64-Bit Memories…

It has recently come to my attention that last month marked the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo 64’s release in Australia. Shame on me for letting that go unmarked. Here’s something to try and make up for that error.

On Christmas Day, 1999, a year and a half after migrating to the sunburnt country from South Africa, I received my first home gaming console. My life would never be the same again.

Under a generous amount of wrapping paper, the Nintendo 64 greeted me in a glorious swirl of black, grey and “atomic purple“. As a wide-eyed child I had sampled some of what the console had to offer at friend’s houses, but this one was mine. Plugging it into the largest CRT television in the house and then pushing that oversized switch on the console’s curved shell resulted in a singular moment of awe that seemed impossible to match. I had my ticket to the school playground war of words; I was lodged firmly in Nintendo’s corner.

The limited edition pack I received on December 25, 1999. Words cannot express the nostalgia.

The next three years, long as they seemed to a pre-pubescent boy, were filled to the brim with some of my fondest gaming memories ever. This is the list of my top eleven favourite Nintendo 64 games of all time.

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11. Space Station Silicon Valley
What’s that? Eleven? Why eleven? The simple answer is I had a full top ten written up and ready to go before I suddenly remembered this game. I just couldn’t bring myself to post an honest list without mention of one of the quirkiest and most memorable titles I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Space Station Silicon Valley captured my imagination back in the day with its off-beat humour and central premise of playing as a rogue computer chip with the ability to gain control of a range of hostile robotic animals. It was difficult, but it was a heap of fun.

10. Super Smash Bros
Though we never actually owned the cartridge of this mega-franchise launcher at my house, I have nothing but spectacular memories of battling it out with friends in other places. From my earliest days of getting beaten to a pulp while stubbornly refusing to stop playing as Jigglypuff, to the hours whittled away on Sector Z slinging Samus’ charge beams every which way, the original Super Smash Bros delivered constant competitive fun with friends that planted the seeds for a franchise obsession when later instalments came along.

9. Snowboard Kids
Back in the days when renting games was a common thing to do, this underappreciated multiplayer gem saw so many temporary weekend sojourns at my house that we probably should have just bought the game outright. I still can’t figure out what drew my siblings and I to the powder-catching hijinks contained within the wondrous cartridge, but I do know that Snowboard Kids was one of my favourite party racing games of the N64 generation. I only just realised this year that the game was published by Atlus, whose later, much more mature RPG efforts I fell in love with a decade afterwards.

8. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
On to a game I actually owned. No Nintendo 64 list is complete without mention of one of the unsdisputed greatest games of all time. As the first Zelda game I ever played, Nintendo’s masterpiece introduced me to everything that was and still remains magical about the franchise. An epic storyline, a key character twist I did not see coming and some deviously clever puzzles that led me to bug my friends for answers on more than a few occasions defined the incredible experience for me. The only reason it isn’t higher on this list is because at the time I played it, multiplayer was king, and Zelda had none.

7. Mario Kart 64
What 64 owner does not have glowing memories of long Mario Kart sessions? I certainly don’t know of any. From the moment I first selected Luigi as my racer and shot off across the Kalamari Desert (finishing dead-last), I was hooked on the frantically fun formula that defines the most successful party racing franchise of all time. While it isn’t my favourite Mario Kart game (the DS version takes that honour), Mario Kart 64 was arguably the only one in the series to get Battle Mode right and the memories that went along with that dog-eat-dog balloon-fest can never be tarnished as a result. Make no mistake; this was the game that made me ask for a Nintendo 64 for Christmas.

6. Pokemon Stadium
The excitement this game generated among my primary school peers, when Pokemon was at the height of its popularity mind you, was nothing short of feverish. There was no way that the prospect of transferring your hard-trained Pokemon from the Game Boy to the N64 and battling with them in 3D could ever fail to meet our expectations. It didn’t. That commentator’s cries of “Super Effective!” and “The move failed…” are forever burned into my brain. The ability to play Pokemon Yellow on the big screen was a beautiful bonus. And the minigames! Oh the sweet, sweet minigames!

