25 Most Underrated Nintendo 64 Games
The N64 might be remembered today as the tepid successor to the SNES, but its excellent games library proves that it's much more than that.
While Nintendo dominated the ’80s and early ’90s with its NES and SNES consoles, some consider the N64 to be a tepid successor to that legacy, especially when it comes to the platform’s library of games. While the N64 had one of the smaller libraries of any Nintendo console (only 296 games were released in the U.S.), there’s an incredible amount of quality there.
We all played the heck out of Super Mario 64 and the first two classic 3D Zelda games, and who can forget zipping down the speedway in Mario Kart 64? The console was even the birthplace of Super Smash Bros. Yet, hiding away between all of these huge landmark titles are dozens of hidden gems that time may have forgotten. That’s where we come in.
Here are 25 underrated titles from the N64 era that made the platform great:
25. NBA Hangtime
1996 | Midway
When the N64 first came out, most of us spent months playing (and replaying) Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, and Wave Race 64. Those are still three of the greatest games ever to come out immediately after a console’s launch, but even from the beginning, the N64 was home to quality underrated games like NBA Hangtime.
The gameplay is very similar to NBA Jam, but maybe a little bit faster, and unlike the Jam series, you can actually make your own player. Add in a ridiculous number of secret characters, courts, and cheats, plus four-player support, and you easily have the best arcade basketball game ever made.
24. Mace: The Dark Age
1997 | Midway
The best way to describe Mace is like a slower version of Soulcalibur mixed with Mortal Kombat. Each battle played out in massive 3D arenas (some with dangers like lava that could be used for extra damage) between two characters with weapons like swords, axes, and spears. And after winning two rounds, you could execute your opponent. Characters ranged from your typical ninja and viking to a huge demonic knight and a dwarf in massive steampunk armor. With Midway long out of business now, there’s no telling who exactly owns the rights to this one, but a remake certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome if some publisher wanted to get their hands on the rights.
23. Quest 64
1998 | Imagineer
RPGs were incredibly sparse on the N64, and the first one released, Quest 64, didn’t actually come out until the system had been on shelves for almost two years. And unfortunately, gamers were rather disappointed, despite a tremendous amount of pre-release hype. Quest 64 is kind of a beginner’s RPG. There’s very little customization, and you can’t even buy and sell equipment. Still, it’s a charming, relaxing little game set in a fantasy take on Ireland that’s worth playing through, especially since it only takes about 10 hours to beat.
22. StarCraft 64
2000 | Blizzard Entertainment
So this exists. StarCraft has become a worldwide phenomenon since its original release back in 1998, and yet the only console version of either the original or the sequel is on the N64. It’s a little primitive compared to the PC version, and of course, it doesn’t have any online features, but it’s actually a really solid port. There’s even a cooperative mode two players can play in split-screen, and a secret mission set after Brood War. And somehow, Blizzard made the N64’s clunky controller work really well with an RTS.
21. Snowboard Kids 2
1999 | Racdym
Virtually everyone who had an N64 played Mario Kart 64 and 1080 Snowboarding. The Snowboard Kids franchise looked at those two games and asked, “Why not combine them into something even more awesome?” The first Snowboard Kids is still great, but the second game is an all-time classic for adding more characters, courses that aren’t just covered in snow, and a surprisingly fun and enjoyable story mode. Sadly, Atlus has completely ignored the series since a 2005 DS game that lost a lot of charm of the N64 games. I’d be happy if they just released the two N64 games on the Virtual Console.
20. Mischief Makers
1997 | Treasure
We’re all used to 2D and 3D games co-existing happily now, but in the mid-90s when the Playstation and N64 first hit, 2D games were seen by many gamers as inferior to their shiny new 3D counterparts. That meant that Mischief Makers, a beautiful 2D platformer from world-class developer Treasure, was almost completely ignored when it first came out. But those gamers who ignored Mischief Makers for its graphics missed out on an incredible experience playing as a robot maid who defeated enemies by shaking them. There’s still nothing else that has matched the game’s unique combat and puzzles. This is another title long overdue for a sequel or re-release.
19. Goemon’s Great Adventure
1999 | Konami
While Mischief Makers is fondly remembered for doing something different in the platformer genre, Goemon’s Great Adventure should be remembered as the pinnacle of ‘90s platforming. The game took the tight controls of classic titles from the 16-bit era and mixed in some of the better 3D visuals of an N64 game with the hilarious Goemon characters and one of the best soundtracks on the N64. This is probably one of the more obscure American titles on the N64, but well worth picking up.
18. Shadow Man
1999 | Acclaim
The N64 was filled with so many bright and cartoony platformers that it really cemented Nintendo’s reputation as being for kids. It’s an issue that the Big N still deals with today.That being said, there were still some great adult games on the N64, and Shadow Man was one of the very best. Shadow Man told a dark story about traveling through a horrific underworld to collect the souls of serial killers, but the game never felt like it was just going for shock value. There was also some solid third-person shooting behind the story, and some of the best graphics on the N64.
17. Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion
2000 | Acclaim
Most gamers agree that the first two Turok games are classics, yet many ignore the third single-player game in the series released late in the N64’s life cycle. This is a real shame because in some ways Turok 3 is the best game in the series, featuring two characters, tighter level design, and the best graphics in the series. While the first two Turok games have a lot of nostalgia going for them, they can feel extremely bloated at times, not to mention the massive maps can be difficult to navigate. The third game fixed these issues to some extent, and it feels more like a modern shooter than either of its predecessors.
16. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
1999 | Konami
There were actually two Castlevania games released on the N64 in 1999. The first is a solid 3D adventure game, but to get the full N64 Castlevania experience, you really need to pick up Legacy of Darkness, as it’s sort of a director’s cut of the first game featuring two more characters and remixed levels. These games have received a lot of flak from Castlevania fans over the years because they’re so different from everything else in the series that in some ways they barely even feel like Castlevania games. Heck, only one of the four characters in Legacy of Darkness wields a whip, and you spend a large portion of the game playing as a werewolf. That’s a valid criticism, but they’re still two solid gothic action games that stand on their own all these years later. And not nearly enough games let you play as a werewolf.
15. Mickey’s Speedway USA
2000 | Rare
There were actually quite a few kart racers on the N64, and with titles like Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing leading the way, it was hard for anything else to stand out. Still, this follow-up to Diddy Kong Racing made by the same team is well-worth checking out years later. It might not have all the creativity of Rare’s first stab at kart racing, but it still has the beloved Disney characters and racing that in many ways tops its predecessor. No, it’s not Rare’s best work, but during the N64 era, even a weak Rare game was pretty darn good.
14. Hybrid Heaven
1999 | Konami
Hybrid Heaven deserves credit for being one of the most unique games on the N64. Most of the title is played like a third-person adventure game, not unlike Tomb Raider, but when you encounter a monster, you’re thrown into a smaller room where you and your opponent jockey for position to launch menu-based attacks like a traditional RPG. It doesn’t always work, and it’s aged worse than a lot of other games on this list, but if you’re looking for a very different type of retro game with a cool sci-fi vibe, and you have the patience to deal with its quirks, it’s worth tracking down.
13. The New Tetris
1999 | H20 Entertainment
Pretty much every console gets a port of Tetris, and usually it feels like just a lazy re-hash of the original. The New Tetris, however, might be the one version of the iconic puzzler besides the original that’s actually worth playing. First, every time you clear a line, you’re adding toward your totals for creating the 7 Wonders of the World, each of which can be toured in cool 3D videos. This adds quite a bit of motivation to keep playing. Second, besides its one of the first four-player Tetris modes in series history, you can also create gold and silver blocks to increase your score if you can make squares of the same block type. It’s a little change that adds quite a bit to the core game without completely ruining it.
12. Jet Force Gemini
1999 | Rare
There’s so much to like about Jet Force Gemini, and yet the game is also so flawed. The graphics, sound, and third-person shooting gameplay are all top-notch. At times you would think the game is actually running on the PS2 or GameCube. But what holds the title back is having to spend hours collecting all of the furry Tribals to progress to the later parts of the game, not to mention some ridiculously frustrating boss fights. There’s a great game here for a lot of hardcore gamers looking to delve into the N64 library, but a lot of other gamers who don’t have the time to put into it might want to hold out hope that some day Rare releases a remake or sequel that fixes the issues with the original.
11. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
2000 | Quest
Ogre Battle 64 is one of only a handful of RPGs on the N64, yet it’s one of the absolute best strategy RPGs of its generation. The game features one of the better stories in the fabled (but sadly unfinished) Ogre Battle series, following hero Magnus Gallant’s eventual march on the capital of Latium, and there are six very different endings based on how you play. Mix in deep class customization and strategy that requires thinking several moves in advance, and this could keep you occupied for months even if it’s the only N64 game you own.
10. Space Station Silicon Valley
1998 | DMA Design
Even before DMA Design became Rockstar North and hit it big with the 3D Grand Theft Auto games, you could tell there was something special about the developer. Silicon Valley is a kid-friendly game (something Rockstar hasn’t made in a very long time) where you play as a microchip on a derelict space station full of robotic animals. The twist is that this chip can possess the body of any robot it encounters. It’s sort of like GTA, but with cute robotic animals to hijack instead of cars. This leads to all sorts of hijinks, as you must solve puzzles to get certain animals to fight each other and eventually take over the bodies of the defeated. Nearly 20 years later, there’s still nothing out there quite like Space Station Silicon Valley, which makes it well-worth experiencing even now.
9. Vigilante 8
1999 | Luxoflux
There were plenty of car combat games before Vigilante 8, and many have come after, but few mastered the perfect mix of accessibility and depth that the original Vigilante 8 had. With a dozen different characters that perfectly fit the game’s ‘70s vibe (plus a secret grey alien who pilots a UFO), it was easy to lose hours in the game’s fully destructible environments, especially in the four-player mode that ran without any hiccups, even on the N64’s aging hardware. Unlike a lot of games on this list, Vigilante 8 was actually re-released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 a few years ago, but for whatever reason the remake just couldn’t capture the magic of the original.
