The Top 20 Games of 1996-2000

What were the best games from the N64 and Game Boy Color?

By Nintendojo Staff. Posted 05/02/2012 13:00 8 Comments     ShareThis

15. Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64) (2000)

After the success of its Mario Golf duo, Camelot took the plumber and his friends to the courts for 2000’s Mario Tennis. While the GBC title is generally regarded as the better of the two versions (only absent from this list because it was released in 2001), the N64 game is still a fantastic experience in its own right. Like Mario Golf before it, Mario Tennis took a loose approach to its eponymous sport, eschewing the complexity of a typical tennis game for a simpler (and more gratifying) control scheme. This made it much more accessible to newcomers of the genre, but there was still enough depth beneath its casual-friendly surface to keep hardcore fans satisfied with its tennis offerings. And let’s not forget the game’s most important contribution to the Mario series: it introduced the world to Luigi’s freakish doppelganger, Waluigi. That’s reason enough for its place on this list.

Why Dustin Grissom loves Mario Tennis

There are plenty of reasons to praise Mario Tennis for Nintendo 64, such as the awesome local multiplayer and, of course, the solid gameplay. But then there is the one thing to despise this game over, and that one thing, you guessed it, is Waluigi. The fact that a game can be so good whilst introducing the dumbest character in gaming history definitely says something about how awesome this game really is. Seriously, if you haven’t tried a Mario Tennis game before, you ought to, because they rank up there with some of the best Mario spinoffs ever created.

14. Mario Kart 64 (1997)

It may be slower than F-Zero X and zanier than Wave Race 64, but Mario Kart 64 definitely turns out to be the star in the Land Where Racers Rule. It’s the game that introduced the Spiny Shell, for goodness’ sake, and the one that introduced mini-turbos while drifting. It did away with coins (temporarily– hello Mario Kart 7) and added in notorious shortcuts way cooler than the Wuhu glitch. Yessirree, we’ve got to say that Mario Kart 64 has done more for Mario Kart– and for all racers after it– than we can possibly mention here. And so naturally, playing the game was a joy. As you sped through locales like Moo Moo Farm and Rainbow Road, so did the music soar– as well as the Red Shells. And while things may have been difficult in 150cc, the mirrored Extra Mode made all the hard work that you’d spent until then completely useless, as you repeatedly turned the wrong direction in Bowser’s Castle. But that’s okay, because you’d practice in Extra, expecting all your friends to practice in 150cc, and then beat their butts when they came over to play. Suffice it to say that Mario Kart 64 never take itself too seriously, never longs to be one of the greats– and yet becomes one anyway. Thanks for that. Yaaaaa-hoo!

Why Dustin Grissom loves Mario Kart 64

If you had an N64, four controllers, and Mario Kart 64, you had a party. When I had a few friends over back in my youngster days, we would all instantly run for the N64 and fight over our favorite controllers. I’d always claim the three-pronged, translucent, orange controller, initiating a brawl over my two other, official Nintendo brand controllers; leaving one unlucky sucker with the monstrous Mad Cats atrocity. It was just one benefit of being the guy that owns the system and the cartridge that contained the game of our childhood. After blowing into the cartridge and shoving it inside the N64, good times, with only a miniscule amount of trash talk and blue-shell-induced rage quitting, always ensued.

13. Star Fox 64 (1997)

Before we start, we’d just like to point out that, no, we won’t tell you to do anything involving tapping shoulder buttons twice, because you’ve seen that too often, and we absolutely refuse to say the words. In fact, we had dinner with Mr. Hare the night before last, and he seemed absolutely cheesed by the fact that that particular line is all people associate with him these days. It’s the “whatcha talkin’ bout, Willis?” of the video game generation. (Though that one with the bases and belongings gives it a run for its money.) Let’s be clear though: there’s no way that line would have become so popular without Star Fox 64 being utterly beautiful as a game. Flying through loops and pummeling gigantic bosses in open arenas (thanks, all-range mode) has never been quite so easy to control or majestic to play, and certainly using You Know What– repeatedly, of course, in different directions– is something players never tire of. Star Fox 64 is simple to describe: it’s a fun game with fun things to do with fun reasons to do them. Top it all off with a healthy dose of four-player dogfighting and you’ve got yourself a classic. For more reasons than one.

