A few weeks ago, Laura, Rich and I thought we'd put together a quick feature about what should be on the N64 Mini, if Nintendo should ever release one. It'll be easy, we thought. Weeks later, here we are, having had a massive argument about it that genuinely spanned days.
The thing about the N64 is that it’s quite easy to pick a handful of solid gold classics that anyone would agree should be included. We had a couple of self-imposed rules: firstly, we'd go with the magic number of 20 games; secondly, we weren't going to worry about publishing rights and plausibility; and thirdly, if we couldn't agree whether something should be included, we'd put it to the vote on Twitter. This right here is the result. I look forward to being told that we're totally wrong in the comments.
Keza: Alright, so I reckon we should start with the solid-gold definites. If either of you have a problem with these I will be very surprised, and also not sure I can ever trust you again. First up: Super Mario 64.
Laura: No brainer.
Keza: Phew. Alright: Zelda Ocarina of Time. And, similarly, Majora’s Mask.
Laura: *conspicuous silence* … Yes.
Keza: The only thing that gave me pause for a second with those two is that they've been re-released already, in better versions - but an N64 Mini without them would be a mockery and a sham, right?
Laura: Agreed. They're not the best versions, but they're integral to that system.
Keza: Okay, more obvious choices: Mario Kart 64. Smash Bros. (or "Fighty Mario", as my little neighbour used to call it when he came over to play). Paper Mario - also called Mario Story in Japan, where it had better box art.
Rich: Yes yes yes! "Fighty Mario" is great lol. Someone renamed our Destiny Whatsapp group to 'Space Kings' and I can't help but feel it's a better name for the game.
Laura: Yes, still the best Paper Mario in my opinion.
Keza: I'm Thousand Year Door til I die, but it's a contender, for sure. Last one of the absolute definites for me is: F-Zero X.
Keza: Alright, that's seven down. 13 spaces to go. Next on the docket... Banjo Kazooie.
Rich: Get out. No!
Laura: There is no way we have this list without Banjo.
Rich: The badger sums up Banjo Kazooie for me:
Keza: Banjo Kazooie is amazing.
Rich: Donkey Kong 64 pisses all over it, mate. Seriously, six playable Kongs, larger world, more inventive quests. The DK rap!
Keza: I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Laura: Like, I get no Banjo Tooie, but you have to have Kazooie.
Keza: Donkey Kong 64 was bloated. I just remember collecting endless bananas of slightly different colours.
Laura: Donkey Kong 64? Don't make me laugh. It's missing the personality, the charm, the creativity of design. Donkey Kong 64 was polished, but one note. Banjo was creative, exciting, constantly surprising.
Keza: Apart from not being Donkey Kong 64, what disqualifies Banjo, Rich? A man who loves puns as much as you must surely have appreciated Banjo's rhyming script.
Rich: I always found Banjo the charmless game tbh. Never got along with the humour and visual design. I think my biggest problem though was really that, next to Mario 64, it felt like it had a complete absence of imagination and creativity. There's nothing there that even approaches stuff like Tick Tock Clock or Tiny Huge Land, it's just a morass of vaguely cartoony 3D platformer levels.
Keza: I mean, it's not Mario 64, but no game is. Almost every game looks a bit lacking in verve compared to the greatest 3D platformer of all time. Related: Banjo Tooie really was a shame. I imported it from Australia, so desperate was I to play. Rarely been so disappointed in a game - the transformations were rubbish!
Laura: Yeah, Tooie was bland, repetitive, and trying too hard to be its predecessor. Kazooie however is amazing.
Rich: For sure, but y'know, Mario was the N64's standard for 3D platformers.
Laura: Really? I find that fascinating to hear. The opening level is a giant anthill with a magic wizard and a gorilla that throws ripe fruit at you, how's that not creative? Or a level inside the guts of a giant metal fish, in a room of poison rust water, where you have to knock out his rotten teeth?
Rich: All done before.
