All week long, we’ve been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo 64. We’ve taken a deep dive into the console’s history to figure out why it has so much staying power in our memory, even if it’s not a great system on paper. We’ve spoken to collectors about why they love tracking games down, revisited niche classics like Animal Crossing and Yoshi’s Story, and even begged Nintendo to bring our favorite see-through controllers back.
We certainly have had a lot to say about the system, but we wanted to know what our readers thought, too. Over the past week, we held a tournament on our Instagram to determine the best Nintendo 64 games of all time. We assembled a list of 32 classics from the console’s library and put them together into a randomized bracket. The list included everything from dorm room staples like Goldeneye 007 to niche favorites like WWF No Mercy. It was up to our readers to decide the best of the batch.
Reader Selections: Rounds 1-3
While some matchups went as expected, there were some serious upsets along the way. Super Mario 64 didn’t make it to the final four, while Star Fox 64 didn’t even make it out of round one (the luck of the random bracket was not in its favor, to be fair). In the end, our readers valued Nintendo’s multiplayer games over single-player ones, leading to a pretty surprising first-place finish.
Reader Selections: Final 4
Here’s are the four Nintendo 64 games that advanced to the semifinals, including the ultimate winner.
This was the biggest shocker of the entire tournament, by a mile. Pokémon Stadium was one of the earliest Pokémon spinoff games, turning 2D sprites into full 3D monsters. While it sold nearly 4 million copies in the United States, it wasn’t exactly a critical darling. The game gained good, but not great reviews that criticized the simplistic nature of the multiplayer title compared to its Game Boy counterparts.
The power of nostalgia proved to work in its favor here, though. Pokémon Stadium handily won round one, beating out Rayman 2: The Great Escape, but the rest of its wins were more shocking. It beat Banjo-Kazooie in round two, and narrowly beat Goldeneye 007 to get a final four spot. Both of those victories could be seen as sacrilege. That goes to show that players are smitten by Nintendo’s original properties more than third-party ones.
Super Smash Bros.
Less surprising in the final four was the original Super Smash Bros. The multiplayer game was one of the N64’s biggest hits, creating a dream-come-true fighting game concept. You’re telling me Mario, Link, and Pikachu could all fight in the same game? While the franchise would be improved tenfold by its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, it was still a special moment for Nintendo fans, giving them a must-own multiplayer game.
Super Smash Bros. had a somewhat easy road to the top, beating out what you’d probably call “tier two” Nintendo 64 games. It started by taking out Kirby 64: Crystal Shards, before taking out Donkey Kong’s entire family via Diddy Kong Racing and Donkey Kong 64. At least both of those losing franchises ended up represented in the end, as both Kirby and Donkey Kong appear in the original Super Smash Bros. roster.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Talk about an upset! Debate the best Nintendo 64 games of all time with anyone and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will probably end up on top nine times out of ten. The classic Zelda game quite literally revolutionized gaming, giving developers a template for what a 3D adventure game looks like. Even modern titles like Kena: Bridge of Spirits still feel indebted to Ocarina. Whether or not it’s the best game of all time, there’s no question that it’s the most important.
Despite a shocking loss in the finals, it’s no surprise that it made it to the top two. Part of that was due to a somewhat easy first two rounds. Ocarina of Time only had to beat out Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Wave Race 64 to make the top eight — easy! It did, however, have an interesting matchup in round three when it had to go up against its beloved sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Frankly, that battle felt inevitable. Link does fight his own shadow in Ocarina of Time, after all. The game capped off its round to the finals with an easy win over Pokémon Stadium, but it was too weak to take down the strongest Nintendo mascot of all …
Mario Kart 64
Yes, you read that right. Super Mario 64 wasn’t the Mario game to take the ultimate prize. Instead, it was the plumber’s most beloved spinoff. Mario Kart 64 is the very definition of a multiplayer classic. It’s the kind of game that’s kept fans from packing up their Nintendo 64 and putting it in storage. When I was in college, friends would still break out the old console to dip back in, despite the fact that the mechanically cleaner Mario Kart: Double Dash was more easily available. Nostalgia for the game is so strong that players don’t seem to care that it doesn’t play terribly well in 2021; the memories are enough to make it king.
You can’t say that the game didn’t earn it. Mario Kart 64 had the absolute hardest path to victory, muscling out the console’s top-rated games. It beat out Mario Tennis in round one, and that was the easiest it had it. It went on to defeat Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Those are arguably the four most highly revered games in the console’s entire library. Mario Kart 64‘s surprising victory can only be chalked up to a last minute blue shell.