We asked our staff to vote on the 40 best games released for the system. While Nintendo 64 will never be remembered for sheer selection of software (only 296 titles released) it will be remembered for the quality of most of it’s games. We had over 100 titles nominated, with the number one game snatching the top spot by only a single vote. Note: We decided not to include any titles (such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3) that were also released on the Gamecube since by that time, most of us had already moved on to playing these on Nintendo’s sixth generation console.
Editor’s Note: This list was originally published on July 10, 2018.
Special Mention: Sin and Punishment
Anyone who plays many of the games found on the Virtual Console should be familiar with Treasure, a tiny Japanese developer with a huge cult following and a back catalogue packed with classic titles including one major hit, Hideyuki Suganami’s Sin and Punishment. Originally passed over for localization, Nintendo only released the arcade-style action shooter stateside via the Wii Virtual Console in 2007. It’s the N64 game that many North American gamers imported purely on the positive buzz from respected gaming magazines such as EGM. For the unfamiliar, the game is essentially a 3D Cabal-styled shooter with a grandiose anime-inspired storyline; massively detailed levels; epic set-pieces (the ocean fleet chapter is most memorable), intricate character and enemy models and action that was so rapid, it was almost impossible to keep up. Treasure’s unique approach to game design coupled with Nintendo’s trademark polish makes this worthy of being remembered as one of the 64-bit greats and easily one of the best rail shooters ever made. Fans of arcade style games should love the fast-paced action, brilliant controls, and fantastic over the top storyline. (Ricky D)
#40. Ridge Racer
When people think of the N64, Mario Kart 64 is usually the first racing game that comes to mind, but there were so many great racing games released for the system that the N64 might just have the best lineup of that genre. Among them is San Francisco Rush, Road Rash, Beetle Adventure Racing, Micro Machines, Wipeout, Wave Race, Diddy Kong Racing, Excitebike and our first entry in this list – Ridge Racer 64, one of the best racing games ever to hit Nintendo’s system. Namco’s classic franchise hit the N64 four years after debuting on Sony’s Playstation, complete with new tracks, new cars, a four-player mode, rock solid frame rates, faster speed and an all-new gameplay mechanic to boot. This wasn’t just a port of the original game and, in fact, Ridge Racer wasn’t even developed by Namco, but instead it was the very first game developed by Nintendo Software Technology. They obviously poured their heats into making the game since everything about it is excellent! – (Ricky D)
#39. Body Harvest
If there’s one game on this list that was way ahead of its time, it’s Body Harvest. Essentially an open-world action game in which the player fights off hordes of invading aliens, the simple concept doesn’t signal even an inch of the games incredible depth and innovation.
For example, as you roam the ridiculously huge world map accomplishing your various missions, you can literally take control of any vehicle you want to help you reach your destination. Sound like a certain million dollar franchise that you’re familiar with? It also allowed you to free-roam the map, doing whatever you wanted at almost any time, rather than doing what you were supposed to be doing. Are you getting it now? It’s a franchise that rhymes with HAND DEFT GELATTO, but only kind of.
Now, here’s the thing, Body Harvest came out in 1998, and unfortunately, on a console that was way underpowered in helping it to achieve its incredibly lofty goals. Still, an ambitious failure comes out way ahead of a successful doppelganger any day, and I can guarantee you’ve literally never played a single game on the Nintendo 64 like Body Harvest. (Mike Worby)
#38. Excitebike 64
It’ll set the daredevil inside you free! Excitebike 64 is nothing like the original Excitebike. It comes with 20 stadium tracks, amazing outdoor courses, six different riders, each with a unique style, and of course, stunning 3D graphics. Following on the success of Wave Race 64 and 1080 Snowboarding, Excitebike 64 upped the ante by resurrecting a beloved NES racer with tight controls, a ridiculous number of modes and a ground-breaking track editor. Excitebike 64 was one of the deepest racers to hit any videogame system – PC or console – and what’s really surprising is how the game stands the test of time. More importantly, the game is not only fun but full of replay value. Nintendo may not have had much third party support when it came to AAA automotive sims but they had no problem in self-producing a handful of top-notch arcade-style racers. (Ricky D)
#37. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was the start of a very successful run for publisher Acclaim, which would grace the N64 with some of its most technically accomplished titles. The game went on to sell 1.5 million copies keeping Acclaim (who were one flop away from bankruptcy) in business. Looking back in hindsight, it’s easy to see why Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was such a success. By combining first-person shooter elements with multi-layered platforming and open-world exploration, Turok was somewhat ahead of its time. On home consoles, the first-person shooter genre had not yet blossomed into the money-making behemoth that it is today, but any kid who played the game back in the day was instantly hooked. Goldeneye 007 may be remembered as the game that popularized the FPS genre on home consoles, but Turok predated it and gave us a large, open-world environment that pushed the N64 to its technical limit. It was also one of the first M-rated games for the console and back in 1997, this was a huge deal for Nintendo fans. Turok may be horribly dated as a result of the genre innovations that followed, but there was very little else like it on home consoles at the time, and for all these reasons and more, it deserves a spot on this very list. Acclaim would build on Turok’s success with several sequels/spinoffs but the original stands out as a genuine classic. (Ricky D)
#36. Bomberman 64
While many franchises struggled to make the transition to a 3D format, Bomberman 64 handled the series’ evolution with a level of finesse and nuance that, frankly, I wasn’t expecting when I first played it through. Released in 1997, this game marked the Hudson’s leading mascot’s first single-player foray, turning a primarily multiplayer based arcade style action game into an action-adventure that spanned multiple worlds. As a band of space pirates begin to use a device called the Omni Cube to drain planets of their energy, they set their sights on planet Bomber, prompting our hero to travel to the world under siege and defeat the leader of the Black Fortress. Adding platforming and light puzzle sections, Bomberman 64 radically changed its own traditional formula to deliver a more entertaining experience than a few seconds of multiplayer action ever could. Across four vibrant worlds, Bomberman has to use his newfound abilities to toss and kick bombs at his enemies and the environment to progress through stages, collect hidden gold cards, and defeat inventive bosses. Familiar power-ups that increased bomb strength and explosion size were strewn throughout the game, making the gameplay feel very connected to preceding titles, while also moving the games forward.
Rather than simply giving the players a jump button, Bomberman 64 maintained its own unique style by forcing players to bounce atop bombs to reach higher ledges and cross wide gaps. To compensate for the new dimension, players could both move in eight directions and manually rotate the camera to more easily navigate the world. Zones like White Glacier and Red Mountain each had distinct puzzles and enemies that required the player to approach every situation differently and had amazing soundtracks to go along with them. If there is one shortcoming of Bomberman 64, it’s that the multiplayer mode that made the series so popular in the first place is somewhat underwhelming and unbalanced. Despite having several maps and cosmetic choices for their avatar, the 4-player battle mode wasn’t nearly as polished as it was in other games, and failed to match the ingenuity of the single-player campaign. (Matt Bruzanno)
#35. NFL Blitz
Those that game with close friends or siblings will know that sometimes when you game with loved ones, tension and emotions tend to run high. Consequently, there’s nothing that quite matches the emotional cocktail that follows watching your friend intercept a ball and tauntingly run in the winning touchdown in a football game, replete with sour notes of sorrow, frustration, a hint of disbelief, and shame. And nothing quite alleviates those antagonizing sensations better than tackling your friend’s celebrating avatar after the play is already done. Therein lies the beauty of the Midway’s N64 classic NFL Blitz, a hilariously exaggerated version of an American football game. Taking inspiration from Midway’s own NBA Jam, an over-the-top basketball game, NFL Blitz ignores the aims of its compatriots, Madden and the like, to deliver the most realistic football simulator possible and delivers a laugh-inducing, fun experience so overblown it can be enjoyed by people who don’t like sports games or even the sport itself. Blitz allows players to make unbelievable plays, impossibly far passes or unfathomable blocks, go Beast Mode and stiff arm any defenders in the path to the end zone, and tackle in brutal, outrageous ways. Those tackles can even take the form of late hits delivered after a play is dead in some of the games funniest moments. Without the ridiculous likes of NFL Blitz, it’s unlikely we’d have any of the zany, off-the-wall sports games, like Rocket League, we have today. While many a game may have carried on its bonkers tone, no sports game may ever truly surpass NFL Blitz. (Tim Maison)
#34. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Although it remains one of the most underrated titles in the series, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, is my personal favorite entry in the titular mascot’s career. Following his N64 debut in Nintendo’s hit fighting game Super Smash Bros, HAL Laboratory’s mascot made the jump to a 2.5D platforming adventure that took him on a journey across the galaxy. At face value, Kirby 64 is a well designed, albeit brief, experience featuring the amazing music, bosses, and moves that the series is known for. However, what the game lacks in difficulty and length, it makes up for with replayability and entertainment value. Naturally building on Kirby’s iconic ability to copy the powers of his enemies, Kirby 64 allows players to combine two abilities to form a completely new one. This simple change radically altered the gameplay, bumping up the slim 7 original powers to a whopping 35 total forms for Kirby, introducing a level of customization that the series never had. New combinations such as the flaming sword, volcano and, my personal favorite, the refrigerator, were miles ahead of the comparatively bland base abilities of earlier games and simultaneously introduced the factor of having to actually create the combination, by swallowing an enemy and hurling their energy towards another monster to fuse them. Every level had a plethora of different powers to be toyed with, and although they were often designed to emphasize the viability of certain abilities over others, there was no one correct style to play through each world. Ingeniously encouraging multiple runs, 72 crystals were hidden throughout the game, requiring some light puzzle solving and exploration. Upon collecting them all, players were treated to one of the finest bosses in Nintendo history, the uncharacteristically disturbing 02 (accompanied by a killer battle theme). In addition to the main story, three mini-games with four difficulties could be played with up to four players, and although they were fairly simplistic, they acted as a nice bonus to top off a phenomenal Kirby game. (Matt Bruzanno)
Not a usual contender for many Top N64 Games lists, but it would be a tragedy if this gem was overlooked for its bigger, badder Sony brother.
Spider-Man sees the web-slinger brought to the third dimension for the first time, quips and all. The story follows Spidey as he takes on a “reformed” Doctor Octopus, who plans to release a symbiote virus on New York City. Along the way, Spidey fights some his classic foes, from Venom, Mysterio, Carnage, and the Rhino, as he tries to foil Doc Ock’s sinister plan. He even gets some help from friends, like Black Cat, the Punisher, and the Human Torch. The game is just chock-full of Spider-Man lore and references to keep any fan entertained, but if that wasn’t enough, the game itself is fantastic. Being able to swing through the skyscrapers of Manhattan and tie bad guys up in Spidey’s signature web leaves the player feeling more than satisfied, like they’re the Web-Slinger himself.
On the N64, the game had concessions made for the cartridge space, removing many of the voice tracks (though thankfully Stan Lee’s narration is still there) and bumping down the resolution of the graphics, but that can be forgiven as the game still plays just as great as on the PS1. One addition that they made, mostly out of necessity, was the introduction of comic-book style cutscenes in lieu of the fully-animated ones on the original. While on a technical level it may seem inferior, from a player’s perspective the comic book cutscenes evoke more of the genuine Spider-Man tone than the Sony version, and really enforce the idea that this is Spidey, coming out of the comics and onto the screen.
