Matt Grant

Miscellany

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Throwback Thursday: The Five Greatest Nintendo 64 Games Of All Time

On this day in 1996: The Nintendo 64 first appeared in the US!

The N64 was a truly revolutionary console, and one of the most coveted prizes of any 11-year-old that year. It doubled the amount of bits available on my Sega Genesis, rendering games in stunning 3D environments. But its most revolutionary asset was the controller, which featured a small joystick in its center. For an era in which joysticks on controllers are indispensable, it's hard to describe just how novel this was at the time, but trust me: it was definitely a change.

The Nintendo 64 was my "coming-of-age" console, appearing at a time in my life when I was ready to take video games seriously and beat them without using cheat codes. Before I would play games until I got bored, but by then the challenge of completing games, finding all of their hidden secrets and easter eggs, was more interesting. Plus I was eleven and had no life, so what else was there to do with my time?  

In honor of the N64's 20th birthday, here are my top five favorite games on the platform: 

5. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

Shadows of the Empire may have allowed you to play the Battle of Hoth (without having to unlock an extra level at least), but Rogue Squadron gets my vote for best Star Wars game because it put you in the driver's seat of some of the most iconic starships in the SW universe. Not only could you pilot the coveted X-wing, but also my personal favorite, the A-wing, the Y-wing, and the snowspeeder. It was one of the first open-range dogfighting games, and in space no less. What could be more fun than that? Unless it was:

4. Star Fox 64

Star Fox was similar to Rogue Squadron, but it's arcade-style gameplay and adventurous story was, in my opinion, more fun. The Arwing was cooler, the weapons were better, and the interaction with your fellow pilots was always hilarious. Oh man, Peppy used to get so so mad when I would shoot down the guys he was going after. Laying aside the fact that the story revolved around highly intelligent animals piloting starships (ugh, that annoying Slippy!), Star Fox 64 was a great ride. It was also insanely hard: the game didn't have a save feature, and so in order to beat it, you had to play through its entire story in one sitting. And in order to truly beat the game, you had to complete several tasks that put you on a track to the final boss, Andross. If you didn't, the game wouldn't end where you needed it to. Beating StarFox was a monumental task and took me many tries, but I eventually got there. It's also worth mentioning that it was the first game to support the innovative RumblePak, which vibrated the controller during explosions and other pivotal moments. It's a feature still widely used today.  

3. GoldenEye 007

Back before Daniel Craig turned MI6 agent James Bond into a "blunt instrument," there was a much more refined, gentlemanly Bond played by Pierce Brosnan. And this Bond's inaugural cinematic outing was turned into a first-person shooter action game that became the N64's third-best-selling video game of all time. What kid didn't feel like playing GoldenEye was sort of taboo? This wasn't Star Wars or Star Fox with lasers, this game had actual guns. And you shot people in the head. There was no blood or gore, but GoldenEye felt a little like the early equivalent of Grand Theft Auto. I played GoldenEye so much that by the time I actually saw the film many years later, I could practically recite it from memory. One of my favorite features was all of those awesome bonus modes like paintball, and the one where everyone had super-sized heads. Teehee.

2. Super Mario 64

The Nintendo 64 was my first Nintendo machine, so I didn't grow up playing Super Mario games that much, unless it was at a friend's house. Super Mario 64 was my first real foray into the Mario world, and man, what a foray it was. It was included with the console (remember when having a game that came with your console was always a given? Those were the days!), and it was one of the first open-world 3D games ever. It was innovative and beautiful: you jumped into and out of paintings in a large, many-roomed castle in order to collect enough Stars to defeat Bowser and rescue the princess. Each world was so unique and different that you could spend hours inside of them. Super Mario 64 was the first, and I think only, game that I went completist on. I spent one summer collecting every single star the game could offer. It is still one of my proudest accomplishments. 

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

If you've been here before, you probably expected this game to be number one, as I recently made the case that the Zelda franchise, and Ocarina of Time specifically, deserves its own movieOcarina deserves its spot as Number 1 because not only was it the best game on the Nintendo 64, it's still one of the best video games of all time. Zelda revolutionized open-world gaming with features like Z-targeting, but what made it really great was its blend storytelling, action, and problem-solving. It was epic, it was beautiful, it was emotional. It is seriously making me want to unearth my N64 and play through it all over again. 

Okay, readers, your turn: is there a crucial N64 game that I left out? What was your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know!