The Nintendo 64 is pretty old at this point: introducing the world to fully 3D gameplay alongside Sony’s PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn, it may have been revolutionary at the time, but it hasn’t aged all that well. There are still hoards of Nintendo fans eager to defend the console which brought us classics like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but the console’s rudimentary attempts at polygonal 3D and abundance of extremely low-res textures aren’t exactly easy on the eyes in 2018.
That is largely a subjective statement, however, and graphical fidelity shouldn’t be the absolute benchmark for a video game’s quality. When artificially upscaled to 1080p or played through an emulator some games can definitely look more than a little garish. Yet, plug an N64 into an old TV, and many of those modern-day issues disappear amongst a flurry of late 90s channel 3 static.
At the end of the day, most N64 titles have lost their luster visually, though there are a few hardware-pushing gems out there which still manage to impress given adequate context. Few are going to argue that Majora’s Mask could compete visually with Breath of the Wild, but it could be said that the former has a distinct visual aesthetic which the other may lack.
Of course, for every fantastic first-party title released on the console came a flurry of lame off-brand games which look like absolute slop now. With that in mind, here are fifteen old N64 games that still look amazing (and 15 fans forgot looked bad).
30 Still Looks Amazing: Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire
29 Looked Bad: South Park
We’ve been spoiled in recent years by Ubisoft’s excellent true-to-television South Park titles. The Stick of Truth and The Fractured but Whole were really solid translations of the lowbrow phenomenon, and curious onlookers probably wouldn’t be able to tell these titles apart from the actual show. The same cannot be said about South Park on the Nintendo 64: chunky, gruff, and featuring a draw distance of about five feet, this is an all-around miserable adaptation. It could have stuck to the show’s familiar 2D style were it not for the trends of the era.
28 Still Looks Amazing: Mario Kart 64
Though the series originally debuted on the SNES, the Mario Kart games wouldn’t really come into their own until the release of Mario Kart 64 on the Nintendo 64. With a varied set of 3D tracks to explore, it was, for its time, perhaps the most compelling cart racer available. It certainly doesn’t compare to modern series iterations, but what it lacks in graphical presentation it makes up for in classic Nintendo charm. What’s more, tons of fan-favorite tracks first appeared in this title, which makes it a must-play for any fan of these games.
27 Looked Bad: Aero Gauge
It certainly isn’t an issue these days, but developers used to have to be very careful about resource allocation back in the days of the N64: should the console be forced to render too many things at once, it would turn the experience into a slideshow. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the developers of the futuristic racing title Aero Gauge. Often regarded as one of the worst games available on Nintendo’s late 90s console, Aero Gauge was nearly impossible to play thanks to an awkward control scheme and an absolutely pitiful draw distance—it’s hard to race when you can’t see what’s in front of you.
26 Still Looks Amazing: Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Arguably the crown jewel of the already fantastic Rare N64 library, the hilariously adult aesthetic present in Conker’s Bad Fur Day cemented its status as one of the very few M-rated games on the platform. Conker still holds up because the game emphasizes a cartoony feel and rich, verbose color palette which plays to the console’s advantages. Games that made an attempt at realism look downright awful on the N64, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day—a game which is unapologetically unrealistic—still looks great. Just make sure nobody else is in the room during your play session.
25 Looked Bad: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Speaking of game’s that failed at realism, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Quake without relying on super powerful PC hardware. The result was mixed: some N64 gamers still love the Turok games, though few could argue that they hold much visual appeal these days. The title’s blurry visuals and difficult-to-discern enemy models made it something of a chore to play, though the game’s faults were put on display most by the low draw distance platforming segments. The game has since been cleaned up and re-released on Steam, so players looking to embrace their inner dinosaur hunter may want to start there.
24 Still Looks Amazing: Paper Mario
Paper Mario is a spiritual successor to the oft-praised SNES classic Paper Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and features a set of turn-based mechanics and narrative emphasis which had, at that point, rarely been seen in the Mushroom Kingdom. Much like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the game’s unique visual style is simple yet elegant. Successfully re-creating the visuals in a child’s storybook, Paper Mario will stand as a visual marvel for years to come. The series, of course, live on to this day and will likely make its way to the Nintendo Switch at some point in the future.
23 Looked Bad: Quest 64
An awful amalgamation of the worst elements of many classic action adventure RPGs, Quest 64 feels like a deliberate combination of all of the tedium of the later Final Fantasy entries with the boredom of traversing Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field for the hundredth time. Shallow in terms of both gameplay and plot, Quest 64 certainly wasn’t helped out by it’s overly-simple visuals. This title is about as bare bones as it gets with a majority of the experience spent in open, bare fields. Novice RPG players may siphon some pleasure out of the experience, but Quest 64 is better off forgotten by history.
