Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

1998 - Factor 5

The European Nintendo 64 launch line-up already included a Star Wars game: Shadows of the Empire, an odd and mediocre collection of unequal gameplays which solely capitalized on the franchise name and the console novelty. It left the fans longing for a better experience, which came around 2 years later.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is an exclusively flight combat game. (This specificity was probably inspired by its predecessor's best asset, the Battle of Hoth level). It was the first game to offer a 640x480 resolution through the N64's expansion pack.

But aside from its technical performance and solid gameplay, Rogue Squadron provided what most fans were looking for: live the Star Wars universe by proxy.


Diddy Kong Racing

1997 - Rare Ltd.

A kart game? Released in 1997 on the N64? Based upon Nintendo characters? But not developed by Nintendo?

Upon its release, it was easy to imagine Diddy Kong Racing being doomed to live in the shadow of its Mario counterpart. But seeing it as (and criticizing it for being) a mere Mario Kart 64 copycat is missing the point. One would think its sole difference is the ability to choose between 3 vehicles (kart, plane, and hoverboard). But the game's distinctness lies deeper within: it is at its heart, and as its name suggest, a racing game.

Where MK64 is about multiplayer battles and power-ups, DKR is about single player adventures and driving skills. Don't let the friendly graphics and joyful naiveté fool you: this game is a player's challenge, where reaching 100% completion is not only the main and only goal, but a formidable quest.


International Superstar Soccer 2000

2000 - Konami

As with any console (especially during a World Cup year), the Nintendo 64 was flooded with a plethora of football games. While Fifa 64 was a joke, ISS 64 a good start, and World Cup 98 a decent alternative, ISS 98 (although flagged as arcade) was for a long time the sole contender for being the best of the platform.

It was until its successor was released 2 years later. ISS 2000 is the epitomy of the ISS series, developed by Konami's Osaka branch.

While KCET's Pro Evolution was already gaining traction on the PSX, KCEO refined to the extreme the franchise it created in 1995, by perfecting all the aspects that made it popular: precise controls, in-depth tactics, and an everlasting cheerful atmosphere.


Wave Race 64

1996 - Nintendo

The N64 (and all Nintendo consoles for that matter) are not renowned or even sought after for their technical capabilities but for the casual friendliness they provide.

Wave Race 64 was probably meant to bend this preconception. It was first and foremost a technical accomplishment, a perpetual ballet of waves and colours. But this new-found realism and accuracy still defined a suitable challenge for gamers in search of unexplored areas.

Where most similar games on other platforms would overemphasize the fireworks, Wave Race stayed true to the physics it displayed and offered a short-lived but genuine experience.


Mario Kart 64

1997 - Nintendo

The N64 natively provided 4-player support, a not so surprising feature considering Nintendo's fondness for multiplayer parties. If you consider the company's easy access to a plethora of memorable characters, you get the sequel to the most popular spin-off of the Mario series.

Mario Kart 64 is the kind of game that can solely rely on its legacy to perform well commercially. But considering Nintendo's dedication to flawless execution, this version perfectly managed the transition from Mode 7 to actual 3D, while keeping the expected cheerfulness intact.

If it wasn't for its poor single player mode and the introduction of the damn blue shell, MK64 could have made its way into my top 5. The game nevertheless cemented the concept Nintendo still stands for: casual gaming among friends.


Lylat Wars

1997 - Nintendo

Star Fox was one of the selected few SNES games that were granted 3D graphics. So a N64 sequel was certainly expected.

Considering the visuals could only be slightly updated, Lylat Wars had to rely upon gameplay enhancements to be considered a worthy sequel. It introduced a new flight mode, All-Range (alongside the usual Corridor one), two additional vehicles (to complete the earth/air/water triad) and support for the Rumble Pak.

While the design of the 15 levels was obviously upgraded, the ability to pick your own path greatly increased the replay value. That, and the lethal Expert mode.


1080° Snowboarding

1998 - Nintendo

In 1998, kids had already been having a ball with Cool Boarders for over a year, rejoicing in the pleasures of virtual pixelated snowboarding. Stealing the PlayStation's thunder wasn't an easy task.

1080° instantly felt like a solid contender: stylish characters, trendy music, and a delightful interface. But where other simulations would rise the eccentricity to sinful levels, Nintendo's attempt stayed classy, realistic, and most of all, slow-paced. A further proof that simple doesn't mean easy.

This risky but meaningful restraint allowed every player to hit the slopes of immaculate snow to experience snowboarding in its purest form.


The Legend of Zelda - Ocarina of Time

1998 - Nintendo

Who am I kidding? Why isn't this my top 1? When Ocarina of Time was released in 1998, fans had waited 7 years for a sequel to the widely acclaimed A Link to the Past. The exceptions were set very high, especially considering this version was the first to be set in 3D.

The Legend of Zelda series have always been the flagship of gameplay innovation, pushing the boundaries of video game entertainment, and using the medium as an excuse for a bigger purpose. What the N64 version introduced was a vast open world environment, a resonant intricate story, and a rich intuitive interface.

Through its technical achievements and impeccable execution, Ocarina of Time brought us an unprecedented experience, specifically because bewilderment could solely be achieved by discarding established concepts and designing new ones. And only immovable dedication while facing the unknown could deliver an everlasting journey through space, misfortune, and time.


GoldenEye 007

1997 - Rare Ltd.

Any blockbuster adaptation is automatically meant for success, no matter the execution, especially when it can rely upon a renowned franchise that already provided gadgets, characters, environments, and even a storyline. But disrupting the FPS genre required something special.

The story of GoldenEye's development is one of a small inexperienced team of developers who, for the great majority, had never worked on a video game, and solely relied upon intrinsic talent and external models to copy from. This rather sloppy and unacademic approach was ultimately directly related to the game's success.

GoldenEye was initially defined as a compound of Virtua Cop, Mario 64 and Doom. Being inspired by an on-rails shooter provided the game with a simple but smart AI, that forced players to actually think before shooting. Objective-based missions drove the level design towards more openness that allowed liberty of movement and freedom of choice. And one-dimensional navigation required intuitive controls that console gamers weren't familiar with.

While this blend of seemingly unrelated guiding lights seemed ludicrous, it set up independent areas of work that could be perfected separately before being combined to form, through revolutionary elements of stealth and strategy, an unprecedented FPS experience.

GoldenEye is the embodiment of creativity through a lack of preconceptions, where set paths are fueled by infinite possibilities, and innocence an essential condition to brillance.


Super Mario 64

1996 - Nintendo

The mid-90s were the battleground of a long-awaited technical transition. Polygons, frames per second, and resolution were the industry's KPIs. There was a constant struggle for supremacy, where each company would entertain the eyes instead of aiming for the heart. It was hence easy to find yourself overwhelmed by this incessant display of glitter and power. All we wanted was a humbling abode to escape the storm and rise above the noise. Redemption came in the form of a novel but familiar adventure that acted as a substitute for reality.