Whatever the case, Spider-Man (64) stands as a testament to the ingenuity developers have to make limitations work to their advantage. There’s plenty of fun to be had with this one, so definitely check it out. (Arturo Bory)
#32. Mario Party 3
Heatedly contested with Mario Party 2 as the best game in Nintendo’s mini-game infused board game franchise, Mario Party 3 just barely edges out as our favorite, due to its story mode, inventive mini-games, and amazing levels. As is the general consensus, the third game in the iconic party game series reached the perfect balance of luck and skill to keep things equally entertaining and fair. This was done by both increasing the player’s storable items from one to three, and making them more tactical and creative in general. Items like the Lucky Lamp were introduced to counter pre-existing items, retroactively nerfing aspects of the game that were considered too random. Mini-games were also greatly improved from Mario Party 2. Rather than simply re-skinning ideas from the original, many of the 71 mini-games in Mario Party 3 were completely original, and often more fleshed out experiences. Eye Sore, Frigid Bridge, and Locked Out were noticeably longer and more intricate than many games in the sequel, setting the bar high for the entries that followed it. The game boards themselves received a similar upgrading, containing more branching paths and events than prior levels, with Waluigi’s Island perfecting the developers’ style. Almost doubling the amount of levels, new “Duel Boards” allowed two players to go toe-to-toe against one another in a more competitive setting. The largest addition, however, was the inclusion of a single-player campaign, which pitted gamers against AI opponents on shortened versions of each map, before facing off with an actual final boss (a rarity for the series) The Millennium Star. Aside from being one of the best mini-games in the series, the fight somehow gave a sense of grandeur to the campaign of what is essentially a glorified game of Monopoly. (Matt Bruzzano)
#31. International Superstar Soccer 98
It goes without saying that football is a big deal; the prestigious World Cup is a big deal, but the introduction of an all-new 3-D perspective for football-specific titles was not yet a big deal. The stiff and confusing controls of the annual FIFA games failed to capture the freestyle nature of the beautiful game – EA’s dominance of the sports genre would be halted for a number of years as another videogame heavyweight entered the ring: Konami.
International Superstar Soccer 98 was Konami’s chance to capitalize on the upcoming World Cup hype, and it was also a golden opportunity to ease the slippery transition from the classic isometric/top-down to 3-D. What the older titles, like Sensible Soccer, lacked in presentation they more than made up for with fun and engaging gameplay, but those days were long gone. International Superstar Soccer 98 might not have been perfect, but it laid the foundation for which EA and Konami would continue to build on for their future 3-D installments.
52 Teams, 20 players a team, 6-game modes and 3 sponsors meant ISS 98 had the content (despite not having the license for player’s names), but in the end, it was the gameplay that shone through. Every well-placed pass, hotly contesting the ball in the air and finishing off your opponent with that ecstatic goal – that you won’t let them forget anytime soon – all came together to form the tightest and most visceral football experience imaginable, one that wouldn’t be bettered until Konami released its Pro Evolution series on the PlayStation 2.
So, players, had the ball glued to their feet when they dribbled, and header parties occurred far too often thus disrupting the flow of the game, but in the end, ISS 98 captured the passion and the competition of the beautiful game. (Craig Sharpe)
#30. 1080* Snowboarding
Nintendo had something very special on their hands with 1080* Snowboarding. Already a niche market, the essence and the death-defying descents of the snowboarding world had never been captured in a video game, and with the iconic Shigeru Miyamoto as lead producer, it was never going to fail. 1080* took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s ungainly controller by encouraging the player to perform a wide range of outrageous tricks and techniques that would cover all button inputs.
Any snowboarding enthusiast will tell you that there’s not just one objective in this extreme sport; 1080* provides the thrill of winning a race and looking stylish whilst doing it. The 5 different playable characters’ help provide a compelling challenge as you explore each boarder’s strengths and weaknesses over a diverse range of courses. Discovering alternate routes adds a welcome layer of replayability, while the different modes help in augmenting player skill and preparing for that next big race with a rival friend.
If there’s one thing to take away from 1080* Snowboarding, it’s the calculated approach toward the game’s physics design. Every impact, whether that be a smooth salt-shake continuation as the player executes the perfect trick or the violent crash as the player comes tumbling down an unforgiving frozen peak, 1080* succeeds in communicating incremental movement and nuance, just one degree to the left could spell the end for that perfect run you had planned. Timing is everything. (Craig Sharpe)
#29. Blast Corps
Remember that time there was a runaway semi-truck with a nuclear warhead attached, and the only way to save the world was to level a whole bunch of cities?
Okay, that probably didn’t happen, and even in 1997, it was a flimsy premise for a game. I mean, in a world where scientists have developed a giant bipedal robot, it seems like there might be another way to solve this problem.
Luckily what this wacky premise does make for is hours of gleeful destruction, as you must clear any potential obstacle from the path of the runaway warhead as quickly as possible. Blast Corps features 8 vehicles to help you avert disaster, and the kind of categorical rating system that games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga are still using today to keep you coming back for “just one more try”. Yeah, right.
Essentially a frantic puzzle game that kind of tricks you into thinking you’re playing an action game, Blast Corps is an incredibly addictive experience, and totally worth replaying on the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#28. Wave Race 64
If ever there were an argument over the definitive jet ski racing game, Wave Race 64 would forever be on the top of everyone’s list. Nintendo outdid itself when it transformed what would have been a F-Zero successor into one of the most memorable racing experiences on the console. With accurate wave physics, beautiful graphics, and a refreshing tropical soundtrack, Wave Race 64 has it all, and continues to hold up today.
The game gives the player the choice of playing as one of four racers, each with their own skill set, as they race around yellow and red buoys, indicating left and right respectively, that give speed boosts, helping the player as they race for the gold. While the gameplay itself is simple, the controls still feel tight, and it’s a blast to play through the game’s 9 playable courses and improve your skills. The game offers several different modes, from Championship mode for the pure racing experience to time trials, a stunt mode, as well as local multiplayer to challenge friends.
If none of that is enough, Wave Race 64 also has an unlockable dolphin that can be ridden around on, which should be a selling point on its own. In general, there are a lot of unlockable secrets that can be had from playing through the courses, from alternate skins to riding alongside a killer whale. With all of that in mind, there’s no reason to avoid picking this one up on Virtual Console and taking it for a spin. (Arturo Bory)
#27. F-Zero X
Developed by Nintendo’s EAD division, F-Zero X is the first F-Zero installment to have featured 3D graphics. Unfortunately, even for the time, the visuals weren’t anything to write home about. However, what F-Zero X lacks in the visual department it more than makes up for in adrenaline fuelled, non-stop action. With an emphasis on breakneck speed and competitive intensity, F-Zero X is one of the best arcade racers released for the N64. The game’s “death race” mode and a random track generator is what I remember best about the game. In the death race, the player’s objective is to annihilate the 29 other racers as fast as possible, while the X-Cup generates a different set of tracks each time it’s played. It also features 30 vehicles on the screen at once, and an extremely fun 4-player multiplayer offering. For all those reasons and more, F-Zero X is a game I have fond memories playing. The N64 had its fair share of racing games, but few were as fast and exciting to play as F-Zero X. (Ricky D)
#26. Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Prior to its release, Rayman only had one sidescrolling, cartoony adventure to his name, and The Great Escape solidified his name as the protagonist of one of gaming’s most light-hearted, whimsical series.
Full of adventure and wonder, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is like playing through an animated cartoon film. The game radiates personality through its bright visuals, eccentric characters, and colorful soundtrack. It was one of the many games to add on to the newly-defined “3D Platformer” genre of gaming that Super Mario 64 had pioneered, and it did so with absolute excellence.
In this game, you play as Rayman, who has to free his friends from the imprisonment of Razorbeard, a robot pirate who has taken over the Glade of Dreams, and take him down. The story is simple, but very well-told through the extensive cast of quirky characters that Rayman meets along his journey. The gameplay is tight and always tons of fun as you run, jump, hover, bounce, and swim across the Glade of Dreams’ many colorful locales. And of course, the soundtrack perfectly nails a wide range of emotion and atmosphere (Including the infamous “Tomb of the Ancients” music, which surely causes many nightmares to this day).
Throughout The Great Escape, there is a sense of childlike curiosity and joy that is always apparent. The game is a joy for both young and old, appealing to anyone and everyone, and offers an incredible world to get lost in. Rayman 2: The Great Escape may have been ported to just about every other console out there, but many gamers first experienced it on the wonderful Nintendo 64. And what an experience it was. (Nathan Brown)
#25. WCW NWO Revenge
AKI’s last WCW game is bittersweet for wrestling fans. It’s a time capsule of the American wrestling industry at a time when WCW had the deepest and most talented roster in the business. The game was released at the peak of WCW’s success, and sadly two years before WCW went out of business and the industry became a veritable monopoly under WWE. No Mercy may be considered the best wrestling video game ever made, but WCW / nWo Revenge has always been my favourite, if only for the roster which includes legends like Ric Flair, Sting, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Big Poppa Pump, Chris Benoit, Bill Goldberg, DDP, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio, British Bulldog, Booker T, Eddy Guerrero, Juventud Guerrero, Disco Inferno, La Parka, Ultimo Dragon, Saturn, Roddy Piper, Hollywood Hogan, Bret Hart, The Giant, Marcus Buff, Randy Savage, Konnan, and Raven, to name just a few. Revenge is the game where AKI truly established themselves as the masters of fighting games, with a fast-paced and revolutionary grappling system and reversals that captured the rhythm of real wrestling. The controls were so successful that not only did AKI Corporation use it in future wrestling games, but they also used the engine in their Def Jam Vendetta series . Everything from the graphics, move-set library, real life arenas, instant replays and the numerous finishing moves was made right, and the games was made to stand the test of time. It won 1998’s “Fighting Game of the Year” by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and was one of the best-selling N64 games of all time. It’s a must-have for any fan of wrestling games and one of my all-time favourites! (Ricky D)
#24. Resident Evil 2
That Resident Evil 2 is even on the N64 is something of a small miracle. Originally for the PlayStation, a small team of around 20 people managed to not only cram the game onto a cartridge but actually add more features to it as well, with different costumes and new gameplay modes. On the technical side, it’s a marvel, with tons of stuff going on behind the scenes to make it work, like how it adjusts its aspect ratio based on what characters do on screen or the way the music was ported to be even better than the Playstation version.
Never mind that the game itself is still great, and many would argue one of the best in the series. It’s spooky, creepy, and exciting in equal measure as you make your way through the ruins of Racoon City. Animations and audio are top quality for the time, and the cutscenes are some of the best the N64 was able to muster. It might be a bit harder to play nowadays, especially when compared to the later Resident Evil games, and the fixed camera and wonky inventory will drive some away, but for long-time fans of the series, Resident Evil 2 remains a favorite, and it’s just begging for an HD re-release. (Andrew Vandersteen)
#23. Jet Force Gemini
Of all the games developed by Rare during the N64 era, Jet Force Gemini might be the biggest outlier. A 3rd person sci-fi shooter is generally not the kind of game you expect from Rare even today, and it was, even more, jarring back in 1999 when it first came out.