22 Still Looks Amazing: Banjo Kazooie
Another Rare-developed title, Banjo Kazooie is almost universally considered to be one of the best games available on Nintendo’s fifth-generation console. This game exudes the sort of stylistic integrity which mascot-platformers of the early 90s often tried in vain to capture. Banjo Kazooie is beautiful because the characters and worlds are all vibrant and alive. They may be rough polygonal models, but that almost doesn’t matter because they feel so well-crafted. Unlike many other titles on the platform, Banjo Kazooie succeeds because it was developed with the console’s restrictions in mind.
21 Looked Bad: Duke Nukem: Zero Hour
Made famous by 3D Realms’ famous Build Engine FPS title Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem was, at the time, as celebrated as he was crass. Though he isn’t looked upon in the same light these days, he certainly has a place in the annals of gaming history. What does not deserve to be remembered, however, is the N64 Duke Nukem spin-off titled Duke Nukem: Zero Hour. A third person shooter, Zero Hours looks very much like a homebrew project strung together by a group of bored college students. Though the game’s textures and character models are fairly detailed for the N64, the framerate chugs so hard most of the time that it’s borderline unplayable.
20 Still Looks Amazing: Resident Evil 2
Capcom’s famous survival horror title Resident Evil 2 may seem like an odd title to praise given it’s blocky, roughly-hewn aesthetic. While some of the character models and environments may look a little dated today, the game was commendable for its ambition: few games dared to do what RE 2 did on the N64, and it stands in a league of its own in terms of Nintendo 64 titles. While many similar games fell totally flat, Resident Evil 2 dared to embrace a gritty, realistic visual style which actually worked in its favor. Of course, the long-awaited remaster should be coming out some time next year, which may make this title by-and-large irrelevant.
19 Looked Bad: Body Harvest
DMA Design’s Body Harvest has amassed something of a cult following in recent years, and perhaps deservedly so. The game’s development cycle was as ambitious as it was long winded, and the final product ended up being one of the most unique games available on Nintendo’s hardware. That said, though DMA design—now known as Rockstar North—should be commended for releasing one of the first truly large open worlds in games, the game was obtuse in terms of control and was a bit of a mess visually. Most in-game models are polygonal beyond belief, with the protagonist himself seemingly belonging in the original SNES Star Fox title. Gaming historians may find it significant, but it’s a bit of a chore to play through in 2018.
18 Still Looks Amazing: Pokémon Stadium 2
Released very near to the end of the console’s lifecycle, Pokémon Stadium 2 was the successor to the original title which allowed players to upload and battle the creatures they’ve captured during their adventures in the various gameboy titles. Some players were disappointed that this series wasn’t a more traditional RPG like what was seen on Nintendo’s mobile consoles, but it has since become a well-regarded collector’s item. Never before had pokémon fans seen generation 2 monsters in full 3D, and it’s still something of a spectacle today.
17 Looked Bad: GoldenEye 007
Rare’s GoldenEye 007 is commonly heralded as the premier local multiplayer console experience of all time. While it was incredibly fun to blast our friends into oblivion with a bunch of cool spy gadgets back in the day, the game is beyond clunky and outdated at this point. Hardcore fans may still be able to appreciate this release, but, these days, it’s looking pretty rough. Environments both interior and exterior looks sparse and ugly, and most player models look like paper mache nightmares. Underwhelming graphics shouldn’t get in the way of great gameplay, but this old dinosaur has been left in the dust in pretty much every way.
16 Still Looks Amazing: Buck Bumble
15 Looked Bad: Paperboy
Paperboy was a beloved albeit slightly quirky title for Nintendo’s trendsetting NES console. Though that game is still enjoyed by millions, its successor, which was also named paperboy but colloquially dubbed Paperboy 64, is not. Though it seems to try for a cartoony, visually simplistic style, it utterly fails. Characters look like wireframe monsters and every in-game entity is ill-defined at best. The original Paperboy was tough, but it’s Nintendo 64 counterpart, thanks to its downright bad visual presentation, is completely unplayable. Kids who get their hands on this mess back in the day must have begged their parents to take it back to the store.
