The Link-Up Spell: Let’s play the most underrated N64 games
Greetings, traveler! Pass over here and check out our choices for the most underrated Nintendo 64 games.
So far, I have covered my first years with the Nintendo 64 in this mini-series. After we finish it today, I just want to thank the warm reception of this nostalgia filled story!
I have a nice surprise for those people who came over here and read this entire journey. For this glorious ending, I want to share with you some unexpected choices from the small library of the great N64, the so-called “hidden gems” of the system that will impress you (or will make you tremble when you find the over-priced cartridges on eBay, of all sorts).
Today, we are not ranking the best, or the worst, we are recovering these old cartridges from obscurity. Grab your lantern and prepare your magic spells, because we are diving into the late 90s now!
We, previously, had a nice debate about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time being the best adventure ever. So it is the right choice to begin with this particular style in this quest for the most underrated games of the Nintendo 64!
This, racing and the platformer subgenre were the winning areas of the system, so it is quite difficult to point a nice title to display it as a “hidden gem”. But, my main pick this time would be Body Harvest.
This game was created by DMA Design, with people who later developed Grand Theft Auto III. What we have here is a huge overworld in which you can explore at your own pace. The story deals with an alien invasion, and your duty is to defeat as many as you can, while solving puzzles and driving all kind of vehicles. Think of it as a prehistoric GTA.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon: A game full of Japanese comedy and weirdness. It has a good gameplay and nice music, also!
Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness: Konami strikes back! I remember it got a bad reputation during those days, but I always recommend it. Besides some clunky platforming, the game offers four characters and a good dose of adventuring through Gothic atmosphere. This is the only Castlevania game in which you can become a vampire!
Think of Nintendo 64 and one of the first titles you will remember is Mario Kart, of course. Diddy Kong Racing was its close competitor, and a really good one, but Mario was the king, of course. There are some racing subgenres, so I will try to tackle each one:
My choice here is Ridge Racer 64. By the time, Gran Turismo, for the PlayStation, set the bar too high for the “realistic” cars simulators. Namco took the challenge and, while it did not have any real vehicle, Ridge Racer 64 had charm and a nice maneuvering to conquer the speed fans.
Excitebike 64: Holy hell, this game was great. It took the old Excitebike premise and made a great 3D environment of it.
San Francisco Rush 2049: At first sight, people thought this arcade racer had few tracks, but the design inside them was great enough to sport plenty of shortcuts. Some could only be reached with wings attached to the cars, which also led to some fun moments.
I told you, Mario and Diddy Kong dominated, but there is another Rareware hidden gem around there. Mickey’s Speedway USA is that title, and it is one that produced me many smiles. The premise is simple and the controls are responsive enough for kids and adults. It even have a nice hard mode for those who needs an old-school challenge!
Micro Machines 64 Turbo: It is the old Micro Machines style, with the N64 controller. Nice.
Snowboard Kids: Go down the hill with these kids and use rockets to obliterate the snowboarding scum.
There is only one safe choice here: F-Zero X, and it was one that flew over many people’s radars (The other has to be Star Wars Episode I: Racer). But, if you want something more obscure than Black Bull’s vehicle, your bet must be Extreme-G. This Acclaim title was the first game to reach more than 30 fps on the system, all while dealing with an interactive lights engine. The techno music was immersive, but the tight controls are one of the best of this niche.
Wipeout 64: For some, it was the true rival of F-Zero X and Star Wars Episode I: Racer on the N64.
Hydro Thunder: Water vehicles going in high speed. Water vehicles going in high speed. It is an arcade port, and a good one.
Rare dominated this genre and set a revolution with GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, but there are some other nice titles of this style, like the three Turok games and the Quake ports.
If you want more trigger action for the Nintendo 64, you have to put 007: The World is not Enough into your basket. See, this was the first James Bond title after Rare lost its license, and nobody was sure about the second title. Then, Eurocom came with an unknown team and made a really nice title that used the GoldenEye template with some new tricks; thanks to the Expansion Pak add. This one is even better than the PSX one!
Doom 64: A nice title that put more darkness into the Doom formula.
Forsaken 64: This one is a really rare cart, but it is a nice FPS!
After Super Mario 64 became the way platformers should be, every big publisher with a very visible mascot wanted to be on board of the collect-a-thon mania. On this way, we received very bad games, like Earthworm Jim 64. So, my platformer of choice is one that stuck to the retro formula and became a synonym of “hidden gem” in the N64: Mischief Makers.
The game was developed by Treasure and was created with a strict 2D mind, burying this cart into oblivion thanks to all buyers jumping into the 3D realms. The player controls a robot character that has to shake the enemies to defeat them. This opens the gameplay to puzzle solving and some really challenging boss fights.