Tasking players with beating back ravenous hordes of insectile extraterrestrials while simultaneously seeking out and rescuing a bunch of Ewoks, Jet Force Gemini is far from your typical Rare game, but like fellow Rare outcast, Blast Corps, that makes for a lot of its charm.
Take, for example, Lupus, a cybernetically enhanced dog who joins the twin protagonists, Juno, and Vela, on their mission. I mean, talk about dogs of war. Seriously, though, any game that lets you play as a dog with guns mounted on his back is okay by me. Also, there’s a guy named King Jeff in this game. No really. And the bad guy is named Mizar–ya know, like “miser”.
But honestly, potshots aside, you really should play Jet Force Gemini. It’s like a weird gaming time capsule in and of itself, and it’s absolutely one of the best reasons to own the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#22. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
While the series has recently fallen under heavy criticism, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater brought immense levels of innovation to the gaming community. Intuitive physics, interesting levels, a surplus of things to do, and one of the best soundtracks of all time made this first entry an instant classic. There are few 90s gamers who did not experience this addictive skating simulator on one of the six consoles it was released on. Everyone got their hands on this game, but nobody wanted to let go.
The physics in THPS are sure to hook casual and hardcore gamers alike. Players became addicted to improving their skills and eventually chaining together impressive strings of tricks. Whether it was your first Ollie or your tenth time performing a combo of two Kickflips, a Stalefish, three grinds, and a wall ride, it never seemed to get old. Almost like learning an instrument, players everywhere were striving to be the best living room skateboarder in their town.
While the mechanics were absolutely solid, the best part of the series lies within its youthful soul. With the combination of lighthearted humor and the fantastic and rebellious soundtrack that featured Primus, Suicidal Tendencies, and Goldfinger, the developers were able to perfectly capture the carefree atmosphere that resided in this amazing decade.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the start of a beautiful franchise. The sequel is still the highest rated game on Metacritic, further showing how incredibly solid the series’ mechanics and replayability are. This game is like candy, it’s simple and sweet but so addicting that you just can’t seem to put it down. As I grow old I will look back on the 90s and reminisce on what I miss most about my childhood. I will think back on those simple times of watching Rugrats, eating Gushers, and playing Tony Hawks’s Pro Skater. (Chris Souza)
#21. WWF No Mercy
Developer AKI Corporation created four phenomenal wrestling games for the N64, each better than the previous, and their final game for the system, WWF No Mercy, was the proverbial cherry on the cake. The core gameplay between WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (AKI’s first N64 title) and No Mercy is virtually the same, but systems were refined, move sets improved, and rosters expanded. Unlike most wrestling games of the era, in AKI’s titles wrestlers have a momentum meter rather than a health bar. You can’t simply wither an opponent’s bar from green to red and render them useless. In No Mercy no matter how beaten down someone may be, a quick reversal and appeasing to the crowd could be enough to turn the tides back in their favor. This means a match is never over until the bell has rung, leading to many tense back-and-forth contests which faithfully emulate the real life spectacle.
Aside from the remarkable core gameplay, No Mercy has some amazing additions that made it really stand out, such as it’s in-depth story mode. In most wrestling games, including AKI’s prior work, if the player were to lose a match during a campaign the game would simply prompt the user to try that match over again until success was achieved, however in No Mercy if the player loses a match the storyline continues but branches off in a completely different direction, leading to unexpected rivalries and intense matches. Add to that the fact that No Mercy featured the best Create-A-Wrestler seen yet, the first time inclusion of popular modes like the ladder match, and it was the first WWF game that allowed players to venture backstage and the first game that allowed players to smash their opponents through the fabled Spanish announcer’s table.
The game still holds up well today, even 15+ years after its release. WWE 2K16 may have more polygons on one wrestler’s face than there is in all of No Mercy, but once you step into the ring it’s clear that the N64 classic still reigns supreme when it comes to gameplay. (Matt De Azevedo)
#20. Diddy Kong Racing
Latching on to the kart racing boom of the late 90s, Diddy Kong Racing proved that it was much more than just a quick Mario Kart-wannabe cash-in. The game offered a unique experience compared to the cavalcade of kart racers on the market at the time.
The first non-sidescrolling game in the Donkey Kong franchise, DK Racing was another Rare-developed classic for the N64. Bright and cheerful, this game offers a fantastic cartoon world with plenty of fun characters, some returning to the series, and some new to the game. This is an excellent multiplayer game, with endless opportunity for comical racing fun. There is also an open-world adventure mode that caters to single players, and it proves to be just as fun as its multiplayer counterpart.
The most unique aspect that DK Racing had to its name at the time was most definitely the different modes of transportation that the player could drive around in. These include regular karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes. The wide amount of options when it comes to transportation were a huge draw for this game, and the best part is, each one each worked like a charm. These different driving mechanics are still rare to find in kart racers today, with Mario Kart 8 for Wii U finally including these flying and hovering options a whole 17 years later. And to this day, it is still incredibly fun to have an airplane or hovercraft race, thanks to the tight controls that the game offers. DK Racing totally nailed the different driving vehicles over a decade earlier.
Every aspect that you could want in a kart racer is here: tight controls, great level design, memorable music, an awesome world to explore, and easy-to-grasp, fun gameplay. Diddy Kong Racing is ahead of its time classic that will always provide a great time to any gamer. (Nathan Brown)
#19. Star Fox 64
When the industry made the incredible leap into the 3D gaming world, some series did not translate well into these new and improved visuals. Thankfully, Star Fox 64 gracefully accepted this new world of gaming and gave players an experience that they have never seen before.
Slippy, Peppy, and Falco all join Fox McCloud in another game filled with intense space combat. Star Fox must team up to defeat the evil scientist Andross and bring peace to the universe, and players must take control of the Arwing, Landmaster, and submarine in order to stop him once again. With multiplayer, a variety of modes, and an immense amount of replayability, it is no surprise that this installment is still regarded as one of the best in the series. Players became easily addicted to receiving medals and the branching leveling system.
Innovation was certainly a prominent theme in this installment. After becoming one of the most popular rail-shooters of all time, Nintendo pushed the envelope even further by incorporating new elements of gaming into this series. Star Fox 64 was the first Nintendo 64 game to have included support for the Rumble Pack. While we may take this feature for granted now, it opened a whole new sense of gaming. There was a time where we could only see and hear gaming, but now we can feel it. This was a powerful transition that began with Star Fox 64.
At the time, rail-shooters were not exactly rare but Nintendo took a popular idea and gave it their signature charm, creating a memorable and fun experience for gamers of all ages. It is not an easy task to make an on-rails shooter massively replayable, but Nintendo certainly proved it was possible. (Chris Souza)
#18. Pokémon Snap
One of five Pokémon games released for the Nintendo 64, Pokémon Snap is a rare example of a linear title that manages to instill a sense of adventure and curiosity in the player, sending them on voyages through various locales to take photos of classic first-gen Pokémon. It felt like every time you played through one of the game’s seven courses, you discovered something you hadn’t noticed before, and that something would lead to you getting that last snapshot you needed to get the next item. Getting Porygon to hit the switch & reveal the entrance to the cave level, knocking Charmeleon into the lava to reveal a roaring Charizard, getting Pikachu to pose on a surfboard & getting Snorlax to dance for you are only a few of the things you can discover by experimenting with the items at your disposal, such as the Apples and Pester Balls.
Pokémon Snap was a pretty addictive game; I always found myself going back to certain courses to improve certain snapshots, each time getting a few points more than the last. It wasn’t as if you could just snap a Pokémon at whatever angle or distance you saw fit and call it a day; no, you had to factor in the Pokémon’s size, its position in frame, the type of pose it was holding, and whether any other Pokémon were in the shot with it. It was a rather complex system, and it really managed to get young Pokémon fans to hone their photography skills to beat their highest scores. Considered a cult classic nowadays, fans have been clamoring for a sequel for years now. Whether or not we’ll ever see one is up in the air, but for what it’s worth, I certainly wouldn’t mind returning to Pokémon Island with my trusty camera one more time. (Matt Niyomina)
#17. WWF WrestleMania 2000
These days Vince McMahon’s WWE has a near-monopoly when it comes to the wrestling market in North America, but back in the 90’s / early 2000’s things were different. There was a time when the WCW and WWF were neck-and-neck in the war for television ratings, and that battle reverberated into the video game market. Due to the success of WCW/nWo Revenge and other THQ published wrestling games, World Championship Wrestling was leading the way in the digital ring, and Mr. McMahon couldn’t just stand idly by and let that happen. In order to get the upper hand, the WWF dumped their long-time partner Acclaim Entertainment and signed a pact with THQ. This upset WCW, causing them to end their own partnership THQ and turn to Electronic Arts as the future publisher of WCW games. After the dust settled it was the WWF that won out big time, as THQ went on the produce many high selling WWF games, while EA’s wrestling games sunk, much like the WCW itself.
After joining forces with the WWF, AKI Corporation simply took their engine from WCW/nWo Revenge and slapped a WWF skin on it, so the core mechanics were excellent right off the bat. Where the PS1 wrestling games featured annoying and complicated button combinations, AKI’s N64 games have smooth and intuitive controls that somewhat resemble the Super Smash Bros. series, making their games easy to pick up and enjoy. WrestleMania 2000 was the first THQ-published wrestling game to feature a Create-A-Wrestler mode, and since they already had everything animated AKI carried over many moves and taunts from WCW/nWo Revenge, which allowed fans to easily create their favorite WCW wrestlers. While the game doesn’t allow players to edit the move sets of the existing roster, their appearances can be altered, and each wrestler is able to have multiple alternate attires. WrestleMania 2000 featured other advancements such as the inclusion of accurate entrance music/videos, and new features like the First Blood match.
AKI released a new N64 wrestling game every year for four straight years, never overhauling but simply adding and refining. WrestleMania 2000 wasn’t their best work, but it was a huge success and a necessary stepping stone towards No Mercy. (Matt De Azevedo)
#16. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out of nowhere to revolutionize gaming in 1999. It set a pretty high standard for the genre, and sports games in general. It made Tony Hawk a household named and set in stone a franchise that would last until this very day. It took only a few months for Activision to release a sequel, adding in manuals and establishing a gameplay mechanic that would remain in the series across three console generations and two decades. This improved players’ ability to string together high-scoring trick combos and many other tricks were introduced for the first time, as was the option to edit the combinations for tricks.