Keza: I just really loved how all the things that Banjo transformed into had little backpacks and shorts. Little crocodile Banjo!
Laura: I loved how much of a cynical prick the bird was.
Rich: It's a personal thing I guess, I wouldn't say it's a bad game at all but I've always felt it was really overrated.
Keza: Alright, we’re gonna have to get the public to decide this one. Put it to the vote!
Help us settle a massive workplace argument: if only one of these games could be on the hypothetical N64 Mini, which should it be? #n64wars
— Kotaku UK (@Kotaku_UK) October 9, 2017
Keza: I reckon this one's a cert: Pokémon Snap. People have been asking for a sequel for about... well, 20 years!
Laura: YES. It was just a friendly, relaxed game where you got to see nice stuff, interact with Pokémon in a non-violent way for a change, and take photos of Pikachu blushing. Plus, being connected via HDMI makes actually capturing your images onto a PC soooo much easier
Keza: For me it's the bizarre structure that was so memorable; like a Pokémon fairground ride. You really felt like you might see something unexpected every time. It was just cute and even on rails it felt explorative.
Rich: What about Pokémon Stadium?
Laura: It was unbelievably good at the time...
Keza: I thought about that - but without all that Game Boy connectivity, is it really a thing now? That was such an integral part of the experience, seeing your own beloved Charizard in 3D, kicking ass.
Laura: Yeah, you would only have the preset Pokémon.
Rich: Fair enough. At one of the Kotaku UK game nights there was Pokemon Stadium 64 on, and this guy just played as Diglett using the 'Dig' move and knocked out about five people. Then someone came along who knew how to counter it, knocked Diglett out, and the guy took his N64 memory card out of the machine and stormed off.
Keza: Alright, How about Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars, as it was here)? So structurally interesting, such memorably strange graphics, such Slippy.
Rich: I LOVE that game. Best Starfox ever imo.
Laura: Agreed, it's the series peak for me.
Keza: I still think of Slippy when someone is being hapless.
Rich: I do miss the animal babble. They should never have given them actual lines.
Keza: But without the dialogue, we would not have Falco’s deadpan intonation to treasure forever. We wouldn’t have “do a barrel roll!”
Keza: Alright, Lylat Wars is in. How about another ahead-of-its-time space game: Jet Force Gemini?
Laura: Yessss. Why do you hate Rare, Rich!?
Keza: It's so good! ... I mean it WOULD have been so good if the N64 had two analogue sticks.
Rich: I very much disliked it, always felt super clunky to me and I never really liked the visual style.
Laura: I'll agree it's clunky, but it just ooooozed style.
Keza: I loved the three-character structure - though looking back I might have been dazzled by the then-brilliant graphics.
Rich: Basically I always thought it got the bumlick because of the off-the-wall ideas rather than the execution, which I found lacklustre.
Laura: It's one I look back on super fondly, but I suspect I'd get annoyed by returning to it today.
Keza: Alright, let’s scrap it. Now: this game also has multiple characters, and is secretly one of the best N64 games of all time… MYSTICAL NINJA STARRING GOEMON!
Rich: AMAZING GAME!
Laura: I don't even know what that is, it's hardly a defining part of the system that UK gamers en masse will fondly remember.
Rich: WTF LAURA, IT IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE GAMES EVER MADE
Keza: Okay, but it's a game where you get to be a rollerskating giant robot and the plot is "aliens have come to earth in a giant peach and are making everyone dance". If you don't know what it is then you'll get to discover the GENIUS of Mystical Ninja on the N64 Mini!
Laura: But, would you agree folk would see that on the box and likely go "eh?"
Rich: Ebisumaru is my spirit animal.
Keza: You gotta trust us on this one, Laura. It's GENIUS.
Laura: I would love to experience it from the sound of it, but I don't think you can put that on the Mini N64. look at the NES and SNES Mini, it's all true classics, the stuff people look at and go, "yes, I need to replay that!"
