Happy birthday, Nintendo 64!
Nintendo’s third home console released in Japan on June 23, 1996. It was a pioneer in 3D gaming and had some of the greatest titles ever released for it. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, GamesBeat reporter Jeff Grubb and community manager Mike Minotti each highlight three of their favorite games released on the system.
Mike Minotti, community manager
Super Mario 64
I know it’s the obvious choice, but how can you not include it? Super Mario 64 is the greatest console launch game ever. It not only showed off how cool 3D gaming could be on the Nintendo 64, but it also showed how to make it happen. I could start game up today and have a blast collecting stars. 20 years later, and it still feels responsive and exciting. It’s one of the best and most important games ever.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I’m continuing on the Captain Obvious train. A lot of people are sick of hearing about Ocarina of Time, but it was such a big deal for a reason. Few games felt as large or epic back in 1998. Riding Link across the open Hyrule field, continuing on a quest to save Hyrule, or searching for hidden goodies, felt more like an actual adventure than any other game at that time. It’s one of the most iconic games any company has ever released. It was so good, that Nintendo made four more games just like it.
Super Smash Bros.
I like all of sequels more than the original Super Smash Bros., but this was still the ultimate multiplayer game for consoles when it came out in 1999. Today, we take the whole “Nintendo crossover” thing for granted, but it was truly bizarre to see Pikachu beating up Mario, Link, and Samus. It was also the first fighting game I played that let four players battle at once, which meant large group of friends didn’t have sit around and take turns if they wanted to join in on the fun.
Jeffrey Grubb, GamesBeat reporter
Wave Race 64
While I agree with Mike that Super Mario 64 was the best reason to own a Nintendo 64 in those early months of its 1996 launch, Wave Race 64 was a quick follow-up that gave players a reason to return to the 64-bit machine.
It put you in the role of a competitive jet skier, which might sound strange for a first-party Nintendo game (especially after the era of a million Mario sports titles). But the publisher used this water-based activity to show off the importance of physics-based gameplay in 3D worlds. Yes, it was beautiful, and it was amazing how the courses morphed throughout each race, but this game is truly memorable for showing players how incredible it can feel to skip a watercraft across a series of waves.
In 1997, Rare — then a fully owned subsidiary of Nintendo — released the game adaptation of the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye. That set off years of console, split-screen first-person multiplayer action for a generation of gamers. Today, GoldenEye doesn’t hold up. Hell, if you were playing in 1996, it felt old even when it debuted. But no one can take away the dozen or so all-nighters me and my friends spent killing each other with proximity mines and the PP7 pistol. That’s gaming to me, and the Nintendo 64 — and its four built-in controller ports — made that possible.
After Wave Race 64, the team responsible moved on to a snowboarding project. The result was the spectacular 1080 Snowboarding, which is — to me — still the best snowboarding game ever made. Nintendo took its expertise with physics and — like it did with waves — nailed the sensation of carving a board into snow and ice. I’ll never forget the way it feels to guide by snowboarder down a mountain in 1080.
But beyond its physics, 1080’s complex trick system is also special. Unlike later entries into the winter-sports genre, like SSX, Nintendo wasn’t afraid to make it difficult to pull off stunts. For example, I spent hours trying to nail the stick-rotation motions and button presses to land its namesake 1080 spin. I eventually got to a point where I could pull it off regularly, and pushing through that wall of difficulty was rewarding. And it’s something I still brag about.
This story originally published during the Nintendo 64’s 20th anniversary of its Japanese launch. September 26, 1996 was when it came out in the U.S., so we’re highlighting this piece to help celebrate.