Three new professional skaters were introduced to the series on this game (Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, and Eric Koston) and it was also the first of the Pro Skater games to feature Create-a-Skater and Park Editor features, now staples in the series. Combine that with perhaps the best stages in franchise history and a soundtrack that includes Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine, and you have one of the very last great games to come out on the N64, just months shy of the release of the Gamecube. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is still one of the most critically acclaimed video games ever made, and the second highest-rated video game of all time on Metacritic. The first Tony Hawk game may have set the bar, but the sequel landed a perfect 1080 and is still to this day the second best entry in the series, losing out only to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. (Ricky D)
#15. Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire
Shadows of the Empire was a huge multimedia project by Lucas Arts consisting of a book, comic, video game, and toys (so many toys). The story was created to fill in the gaps between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi; following the adventures of the mercenary Dash Rendar as he attempts to recover the frozen Han Solo from Boba Fett. The game compliments the book while still remaining accessible to those that haven’t read it. Shadows brilliantly build upon the lore from the movies by recreating the Battle of Hoth and using familiar characters like Boba Fett and the robot bounty hunter IG-88, who was briefly seen in during one scene in Empire Strikes Back. The game features both a 1st and 3rd person firing mode as well as a wide array of weapons and vehicles to experience. Shadows finally gave the player the Boba Fett fight that was so lacking in Return of the Jedi as you hunt him across the galaxy to an epic encounter against him and his terrifying ship, Slave-1. Coming out only a few months after the launch of the N64 in the U.S. Shadows of the Empire showcased the power and creativity the N64 could have and if that isn’t convincing enough the game also includes AT-STs, grand space battles, a crazy speeder bike fight through the streets of Mos Eisley, secret endings, and the nightmare-inducing Wampas. While Shadows of the Empire may no longer be canonical, it is a fun story any fan of the series will enjoy. (Ryan Kapioski)
#14. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
The horror …
Make no mistake, this game was not easy. Aside from difficulty, Rogue Squadron is remarkable for its application of the Star Wars license, but it was also just a great dogfighting game with outstanding graphics.
To the first strength, the game took direct influence from the opening Hoth level of Shadows of the Empire, and in contrast to previous X-Wing games, was a much more arcade-style experience. As a result of LucasArts’ stipulations against using scenes from the films, the game expands on the Star Wars universe in many interesting ways – intersecting with characters from the films on planets both familiar and new to fans.
The developers at Factor 5 were also inspired by the Expanded Universe comics and novel of the same name, introducing young players to events only implied by the existing Star Wars films. The dogfighting controls have since been improved upon, but were excellent at the time, offering much more mobility than the all-range levels in the previous year’s Star Fox 64.
And finally, the graphics: was there ever a better year in console gaming than 1998? Rogue Squadron, along with Banjo-Kazooie and other second-generation games, showed what the Nintendo 64 was truly capable of putting out. Eventually, Rogue Squadron‘s sequel on the GameCube would look even better, but compared to the blurry textures of Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron almost looked like the movies it was based on. A pity about that distance fog, though … (Mitchell Akhusrt)
#13. Donkey Kong 64
It’s hard to discuss the N64 without bringing up Rare games, and while not their last or greatest game on the system, DK64 is an outstanding platformer, and some would argue it even overshadows Nintendo’s own Mario 64. The levels are massive, there are tons of collectibles to go after and secrets to find, and the variety in the worlds is impressive. Better yet there’s five different Kongs to play as, each with their own unique abilities and collectibles to go after. It’s a game so chock full of stuff Rare had to package it with the N64’s expansion pack just to make sure it worked.
DK64 is a game pushing the N64 to its absolute limits. The graphics are some of the best on the system, with real-time lighting effects throughout the levels. The audio is nothing short of legendary, with reactive music that changes as you move through the worlds, creating an audio rollercoaster that adds so much to the experience. On every level, DK64 is a game that needs to be played by any fans of platformers and is a must-have for N64 fans. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Once upon a time, a bear and a bird traveled through many strange and varied worlds in their quest to stop an evil witch. Their adventure became legend, and Rareware’s platformer collect-a-thon prowess was once again beyond doubt.
Two years later, they were back with an equally beloved sequel, Banjo-Tooie, a game whose reputation has soured a bit since 2000. Reviews of the Xbox 360 re-release were not as kind as the Nintendo 64 original, citing its monstrous size and an unwieldy number of collectibles. But rather than dwell on negatives, why not nail down why Banjo-Tooie actually deserves another look?
Let’s face it, Super Mario 64 will always be a hard game to beat, and the first Banjo performed admirably to even come close. Banjo-Tooie, however, deserves to be considered another genre altogether. Like Metroid Prime, Dark Souls or Tomb Raider, the sprawling, interconnected levels of Tooie betray Rare’s true intentions: to create an adventure game like no other – simply in the guise of a 3D platformer.
Viewed today as a semi-open-world Metroidvania, Banjo-Tooie can go toe-to-toe with any other adventure game. The controls are tighter than Banjo-Kazooie, the graphics are second only to other Rare games, and the art (though much kookier) rivals the Zelda games for best fantasy designs on the console. And that’s all without mentioning Rare’s signature British weirdness, only a few notches below the adults-only Conker’s Bad Fur Day in terms of humor (or in the UK, humour).
Banjo-Tooie is an ambitious action-adventure that also happens to be a sequel to a 3D platformer, and played on its own terms it is a massive and rewardingly-twisted fairytale world to explore. (Mitchell Akhurst)
#11. Pokémon Stadium
Before fans were blessed with Pokémon Showdown, online battle modes or even VGC, we had the original Pocket Monster fighting spectacle, Pokémon Stadium. At the height of Nintendo’s pop-culture hit, the big N released a fully 3D battle arena in 1998… exclusively in Japan. Luckily for international audiences, the developers quickly reacted to the original game’s criticisms (like its brutal difficulty) as well as the overall positive reception to its release and put out a sequel to the game the next year. Officially arriving in English speaking countries in 2000, the second game in the series was dubbed Pokémon Stadium to avoid confusion, and was bundled with the Transfer Pak, a device that allowed players to trade, battle and store their own Pokémon from Red, Blue, and Yellow. Despite lacking a traditional story mode or some of the complexities of the handheld series, the game was a massive success. Gameplay was solely comprised of one-on-one battles against trainers and gym leaders, while a diverse set of rules, conditions and challenge modes kept the tedium from ever setting in.
For standard battles, players could compete in one of four tournaments (Poke Cup, Petit Cup, Prime Cup, and the Pika Cup), each with their own strategies and limitations. Dedicated fans could either import their own Pokémon from their Game Boy cartridges or rent pre-made replacements, appealing to both veterans and newcomers alike. For a real challenge, trainers could take on the Gym Leader Castle, that pit their team against the original 8 Kanto Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the Champion before facing off against Mewtwo himself, and unlocking a harder difficulty setting. Additionally, a few mini-games were included as extras, presumably for players to wind down from battle- but in reality, this just caused gamers to destroy their controllers with button mashing. While some critics find the lack of an actual narrative RPG experience to detract from Pokémon Stadium’s quality, it completely accomplished what it set out to do. (Matt Bruzzano)
#10. Paper Mario
Even in the N64 era, folks were nostalgic about 2D Mario games, and since Nintendo was essentially at war with Square at the time, Paper Mario wasn’t just the easiest way to revisit some Super Mario World nostalgia, it was also the closest thing fans were getting to a Super Mario RPG sequel.
Borrowing the button-tapping, action-RPG mechanics from Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario traded in the rest of the package, probably to avoid tricky legal ground over their former joint venture with Square. Luckily the game turned out great, not just in spite of these obstacles, but in some ways because of them.
The 2D perspective meant that the developers could make the game look gorgeous (for the time) since they didn’t have to design and animate entire free-roaming environments. It also helped matters that the button-tapping mechanics of the previous game actually better fit the platformer style perspective, rather than the isometric point of view of its forebear. Add in a cast of almost totally new characters, and you have an essential classic for the N64 era, and the first in a self-referential series that is still ongoing even today, both in handheld and console form. (Mike Worby)
#9. Perfect Dark
One of the most eagerly anticipated games released for the Nintendo 64 was none other than Rare’s spiritual successor to GoldenEye. After Rare and Nintendo lost the rights to the James Bond license in a bidding war with EA, the masterminds at Rare decided to flex their creative muscles with a completely new concept. Without the restrictions of a 007 license, Rare was able to implement whatever crazy ideas they had into the shooter genre. That game was Perfect Dark, and in my opinion, it is bigger, and better, than its groundbreaking predecessor. Goldeneye is a classic, and yes without it, Perfect Dark would never exist. Goldeneye set the bar, and it was hugely important for the genre, especially for console gaming, but just because it came first, doesn’t make it the better game. Goldeneye may have set a standard, but Perfect Dark improves upon it, in every way possible.
Yes, Perfect Dark borrows many functions from GoldenEye 007, the most obvious being the control scheme and general gameplay, but Perfect Dark also has more weapons, better production value, an original story, slick graphics, a killer soundtrack, tons of cheats, a trove of hidden secrets, a co-op mode, a counter-op mode, and an anti-hero who just so happens to be a highly skilled marksman, a lethal hand-to-hand combat fighter, an expert pilot, and an eager bounty hunter with a wicked sense of humor. (Ricky D)
#8. Banjo Kazooie
Having undoubtedly proved their platforming pedigree with their Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo, Rare set about the seemingly impossible task of following up the prolific Super Mario 64. With game design legends such as Gregg Mayles and Chris Sutherland at its helm, Banjo-Kazooie was released exclusively on the N64 in the summer of 1998. Although the game was initially labeled as a rip-off of Nintendo’s nearly perfect 3D platformer, it actually built on the standards that it set for the genre and even surpassed it in many ways.
To be clear, the two games do share an immense amount of similarities. Both were primarily adventure based platforming, collect-a-thons that had the player traverse a hub world that branched out to several, more distinct areas. Where Banjo-Kazooie first set itself apart from Miyamoto’s magnum opus was its approach to the hub world itself. Peach’s castle served as an adequate means of connecting the more vibrant worlds of the game together but lacked a sense of character and cohesion that Banjo-Kazooie prides itself on. As the titular bear, Banjo, and his partner, Kazooie, scaled the lair of the evil witch Gruntilda, the vain antagonist would occasionally berate the player to impede their progress and mock their failures, motivating gamers not to give up in an entertaining, self-aware, fashion. This quirky nature was also evident in the actual levels themselves, featuring more interesting NPCs, detailed locales and ambient music that made the paintings of Super Mario 64 look like cardboard cutouts by comparison. Instead of rigidly sectioning off the worlds into multiple missions, Banjo-Kazooie had completely open levels with multiple different objects to collect such as music notes, Jiggies, and Jinjos, that could all be pursued simultaneously. Environments like Treasure Trove Cove and Freezeezy Peak were non-linear, multi-pathed levels that still serve as guiding examples for modern game design.
By building on the 3D framework that Nintendo conceived, Rare delivered one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time. (Matt Bruzzano)
Since its release in 1997, no game has captured the glitz, the glamor, and the glory of James Bond-like Rare’s golden hit, GoldenEye 007. The perfect adaptation of the Bond flick, GoldenEye, GoldenEye 007 is a free-roaming, first-person-shooter putting the player in control of everyone’s favorite double-O agent: Bond, James Bond.
The atmospheric campaign perfectly captures the film’s tension and excitement, giving players a variety of experiences, from stealthy infiltrations, to run and gun bonanzas, all layered with familiar Bond elements, like some familiar gadgets and guns, to truly make the player feel like a secret agent. On top of a brilliantly crafted, truly immersive campaign is a revolutionary four-player multiplayer, pitting players against one another in an all-out brawl.
Careful attention to detail and immense amounts of fan service escalate an already fantastic experience to make it one of the most memorable games ever made, from the familiar blood-soaked screen that falls every time the player dies, to favorite foes, with cameo weapons and gadgets, and even multiplayer modes named after other films. This game has it all, but with Bond, even the world is not enough, so Rare stuffed the game with everything imaginable. Hilarious, unlockable cheat codes ensure the game has immense replayability, complete with the scalable difficulty, on top of other unlockables like the cast of twenty-four characters that make their way in to the multiplayer.
Still an immensely fun shooter to this day, in its time the game was revolutionary, pioneering a whole genre in gaming that’s shaped up to be perhaps the most popular and prevalent today, introducing staples and fixtures such as shooters tendency toward more realistic tones and zoomable sniper scopes. GoldenEye 007, like diamonds, is forever and it’s a truly timeless gem. (Tim Maison)
#6. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 remains, to this day, one of the greatest titles that Nintendo has ever created. Mario Kart 64 features eight different racers classified into three different weight categories, 14 unique power-ups to inflict friendship-testing amounts of rage (darn blue shells), and 16 tracks with an extra mirror mode that flips all the tracks to create an added difficulty. The tracks are comprised of hidden shortcuts, dangerous obstacles, and little surprises around every turn.
While the sequels have improved upon the racing formula and customization, nothing has quite captured the heart-pounding intensity of the Battle Mode. Friends duke it out to pop each other’s balloons in four small arenas with the power-ups provided on the map or as vengeful bombs. Mario Kart 64 offers a bit of something for everyone, with the Grand Prix for friends to compete against each other and computers, the Battle mode to lose to those friends, and the time attack mode to improve upon your skills and feel better, now that you’ve lost those friends. Mario Kart 64 is the 2nd bestselling game on the N64 for good reason, as it is truly a masterpiece that still stands the test of time. (Ryan Kapioski)
#5. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Judging by the Disney-like presentation, some may think that Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a harmless video game about a squirrel who is trying desperately to save his girlfriend. Rare, however, opted to deliver something flamboyantly vulgar and determinedly self-referential. Conker received critical acclaim from video game journalists, who praised its visual appeal and smart, funny humor, but due to limited advertising and a release towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s life cycle, it was a commercial flop.
Regardless, twenty years later Conker has earned a loyal cult following due to its unique style and its boundary-pushing story. Rare’s final Nintendo 64 game is perhaps the N64’s most visually impressive. The game pushes the console to its graphical limit and contains almost two hours of cut-scenes with fully animated character faces perfectly synced to some impressive voice acting. Apart from the opera-singing pile of crap, the stunning visuals, the catchy soundtrack and the lovable protagonist, one of the main reasons why the game resonates with so many people decades later, is because of the bleak and emotionally devastating climax.
It’s easy to see why Conker’s Bad Fur Day is so beloved after all these years. Conker was, and is everything that Nintendo has raised audiences to believe heroes are not. He’s crass, selfish and talks with a vocabulary that would make Eddie Murphy blush, but in those final moments that mirror Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Conker shows he’s no different than us.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a rare game that hits you in the head and stomach simultaneously. The only rule it adheres to is that tropes are made to be eviscerated, turned upside down, and crushed. Conker’s Bad Fur Day has the shape of a Nintendo IP but the soul of a Stanley Kubrick film. (Ricky D)
#4. Super Smash Bros.
The most recent installment of Nintendo’s classic beat-em-up franchise has 58 playable characters available to wreak havoc with; some are first-party favorites, while others are unexpected third-party newcomers. Back in 1999, it was a much simpler time. Only twelve of Nintendo’s most iconic characters were at the players’ disposal in the original Super Smash Bros., and it laid the foundation for what would become one of Nintendo’s most popular series. One of the console’s most popular multiplayer offerings, it can be said that Nintendo wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the help of Smash Bros. I can recall countless memories of scrambling around Hyrule Temple and Sector Z with a beam sword in hand, laying the smack-down on now-veteran characters like Donkey Kong, Fox and Jigglypuff without a single inkling of pity or mercy in my young, innocent soul.
Looking back on the original Super Smash Bros. reminds us of a time when Smash wasn’t really considered a competitive fighting game like many consider it now. It was more of a goofy party game that you’d play with a handful of your friends, all huddled around a CRT TV to watch Luigi crack Samus in the face with a baseball bat while wearing cutesy bunny ears. With all the excitement surrounding online play and competitive tournaments today, recalling those lazy nights when you’d blast through the single player campaign with your favorite fighter to defeat Master Hand at the end feels nostalgically refreshing. With enough replay value and frantic gameplay to keep players coming back time & time again, Smash was, without a doubt, one of the N64’s absolute essential titles. (Matt Niyomina)
#3. Super Mario 64
Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and featured relatively large areas which are composed primarily of true 3D polygons as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.
There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat – and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time — the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)
#2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
How exactly do you make a follow-up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.
Taking place a couple months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused a lot of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.
From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed from its very inception.
As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)
#1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Nearly 20 years later, it’s no surprise that everyone is still talking about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Along with Sony’s heavy nostalgia hitter, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time regularly finds itself in the conversation for not only the best game ever released on its particular console or in its individual series but the best game of all time, full stop.
That’s no accident. Coming off the heels of arguably the best game on the SNES, Ocarina of Time already had some pretty big shoes to fill, a problem which was compounded by the fact that this would also be the Zelda series’ first foray into the realm of the third dimension. However, Nintendo made sure to put in the time and effort to guarantee that Ocarina of Time delivered at any cost, and deliver it did.
A huge game at the time, and a large game even today, Ocarina of Time was a marvel for the wide-eyed gamers of the late 90s, and reasonably so. Few gamers will have forgotten the first time they left the safety and comfort of Kokiri Forest and entered the vast expanse of Hyrule Field, and with good reason. There had never, mark my words, never, been a game that had unleashed that kind of freedom on a player in the history of the medium. Sure, there had been huge worlds and giant world maps in the past, without a doubt, but never with the level of technical polish and scope that Nintendo had managed to convey here.
That level of initial wonder extends all the way through what might be Link’s finest adventure to date, and, as such, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still lives on in the annals of all-time classic video games, a place it has earned with full honors. (Mike Worby)
What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 14th, 2016.
For all the fairy tale aspects and emphasis on collecting hearts, the Legend of Zelda games aren’t exactly known for getting overly lovey-dovey. Despite having two characters who are clearly meant for each other, Link and Zelda have been basically all about business over the last thirty years, putting work before pleasure. Sure, there have been the occasional sideways glances or insinuations in between killing the pig monster that’s trying to take over their world, but otherwise the relationship has mostly stayed strictly platonic, full of the kind of stiff mutual respect that leads to underpopulation.
Zelda, of course, is burdened with the many responsibilities that come with running a kingdom constantly under siege by the forces of darkness, as well as presumably having to consistently fight the urge to give in to Stockholm syndrome during each of her many kidnappings. So basically, she’s pretty busy, really focusing on her career right now. She’s also royalty, so that’s intimidating (and most likely requires a similarly noble suitor). And Link? Don’t mistake his oversleeping for laziness. This guy needs his rest so he can slay monsters and push boxes that should be way too large for him to push. The Chosen One just doesn’t have time to play the Hyrule Field, and frankly, just like with a superhero, it’s probably best he doesn’t get to close to anyone.
Still, there have been hints of love over the last few decades, with Link’s opportunities extending to relationships of tenderness and awkwardness alike that have offered hope of a Happy Ever After for the hero in green. Unfortunately, he’s killed fans’ hopes by blowing every one of them, whether by tragic twist of fate or simply running away in embarrassment. Oh well. Here are the best of the “almosts”:
Throughout all of the Zelda games, one thing has become apparent: Link doesn’t really do guy friends. This trait is on full display in Ocarina of Time, but while Link may never be bros with that jealous jerk Mido, that doesn’t mean he’s all by his lonesome. His companionship with an actual Kokiri is clearly a deep, meaningful one, and so Saria becomes one of the most endearing characters in the game. Sure, Malon is cute in that farmer’s daughter kind of way, but she seems more in love with horses than heroes, and besides, with a dad who can’t take care of himself, you know the honeymoon would be short. But Saria genuinely cares. She gives Link an ocarina, a pretty cool gift if you’re a forest person, and she teaches him a song so that they can always be in contact (hint, hint). Add to that the long, sad, lingering look on Saria’s face as she watches her “friend” cross the bridge to adventure, and you know there was something going on.
So after defeating Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple and revealing Saria as the Sage of Forest, her resigned acceptance that their carefree days are behind them is a bittersweet acknowledgment (and reminder) that duty will always come before happiness. Mido’s revelation later that she had been waiting all this time for Link’s return doesn’t help with the melancholy, her unfulfilled pining just another casualty in the fight. But hey, at least she gets to hang out with a bunch of other misfits who are similarly trapped by their fated responsibility! Including…
I’m not sure that anyone has thrown themselves at Link more than Princess Ruto. As a spoiled brat being carried around inside a giant fish that ate her, Ruto develops a one-way relationship that culminates in her believing the two to be engaged when she hands over Zora’s Sapphire, all while blushing profusely. These aggressive signals couldn’t be any more obvious, but Link does a great job of playing it cool and clueless. She really doesn’t pull too many punches though, and it’s hard to explain why he doesn’t bite. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their lives with someone who’s rude, entitled, and bossy? So what that she’s an entirely different species and any offspring would be freaks of nature?
Even when older Link meets her later, she finds time to bring up their love life amidst all the seriousness of being a very important Sage, scolding Link for making her wait so long, then explaining how she can’t be with him until her duties are over. It’s all hilarious until you think about what would happen if Princess Ruto ever really did get free. Sorry fish lady, but the princess for Link is in another castle.
With its tropical setting, one would think that Link’s Awakening would be one of the best chances for Link to find true love, but alas, even though he meets the girl of his dreams (who even looks like Zelda!), yet again it’s not meant to be. It’s hard not to instantly relate to Marin and her fascination with the young lad who washed up on Koholint’s shore. She has been trapped on an island her whole life, imagining a big exciting world out there beyond the vast ocean’s horizon, and yearning to see it. What kid (and many adults) can’t identify with that feeling? Link represents discovery, adventure, and the enthusiasm and verve she displays because of this is infectious. She definitely likes him, but does she like him like him?
Though quick to chide Link for hitting a cucco or smashing a jar, she’s rather shy about her feelings, but a couple of things slip. Sitting side-by-side on a log at the beach, she reveals her deepest desires and asks to know everything about him (before awkwardly laughing the question off), and later on top of a mountain, nearly confesses something before being interrupted by her father. The game itself even seems to think Link has a shot, asking after the hero “acquires” her and holds her high above his head like a treasure he just found, “Is this your chance?”