14 Still Look Amazing: The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
13 Looked Bad: Hexen
12 Still Look Amazing: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
11 Looked Bad: Earthworm Jim 3D
The first bunch of Earthworm Jim games were inventive, whimsical platformers which were visually unique and pretty tongue-in-cheek. These older titles are still beloved by those who grew up with them, and the only real misfire present in the series would be the Nintendo 64’s Earthworm Jim 3D. After a messy development cycle, the creator behind the Earthworm Jim games would eventually be dismissed from the team, and he would later go on to say that he hate what the game would become without his influence. Janky and off putting much in the vain of something like Bubsy 3D on the PS1, nobody should ever have to sit through this stinker in 2018.
10 Still Look Amazing: Yoshi’s Story
Seven years after his debut in Super Mario World and two years after the mainstream success of Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi returned in an all-new solo adventure in Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64 in 1997. Considered as a sequel to the aforementioned SNES game, Yoshi’s Story features a bright and charming pop-up storybook aesthetic which totally sells the game world, and the pre-rendered 3D graphics used are somewhat reminiscent of the hit Donkey Kong Country platforming games. The only real downside is that most players will likely be able to beat the game in less than two hours, and it features one of the easiest bosses in gaming history.
9 Looked Bad: Deadly Arts
8 Still Looks Amazing: Perfect Dark
It may sound hypocritical to critique Rare’s GoldenEye 007 in one breath and praise Perfect Dark in the next, but the latter game seems to be an updated evolution on the former. While the basic principles are very similar in both titles, Perfect Dark adds an extra stylistic flair which makes it all the more appealing. Pulling off lighting effects and rendering character models that almost shouldn’t be possible on the hardware, Perfect Dark was a worthy successor to the James Bond classic everyone still seems to be so fond of. Unfortunately, the property would go on to be butchered in 2005’s lackluster Microsoft exclusive Perfect Dark Zero.
7 Looked Bad: Mike Piazza’s Strike Zone
Sports games don’t tend to age well, and, occasionally—as was the case with the Nintendo 64’s Mike Piazza’s Strike Zone—they never looked all that good to begin with. This polygonal baseball sim is genuinely hard to look at at times: featuring some of the blurriest visuals available on the hardware and including players and locations which only bare the slightest of passing resemblance to their real life counterparts, Strike Zone must have been just as much of a chore to play when it came out as it is today. Sports games have come a long way over the past fifteen years, and heading back to a title like this can help us to remember how lucky we are to be living in 2018.
6 Still Look Amazing: Pokémon Snap
Quality non-RPG Pokémon titles are few and far between, but there are a few good ones out there. Take, for example, the on-rails shooter disguised as a photography game known as Pokémon Snap. As previously expressed, fully 3D Pokémon games used to be pretty rare, so it was awesome to explore various biomes and snap pictures of creatures rare and not-so-rare alike. The game’s cutesy visual gimmick hasn’t lost its charm nearly two decades later, and Pokémon Snap is still a totally worthwhile—albeit a bit short—experience today. However, it’s probably best played on the Wii U thanks to the added gamepad camera mechanic.
5 Looked Bad: Razor Freestyle Scooter
Games bearing famous skating icon Tony Hawk’s name were plentiful around the turn of the century, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the skating genre as a whole had a flawless go of things. Razor Freestyle Scooter was an attempt to introduce Razor’s brand of scooters to the digital world, and the results were about as underwhelming as could be expected. Lacking many of the features that made the Tony Hawk games stand out and lazily slapping many of the game’s levels in a boundless void, this game would have been a dud for all but the really hardcore Razor Scooter fans… all six of them.
4 Still Look Amazing: Sin And Punishment
3 Looked Bad: Daikatana
2000s Daikatana was developer Ion Storm’s attempt at beating John Romero’s former development studio Id Software at their own FPS game. Languishing in development purgatory for years, it was released to overwhelmingly negative reviews, and, despite showing off some good ideas, was so universally broken that it has gone down as one of the worst games ever made. That said, the N64 port somehow managed to fair even worse. If Hexen looked bad, then this game looks downright lame. Murky and muddled beyond belief, Daikatana’s amorphous mass of gray and brown blurs should be nearly too much for the average gamer to stomach.
2 Still Look Good: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Series detractors often argue that those who still posit Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to be the greatest game ever made are blinded by nostalgia. Though that may be true to some extent, Link and Zelda’s first fully 3D outing was nothing short of phenomenal, and the game’s quality was bolstered by its excellent visuals. Featuring draw distances and texture quality that must have brought the console to its knees, Ocarina of Time still offers a distinct visual appeal. Sure, it can’t quite be bested by any modern action adventure titles in terms of visuals, but this game is so uniquely charming and atmospheric that it is very difficult to meaningfully critique.