Ranked: The Games of Nintendo 64 Online

So, Nintendo’s long awaited Nintendo 64 expansion to their Nintendo Switch Online programme has finally landed, and I’ve had a bit of time to play through each of the games included in the service so far. At the time of writing, there are a total of nine games available on the platform – a number which certainly has room to grow over the coming years (and hopefully at a much quicker rate than Nintendo drip-fed us NES and SNES games). Yes, the cost is high, and, if you aren’t interesting in the Animal Crossing DLC, frankly absurd, but alas, I took the dive and became yet another victim of Nintendo’s nostalgic grip on gaming’s collective minds. While it’s exciting of course to play those games I grew up with as a child, I’m also very eagerly anticipating the games I never got around to or wouldn’t buy if I had to pay for them separately. It’s definitely going to be a great way to dig out some hidden gems and maybe even find a few new favourites. So, without further ado, let’s get into my ranking of the service’s games.

9. Winback

Now this is one that I had genuinely never heard of before Nintendo announced its release on the service at launch, and having played it – I can see why. It feels a little bit like someone trying to do a bit – the writing is classic 90s trash, the gameplay feels aracadey as anything, and the controls are certainly… there. Now, I didn’t hate my time with the game, in fact I came back to it a couple of times, but each time I found myself battling the now archaic control scheme and just downright awkward aiming. The biggest mystery of Nintendo’s N64 online launch has to be why this game was selected as one of the nine key games to be on the service from the beginning. Fascinating, truly fascinating.

8. Yoshi’s Story

Of the games released so far, Yoshi’s Story has to be the most forgettable by far. While Winback is the worse game, it does leave an impression with its wonky controls. Yoshi’s Story on the other hand controls pretty well, hs charming level design and pretty decent graphics. The problem is that it all just feels a little bland. There isn’t that creative spark which defines so many of Nintendo’s greats, and so we’re left with a game that, while decent, does little to stand out from the crowd. It’s a little bit of a missed opportunity, especially considering the amount of fans its predecessor, Yoshi’s Island has.

7. Mario Kart 64

Okay, so hear me out. I know Mario Kart 64 is a good game and is widely loved among Nintendo fans. The tracks are well designed, the power ups and the controls are a massive step up from the original SNES version and there’s a pretty nice character roster to boot. The only thing keeping it lower down on the list for me, is that it all feels a bit superfluous. On a system which already has the phenomenal Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’m not sure what would drive me towards playing this version instead, apart from the possibility that I really wanted to play a round of Mario Kart with friends and I didn’t have my physical copy of 8 Deluxe on me.

6. Dr. Mario 64

Now I’ve never been into puzzle games – the Tetrises and Bejewelleds of the world, but even I have to say that I found Dr Mario 64 pretty fun in short blasts, and moreso, I believe that the series finds a natural home on the Nintendo Switch. The portability of the system means it’s perfect for the kind of pick-up-and-play experience that Dr Mario excels at. I enjoyed racking up medicine as I tried to eliminate the germs populating the screen (I think I might have exposed some deep-seated anger towards the coronavirus here) and especially so when I was able to put some mindless TV on in the background. I did also realise that I’m terrible at puzzle games.

5. Star Fox 64 (Lylat Wings)

For a number of games on this list, playing them on Switch has been my first experience with them. Not so for Star Fox 64, which I’ve actually played before on the 3DS when it was given a light makeover and rereleased. I didn’t click with it, and it put me off the whole franchise. That said, after taking the time to sit down with the game again and give it another chance, my opinions have changed a bit. While I still would be reticent to put down £40 for the game, I actually really enjoyed my time with it in a service like this. Star Fox 64 is a short game made longer by its replayability, offering a number of different routes towards the final boss battle. Playing it on a bigger screen feels much better than being cramped up into the 3DS’ more compact real estate. Here, the game has room to breathe and is much better for it. I very much enjoyed playing Star Fox 64 this time around, and encourage everyone to try it out.

4. Sin and Punishment

I think this was the game I was most excited to experience for the first time through Nintendo 64 Online, and I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. It took me a while to get to grips with the controls, and I still believe that it might feel more comfortable for right-handed players than for lefties like myself, but I loved the high-octane action and somewhat bonkers storyline. It’s pretty tough too – I’ve died plenty of times in my time with the game, but I always came back for more. High-score enthusiasts will find a lot to love here, while more story-inclined gamers will enjoy the somewhat batshit narrative that was birthed here. If anything, I’d have to say that Sin and Punishment very much feels like a progenitor to the works of Hideki Kamiya and Platinum games. Great fun, and totally recommended.

3. Super Mario 64

The legendary grandad of 3D platformers comes to Switch (again) as Super Mario 64 arrives included in the expansion pack. We all know this one – an absolute classic that not only redefined its own franchise, but set the standards of a whole genre of games that was to follow in its wake. Wildly inventive and joyful from start to finish, Mario 64 has rightfully earned its spot in gaming’s hall of fame as one of the all-time greats. That said, the controls nowadays feel distinctly outdated and imprecise, meaning that there are a few frustrating moments where the challenge ahead of you is not the intended platforming, but instead the controls fighting against you. It isn’t enough to dim the game’s shine too badly, but it might slightly jar with the rose-tinted view of the game that I think we all share. It’s a testament really to how far gaming has come since its first forays into the third dimension.

2. Mario Tennis

Believe me when I say, I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m ranking this title quite so highly. Here’s the thing – I didn’t expect to love Mario Tennis, I didn’t expect that it would be my most played game included in the service, I didn’t expect to be thinking of strategies to beat some difficult opponents in the tournament mode, but alas, I do, and it is. The controls are tight, the gameplay is easy to pick up and play in short bursts – I often find myself picking it up when I have a few short moments to fill before heading out to meet a friend or go to work. I haven’t yet tried multiplayer (although I’m guessing you can do it online) but I’m excited to give it a try. Mario Tennis, you truly are the game that I didn’t expect to fall in love with in 2021, but here we are.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I mean, was there ever really any question that this would find itself at the top of my ranking? If Super Mario 64 marks a first foray into 3D, Ocarina of Time is the moment it was refined into something that still controls well, feels exciting, and still manages to be that perfect hit of nostalgia for anyone who played the game in their childhood. As soon as I turned on the game and heard that twinkling as Link rode across the screen, memories of exploring Hyrule Field, plunging into dungeon depths and climbing inside of suspiciously large sea monsters came rushing back. I played through to the end of the first dungeon in one sitting, and I have to say, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is every bit as good as I remember it being, and I remember it being very good – very good indeed.

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