8. Doom 64
1997 | Midway
It seems like there are two types of Doom games. The most recent release focuses on super fast-paced action, while the previous release, Doom 3, was a more methodical first-person horror shooter. Even though it came out nearly 20 years ago, Doom 64 happily marries those two concepts. This is a dark and often disturbing trip to Mars that also requires lightning fast reflexes to get through, even on the lowest difficulty setting. And with the addition of an exclusive laser weapon and Nightmare Imp enemy, this is still a must-play for Doom fans.
7. Harvest Moon 64
1999 | Victor Interactive Software
It’s ironic that on a system known for its action games, this slow-paced farming simulator is one of its very best titles. This was only the second console Harvest Moon game, so it didn’t have all the features of the later entries, like being able to choose your gender or raise your children to adulthood. Still, you get a huge farm, tons of space for crops and animals, and the opportunity to build relationships with dozens of townspeople. That might sound incredibly lame in writing, but once you’ve lost an entire day tending to your farm, you’ll understand why so many people love this game.
6. Blast Corps
1997 | Rare
It’s pretty amazing that as consoles have gotten more and more powerful Rare has never revisited Blast Corps. The basic concept of using demolition vehicles to destroy everything in your path to avoid a nuclear holocaust could look incredible in HD. Alas, we can only enjoy this spectacle in 64-bit. Still, Blast Corps is one of the most unique games of all time, and when you dig into the secret missions on other planets and the platinum challenges, the gameplay here is nearly limitless – if you can keep up with the ruthless difficulty.
5. San Francisco Rush 2049
2000 | Atari Games
The first two Rush games on the N64 are fantastic arcade racers that are still worth playing, but the real gem of the series is Rush 2049. The cyberpunk take on San Francisco is still a sight to behold all these years later, and the addition of wings to every car allows for crazy tricks and maneuvers in the air that few other racers have ever matched. It’s a shame that the sole game in the series to follow it, L.A. Rush, completely abandoned the futuristic setting.
4. Body Harvest
1998 | DMA Design
Body Harvest was a ton of fun when it first released, and it still holds up well today (even if it’s incredibly blocky and ugly in a lot of parts). But what’s really interesting is to go back and play it today and see how DMA started to develop so many ideas that would later show up in Grand Theft Auto III. There’s the massive maps full of civilians, dozens of vehicles you can enter at will, and the freedom to do whatever you want so long as you defeat the alien menace before they harvest too many humans. GTA still hasn’t thrown an alien invasion into its massive sandbox, but Body Harvest provides a tantalizing glimpse at what that could look like some day.
3. Beetle Adventure Racing
1999 | Paradigm Entertainment
Beetle Adventure Racing came out of nowhere near the end of the N64’s life cycle and is one of the very best arcade racers on the console. Yes, you’re only playing as VW bugs, but they each handle very differently, and the six massive tracks range from the beautifully realistic to the wonderfully surreal. And each track is filled with crates that you needed to hit to score continues and secrets. In some ways, the game almost feels like a distant ancestor of the Forza Horizon series, but it also offered so many ideas of its own that it’s a real tragedy that a true sequel was never released.
2. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
1998 | Konami
If you’ve never experienced Mystical Ninja, try to picture this: it’s Ocarina of Time but with four characters, giant robot fights, and epic musical numbers. The Goemon series has been ignored in the West for many years because at times it can feel too culturally Japanese, but Mystical Ninja is easily the most accessible of the bunch released in North America, and arguably the most fun to play. Not to mention that it’s laugh out loud funny throughout the adventure. If you still have an N64 and haven’t played this yet, stop what you’re doing right now and track down a copy.
1. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
2001 | Rare
Rare made its name during the N64 era by pumping out cutesy games like Banjo-Kazooie and Diddy Kong Racing. Conker was originally going to be yet another game in this vein, but when critical reaction to early builds were tepid, the British developer decided to change course. Hard.
Conker might look like a like he belongs in another E-rated Nintendo game, but this is actually a filthy game filled to the brim with cursing, gory violence, and giant singing poop. And it’s absolutely hilarious and a joy to play. Sure, some of its gimmicks are used for shock value, but a lot of the filthier parts of the game, like the Great Mighty Poo battle, actually have solid gameplay around them, and it all fits into an epic story that has quite a bit of heart if you see it through to the end. And as one of the last major releases on the N64, it benefits from all sorts of technical tricks that developers learned over the years, leading to the very best graphics on the system and nearly CD-quality sound, with full (and hilarious) voice acting.
Sadly, Nintendo barely advertised the game when it came out because of its mature content, and Rare was never able to produce a sequel after being purchased by Microsoft. And because part of what made Conker so great was that it was made with so little interference from the publisher, it’s unlikely that a follow-up would ever reach the greatness of the original (as Conker’s sad, neutered appearance in Project Spark illustrated).
If you’re looking to experience Conker in all its glory, make sure to check out the N64 original or the port in Rare Replay, as the version on the original Xbox actually edited out quite a bit of content.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor.