Sunday, December 4, 2022

Everything You Need to Know About Playing N64 Games on the Switch

With the Nintendo Switch Online service, the Nintendo 64 — Time magazine’s 1996 “Machine of the Year — and its awesome games are a hot topic for Nintendo gamers once again.

And I love it.

The Switch’s online service is making it easier than ever to play classic 3D games like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Banjo-Kazooie without all the hassle of tracking down old cartridges and unboxing your dusty Nintendo 64 system.

Let’s take a look at what made the Nintendo 64 so great and go over everything you need to know about playing Nintendo 64 games on the Nintendo Switch.

Putting the Nintendo 64 in Context

Nintendo was coming off the huge successes of the NES and the SNES, but there was new competition from Sony. With the PlayStation in 1995, Sony introduced compact discs to the home console market, giving developers more space for bigger games and cheaper production costs than cartridges.

Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 a year later, doubling down on cartridges.

With that decision, Nintendo opened the door for third-party developers — like Squaresoft — that had massive successes with Nintendo’s previous consoles to make the jump to Sony.

So Nintendo lost out on juggernaut titles like Final Fantasy VII and ceded ground for the more “mature” market to PlayStation.

That legacy continues today.

What N64 Games are on the Switch?

The Nintendo Switch Online subscription service has brought classic N64 games to the modern console. And while the service includes some of the most iconic games of the era, it also includes some less-than-stellar titles.

Nintendo Switch Online includes iconic games from that generation, beloved favorites, and some titles that might be lesser known to younger gamers.

So far, 17 Nintendo 64 games are on Nintendo’s online service, and Nintendo is still adding more regularly. There might only be a small number of N64 games on the service so far, but that relatively small selection of games represents a wide variety of games, including 3D platformers, rail shooters, racing games, action games, and more.

Most titles added so far have been first-party Nintendo titles, a fact that’s both expected for the service and great for Nintendo fans. But there’s also a small number of third-party titles as well.

We’ve covered the full range of N64 games available on the Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online service. As Nintendo regularly adds new titles to the service, we’ll be updating this article to reflect those updates.

F-Zero X

F-Zero X is the second game in the beloved racing series, F-Zero. This was released in 1998, but it’s a timeless favorite for many racing game fans who sometimes call it the “best racing game of all time.”

It’s a futuristic racing series where 30 racers compete on different tracks in an intergalactic Grand Prix event. Tracks include loops, corkscrews, and other dangerous sections that make each lap a challenge. On Nintendo Switch, F-Zero X offers online multiplayer, so up to four players can race each other online in addition to the LAN multiplayer.

If you haven’t tried the F-Zero series before, this is an excellent place to start.

Considering the game has a Metacritic score of 85/100 and reviews at the time were very positive, it’s easy to see why F-Zero X is now on Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

It’s been called the greatest game of all time. And it just might be.

(It was also added to the Video Game Hall of Fame in 2022.)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time did for Link what Super Mario 64 did for Mario, moving Link into three dimensions for the very first time. The overworld, Hyrule, has been criticized for being a little empty, but it gave us our first looks at monumental locations like Death Mountain, Gerudo Valley, and Zora’s Domain.

Bringing the game to the NSO service gives gamers a chance to play this piece of video game history.

It sends Link on a new adventure to stop the evil Ganondorf and save Hyrule by traveling through time. Ocarina of Time is a 3D action game where Link is controlled in third-person, typical for the series.

The gameplay is what you’d expect for a Zelda game with the main story, sidequests and minor objectives, combat, dungeons, and a horse for faster travel. It also gives Link an Ocarina instrument that’s used to complete unique musical puzzles.

Like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time didn’t have a multiplayer mode, but the single-player campaign takes between 30-40 hours to complete. In many ways, Breath of the Wild was a return to the openness that made Ocarina of Time so transformational for the series. 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time comes with a Metacritic score of 99/100, and most critics gave the game 10/10 when it was first released.

This is easily one of the best games ever produced and one of the highest-rated games of all time.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Majora’s Mask was the follow-up to Ocarina of Time, so it had a lot to live up to. Despite that pressure, the game was incredibly well received and thought to be one of the best video games ever made. It gained a bit of a cult following after its original release in 2000.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask expands on the gameplay from Ocarina of Time while also keeping the ocarina songs and puzzles. It keeps the classic gameplay with players controlling Link in third-person while fighting through dungeons and completing quests. It adds new elements with masks that transform Link into other beings.