Rich: It's such a high point for Konami. I reckon outside of Metal Gear it's probably the most creative game they've done. Bursting with ideas. Mystical Ninja used to be fairly big. I think they just stopped making them for some reason.
Keza: There's stuff on the SNES classic that I never played - doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be there.
Laura: Having never so much as heard of it to me says something about us putting it on this list.
Keza: We’re gonna have to put this one up to the vote. I’ll put it up against my other favourite weird N64 game, which is secretly one of the best games on the N64: SPACESTATION SILICON VALLEY! It did also come out on PlayStation, which might disqualify it, but boy what a game.
Rich: Yeah, an absolute classic. An all-time British great. Just genius really.
Rich: Sorely needs a modern remake.
Keza: Although it was so buggy that it was physically impossible to 100% it. I used to create towers of corpses to access weird areas of the maps. Caveat to fix, please.
Rich: I reached a point where I just couldn’t do this jump with a rocket-powered mouse and had to give up. God love ya Silicon Valley.
Keza: Right public, it’s up to you: which wildcard weirdo game deserves a spot?
An equally important hypothetical N64 Mini question: which of these weird wildcard games deserves a place? #N64wars
— Kotaku UK (@Kotaku_UK) October 9, 2017
Keza: Ooof. Tough result, but there can be only one. Next up, a game that some people say is a poor man's Mario Kart 64, but those people probably never beat Wizpig: Diddy Kong Racing.
Rich: Hahaha. Yes. I prefer Mario Kart 64 though. But no denying that's a great game.
Laura: It's good, but can we really have two kart racers?
Keza: WE CAN HAVE WHATEVER WE WANT. Good lord DKR had some crap characters (Tiptup the Turtle, anyone?) but it also had some great ideas and a kind of karting adventure single-player mode that I don't think anything ever bettered, except Road Trip Adventure ages later.
Laura: You know what, I might vote Diddy Kong Racing over Mario Kart.
Laura: Mario Kart is on the SNES Mini. We maybe don't need a sequel as much as we need something new in that genre.
Rich: But Mario Kart 64 is the best Mario Kart!
Laura: That is true.
Keza: It's also the only N64 game that literally everyone played. Soooo... I'm gonna call this for Mario Kart.
Keza: How about Pilotwings, you guys?
Keza: Such a calm, beautiful game. ... why does it make me think of Wii Sports Resort?
Rich: I have exactly the same thing. I want to go back to Wuhu Island.
Laura: Because of Wii Sports Resort's flying game which was basically more Pilotwings?
Rich: Let’s put on Wave Race 64. That game is pure sex. Damn the N64 had some good shit.
Keza: So underrated.
Rich: Unusual suggestion: The OG Rainbow Six. It was on N64 and totally badass.
Keza: LOL, I was too young to play it. My mum would have had a fit.
Laura: I played it because my big brother had it and my mum didn’t know, but to me it just does not scream N64. It's not a defining game of the system for me.
Rich: OK fair enough. How about a really interesting one: Body Harvest?
Keza: Oooh, that's an interesting choice.
Laura: Not one I know of.
Rich: I like it but it's definitely a case of the idea being 1000X better than the game, in a way, even though the game is decent. It is also the proto-GTA. You play a soldier from the future. Earth is being harvested by these nasty aliens, who are also hunting you. You arrive in an era and have to save as many civilians as possible then escape. It’s actually quite disturbing. At the start the aliens get your blood, then create a clone. so you're being hunted by your clone as well as the aliens. And when he turns up, because it's such a hard game, it really is brown trousers time.
Laura: Interesting idea. The execution wasn't great?
Rich: But it's really hard, like aliens go straight for people and kill them - no artificial waiting or anything. The GTA element is that the levels are open worlds containing houses, vehicles and NPCs. Obviously it was very basic technologically, and a bit too hard imo. But it was just doing things on the N64 that you wouldn't see in the mainstream until PS2.
