10 – Body Harvest (1998)
Before Grand Theft Auto III transformed DMA Design into Rockstar North, makers of massive billion-dollar open world epics, they were a developer who were making creative and quirky games like this alongside trying to get their fun little GTA franchise off the ground. In fact, Body Harvest was DMA’s first foray into open-world-style gaming in 3D, and was originally meant to be an N64 launch game, meaning that it could’ve potentially beaten GTA3 to the punch by 5 years instead of just 3. And who knows how much different DMA’s output might have been over the next decade or so had Body Harvest been their first massive breakout hit instead of GTA3. Everyone is arguing over which non-GTA franchise Rockstar should return to next, with most debates turning into Red Dead vs Bully. While I’d love sequels to both of those, I’d be far more interested in them revisiting Body Harvest or the game at #5 on this list…
9 – Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (1999)
Remember when Duke Nukem was a legit game character and franchise instead of an embarrassing punchline? One of the last times that this was the case was in this solid N64-exclusive entry in the franchise. Zero Hour was released during Duke’s brief foray into third-person shooters, which also consisted of PS1’s (also surprisingly solid and overlooked) Time to Kill and Planet of the Babes. But while the solid single player action and time-traveling story was certainly part of the reason the game was liked at the time, it was the multiplayer modes – which wisely went the more traditional first-person route – that has made this game a cult classic. It was a more lighthearted and over-the-top alternative to the somber dystopia of Perfect Dark (and also came out a year earlier) as well as being a better choice than the ever-diminishing Turok series was at that point. And with the PS2 stupidly shipping with only two controller ports, Zero Hour was definitely one of the reasons for party-minded gamers to keep that N64 hooked up for a couple more years.
8 – Chameleon Twist (1997)
While it might be strange to call a game “hidden” if it sold well enough to earn a sequel only two years later, those that never played Chameleon Twist likely lump it in with the scores of forgettable mascot platformers of the late 90’s. Its high difficulty and obtuse life and continue system don’t do it any favors, either. But for those that looked past all that, they found a unique game with a main character that plays like something of a mix between Yoshi and Kirby. The chameleon’s tongue is also used for much more than drawing in enemies, as it is also needed for the character to jump (via a pole vault-like mechanic) and used as a grappling hook or lasso to traverse the environment. And like most good N64 games, it also offers an entertainment battle mode for up to four players. It’s always tricky to know if an N64 game that isn’t going for 50 bucks these days is worth bothering with, but both Chameleon Twist and its sequel are definitely that rare affordable N64 game that you won’t regret taking a chance on.
7 – Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (2000)
(*Also available for Wii Virtual Console)
We tried to go easy on including games that are sequels to well-known franchises for this list and stick mostly with lesser-known one-shot type deals, but like Zero Hour, Ogre Battle 64 didn’t quite get the recognition it deserved and is worth calling attention to in spite of its established pedigree. Despite being real-time strategy games, the Ogre Battle games have always worked great on consoles since they were built for them from the ground up rather than being ported from the PC. OB64 takes that ease of play a step further with a number of tweaks that improve game speed and flow over its two predecessors. Many fans of the series even cite OB64 as the best entry in the series, or at least their personal favorite. It’s kind of a tough sell for a strategy game on such a multiplayer-focused system to only be a single-player game, but in OB64‘s defense StarCraft had only been released a year earlier and was the first game to really make multiplayer a major aspect of the RTS genre.
6 – Rocket: Robot on Wheels (1999)
Rocket is another great N64 game that was created by a big-name AAA developer before their huge breakout hit. In fact, Rocket was actually developer Sucker Punch’s (Sly Cooper, inFamous) very first release, which makes the game’s quality all the more impressive. It’s not hard to see why a lot of people would’ve overlooked an N64 game featuring a colorful blue robot with a single wheel instead of legs, but by doing so they missed out on what is arguably the best platformer for the system that wasn’t developed by Nintendo or Rare. Rocket is a unique and imaginative game with a surprisingly realistic physics engine, among the first video games to build its core gameplay mechanic around realistic physics. And it was precisely the realistic way in which Rocket handled that made the game so compelling and different from the platform games of the era – or most games of the era, period.