Sadly, however, Marin’s story may be the most heartbreaking of all Link’s ladies. She knows that when the Wind Fish wakes up, all of Koholint, herself included, might vanish into memory. She pleads with Link that “some day you will leave this island… I just know it in my heart… …Don’t ever forget me… If you do, I’ll never forgive you!” Marin just wants to exist, to feel, and Link, the person who has awoken that inside her, is destined to be the one that takes that from her. Getting the best ending to the game reveals some hope that maybe these two will meet again one day, in a magical land far away.
Has Link ever had a more fully-formed relationship with anyone than what he shares with the impish former ruler of the Twilight Realm? Following the classic Hollywood arc, the two start out bickering and irritated with each other, Midna constantly hounding her wolfish companion, with Link begrudgingly powering through the pain in order to get to the princess he actually likes. Naturally then, over the course of many trials and monster-shaped obstacles, the two slowly began to develop a mutual respect and liking for each other, as tragic backstories are revealed and codes of honor are put on full display. By the end, when sassy beast turns into great beauty (a nice twist on a classic fairy tale trope), Link is left speechless (big shocker), much to Midna’s delight. “What? Say something! Am I so beautiful that you have no words left?” This is called flirting, people. If I was Link’s wing man he would’ve received a nudge in the ribs right here.
In fact, most of their interactions over the entire game comprise of her playful teasing, the type of schoolyard antagonizing that is akin to pulling someone’s hair and running away. If Link’s the kind of guy I think he is, these insults will only add to the liking. On top of that, her mysterious nature and later trusting openness can only strengthen the interest. Of course, what it could easily boil down to is just that really, they’re the perfect match: she’s funny and talks a lot, while he’s well, Link.
Unfortunately, he stays true to silent form, and after a brief pause at the end where she clearly wants to admit her feelings but (I’m assuming) feels awkward with Zelda around, Midna departs back to her own dimension, never to be seen again, all because a certain green-clad idiot just stands there and lets her destroy the Mirror of Twilight (with a tear nonetheless) having never told her how he actually feels! Stupid Link! Rookie mistake, pal. Live and learn, plenty of fish in the sea, and all that crap.
Ah, but which Zelda? Well, in the entire franchise, there are really only two with whom Link had any real chemistry beyond teaming up to save the kingdom, but the best of those is the one that wasn’t even a princess. In Skyward Sword, Zelda is a happy youth, the kind of spirited person that everyone is drawn to, a force of positivity and happiness. She also has had a crush on Link for years, as the two have been particular friends since they were kids, much to the annoyance of a jealous Biff-type schoolmate of theirs. This really is the boy-next-door meets girl-next-door story that has less of a fantasy feel than the other games, feeling more grounded and accessible.
Much of this realistic feeling is owed to the amount of awkwardness between the two whenever they’re left alone in the beginning and things start to get real. Zelda often fishes for compliments on her choice of clothes or weirdly, her harp, while Link stammers his way through the several “aw, shucks” responses. This is all highly endearing in a puppy love sort of way, but throughout the game we are reminded as well of how deeply these two really care for each other, with Zelda risking her life without a moment’s hesitation to save Link from falling, or the goddess’ plot exploiting the fact that Link would “throw [himself] headfirst into any danger, without even a moment’s doubt” to save her.
Still, though there are many acts of bravery and sacrifice on both sides that outwardly prove love, the beating heart of Link and Zelda’s relationship in Skyward Sword lies in the small moments, glances, and gestures that have players rooting for these two crazy kids to come through in the end. Zelda nervously folding her hands in his presence, Link’s embarrassment at the implication of a kiss, the playful way she is constantly pushing him off the edge of high places and endangering his life, etc. While the end makes no guarantees, as one of only three people living on the surface, this is Link’s best chance to make a life for himself outside of killing things.
Ten bucks says his “be aloof” strategy drove her straight to Groose.
And that’s it! So, while romance has never been a main focus of the Zelda series, that doesn’t mean Hyrule doesn’t have a pulse. Link’s made a life out of collecting hearts, and despite all the misfires with the ladies and fish ladies, Link’s still young. He’s just got to get back on that horse and find someone that’s not his horse. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone.
Though you could always choose the bottle…
Indie Games Spotlight: Apple Arcade (Almost) All the Way
We love indie games here at Goomba Stomp – after all, they can offer some of the most groundbreaking, creative experiences out there. However, with so many coming out every single week, it can be hard to know which of them deserve your attention. That’s why we’ve started our new Indie Games Spotlight series, where we’ll highlight some of our favorite new independent games every other week.
Our inaugural issue is dominated by the recently released Apple Arcade. Apple’s ambitious new service has brought with it plenty of standout titles to discuss, including some from respected creators like Devolver Digital and WayForward.
Devolver Digital Joins the Arcade
Apple Arcade is upon us, coming with a slew of stylish indies from a variety of developers new and old. One of the service’s most immediately prominent supporters is the boutique publisher Devolver Digital, which is supported Apple’s platform with some exclusive new titles, two of which we’ll highlight below.
First is Bleak Sword, a compact brawler that takes place entirely in stylish dioramas. Inflicted with a deadly curse, players must traverse through the isometric black, white, and red environments to right the wrongs of their world. The action has been streamlined to work equally well on both mobile devices and traditional gamepads, although it has also been spiced up with some RPG elements like spells to cast and stats to upgrade. It’s available to play now for Apple Arcade subscribers.
The second release is Cricket Through the Ages, which features “inarguably accurate recollections” of the game of cricket throughout human history. Some of its true-to-life scenarios include one prehistoric match between cavemen and dinosaurs, another taking place during a medieval joust, and of course, one in outer space. Featuring simple one-button controls and support for both single- and multiplayer, this historic romp may not be exactly accurate, but it certainly does look ridiculous and fun. It can be played now on Apple Arcade.
Mosaic Paints a Bleak Picture of the Daily Grind
Mosaic is all about one of the most mundane aspects of existence: the daily grind. It takes place in a seemingly pristine world where there’s little more to life than clocking in and out of work and whiling away the idle hours with mindless mobile games. As reality becomes gripped in a “harrowing technological autocracy,” it tasks the player with becoming the lone rebel to shatter the façade.
With its polygonal 3D visuals and subversive narrative, it easily draws plenty of comparisons to Playdead’s iconic Inside, as well as more recent experiences in the same vein such as the excellent FAR: Lone Sails. For those looking for a more introspective, provocative experience, Mosaic should be well worth checking out. It’s available on Apple Arcade now and will come to consoles and PC later this year.
Get your Zelda Fix with A Knight’s Tale
Between the remake of Link’s Awakening and the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild, Zelda fans certainly aren’t starved for content. However, if you want even more Zelda-like action beyond what Nintendo is offering, then A Knight’s Tale looks like it could do the trick.
A Knight’s Tale ticks all the Zelda-like boxes: stylized cartoon graphics, a massive world to explore, puzzle-filled dungeons, and simple action-based combat, to name a few. Powered by Unreal Engine and boasting of more than 30 hours of content, it’s looking like a hefty serving of Triforce-inspired goodness. Unlike most other games on this list, no Apple Arcade subscription will be required to play this adventure when it launches across all consoles (yes, including Switch) and PC this fall.
Spidersaurs: Contra Meets Cartoons
Remember being a kid and waking up every Saturday, eagerly anticipating a morning full of colorful, action-packed cartoons? That’s the feeling that Spidersaurs aims to capture from its very first trailer. It presents a post-apocalyptic world that’s being ravaged by mutant dinosaur-spider hybrid and pairs this with a run-and-gun gameplay style that’s reminiscent of classic Contra games.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Spidersaurs is the pedigree behind it. It’s being developed by WayForward, the creators of all-time indie classics like the Shantae series as well as more recent hits like River City Girls. It’s safe to say that whenever WayForward is involved, a quality product is more than likely to result. It should be well worth a look, especially since it’s available now exclusively on Apple Arcade.
Go on an Emotional Adventure with Mutazione
Mutazione offers a completely different type of cartoon experience than Spidersaurs. This narrative-focused adventure game is a slow, laid-back experience populated by otherworldly characters and presented with a delicate hand-drawn aesthetic.
It tackles the topic of growing up, putting players in the role of 15-year-old Kai as she leaves home to care for her ailing grandfather in a mysterious, forested world. It teases a mixture of relaxing slice-of-life activities – making friends, playing music, going to parties – while also alluding to a broader spiritual journey. Like so many other games on this list, it’s available to play now on Apple Arcade. It’s also available for purchase on PS4 and PC, for those who haven’t dived into Apple’s new service yet.
‘Borderlands 3’ Looks to the Stars While Stuck on the Ground
After a long hiatus, Borderlands returns… pretty much the same as it always was, for better or worse.
Borderlands 3 is one of the most bizarre gaming experiences of this generation, a highly-anticipated, long-awaited sequel clearly feeling the pressure of living in its predecessor’s enormous shadow. Both beholden to its past and searching for its future, Borderlands 3 is a strange amalgamation of abundantly familiar elements and a few new ideas, most of which never truly find harmony with each other during the game’s lengthy campaign.
Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy.
In its attempts to look forward and backward at the same time, Borderlands 3 ends up feeling like a series of half-measures, a collection of systems and story beats that, in the few moments they’re able to take evolutionary steps for the franchise, feel like there’s still room for the now decade-old series to grow. Unfortunately, across the 50+ hours I’ve spent traversing, shooting, and constantly marking items for junk in my inventory, Borderlands 3 hasn’t offered those moments nearly enough, too often falling victim to its old habits, using its legacy as a crutch, rather than a device to propel the franchise into its (admittedly uncertain) future.
It doesn’t help Borderlands 3 front loads some of its worst writing; the opening act of the game is gratingly awful, hammering away at the same few punchlines for its characters as players embark on the series of fetch quests that comprise the game’s opening hours. Beginning some unidentified amount of time after Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 opens on a war-ravaged Pandora enraptured by its inhabitants latest obsession: the Calypso Twins, who have seemingly galvanized the majority of the Crimson Raiders in their quest to… well, we’ll talk more about the Calypso Twins, and their role in the story, a bit later.
Early on, Borderlands 3 is desperately trying to prove to the audience it is still the same ol’ Borderlands, interrupting its genitalia references to break the fourth wall and acknowledges that yes, we’re once again beginning with a series of annoyingly spread-out fetch quests to introduce characters and establish tone. But the delivery of the game’s typical blend of meta humor and pop culture references feels stale on arrival; the lengthy fetch quests just feel like simplistic mission design, and “big dick energy” jokes just don’t hit like they used to in 2019.
(There’s also an entire plot line built around Ice-T as a sentient teddy bear, who calls his in-game wife a bitch constantly, in between dick jokes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.)
Borderlands 3 quickly establishes these abundantly familiar rhythms – and then, surprisingly, doesn’t do much to expand upon them through the rest of the game’s main campaign. Though Gearbox has called this title “the big one” in the past, it doesn’t feel like a major step forward in any sense of the word – and at worst, Borderlands 3 occasionally feels like a regression of what it does best, a slow burn of slight disappointments which add up to a confounding experience.