Keza: Would it beat out Blast Corps, do you think?
Rich: Blast Corps is a better game, not nearly as ambitious but a better game I'd say. Even if it did reach amazingly low framerates. I think Body Harvest has to be a maybe at least, just because it's historically such an interesting game and I would argue for all the problems it's fairly decent.
Keza: Alright - on balance, I think Blast Corps wins out there. But I'm not sure either really deserves a place on the list.
Rich: How about Sin and Punishment? This would be the "great N64 game that almost nobody played" entry.
Keza: I KNEW I'd forgotten something!
Laura: haha, yep, that one that is great and is worth putting on - even though a lot won't have ever played it.
Keza: I never got my hands on a copy - was it as good as it was fabled to be?
Rich: Haha I never played it 'til it came out on Wii VC. Yeah, it was very good fun, it would've blown my tiny mind back in the day.
Rich: OK: Rogue Squadron.
Keza: Rogue Squadron is one of those games I thought might be terrible in retrospect. I've not played it in so many years.
Laura: Yeah, the Gamecube one holds up great, but the N64 one to me isn't as good as Lylat Wars.
Rich: Cool. Here's a blast from the past: Operation Winback, with the greatest hero name ever: Jean-Luc Cougar. The first ever third person cover shooter.
Keza: Interesting! I played that on.... PS2? Am I imagining that?
Rich: It was ported to PS2 years after. I really liked that at the time. I'm sure it'll feel very clunky now, but nevertheless...
Keza: Is it still fun now though? That running animation...
Rich: OK, Mario Tennis.
Keza: LOVE Mario Tennis, classic pick up and play multiplayer game. Never bettered by any of the gimmicky follow-ups.
Rich: Agree. It was all downhill from here.
Keza: All the Nintendo sports games of this era were great. The Game Boy Color ones were all secret sports RPGs.
Rich: Is it better than Mario Golf?
Keza: MARIO GOLF. I was obsessed with it. Got Metal Mario and everything, which involved getting every single birdie badge. But I’d rather have Tennis. Let's put it to the vote!
We're not done arguing about the hypothetical N64 mini. Which of these would you pick?
— Kotaku UK (@Kotaku_UK) October 10, 2017
Keza: Aw, dammit.
Rich: How about Mario Party? A series I secretly love.
Keza: You know what, Mario Party gets a lot of shit but it really was great. I probably played it for 50 hours. I once gave myself a massive blister furiously rotating that N64 analogue stick to win some idiot minigame.
Rich: I'm always fuming when the latest Mario Party comes out and it gets 5/10ed all over the place. Hahaha I think people think it's cool to dunk on it, but I love 'em.
Laura: I love Mario Party - my question is: which one do we include?
Keza: Was Mario Party 2 better?
Laura: The first one is still decent, and is probably the most iconic to use in terms of putting the debut in rather than a sequel.
Keza: Okay, we’ve got four places left!
Rich: 1080 Snowboarding.
Laura: 1080 degrees of hell yes!
Keza: Not as good as Snowboard Kids. Listen to this music:
Laura: OMG. Snowboard Kids I want more than 1080. I forgot about it for a moment. That was the shit.
Keza: It was as fun in multiplayer as Mario Kart. And weirder than 1080. But we can only have one!
Help us decide on the last game that should be on the hypothetical N64 Mini. There can be only one snowboarding game...
— Kotaku UK (@Kotaku_UK) October 12, 2017
Rich: OK, 1080 it is then. Now we come to the big one, the Banjo-killer: Rocket Robot on Wheels.
Keza: Naaaaaaaaw, Rocket wisnae THAT good.
Rich: I liked it a lot, though part of that was how different it was from the Rare-style collectathons. It still had lots of collectibles obv. But the play felt more moment-to-moment and the levels were full of cool individual mechanics to do. Lots of ideas.
Keza: I thought it was kinda basic. In the same category as, like, Glover - interesting, but not a classic.