5 – Space Station Silicon Valley (1998)
Looking back, it’s very interesting that DMA Design was so pro-N64 while mostly letting PlayStation gamers settle for ports of its then-2D Grand Theft Auto games. But clearly they were a company that was trying to make the move into expansive 3D worlds, and there was just no getting around the fact that the N64 did that far better than the PS1 did (proven by the fact that they later tried porting SSSV to the PS1 – in Europe only – and the results were abysmal). And while Body Harvest definitely felt like something of a prototype for their later 3D open-world games, SSSV was the more quirky and original of their two contributions to the N64 library. You play as a robot who has been reduced to a mere crawling microchip who must insert himself into the bodies of robotic animals and use their unique abilities to solve the game’s puzzles. SSSV even managed an E rating, and along with Body Harvest and the 1999 PC game Tantics would be the last DMA/Rockstar North-developed games to not earn an M rating.
4 – Goemon’s Great Adventure / Mystical Ninja 2 starring Goemon (1999)
The Goemon/Mystical Ninja series has never quite been as big anywhere else as it is in Japan, where it began as a 1986 arcade game and has since had over two dozen games across a variety of platforms. In the U.S., we’ve gotten…four (five for Europe). Among the selected few games brought to our shores is the outstanding Great Adventure for the N64, one of the earliest 2.5D games as well as a co-op platformer back in the pre-New Super Mario Bros. days when that was still quite the novel concept. It was also technically a 2D platformer on the console that basically made a name for itself with its pioneering 3D ones. But the best thing about a Goemon game is Goemon himself and the lighthearted and imaginative world around him that he is slicing his way through. It is almost impossible not to smile while playing a Goemon game, and this one is no exception.
3 – Beetle Adventure Racing (1999)
For my money, this is the best racing game on the Nintendo 64. But that’s still selling it short – it’s one of the best arcade-style racing games of all time, period. While on its surface it may seem like one of the many poorly-made budget racing games that have been made with a specific car brand attached, BAR rises far above its VW Beetle-exclusive car roster to be a ridiculously enjoyable racing game with some of the best track designs in video game history. Each of its tracks are absolutely chock full of shortcuts and alternate routes, and you could easily race a track a dozen times and take a slightly different route each time. I typically wasn’t impressed with racing games of the 80’s and 90’s specifically because of their small number of tracks, but that was never a problem with BAR because of how different each track felt each time you raced it. Add to that a fantastic soundtrack with one of the single most infectious earworms in video game history and you have a game I can’t say enough good things about and is the only racing game worthy of my overall all-time top 10.
2 – Mischief Makers (1997)
This is probably the most polarizing game on this list, and likely the most flawed. But given its high placement in this list, clearly people tend to focus on the positive aspects of the game, which there are plenty. Treasure were the masters of the 2D action game in the 90’s, and they brought that expertise to the N64 with the wonderfully wacky Mischief Makers, their sole appearance on the console (and first-ever release for any Nintendo console). Like many Treasure games, MM is a little difficult to describe without seeing it, but it is definitely one of Treasure’s slower and more deliberately-paced and less frenetic action games, more akin to Silhouette Mirage than Gunstar Heroes. The crux of the game is the hero’s ability to grab onto enemies and objects and “shake” them in order to get a variety of results, from turning them into projectiles to revealing power ups. Like many of Treasure’s more gimmick-based titles, MM does feel a little clunky and unpolished a lot of the time, and it’s definitely not a game that anyone can play and enjoy. But for those that can get used to its cumbersome mechanics, MM is a great deal of fun and packed with all of the outright lunacy that is a trademark of Treasure’s games.
1 – Blast Corps (1997)
When you think of Rare games for the N64, you probably go to Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, DK64 and/or Conker’s Dad Fur Day first. But the prolific developer also had a few other slightly less marquee games for the N64, including Jet Force Gemini – which is also solid – and Blast Corps. In fact, it’s not too hard to see why a lot of gamers consider Blast Corps to actually be their favorite Rare title on the system, as not everyone is into FPSes and all of their platformers kind of blend together (I’m sorry, but they do). Blast Corps is also one of the few Rare games that doesn’t have eclectic mascot-type characters (or established Nintendo characters) with big personalities at the forefront, and instead relies only on the game’s mechanics to be compelling without having some funny/sassy/foul-mouthed protagonist to fall back on which I believe made them have to try that much harder to craft a more original and uniquely engaging experience (does that sound like a dig at Conker? Because it is). Blast Corps should definitely be in every N64 owner’s library, and should also be one of the reasons that Xbox One owners are most excited about the upcoming Rare Replay compilation.