaming was changed forever. It quickly evolved from short plays of enjoyment to weekend-long sessions of exploration, domination and destruction (sometimes in frustration). But some titles were more than a game; they defined our childhood in ways people, places and education couldn’t. With the launch of the N64, games became more realistic, soundtracks transformed from just beeps to dialogue and beautiful musical pieces, worlds were worth exploring for nothing more than the sheer detail around every turn. The best titles were not just games, but experiences and we remember them fondly.
While now children are spoiled with choice of what they can play, Nintendo provided gamers with a solid assortment of games that prioritized fun, party modes and competition. Added here was also luck, which made it feel the aspect of “anyone can win” and addiction may have started to take hold. As you read through these titles you’ll remember missing events due to their charm. One more level you’d say, until one day when you came home from school and your mum had hidden the console somewhere in her wardrobe and left out the games just to tease you…
10. Donkey Kong 64
The icon yellow-colored cartridge of Donkey Kong 64 stole countless hours of our childhood and we’re not even mad. Remember the “DK Rap” that plays before you’ve even pressed a button? Stepping foot into a 3D universe for the first time, Donkey Kong and his family (the ever-cheerful Diddy, the miniature Tiny, the powerful Chunky and the lanky…well…Lanky) go on a widespread adventure through 8 diverse worlds in search of bananas and to end the reign of King K.Rool, the evil leader of the crocs. And there is just so much to do. The game was successful in borrowing elements from Super Mario 64, and became a title that lasted through the summer holidays and continually provided a challenge.
9. Mario Party
While the one-player mode was about as useful as the lid on a McFlurry, Mario Party with a group of friends was the pinnacle of fun. As many games were based on luck, anyone could win and anyone could play (including your younger siblings…unfortunately). While the series continues on current day consoles, Mario Party excelled by providing simple concepts such as staying on a specific colored mushroom or bumping an opponent off an island with a ball. Sounds easy, but it required patience. Twirling the analogue stick by using the palm of your hand was a skill, as was button smashing to a rhythm and memorizing sequence. Don’t even remind me about the frustration around the stolen stars…
8. Diddy Kong Racing
While on the surface Diddy Kong Racing appears to be a rehash of Mario Kart, there is so much more than meets the eye. Many preferred this title due to the free roaming, single player elements and unique characters (not just another Mario, Luigi, Yoshi selection). Boss battles, the selection of multiple vehicles (the old hovercraft, bane of our existence) and detailed locales made Diddy Kong Racing an ultra competitive experience that helped create the adventure-racing genre. With Mushroom Kingdom being used so often, the trip to Timber’s Island always felt like a vacation and also spawned characters such as Banjo and Conker. And who can forget inserting the game and hearing “DIDDY KONG RACING!”
7. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
The Great Mighty Poo wants to throw his shit at you. On a console that didn’t stray too far from the hands of younger audiences often, Conker’s Bad Fur Day broke all the rules. Swearing, nudity, alcoholism and our parents thought that the cute critter was harmless! Storming the beach of Normandy, defying gravity in Matrix-inspired fashion, seeing plant boobs, fighting Nazi-style enemies and dodging feces made Conker’s first adventure different from anything else we’ve ever seen…anywhere! Who didn’t chuckle at the vulgarity? The gameplay was simple yet enjoyable, allowing the humor and pop culture references space to shine and form a special place in our hearts…or colon.
6. Perfect Dark
Nintendo answered Playstation’s heroine, Lara Croft, with the sassy Joanna Dark. And on all fronts, Perfect Dark is the better game (even if the genres are nothing alike). Made with the functionality of Goldeneye and set in a futuristic city, this adventure came late to the show, but demonstrated the true potential of the Nintendo 64. While the story mode was full of depth and action, it was the multiplayer mode that surpassed all other FPS games on the console. The weapons, maps, playable characters, items and scenarios were almost endless; from pistols to alien-style bazookas, from a skyscraper to a distant planet, from a henchman to a midget alien, everything was available. And it kept the console relevant at a time of change.
5. Super Smash Bros.
The original that started the well-established franchise, and what an unexpected joy it was pitting the likes of Link against Pikachu, or Mario against Samus, or Fox against Donkey Kong. It was a fighter game with charm, scope and unpredictability. Pick a fighter, choose a well-known map and fight your friends with signature moves. We all remember tossing pokeballs in the hope of unleashing a dominant beast, or grabbing the hammer and sending everyone else into oblivion. It makes you wonder why SNES didn’t have a similar title as most of the characters had been around for years. Either way, Smash is the best fighting game on the console.
4. Mario Kart 64
While skill gets you to the front of the pack, that dreaded blue shell ensures everyone has a shot at victory. And that was the point about Mario Kart, just having fun. Winning is great, but smashing your friends with an item was just as satisfying. Gliding through familiar locales, dodging old enemies and sliding through colored boxes made Mario Kart 64 the go-to game when a party began to blossom. It was a favorite of all gamers, and still is. Even though Rainbow Road is one of the most frustrating aspects of any game ever created, doing laps on these tracks was an endearing part of everyone’s childhood. Nobody needed a couch when we all stood screaming at the TV with smiles on our faces.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
One of the few single-player experiences on this list, this Zelda title remains one of the best gaming experiences of all time. Nobody expected such a diverse, fleshed-out 3D adventure for Link; not even die-hard fans of the series. The soundtrack, the unforgettable characters, the feeling of your character growing from boy to man, the depiction of good verses evil, the horse riding, the boss battles, the exploration of Hyrule…I could go on all day. And it wasn’t a game to beat overnight. Travel took time. Dungeons challenged your mind. Secrets lurked in the hardest places to reach. But most of all, combat was varied and never felt like a chore. While the Nintendo 64 was a console for groups, this title gave us an opportunity to enjoy solitude.
2. Super Mario 64
I’m calling it; Mario 64 was the biggest jump in gaming of all time. It launched the Nintendo 64 and everyone took notice. It just wasn’t a collection without Super Mario 64. The freedom granted to the gamer was surreal. Mario evolved from a 2D figure into a 3D icon, flanked by familiar villains made stronger by visual representation. Those Bowser boss battles swinging the bastard into bombs, flying with the wing cap through dangerous terrain, sliding down slopes that seemed to never end and exploring a map full of secrets; if this didn’t impact your childhood, you were on another boat. Despite being the first release of the platform, it remained a heavyweight when all other games (such as Donkey Kong) borrowed its style.
While the battle for number one was as fierce and competitive as a multiplayer bout in this title, Goldeneye takes the honor of defining our childhood more than any other. While the movie wasn’t the greatest Bond flick, the game expanded on the universe and became an instant cult classic. The blood covering the screen when you die, the soundtrack, the pew pew gun fire, the polygon breasts of female characters, dual wielding pistols, tossing mines and watching mayhem helped offer fun no matter how old you were. The maps were varied, and at the time of creation actually enhanced the experience unlike many of today (COD, I’m looking at you). Oh, and I didn’t even mention the golden gun…shooting that bloke on the toilet…betrayal…memories…where’s my Nintendo 64?