Rich: OK, two biggies which we should probably discuss together: GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. For me, they've both gotta be on there.
Keza: I think not having GoldenEye on this system would be idiotic - BUT I submit that it's not actually fun now.
Rich: You simply could not have an N64 Classic without GoldenEye. And the swansong for the console imo is Perfect Dark, which we all know is GoldenEye 2.
Keza: I feel like Perfect Dark has maybe been tainted by Zero in my brain.
Rich: Terrible framerate yes, but I just don't see how you can have the N64 Classic without it. It was the absolute daddy. More ideas than most shooters even now, giant leap forward over GoldenEye in terms of environments and mission design. Absolutely best-in-class weapon design and multiplayer suite. I know it's aged but that really was a 10/10 game imo. huge open FPS environments with multiple objectives, different routes etc, it's even got bloody vehicles.
Laura: GoldenEye needs to be there, but for it to be good do we need to ship with four controllers?
Keza: Hahaha! Alright, I'm convinced.
Rich: Anyone a Conker fan?
Keza: NOOOOOO, I SUBMIT THAT CONKER'S BAD FUR DAY WAS PUBESCENT GARBAGE
Laura: It was prepubescent garbage. But I will admit, the Great and Mighty Poo was something.
Keza: The song... it has never left me.
Laura: Honestly, one of the big reasons I am so glad Kingdom Battle exists, it gives us a new Grant Kirkhope opera song boss battle that's not Conker!
Laura: I'm making the controversial suggestion Superman 64. It's not good, but I would argue it's a real iconic part of that system's life.
Keza: *laughs forever*
Laura: It's hard for me not to think of that game when I think of the N64. Let’s show the kids what a REAL bad game looked like.
Keza: It can go on the alternate universe N64 Mini, which celebrates the plentiful garbage that happens when developers who've never done 3D before have a go on new technology. I miss the particular flavour of Bad Game that came out back then when nobody could even use the tech properly and patches weren't a thing.
Rich: Ooh, I forgot about one of my suggestions: International Superstar Soccer 98. PES predecessor, amazing football game. Just a peach. I know if you're not into football it's probably about as appealing as cold gravy, but in terms of genuinely great games on that system (and non Nintendo ones) it's up there
Keza: I too have a last suggestion: Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. It never came out in Europe but it was just an excellent SRPG. Its inclusion on the N64 Mini would allow a lot more people to play. And it has the best name of anything we've discussed.
Rich: Never played it, but always wanted to, and that's persuasive. Let's go with Ogre Battle.
Keza: Between our picks and the results of the votes, we now have 20 games. A pretty eclectic selection, too:
- 1080 Snowboarding
- F-Zero X
- GoldenEye 007
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Lylat Wars/Star Fox 64
- Mario Kart 64
- Mario Party
- Mario Tennis
- Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
- Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
- Paper Mario
- Perfect Dark
- Pilotwings 64
- Pokémon Snap
- Sin and Punishment
- Super Mario 64
- Super Smash Bros.
- Wave Race 64
Laura: What about the +1, the lost game? Maybe something from the 64DD?
Rich: Mother 3!!!!! The ultimate 64DD game
Keza: OMG, that is this system's Starfox 2.
Laura: Okay, if we can have one 64DD game, we go Mother 3 port. Localised, of course.
Rich: I know the great lost N64 game. It's called Cabbage. I'd go for that over Mother 3.
Laura: That's .... weird.
Keza: That reminds me of Cubivore, a very weird Gamecube game.
Rich: Mother 3 was cancelled because it wasn't working out. Cabbage was just cancelled. So one is actually possible and the other isn't.
Laura: I think Mother 3 isn't realistic, but it’s the ultimate wish list item.
Keza: I think I would honestly die of happiness if the 64DD build of Mother 3 emerged. Or indeed any official English version. Aren't we allowed to dream?
Rich: Ah, go on then. You can have it, in your mad fantasy world.
Box art images via MobyGames and Amazon.