Rayman 2: The Great Escape: This is a really nice platformer that was somewhat ignored at first. Smooth gameplay and impressive graphics. Be sure to have your Expansion Pak prepared.
Chameleon Twist: This one reminds me of Klonoa, it is part platformer, part puzzle, in which you control a chameleon to attack with its large squishy tongue!
Thanks to its 4-player system, the Nintendo 64 had a healthy amount of nice puzzle games. Dr. Mario and Tetris Attack saw the return with this feature, and they are both recommended games!
On the other side, one of the most underrated puzzles from the N64 was Magical Tetris Challenge. Many gamers ignored this one for its Disney characters, but if you pass out the glossy exterior you will find a hard version of Tetris with an agile gameplay, including some bonus modes.
If you cannot stomach the graphics of this one, your bet should be The New Tetris, another one that is enhanced by the 4-player mode!
Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness: Old-school Ms. Pac-Man with 3D areas.
Wetrix: If you cast aside the clunky controls, this one had some innovative gameplay and sports a nice challenge. In this game, you control some terrains in which you pour some water in order to clear the puzzles.
This system was not well-known for its RPG selection, but there are a few titles worth to mention. If you discard the two Zelda titles for being more action-adventure, your safest choice should be Paper Mario, but Mario itself is not a “hidden gem” so I will pass it out. Quest 64 and Aidyn: The First Chronicle are ignored too for its low quality.
Some said Shadowgate 64 and Hybrid Heaven are the real deal, but since I did not play those ones, my choice would go to Harvest Moon 64. This farm simulator send many hours of mine straight to the void. At first, the cute character design was a reason for me to stay away from it, but when I gave to it some hours of play I became hooked to it. In this title, you have to take care of a farm in order to survive the ruthless real face of the toughest enemy ever: real life. While the gameplay could be perceived as dull, the devs put enough events in each month to get the player busy along the daily chores.
None other pick, really. Unless you want to torture yourself with Quest 64 and Aidyn: The First Chronicle.
This was the weirdest aspect of the N64 library: There are a few good strategy games! It has StarCraft 64, Command & Conquer and Worms Armageddon, and all of them really works on the system.
Leaving those big names aside for a while, you have to play Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. Made by Quest during the SNES era, the Ogre Battle franchise had some really deep games, but the N64 was a technological marvel. Each decision you made counts in order to unlock the events, characters and endings, since every choice has an impact on your reputation as a tactical leader. Isometric graphics had a nice charm, while the story was intriguing enough to follow the complex gameplay.
StarCraft 64: Blizzard included some bonus missions and a co-op feature to this classic.
Sim City 64: The famous city building sim is back, in N64 glory.
During the early years of the N64, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct were the best fighting games on the system. Later, Super Smash Bros. changed the gaming formula with the full-action packed 4-player mode.
However, there are some other decent fighting games, too. Like Fighter Destiny 2. Developed by Ocean, this was more like a wrestling game than a traditional one-on-one fighter. The idea behind the gameplay was not only depleting the health bar of your opponent, but also fighting with style and variety. It had some nice modes, including a weird board game in which you could unlock the secret characters.
Tom & Jerry: Fist of Furry: This game was a surprise. While very limited with the characters and areas, it was a nice party fighter.
Mace: The Dark Age: I did not liked it at all, but some people claim this is like a slow Soul Calibur, mixed with Mortal Kombat 4.
Loved by many, hated by some, sports titles can be really difficult to tackle some times, but still have paid a great effort to popularize the video games.
The N64 saw the beginning of the “crazy sports” subgenre, piloted by Mario itself with Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, two impressive Camelot titles. Real sports were also famous, with the traditional leagues of each discipline, like FIFA and NBA.
If you want more about the traditional sports, my recommendation is Nagano Winter Olympics. This is still the best video game about winter sports, hands down, with so many different sports and responsive controls, including a nice multiplayer mode.
NBA Hang Time: This is my favorite basketball game. Midway fused the arcade with the NBA license and the result was a nice multiplayer combo ready to light those hoops to flame.
Long were the golden ages of the shooters, so the N64 had a handful good titles, in which Star Fox 64 was, without a doubt, the king of the hill, along Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.
The recommended choice is one that was unreleased on the West during those days, but it is now available on the Wii Virtual Console: Sin and Punishment: Successor to the Earth.
This Japanese title was stellar. It has different stages and a huge amount of boss fights. Level design is very good and varied, same with the sound and music. Story is a messy drama, but the gameplay pays everything with it.
Well, my friends. This Nintendo 64 underrated games list marks the end of this mini retrospective. It was such a nice system, isn’t it? I really hope you enjoyed this mini-series. Like in every column, I will pass over here to see all your comments and opinions. And, if you want another retro-gaming edition, just pass me up a message and I will happily write about it!
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.