Why Katharine Byrne loves Star Fox 64

I’d never been lucky enough to play the original Star Fox on SNES, but Lylat Wars (as it was known in Europe) was one of my favourite N64 games. Despite the fact you could complete it in an afternoon, there were so many different routes on your flight to Venom, and so many secrets to unlock, that you almost never played the same game twice. Slippy was still a pain in the backside, no matter how many times I tried to save him, but back in the days of no GameFAQs and in-game secrets only being discovered through friends and tips on the back pages of a magazine, you almost felt like part of an elite club when you finally pulled off a complete red route run.

I still remember the first time I earned a medal too. It was on Meteo, that glorious asteroid field after Corneria, and I suddenly realised just how far the rabbit-hole went with this game (quite literally too, when I flew through all those psychedelic rings!). As if the enjoyment of blasting and shooting things wasn’t enough, now I could get automatic bragging rights over my three brothers too, and it just gave me even more incentive to play the game over and over again. If there was ever one game that truly cracked the secret of re-playability, Star Fox 64 would be it.

12. Banjo-Tooie (2000)

By the turn of the century, Rare had become something of an expert at crafting 64-bit platformers. Its latest effort, Banjo-Tooie, pared back many of the excesses that had marred Donkey Kong 64 while still expanding on the original Banjo-Kazooie’s framework: worlds were bigger, yes, but they were much more focused than the ones in DK 64, achieving the perfect compromise between scale and accessibility. Likewise, Donkey Kong’s cast of characters was reduced down from five protagonists to just three for Banjo-Tooie, giving players access to Mumbo Jumbo and Kazooie only when the situation demanded it. But what was most interesting about the title was all of the different play styles that it incorporated into its design, creating a much more varied experience than any Rare game (or indeed, any N64 game) before it– after all, in what other game can you go from a cartoony platformer to a first-person shooter to a soccer game all within the span of one level? That these disparate mini-games were all included in its robust multiplayer mode only sweetened the entire package, making Banjo-Tooie the culmination of all of Rare’s platforming experiments.

Why Michael Contino loves Banjo-Tooie

Banjo-Tooie marks the bear and bird’s final appearance on a Nintendo home console. A tough sequel with a ridiculous amount of colorful characters, this adventure never stalls. Collecting Jiggies never gets old and finding notes continues to be just as fun as bananas or coins. The expansion of learnable moves and a playable Mumbo Jumbo added to the fun. What really sets the experience apart from its predecessor is the inclusion of multiplayer. One mode transforms the adventure into a first-person shooter. Ultimately, the game’s greatness comes down to its depth and continuation of humor, provided mostly by Kazooie, from the original. After playing this game you will wish there was a Witchyworld just to get a small taste of one of Big Al’s burgers.

11. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)

Mario Kart may have paved the way for all future mascot racers, but it was Diddy Kong Racing that brought some much-needed innovation to the genre. As was its MO at the time, Rare took the gameplay of Mario Kart 64 and added its own spin to it, wrapping its racer up in a unique adventure-style framework. Not only was its selection of courses much larger because of this, but each was now divided up into worlds (a la a traditional platforming game) which were accessed via a beautiful hub area. Players were encouraged to comb each track for secrets to unlock these worlds, adding a nice incentive to replay any races they may have already completed. Add in the fact that it featured three different vehicles to control (a car, a hovercart, and a plane), each with its own unique attributes and handling, and you have what was arguably the best racing game on Nintendo 64.

Why Michael Contino loves Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong Racing is even more fun than the excellent Mario Kart 64 due to its added story and collectibles. Racing is only half the fun as there is a beautiful hub world and many secrets to unlock. My greatest memory lies in unlocking Drumstick through the collection of gold trophies and balloons, found via racing well and exploration, respectively. Finding a frog with a red rooster’s comb on its head was exciting. Diddy Kong Racing is an adventure game inside a racing game, as alluded to on the game’s box art. Hovercrafts and planes add new twists and turns to the already fun gameplay, and the upgradeable items helped enhance the experience.