There’s also Borderlands‘ absolute dismissal of Twitch culture; as the introductory chapters of the game catch players up on the Calypso Twins’ sudden accrual of power, Borderlands 3 has a strangely “old man yells at cloud” feeling to it (to myself borrow an overused meme for a moment), an odd feeling for a game that prides itself on its own (debatable) edginess and camp.
The Calypso Twins are built around the stereotypical cult of personality associated with the biggest streamers of the world – and boy, does Borderlands 3 not spare an ounce of vitriol for the admittedly complicated, often disturbingly regressive world of streamer culture (though they do have a weapon that is a direct Dr. Disrespect reference, and also feature some of the most elaborate Twitch integrations of any modern game). But Borderlands 3 admonishes creator and follower alike with an empty dismissal of the “influencer” – in a rather bleak application of its signature nihilism, it buries any kind of interesting exploration of the Twins- as either characters or societal critique – under a thick layer of cynicism.
It never really even contemplates their place as unifers in a galaxy full of corporations addicted to war profits, under a thin, cynical veneer of disregard for their place in any culture, Pandorian or human – its critique of streamer culture ultimately just feels empty. At times, it even feels hypocritical; unsurprisingly, Borderlands 3’s consistently been one of the most-watched games on Twitch since before its public release last week (plus again; there are multiple streamer-related references sprinkled through the game). It’s contradictory at best – and when considering how thin the public personas of Troy and Tyreen are actually defined outside of “shitty streamer people and their shitty followers”, it just feels weird.
Like the story, the shooting and looting of the game is immediately familiar, though it is a much more welcoming feeling: the single biggest improvement to Borderlands 3 is the shooting, which feels tighter and heavier than it has the previous three entries in the series. If there’s a truly transcendent evolution of the game’s formula, it’s found here: the shooting is simply magnificent from the word go, especially with the new traversal elements of mantling and power sliding, movement options that do wonders to bring life to the game’s many, many, many, many engagements with massive groups of enemies, hidden baddies, and massive (-ly lengthy, though mostly well-varied) boss encounters.
The class selection is also fantastic; there’s a distinct rejection of Borderlands 2‘s semi-linear class system, with each of the game’s four characters featuring multiple unique skill trees players can utilize to create an impressive diversity of builds with. There are hints of old characters in Fl4K, Zane, Amara, and Moze, but those elements are welcomely remixed and expanded upon, in creative ways I just wish the rest of Borderlands 3 would take a hint from; I’ve never had so much fun switching between characters in a previous game, experimenting with the intersections of their diverse ability sets, and seeing how the game’s Legendary and Anointed equipment rarities can further those builds is easily the most satisfying part of the game (though admittedly, all four classes take until about level 30 before they truly unlock their mechanical potential).
It is worth noting the game’s technical performance is as inconsistent as its narrative; for a game that’s been in development for so long, Borderlands 3 feels particularly unpolished for a finished product – hell, between writing and editing this review, I lost a collection of 50 legendary items out of my storage bank because of a widespread bug, kind of an unforgivable mistake for an entire game built around loot hunting.
Outside of the major performance issues widely-reported since the game’s release – including the virtually unplayable “Resolution mode” on Playstation 4 Pro – Borderlands 3 is ripe with the glitches of the past: broken mission objectives, inconsistent AI companion pathing – and, as an added bonus, the expected bevy of Unreal Engine quirks (like falling through the map multiple times). Though it seems like a small complaint, waiting 5-7 seconds for your in-game menu to load in every few minutes in a 2019 video game quickly becomes frustrating, one of many examples of Borderlands 3‘s many rough edges.
(Playing as Moze in multiplayer was a particular low light: from the gravitational physics of my character completely breaking, to glitches that rendered my player utterly unmovable, Borderlands 3‘s co-op modes are frustratingly janky, to the point split-screen co-op is almost unplayable in its current state.)
But the most frustrating part of Borderlands 3 is (outside of the character classes, of course) how risk-averse the entire affair is; in terms of mechanics and systems, it is mostly an integration of Borderlands 2 and the new elements of The Pre-Sequel, with a couple of light improvements around the edges. For example, there are now gear scores attached to every item a player picks up; there’s still no way to effectively manage an inventory, or even a consistency to how the scores are formulated, but hey, at least there’s kind of a way to compare gear (which one will do constantly, since inventory management is a still a hot mess).
For every tiny improvement, there’s a concession attached to it; a great example is the game’s map and mission tracking systems. While the map now shows the topography of each area, a useless mini-map and a thoroughly aggravating menu UI make juggling multiple missions an absolute chore (even though one can switch missions on the fly with a touch of the button, there’s no way to see multiple objectives on the map, or even switch between them while in the map menu).
This persists across the entire Borderlands 3 experience: and as the tale of the Calypso Twins and the Great Vault lurches through its interminably lengthy second and third acts, it begins to wear on the experience. For better or worse, Borderlands 3 further entrenches itself in the habits and rhythms of Borderlands 2 – which, after seven years, begins to feel stale in areas, frustratingly reluctant to change, or even reflect on its well-established sensibilities (or on itself; there are literal jokes made about CEO Randy Pitchford’s many controversies, which are… uncomfortable at best). And while the game certainly demonstrates the effectiveness of carefully refining its (rightfully celebrated) mechanics, its absolute reluctance to take creative risks begs the question of why it took so long to bring this game together (or, at the very least, begs the question of whether Gearbox really wanted to do a Borderlands 3 at all, and only green lit the project after the overwhelming failure of Battleborn).
As the game moves through its middle chapters, it just feels lacking in a way Borderlands 2 never did, even with its predecessors own inconsistent humor and pacing. Though ostensibly a journey spread across the galaxy, featuring a massive cast of familiar and new characters, so much of Borderlands 3 feels small and isolated. Every area of the game is broken up into tiny segments, covering small areas of these seemingly massive planets – an experience itself constantly broken up by lengthy loading screens and regular back tracking, which doesn’t exactly vibe with the game’s epic, world-hopping scope.
The absence of the player-characters in the central narrative is another head-scratching omission; despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, the four main personalities of Borderlands 3 feel underdeveloped – a problem that persists considering how little they’re seen during the most important moments of the game. They’re explicitly excluded from so many of the game’s cinematic moments, they almost feel absent from the game’s actual story (despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, an experiment that pays off to mixed results).
I think about the ending of Borderlands 2, and how much potential it held for the future of the series: the promise of exploring entire planets with friends, finding Vaults and hidden pop culture references was almost breath-taking in its ambition. With its series of linearly-designed, stunted “zones” and limited planet selection at launch, Borderlands 3 never really harnesses the long-gestating potential for growth; and as the story begins building towards its climactic moments, it only further highlights the creative dissonance that plagues so many aspects of the game.
The clearest distillation of Borderlands 3‘s identity crisis is found in the game’s story, which struggles to justify itself as something more than just “another” Borderlands game. It is torn between its desires to attempt something new (at least, at times), and the emotional attachment it knows the audience has with the characters, rhythms, and memorable moments from the first three games of the series. It leads to a story that often follows a template: travel to new area, meet familiar old character for a mission, fight through a series of gently-guiding corridors while constantly staring at the map, rinse, and repeat for thirty-five hours.
Save for the occasional interlude and amusing side story – though that often finds itself stuck in its own loop, with a collection of ancillary characters who either wants to remind you how funny poop is, or how much people in this world enjoy murder and death – to the point its cynical nihilism is no longer humorous, and eventually becomes exhausting.
Sure, there are a couple new characters introduced, but they’re left to the fringes of the main narrative, which is, for all intents and purposes, a retread of Borderlands 2‘s major beats. Yes, it occasionally attempts to subvert expectations, but mostly by presenting a mirrored version of the series’ previous events – where Borderlands 2 was about an evil father manipulating their disgruntled child and the Vault Hunters, Borderlands 3 is basically about mad children manipulating their father and the Vault Hunters – but it is satisfied to simply just be that story, and not much more (and at times, even becomes wholly illogical… remember The Watcher and their foreboding warnings? Neither does Borderlands 3, apparently).
There is one particularly strong section of story, however, and it comes in an unexpected place: after serving the role of enigmatic mission giver (and named member of the Borderlands 2‘s lamest DLC), Sir Hammerlock’s arc in the middle section of Borderlands 3, while disappointingly divorced from the central events of the game, is emotionally propulsive in ways none of the other story is, a moment where Borderlands 3‘s themes find their voice for a too-brief amount of time.
Part love story, and part exploration of the intersections of family and legacy, Borderlands 3‘s tale of Hammerlock and the Jakobs family is so satisfying,the one time Borderlands 3 stops screaming at the player in its desperation to be funny or surprising. For a few hours,the overwhelming nihilism of Borderlands‘ eternally cynical world view melts away, and the series truly offers something akin to hope and possibility in its world. It represents the beautiful essence of Borderlands expansive set of characters, companies, and legacies, and is the rare moment where Borderlands 3 finds harmonic brilliance between its shooting, looting, joking, and genuine attempts at emotional beats.
But like most of the other familiar faces in Borderlands 3, Hammerlock’s story is contained to his few chapters on his home planet; for a game that ultimately turns on a story of family and shared purpose, there’s so much of Borderlands 3 that just feels like it is missing the mark, or ignoring it altogether. Outside of Lilith and Claptrap (and for a brief time before her quickly-forgotten disposal, Maya) none of the game’s previously playable characters factor into the narrative in any way – hell, most of them, like Axton, Gaige, Salvatore and Krieg, don’t appear or are barely mentioned at all, which kind of takes away from the game’s attempts to be an all-encompassing adventure through the history (and theoretical future) of its surrogate family of bandits, adventurers, scientists, and adventure seekers.
Instead, there’s a lot of focus put on a handful of underwhelming new characters (including Ava, the game’s single biggest missed opportunity relegated to Whiny Teen tropes), only occasionally interjecting those sequences with familiar faces: multiple major characters of the series have precisely one mission dedicated to them through the story, which again feels like Borderlands 3 lacking confidence in its own identity, unable to commit to forging new paths, and instead peppering serotonin-laced doses of nostalgia across the story as a half-measure to cover up that Borderlands 3 really has nothing new to say about its world, its people, or the story it’s been telling now for a decade.
Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy. That doesn’t make it an abject failure, of course: it’s still a game I’m going to play for hundreds of hours with my friends, thanks to the sheer diversity of gun play and character builds (it is a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, after all) – but there’s a distinct feeling Borderlands 3 could’ve been so much more than… well, just more of the same Borderlands. Seven years after its last mainline entry (and five after its forgettable, under cooked “pre-sequel”), just being Borderlands one more time makes it feel like a series stuck in the past, retreating to safe waters by simply remixing the old game… with a strangely newfound (and ultimately, superficial) hatred of streamer culture layered on top to feel relevant in 2019.
