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

5. Pokémon Gold and Silver (2000)

Few sequels are able to improve on their predecessors in quite the way that Pokémon Gold and Silver do. While their objective remains largely the same as Pokémon Red and Blue (travel the world, collect monsters, battle gym leaders, and become the Elite Four champion), everything about the pair is bigger and better. Set in the entirely new region of Johto, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced players to an exotic land filled with over a hundred new species of Pokémon. Here, players would do battle with a new group gym leaders and meet a host of new characters, all the while thwarting the plans of the newly-reformed Team Rocket, who had disbanded following the events of the previous games. But best of all, once players finally did achieve their goal of becoming the Pokémon League Champion, they were treated to one of the coolest rewards in video game history: they were given access to the entire region of Kanto, effectively giving them a second adventure for the price of one. Add in all of the other innovations the pair introduced (berries, hold items, custom Poké Balls, a day-and-night cycle), and it’s easy to see why Pokémon Gold and Silver come in at number five on our list.

Why Kevin Knezevic loves Pokémon Gold and Silver

I can still remember the excitement I felt when I first learned about Pokémon Gold and Silver. Like any kid at the time, I was obsessed with the Pokémon franchise, and the prospect of embarking on a new quest and capturing new monsters was enough to whet my appetite. When I finally got my hands on one of the games (Silver, naturally), I was blown away by all of the changes it brought. Everything about it was so much better than I expected: Johto felt like a genuine, living world (thanks, no doubt, to the game’s internal calendar), the new species of Pokémon all felt unique and exotic, and the day-and-night system helped make the adventure feel even more immersive (I can’t tell you how many times I stayed up until the crack of dawn to catch a Ledyba or some other species of rare Pokémon). Subsequent generations would go on to tweak the Pokémon formula even further, but it was Gold and Silver that brought the most radical changes to the burgeoning series.

4. GoldenEye 007 (1997)

In the shooter-obsessed world of gaming today, it’s hard to imagine a scenario BGE (before-GoldenEye). While each new iteration of Call of Duty now instantly grabs the attention of millions of casual gamers around the world, it was one game based from the James Bond license that turned the platformer-centric world of video games upside down (with maybe a little help from Perfect Dark). GoldenEye 007 has reached the kind of cultural penetration that most movies, television shows or musicians could only dream of having; far surpassing the film it was based upon and going onto become one of the leading lights of the Nintendo 64. When you’re sharing the spotlight with the likes of Zelda and Mario in equal respect, you know you’re onto a winner.

Why Lewis Hampson loves GoldenEye 007

Pick up Proximity mines in Facility level. Throw one onto the spare crate in the corner of the room. Pickup said crate making mine invisible. Repeat for every single green crate you come across on level. Watch Armageddon ensue. Just typing this still brings a smile to my face. The sheer amount of hours that I ploughed into this game during the late ’90s is hard to encapsulate into a paragraph, as is the importance of GoldenEye itself.

Before this game was released the prospect of having a viable, mature, well thought out original FPS on a console was pretty much a pipe dream. Sure there were copies of Doom and the like floating about on PlayStation and Saturn, but anything even touching upon the PC’s dominance of the genre was a rare prospect indeed.

Then funnily enough, it happened. I remember seeing very early photos of GoldenEye, back when Nintendo 64 was still called Ultra 64. I must admit that I did not expect too much from the title, mostly because it was based off a film that was already a few years old. How wrong I was.

GoldenEye paved the way for all console shooters that were to follow. It was the shining light at the end of a dark, seemingly endless tunnel of mediocrity, which pretty much engulfed the console FPS experience at the time.

The superb single player experience only served as training for the real test: split screen multiplayer. The N64 with its four control ports, and analogue control meant that four of us at a time could sit down in the comfort of our own homes and shoot each other in the face.

Rare proved that a console FPS could be critically and commercially successful when they released GoldenEye. The term genre defining may be overused nowadays, but this title genuinely was. It was a revelation for many console users who had never even played an FPS before, taking us into the world of 007, giving us a gun and then systematically killing us at every spawn point in sequence. Brilliant!