It might not have sold as well as Ocarina of Time, but The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a critical success when it was released in 2000.

It holds a Metacritic score of 95/100, reflecting the universal acclaim the game has earned.

Banjo-Kazooie

One of the few third-party titles on the NSO service, Banjo-Kazooie is a fan favorite for many, and it’s easy to see why.

The original game in the series was released in 2008 as a Nintendo 64 exclusive, so it’s an iconic game for the console. It was designed to be a 3D platformer that could appeal to all ages, which led to its critical and commercial success.

Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D action platformer where players control the two protagonists, Banjo and Kazooie. The premise is relatively simple, with players needing to play through nine 3D worlds to gather musical notes and jigsaw pieces called Jiggies to progress through the game. Each world contains different challenges such as puzzles, enemies, and boss battles.

It’s a classic game that’s been remastered in the past for modern consoles, with the most recent re-release being for the Xbox One in 2015 as part of the Rare Replay collection. Banjo-Kazooie gained a 92/100 Metacritic score and is considered one of the best 3D action-adventure games of all time.

Star Fox 64

Star Fox is a beloved series by many but also one that has fallen out of the center stage. Star Fox 64 was the second game in the series and the original game’s reboot. It was the first game to support the Rumble Pak peripheral, and it became one of the best-selling games for the Nintendo 64 console.

It’s a 3D rail shooter set in space where players control a spacecraft and need to maneuver it across the screen. Most of the game is played in Corridor Mode, where the spaceship is forced to follow a set path, so players need to dodge obstacles and destroy enemies. There are also boss fights in “All-Range Mode”, which uses a 3D space within a large arena instead.

Star Fox 64 was one of the top-selling games of 1997, second only to Mario Kart 64. As expected of a best-selling game, it reached a high Metacritic score of 88/100 with commercial and critical success.

While it was declared an instant classic, some criticism was that the game was too similar to the original game. But that’s not bad for newcomers to the Star Fox franchise!

Paper Mario

The Paper Mario series quickly gained popularity after it was first released in 2000 for the N64.

It’s not quite as popular as other series from the Mario franchise, but Paper Mario holds a special place in the hearts of gamers from the N64 era. As a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Paper Mario mixes traditional RPG mechanics — like turn-based combat, a traditional leveling system, and an expansive, winding story — with the classic Mario platforming that we expect to see.

Paper Mario sends players on a quest to rescue Princess Peach and save the Mushroom Kingdom from the evil Bowser. All Mario games have their gimmicks, and with this one, it’s no surprise that the gimmick is that the game turns Mario and his friends into flat, paper-thin 2D versions of themselves.

Rated as one of the best N64 games, Paper Mario is also one of the highest-rated games for the console. It received near-perfect scores from critics averaging 9/10 during that time.

These days the Metacritic score sits at 93/100. The re-releases on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles also received critical acclaim.

Super Mario 64

This was the first Super Mario game to bring 3D gameplay to the series.

Bowser has invaded Princess Peach’s castle and hidden the castle’s sources of protection, so Mario needs to save the day once again. Super Mario 64 was initially released in 1996, but there was a remake released for the Nintendo DS in 2004, and since then, there have been multiple ports, including a spot on the limited Super Mario All-Stars release for the Nintendo Switch.

It’s hard to describe how big Super Mario 64 was in 1996. Super Mario World on the SNES was a huge leap forward from the first three Super Mario Bros. games, but Mario 64 was something different. Mario wasn’t just a side-scrolling hero anymore — he could move in three dimensions.

Yes, the camera controls are stiff. Yes, the platforming is difficult (looking at you, Tick Tock Clock). And yes, the 3D graphics are rough. But Super Mario 64 is the game that made 3D platforming what it is today. 

It gave us a rudimentary freewheeling camera that was eventually perfected with dual-analog sticks. The castle hub world was unlike anything we had ever seen before. And the individual worlds behind the paintings were full of character and imagination.

Since 1996, you could argue that 3D Mario games have been building on this basic foundation. You can draw a straight line from Mario 64 to Bowser’s Fury in terms of controls, look, and feel. 

In recent years, Super Mario 64 has attracted a cult following in the speedrunning community and many fangame spinoffs. It’s easy to see why the game is so popular — it was a big genre leap for the Mario franchise without straying too far from the original storyline.

Even before it was released, Super Mario 64 received constant praise, and upon release, it was immediately loved by gamers and critics alike.