That allegiance to the past ultimately comes at a cost; it makes the few moments Borderlands 3 tries to evolve stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game, complete 180’s in emotional tenor that are never met by equal risks taken in gameplay design, or the construction of the main narrative. When the dick jokes and meme references subside, there is an emotionally satisfying core deep inside Borderlands 3, one that highlights the spaces in between the game’s consistently enjoyable shooting and looting gameplay loop (there’s a particular photo I discovered in the game’s later moments that literally brought me to tears, a quietly poignant and beautiful moment this game desperately needs more of).
But that version of Borderlands 3 only comes out in fits and starts, often hindered by the series’ allegiance to its old identity, one that time, and most of the gaming industry, has passed by (at least, during the main story; I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the post-credits/endgame experience). There is a great version of Borderlands 3 somewhere, a more driven action-RPG with a tighter campaign experience, a more ambitious, fully-formed story, and a true expansion of its celebrated mechanics to marry to the game’s wonderfully diverse class set and enhanced movement options. It’s just not this inflated, safe iteration of the series, one that drowns its few iterative innovations in a sea of repetitive familiarity.
Could Apple Arcade Be the Best Gaming Subscription Service Yet?
Gaming has its fair share of subscription services, but with its flexibility and clarity, Apple Arcade could be among the very best.
Gaming has moved beyond consoles and physical storefronts. The past few years have seen the birth of ambitious new projects like Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia, which aim to change the way you play your games. Apple has now entered the fray with a subscription service of its own, Apple Arcade. This might look like little more than yet another effort from a major company to capitalize on major trends, but in reality, this new project has the potential to be the best gaming subscription platform yet.
So…what is it?
Apple Arcade is a basic concept: for $5.00 per month, you gain access to an expanding library of games that can be played across all Apple devices, including Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad.
Compared to other subscription platforms out there, Apple Arcade is refreshingly simple. Unlike Xbox Game Pass, you don’t need to spend extra money to play your games on additional platforms; for that one monthly price, every game can be played across every one of your Apple devices. And unlike Google Stadia, a solid internet connection isn’t required to play your games. Every title on the Arcade can be natively downloaded onto the device of your choice and played regardless of the strength of your WiFi.
The mention of iPhone and iPad may have already set some readers on edge – after all, the gaming community can’t agree on much, but it has generally determined that mobile games aren’t always the best. They rarely provide the same caliber of experiences as console or PC games, so why would anyone want to spend a monthly fee to play a bunch of mediocre mobile games?
However, Apple Arcade is intensely curated to provide a high quantity of stylish, memorable games from some of the most respected creators in the field. For instance, famed indie publishers like Devolver Digital and Annapurna Interactive are fully on board, with multiple exclusive games planned to launch with the service. That’s not to mention the sheer number of highly anticipated indie games like Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens that will be included in the Arcade. Appple’s website promises that more than 100 different games will be available to play over the course of the launch period this fall, so if the game library can keep up this quality, then it could be promising indeed.
What makes Apple Arcade so special, anyway?
It seems like every company and their mother has a storefront nowadays. Ubisoft, Blizzard, Epic, and even Rockstar have all debuted platforms of their own, while Google Stadia is trying to remove traditional platforms entirely. In such a crowded environment, how can Apple Arcade possibly stand out? Simply put, Apple Arcade is already set to be the most flexible and easy-to-understand gaming subscription platform yet.
Every one of the many subscription platforms out there touts its “flexibility” in allowing you to choose what games to play and where to play them. Apple Arcade does the same thing but with one major difference: less limitations. As mentioned earlier, each game can be downloaded directly onto your device, and with save data being stored in the cloud, progress can be carried on between every one of your Apple products. Meanwhile, platforms like Google Stadia effectively shut down without constant WiFi access.
In terms of price, Apple Arcade continues to stand out. For $5.00 a month, you can play over a hundred unique titles. Compare this with the $15.00/mo price of Xbox Game Pass or the $10.00 subscription price of Google Stadia Premium, and Apple Arcade easily comes out on top (that’s not to mention that you still have to pay for Stadia games individually on top of the monthly fee). For reference, a year of access to the more than 100 games in Apple Arcade costs the same as the retail price of a single triple-A retail title. You won’t need to invest in a new controller either, since PlayStation and Xbox gamepads are fully supported.
Even when it comes to the games included, Apple Arcade should stand out from the crowd. Stadia may already have some massive third party blockbusters like Cyberpunk 2077 and DOOM Eternal, but they don’t offer much incentive to be played on Google’s streaming service instead of traditional consoles or PCs. On the other hand, Apple Arcade’s low price point and more practical flexibility offer a compelling reason to play games on Apple’s service instead of purchasing them individually on other platforms. That’s not to mention the handful of exclusives available at launch or coming soon after, from famous minds like SimCity creator Will Wright and the father of Final Fantasy himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi.
The world of gaming certainly has more than its fair share of subscription services. Yet Apple Arcade stands out for its clarity, its accessibility, and its remarkable library. With these factors combined, it could become the very best gaming subscription on the market.
Sirfetch’d is the Leek ‘Pokémon Sword’ Needed
Fortunately, Pokémon Sword specifically, has given more reason than just filling the pokédex for future Galar trainers to go seek out this elusive duck. Meet Sirfetch’d!
Ever since we were chasing pokémon around the tall grass of Johto, it was obvious that among the Kanto pokémon given evolutions, Farfetch’d was the one that had been forgotten. A pokémon with more dishes than moves, Farfetch’d had the usability of a fork scooping water, becoming a time-dwindling nuisance due to its rarity. Fortunately, Pokémon Sword specifically has given more reason than just filling the pokédex for future Galar trainers to go seek out this elusive duck. Meet Sirfetch’d!
Sirfetch’d is easily one of the best-designed pokémon for Pokémon Sword and Shield that has already been announced. With a sword and a shield made from its previous garnishing, and a prideful stance that oozes confidence, Sirfetch’d genuinely looks like the next stage of evolution from the woefully inept Farfetch’d. What we don’t yet know is its stats and, as a consequence, what tier it will be in competitive gameplay. But what we do know is it will be a fighting type with the ability steadfast, much like the fellow knight Gallade. Its signature move, Meteor Assault, will be debuting in Pokémon Sword and Shield, which inflicts heavy damage that forces the user to recharge the next turn.
The announcement of Sirfetch’d only creates curiosity as to who its opposing pokémon will be in Pokémon Shield. It’s doubtful that there will be another evolution for Farfetch’d, as Sirfetch’d is shown already in command of a shield, so the play on sword and shield will not feature in a twin evolution. The likelihood is another pokémon that has been neglected for so long, and in dire need of a renaissance in the franchise; something like Dunsparce from generation two would be ideal, considering that, like Farfetch’d, it manages to be both rare and pointless.
What has made the addition of Sirfetch’d and some of the other Galar region pokémon so appealing is their alignment with the inspiration and theme behind Pokémon Sword and Shield. Sirfetch’d breathes the nature that the games are trying to convey, but so does Corviknight in its chivalrous demeanor. Crucially for Corviknight, it’s another hint at a Victorian England inspiration behind Pokémon Sword and Shield; the raven in the Tower of London is as iconic as the factory chimneys that tower above Galarian form Weezing. Even the possessed teapot is taking a less casual approach to the stereotype.
But honestly, it’s quite charming to see so much inspiration derive from a region of the world. Kalos was inspired by France, but the only pokémon that conveyed a French stereotype was Furfrou, which feels like a missed opportunity in hindsight. If Pokémon is to continue using regions of the world as the inspiration behind their generational games then, from what we’ve seen so far, Pokémon Sword and Shield could be ideal templates.
That’s not to say there haven’t been any poor designs. The two legendaries, Zacien and Zamazenta, are the rather generic canid legendary pokémon. Rolycoly looks like the love-child of Beldum and Minior, while Impidimp looks like it fell off the pages of a lost Atom Ant storyboard from the sixties. However, if there weren’t contemptuous new pokémon in Pokémon Sword and Shield, then the games would exist without reliable antagonists; getting through Pokémon Moon without the humorous Bananarama Dugtrio would have been an emptier experience. That is why it is easy to accept an Impidimp as long as there is a Sirfetch’d.
This is partly why it is easier to look forward to Pokémon Sword and Shield than it was to Pokémon Sun and Moon. There was a slight drop in pokémon design quality from X and Y to Sun and Moon, while so far, the designs in Sword and Shield have improved from Sun and Moon. The announcement of Sirfetch’d only confirms that designs have at least been slightly improved and we can await with great anticipation for what pokémon the opposing exclusive will be in Pokémon Shield.
Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.
Epic ‘Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’ Concept Art Shows Off Some Scrapped Ideas
What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’
Indie Games Spotlight: Apple Arcade (Almost) All the Way
American Horror Story: 1984: “Camp Redwood” Puts the ‘Camp’ in Summer Camp
‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Suffers From Action Anemia
‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’
TIFF 2019: Best of the Fest
‘Veronica Mars’ Explores Our Dark Obsession with True Crime
Fantastic Fest: Top 5 Most Anticipated Films
‘Borderlands 3’ Looks to the Stars While Stuck on the Ground
The Top 50 SNES Games
What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’
Rinoa Heartilly Cheerfully Subverts Gender Roles in ‘Final Fantasy VIII’
‘Final Fantasy VIII’s Ultimecia is Every Bit as Epic as Her Name Suggests
‘Final Fantasy VIII’: Squall Leonhart and the Art of Growth
‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’
‘Cyberpunk 2077’: Required Reading
‘River City Girls’ Review: Brawling with the Best
Years Later And There’s Still Nothing Quite Like ‘Bakemonogatari’
The Righteous Gemstones Season One Episode 4 Review: “Wicked Lips” Finishes On a High Note
TIFF 2019: ‘The Vast of Night’ Is a Thrilling Homage to ‘50s Sci-Fi
TIFF 2019: ‘Color Out of Space’ Faithfully Adapts a Cosmic Lovecraft Nightmare
TIFF 2019: ‘Knuckle City’ Refuses to Hold Back Punches
TIFF 2019: ‘Nobadi’ Turns the Oddball Couple Genre on Its Head
TIFF 2019: ‘Sound of Metal’ Offers a Unique Sensory Experience
TIFF 2019: ‘Jallikattu’ Intensely Strips Itself to a Primal State
TIFF 2019: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Paints a Masterpiece
TIFF 2019: ‘Sea Fever’ Adapts Within Familiar Waters
TIFF 2019: ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ Weaves a Tale of Empty Whimsy
TIFF 2019: Bertrand Bonello Slows His Pace in ‘Zombi Child’
- Games1 hour ago
What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’
- Anime1 day ago
‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’
- TV4 days ago
The Righteous Gemstones Season One Episode 5 Review: “Interlude” Is an Early Series Highlight
- Games3 days ago
Could Apple Arcade Be the Best Gaming Subscription Service Yet?
- TIFF6 days ago
TIFF 2019: Terrence Malick Puts Faith Front and Center in ‘A Hidden Life’
- Anime5 days ago
Anime Ichiban 18: Wanna Be KFC’s #1 Fan
- TIFF5 days ago
TIFF 2019: ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ Examines a Criminal’s Upbringing
- TIFF5 days ago
TIFF 2019: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Pleads for Love and Laughter Amidst Hatred