Super Mario 64

The transplant of an established and highly popular gameplay format from the world of two dimensions in which it had so greatly thrived to the then mostly unexplored universe of three dimensions had no blueprint, no instruction booklet, and no materialized result of considerable value. The company headed into uncharted territory and rather than coming out of it with an experience that was enjoyable yet immature, as it would have been expected, they emerged out of the fog of the unknown with a gem so polished and fully developed that its controls, structure, and content would, more than serve as the base to everything that was to come, be copied and pasted multiple times across more than a decade. It is one of those grand feats that at the time when it was performed already seemed to be a pretty big deal, but that in hindsight looks a whole lot like the material of some sort of legend that is too absurd to be true. Yet, Super Mario 64 exists as proof that it happened, and, to top it all off, it remains as purely fun as it was upon release.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

With darkness in its soul, wider environments at its disposal, ability-granting masks in its pocket, and an engaging three-day cycle in its core, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is foreboding in how it frequently turns to the uncomfortable; thrilling in how it dares players to explore; flexible in how it gives them a great variety of tools to interact with the tense environments that surround them; and suffocating, yet fair, in how it is constantly counting down to the moment when the world will be consumed in the fire produced by the crashing of a possessed moon. The Legend of Zelda has never been stranger; gaming has rarely been better.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time

It is utterly natural, given Nintendo’s stunning competence, that all 3-D The Legend of Zelda installments that followed it are superior in at least one major area. Majora’s Mask has a more distinctive vibe and stronger gameplay outside dungeons; The Wind Waker does a better job at implementing exploration and creating full-fledged sidequests; Twilight Princess feels like a grander and more thoroughly realized perspective on the Ocarina of Time structure; Skyward Sword tops it in inventiveness; Breath of the Wild operates in a level that is so different that comparisons become too one-sided; and the trend will continue as the saga advances. Yet, the steps those entries took were all solidly built over what Ocarina of Time laid down; they were only possible because the leap into 3-D was made so successfully and established so many vital mechanics.

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Rayman 2: The Great Escape

As such, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is a flooring oddity of the Nintendo 64 days. During a time when most platformers and adventure games had their sights so deeply set on taking advantage of the grand environments supported by cutting-edge hardware that they ended up, positively, straying away from the genres’ origins, Ubisoft went the other way. With The Great Escape, the company opted to build, in the recently discovered 3-D realm, a quest that was open to the new opportunities unearthed by the latest technological developments, but whose main concern lay in being simple and old-school. In that regard, Rayman’s second adventure was certainly not alone, for many were the games and studios that tried to explore that interesting middle ground; however, arguably, none of them did so as well as the limbless hero, because the variety, quality, level of polish, and production values contained here are nothing but extremely rare. And propelled by those attributes, The Great Escape feels gigantic, blasting into the pantheon of the best games of its era and standing out among them for using the full extent of its energy towards being straightforward and fun rather than employing its ambitions in matters of size and scope.

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South Park Rally

South Park Rally, differently from most games that jump into the kart racing genre with the goal of dressing it up with a famous franchise and quickly extracting a good deal of money out of it, does try to tackle the gameplay style with a unique approach. Sadly, all the efforts that it makes in that regard end up being not only disastrous but also incredibly frustrating. Perhaps, if handled by a company that wanted something other than to get it out into the market as fast as possible in order to cash in, those ideas could have flourished into a likable experience. As it stands, though, playing South Park Rally is a miserable journey through thematic races that seem to have been designed to generate anger rather than joy. At least, however, its presence in the Nintendo 64 library serves the useful purpose of proving that good intentions can be smothered quite brutally by sheer greed; so much, in fact, that one has to look really hard to find traces of their existence amidst the mess.

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Star Fox 64

Overall, Star Fox 64 is nothing short of spectacular. It is the full realization of the concept of bringing arcade space shooters to a home console, and it reaches that status not just by perfectly translating the genre’s excitement and high-scoring thrill to television screens, but by finding ways to naturally expand the otherwise brief experience into a meaningful length. Be it by flying an Arwing, piloting a Landmaster, or diving in the Blue-Marine, players are bound to have an excellent time when blasting through Andross’ large army, and they will do so accompanied by likable characters, plenty of voice-acted dialogues, and stages that always succeed in surprising, testing gamers’ capacity to react quickly and shoot fast, and inviting them back for one more try. It is a source of joy that keeps on delivering for quite some time, and it is no wonder the absurd quality of the action it presents has been so hard to replicate.

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Mario Party 3

Although it takes a fair shot at fixing the series’ lack of an engaging single-player experience, Mario Party 3 does not succeed in that regard, just like all of its sequels eventually would. However, even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex. Some of the Mario Party games may have done one or two things a little bit better – such as the orb system introduced on Mario Party 5 or the boards governed by different rules of Mario Party 6 – but Mario Party 3 was the very last time (to those who have been following the series since its inception) in which it felt like the franchise took a good step forward, consolidating what had been done before it and propelling the package to a new level of quality.

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Mario Party 2

In other words, Mario Party 2 is a game that gives players way more tools to mess with their dearest friends than its predecessor did, something that will inevitably work, at some point, both for and against all players regardless of their level of expertise, as even though experienced gamers will have more control over their fate here, they will still be quite vulnerable to the turns destiny loves to take. And that factor will make its skirmishes far more fun, hilarious, exhilarating, and infuriating; making Mario Party 2 quite easy to recommend to anyone who has neither a weak heart nor a short temper.

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Mario Party

Mario Party works as a virtual board game because it mixes the concept of having a group of friends sitting around a table and reacting to each other’s moves and actions with the craziness that only a video game could provide. By building something that leans on human interaction as much as it relies on the interface between players and machine it successfully makes the magic of Checkers, Chess, Monopoly, and Clue materialize in the electronic gaming world. It makes it clear that these games do not simply work because they are addictive or well-designed, but because they pair that prowess with the ability to gather people so that they can laugh, get angry, and shout together. That is the beauty of board games; that is the beauty of Mario Party.

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Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong Racing is able to, then, lift itself above the generic building blocks it uses. Differently from most kart-racing games, it may not be stacked with recognizable brands, characters, and assets, a reality that is slightly harmful to the overall experience. However, Rare – in the midst of a breathtaking streak of creativity – was able to infuse the title with enough content, genuine challenge, and refreshing ideas to transform it into the Nintendo 64’s most fun racing effort and one of the few games of its genre that rightfully deserves to be placed alongside the best entries of the Mario Kart franchise. That, in itself, is a feat that reveals a lot about the degrees of creativity and dedication that were employed in the game’s making.

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