Critics consistently gave the game top marks, with Metacritic giving it a 94/100 with praise for its graphics, gameplay, design, and controls.

Dr. Mario 64

Dr. Mario 64 is a series that Nintendo seems to have all but forgotten about.

It was first released in 2001, and while many Nintendo fans are familiar with the name, only a tiny percentage have played it. Unlike most other Mario games, Dr. Mario 64 is a puzzle game.

The puzzle genre isn’t known for getting the best games of a generation, but Dr. Mario is an exception.

Dr. Mario 64 a tile-matching puzzle game, meaning players need to move tiles to match them so that they disappear. The mechanics are simple and easy to learn, but it throws a slight Mario twist. Players need to move the falling medicine to connect a line of four or more items of the same color in a row. Once there’s enough of that color, the line will be removed from the board.

Dr. Mario 64 was rated well overall. Metacritic rates it at 71/100 despite the mostly average reviews it collected in 2001. There was some criticism that this game was too similar to the original game in the series.

Mario Kart 64

While Mario Kart 64 wasn’t the first Mario Kart, it marked a huge transformation for the franchise and made Super Mario Kart look like a proof of concept.

This was the second mainline entry to the Mario Kart series we all know and love. Mario Kart 64 was first released in 1996 and quickly became a commercial success worldwide.

This was also the first game to offer four-player support, which allowed it to become a multiplayer favorite. Even today, this is still a popular option for local competitive tournaments for retro games.

Mario Kart 64 made the most of what made the Nintendo 64 so special — multiplayer. It was the first game on the system to offer four-player support — for the first time, four players could go head-to-head on the racetrack. The game also included many of the game modes we recognize from more recent Mario Kart installments — Grand Prix, Time Trial, Versus, and Battle.

Coming with four game modes, Mario Kart 64 offers single-player and multiplayer for almost all modes. The Grand Prix can be played alone or with a second player to compete against each other in different cups.

While the Versus and Battle modes are multiplayer-only, there was also a Time Trial mode for a solo player to race for the best times possible. It’s even possible to save “ghosts” of previous players to race against for the Time Trial.

Mario Kart 64 doesn’t look as good as the more modern games, but it’s a crucial part of the series’ history. It was the second best-selling game on the N64, only losing out to Super Mario 64. There were a handful of complaints, but this didn’t stop the game from earning top scores from critics.

Metacritic today rates it as 83/100, and gaming critics still include it in their “best Nintendo games of all time” lists.

Mario Golf

Even though we saw Mario teeing up in Golf for the Game Boy back in 1990, the original Mario Golf wasn’t released until 1999 for the Nintendo 64 and later that year for the Game Boy Color.

As expected for a sports game, it has a simple premise where players control Mario and his friends as they play golf. This was the second game in the series, and while it might not be as popular as other Mario series, it’s still spawned quite a few games.

Golf doesn’t have the best reputation, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from creating a very well-received game at launch. It’s a simplified version of golf that allows gamers to “pick up and play” the game without any knowledge of golf. However, there are still many elements to consider when hitting the ball, which makes it more complicated than it appears. Mario Golf is simple to play, but it’s still skill-based.

It’s also worth noting that the N64 and Game Boy Color versions are slightly different. The GBC version included some RPG elements, and developer Camelot created some new characters for that platform. The N64 version has been re-released for Wii and Wii U virtual consoles, but the GBC version was re-released for the Nintendo 3DS.

Golf might not be appealing to most sports fans, but gaming critics still enjoyed playing Mario Golf. It received near-universal acclaim, and the Nintendo 64 version gained a 91/100 Metacritic score.

Mario Tennis

Tennis is one of the world’s most popular sports, so it was no surprise when Mario picked up a tennis racquet again in 2000.

The first game in the series was Mario’s Tennis, and the similar names make them easy to mix up. It’s been re-released a few times over the years. And for good reason.

Mario Tennis introduced a different control system to most tennis video games available. It uses simple controls with two buttons for various shots, but there are multiple types of shots players can make by pressing the buttons in different combinations. Mario Tennis is another case of it looks simple and easy for anyone to play, but there’s a high skill ceiling.

Camelot developed it for both the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color. Like with their Mario Golf game, the GBC version is slightly different from the N64. The GBC version includes an RPG mode to play through various tournaments. The N64 Mario Tennis doesn’t include this, but it does have an Exhibition and Tournament mode along with some unique challenges.

Both versions of Mario Tennis were well reived and earned critical acclaim. It was overwhelmingly praised for its accessibility and controls, which were later included in future games.