3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

Link’s second adventure on the Nintendo 64 was also one of his strangest. Set a few months after the events of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask saw our hero embarking on a personal quest to find Navi, the fairy companion with whom he parted ways at the end of his previous adventure. But as fate would have, he would soon be intercepted by a possessed Skull Kid, and the two of them would wind up in the parallel world of Termina, a veritable Wonderland where the very moon above threatened to destroy everything in a fiery cataclysm.

As strange as its premise may have seemed, stranger still was the fact that Majora’s Mask was developed in a mere two years, almost record time considering the protracted development of Ocarina of Time. Of course, the game reused many of latter’s assets, but that only further highlighted how different it was from its predecessor. While Ocarina of Time was an epic on a grand scale, Majora’s Mask was decidedly more intimate in its scope, focusing primarily on the people of Clock Town in the days leading up to their apocalypse. Even its ultimate goal differed from that of Ocarina of Time; while both charged Link with ridding the world of a destructive evil, Majora’s Mask gave him a scant three days to accomplish this task. Failing to do so within the allotted time would force him to relieve those same three days in perpetuity until he finally stopped the moon’s descent. While it was this mechanic in particular that divided a lot of fans of the series, it certainly added a unique twist to the game and helped make Majora’s Mask one of Link’s most original adventures.

Why Kevin Knezevic loves The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask...

As I mentioned elsewhere on the site, I had not taken an interest in the Zelda series until Link made an appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64. Prior to then I had only vaguely heard of the franchise (albeit in reverent tones), but his inclusion in the game was enough to inspire me to pick up a copy of the latest title and see what all the fuss was about.

As fate would have it, that title was Majora’s Mask, which you may recall is now my favorite video game of all time. The impression it left on me was immeasurable. From its surreal, Alice in Wonderland-like opening to its dynamic portrayal of time travel, everything about the game was unlike anything I had ever experienced at the time, and it convinced me that the medium was capable of achieving so much more than I could have imagined. The denizens of Termina genuinely felt like real people (thanks to their complex personal schedules), and it was impossible not to be moved by their plight as you watched the moon inch ever closer to the earth with each passing day. The game may not be remembered quite as fondly as Ocarina of Time, but I still think it was the better of Link’s two N64 adventures.

2. Super Mario 64 (1996)

It’s hard to imagine just where video games would be without Super Mario 64. Mario’s 3D debut not only revolutionized the platforming genre, it changed the face of the entire industry. No longer were games bound to a 2D plane; now players could hop through a level in any direction they pleased (a feat which SM64 encouraged with its sprawling courtyards and open locales). For the first time in the history of the medium, it truly felt like you were stepping into another world, and it was clear from that point forward that video games would never be the same again.

While Mario 64 may be remembered most for charting a path through a new frontier of game design, perhaps the most impressive thing about it was how perfectly it captured the essence of the Mario series. On the surface, Super Mario 64 bore very little resemblance to the Marios of old, but everything about the game was unmistakably Mario, from the myriad of secrets hidden about Peach’s castle to the oversized Goombas of Tiny-Huge Island, to even the fanfare that played when you’d collect a Power Star. This, more than anything, proved that 2D games could not only survive the transition to three-dimensions, but they could thrive because of it.

Why Michael Contino loves Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 was the ultimate launch game. The Mario adventure set the tone for Nintendo 64 as Mario soared higher than ever before. Paintings becoming worlds was a fantastic idea. Each world includes hidden stars, not for the faint of heart. The steep hill to collecting all 120 Power Stars has a prize at the end of the rainbow, allowing the player to talk to an old friend who seems to enjoy hanging out on rooftops. Also, this is yet another game that features fantastic boss battles. Grabbing Bowser by the tail and subsequently throwing him into spikes is fulfilling. From the moment I laid eyes on Super Mario 64, I knew I was playing with power.

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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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