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8 Responses to “The Top 20 Games of 1996-2000”

  • 21 points
    Dave Magliano says...

    As I read these half-decade lists today as a 30-year-old! I’m reminded how much my favorites of the past are as much about the overall playing experience as the game itself. For me, Mario Kart 64 was about playing with my Dad and brother. Goldeneye was about my best friend (who 11 years later was my best man). In the end, while I might call one game better, I wouldn’t trade the memories of the others. That’s why these lists are great, because they mean something different to everyone. It also reminds me that despite its failings, the N64 was both an important and fun-filled system.

    • 1332 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      It’s only looking back that I think, “oh, hey, N64 wasn’t quite as successful as it could be.” Actually, when it was in vogue, I rather enjoyed playing the system, haha! I didn’t even realize the Playstation was “winning” the console wars because I was just having too much fun playing Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros. for hours on end. That’s all I ever really needed– though, to be honest, I also enjoyed Quest 64, so maybe all my opinions are invalid.

    • 360 points
      M. Noah Ward says...

      Great to see you commenting on here Dave! I totally agree… N64 was *the* game party machine for me. I’d bring out Dreamcast for the occasional Samba de Amigo, but there were so many great 4-player games on N64, from GoldenEye to Mario Kart to Smash Bros. to Mario Tennis to back when Mario Party was good and relevant…

      • 21 points
        Dave Magliano says...

        The only site I comment on, be it only for a few days so far. :) kudos for keeping it going all these years. Don’t know where you find the energy.

        Totally agree on N64. Probably goes with my age, but it is my “system of memories.” so many good times.

  • 201 points
    NintendoDad says...

    I’ve been gaming since the Coleco/Atari 2600 and this time period is my all-time favorite for gaming. I was a huge N64 fan, had the money to buy games when I wanted, and was just getting acquainted with the internet. These factors contributed to feelings I don’t think I’ll ever experience again. With the exception of Smash Bros (which I rented and just didn’t like), I own, played, and beat every N64 game on this list. Rare was in its prime and it was almost like having another Nintendo producing games. Many of them are all-time favorites of mine, especially Banjo-Kazooie and Majora’s Mask.

    I can even remember discovering Nintendojo during this time period. And to this day, I can remember the way the message boards were set up with the black background. It was the first message board I ever used. Man, I even remember some of the posters (Cobra 95 who was awesome–I had almost identical gaming tastes as him, Marshmallow, and somebody named RZA who was just a pain…I was WhoDey) and some of the threads. Someone posted a thread titled “I can’t believe I’ve been ignoring this game” in a tribute to Mario 64 a year or two after it was released. Then there was the fight I had with someone after I vented upon discovering FF7 was going to the Playstation. I posted about catching a Hyrule Loach when playing Zelda: TOoT and everyone thought I was making it up at the time. Great memories. Was anyone else here during that time?

    • 360 points
      M. Noah Ward says...

      I remember some of those names from waaaayyy back when I started around here NintendoDad… thanks so much for sticking with us for so LONG! :D

    • 1 points
      Kevin Knezevic says...

      I haven’t been gaming quite as long as you have, but my history is pretty similar to yours, NintendoDad. The first console I ever owned was the NES, but the N64 was when I really became interested in the hobby (and Nintendo in particular). There was just something magical about the games released during this time period, and like you, I was just starting to use the Internet to learn more about them, which made everything feel new and exciting(though I didn’t discover Nintendojo until late into the GameCube generation). Incidentally, two of my all-time favorites also happen to be Majora’s Mask and Banjo-Kazooie, so I can certainly understand why you like those as well. :p

  • 1244 points
    lukas85 says...

    The n64 is my favourite console/period of all time, this was when i became a Nintendo lover, i enjoyed the Nes and Snes, but was the n64 who really made me an absolute fan of videogames. I totally agree with your top 3. And i still consider ocarina of time as the Best Videogame in History.

    My top 5

    1) Ocarina of time
    2) Mario 64
    3) Majoras Mask
    4) Mario Kart 64
    5) Banjo Kazooie

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