5. Mario Party 2
For some reason I cannot quite place, my family and I missed out on the first Mario Party. But we most definitely did not miss out on the second. The amount of hours we poured into the die-rolling, theme-dressing, minigame-crushing chaos of Mario Pary 2 bordered on ridiculous, especially for a foursome of pre-teens. We spent more time playing this virtual board game nocturnally than was healthy for kids our age. When friends came over we would just do it all again. Learning to hate that meddlesome deformed Bowser and that smiling assassin/gleeful troll Toad became a rite of gaming passage in no time at all.

4. Donkey Kong 64
If this list were decided on nostalgia value alone, Donkey Kong 64 would probably sit at #1. It was the first game I played on my very own Nintendo 64 and it was just one of many shining examples of why Rareware was once considered a developing behemoth. It was a technical feat of note for its time, with stunning graphics and memorable music. We also played the (admittedly basic) multiplayer to death in my house. The single player campaign was appropriately light-hearted but tough as nails to complete (Jack-in-the-Box, anyone?) and when I finally did hit that 101% completion figure the feeling of achievement that washed over me was special indeed. The fact that Nintendo and the now Microsoft-owned Rareware split the rights to the assets in this brilliant game means it has not ever been re-released digitally, which in my opinion is an absolute crime.

3. Banjo Tooie
Continuing the Rareware representation on this list, Banjo Tooie represented the peak of the addictive “collect-a-thon” formula seen in the original Banjo Kazooie (which I did not play as much as my brother did) and expanded upon in Donkey Kong 64. I lost count of the amount of times I have finished this beautiful game a long time ago. Its availability on Xbox Live Arcade makes it more accessible than ever (hint: download it) and every time I go back to it I discover a hilarious new piece of innuendo in the dialogue that somehow managed to get past the censors when the game was published. Banjo Tooie‘s surprisingly varied multiplayer was a real deal-sweetener at the time of release as well.

2. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
I don’t think I have ever played a funnier game than Conker’s Bad Fur Day, but for me the outrageously crude (and, on occasion, enjoyably subtle) humour is only the icing on the cake of a complete gaming package that constituted Rareware’s last truly great product. Not only was the third person shooter multiplayer of this game robust enough to overtake the likes of Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros and even 007 Goldeneye as the party game of choice among the friends of mine whose parents would let them play it when it was released, the single player narrative was nothing short of brilliant. Witty film references, both obscure and popular, abounded in a story so bizarrely eclectic and so much fun to play that I started it again almost immediately after finishing it for the first time. We miss the time when you made games like this, Rare.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
I cannot truly capture with words the feeling that accompanied my first playthrough of Majora’s Mask, but I will try anyway. I picked it up towards the end of the N64’s life cycle, with my first two years of gaming experience under my belt, and it delivered just the dark and edgy twist on familiar gameplay that I didn’t know I was looking for at the time. I finished the whole game 100% in 10 intense days, to this day the fastest I have finished any Zelda title. The urgent central gameplay conceit and bevy of rewarding sidequests tied me to its memorable characters unlike any other Zelda game before or since, its multi-strategy bosses were cathartic to defeat and its creepy narrative still stands out as wonderfully unique among its peers. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask isn’t only my favourite Nintendo 64 game of all time, it’s my favourite Zelda game of all time.

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Where are the others?
I realise I have left a few classics off the list and some of these were harder to dismiss than others, but I have my reasons. Super Mario 64 was an absolutely great game that I also received on that fateful Christmas Day, but it was more something my siblings enjoyed. I wasn’t allowed to play Goldeneye and Perfect Dark during the N64 era, as they were “too violent”. I didn’t actually finish the first Banjo Kazooie or Lylatwars (Starfox 64 in the US) until years after I first played their original forms, though the Xbox Live Arcade and 3DS versions of these games respectively are amazing recreations. I flat-out could not find a place for Pokemon Snap, Mario Tennis or Diddy Kong Racing on the list, though I adored all three. Call them Number 12, Number 13 and Number 14, if you will.

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