The N64 version gained a Metacritic score of 91/100, which isn’t surprising considering this was considered one of the best games of that console generation.

Yoshi’s Story

Releasing in 1997, Yoshi’s Story is a side-scrolling platform game that takes place inside a pop-up storybook. This was the second game in the Yoshi series, but it was also the first one with a title focused on just him and his adventures. The first game was Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which is easy to miss as a Yoshi game.

While it’s a side-scroller, Yoshi’s Story is also puzzle orientated. Ithas a Story Mode which is the primary mode where players can traverse the world to collect Special Hearts and eat fruit to progress. After beating a stage in Story Mode, it’s unlocked in Trial Mode, where the aim is to get the highest score possible.

While Yoshi’s Story wasn’t particularly well-received at launch, it’s been a successful re-release for modern consoles. Nintendo re-released it for the Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console and the game quickly made it into the “most downloaded” lists for each platform.

The Metacritic rating for Yoshi’s Story is 65/100 putting it firmly into the “average” range.

WinBack: Covert Operations

WinBack was released in 1999 and is an exciting piece of gaming history. Also known as Operation: WinBack in Australia and Europe, this game isn’t well-known, but it was vital for the shooter genre. This was one of the first games to focus on a cover system where players take cover behind corners and then peek out to shoot. While it was innovative at the time, this gameplay mechanic is now standard in shooter games of all types.

WinBack is a third-person shooter game that follows protagonist Jean-Luc Cougar as he infiltrates a laser satellite’s command center. Shooting and stealth are the main gameplay aspects here and while it’s pretty primitive compared to later stealth-focused shooters, WinBack still holds up. The PlayStation 2 version also came with multiplayer in certain regions.

While WinBack was critical to the development of the shooter genre, the game was only considered to be “average” at the time. While there’s no Metacritic score for the N64 version, the PS2 release earned 66/100, and critics seemed to give the game a 7/10 on average for the N64.

Sin & Punishment

Rail shooters have lost popularity over the years, but Sin & Punishment is considered one of the best in the genre.

When it was first released, the game was exclusive to Japan, but it gained a cult following in the western territories as some gamers could get their hands on imported versions. It was finally localized and released for the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles with English voice acting.

Sin & Punishment is an arcade-style rain shooter game with shooting gallery elements thrown into the mix. Players control the character from behind and need to defeat enemies to progress through the levels. It uses a targeting reticle to aim and includes both a lock-on mode and a free aiming mode to make it more accessible. Sin & Punishment allows for co-op with two players, with one player controlling the movement and the second in charge of shooting.

Since this game has been challenging to obtain in the past, Sin & Punishment lacks a Metacritic rating. However, GameRankings does list it as 86/100. Now that more critics have been able to get their hands on the game, it’s been exceptionally well received and is thought to be an N64 masterpiece.

Pokémon Puzzle League

Pokémon Puzzle League came out late in the Nintendo 64’s lifecycle. In North America, Nintendo released it just a year before it launched the GameCube, and in Europe, it was even later than that.

The game includes an interesting cutscene from the Pokémon anime — which was absolutely mindblowing at the time — but other than that, Pokémon Puzzle League is a standard block-clearing puzzle game.

Pokémon Snap

Before there was New Pokémon Snap, there was the original Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.

Compared to the 2021 sequel, which improved on the original game in nearly every way, playing Pokémon Snap today is a clunky experience. But it’s important to remember that this first-person rail-shooter game from 1999 was the very first time Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 players had ever seen Pokémon in 3D — Pokémon Stadium would follow Pokémon Snap a few months later.

Pokémon Snap holds a score of 77 on Metacritic, but unless you’re feeling nostalgic for the days of walking into your local Blockbuster and renting Pokémon Snap, I’d suggest skipping this one. For most of today’s players, New Pokémon Snap offers a much more modern and intuitive experience.

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Unfortunately, Kirby didn’t have great timing on the Nintendo 64. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was another late, late Nintendo 64 game. By the time this platformer arrived, the Nintendo 64 was a little long in the tooth, and the GameCube was just months away, so a lot of players missed out on Kirby 64.

For a system built for 3D games, Kirby 64 is a really fun 2D platformer. If you enjoyed Kirby Star Allies on the Switch (or even Yoshi’s Crafted World), Kirby 64 will feel familiar. It’s an easy adventure with some of the most charming art direction on the system.

Wave Race 64

Produced by the one and only Shigeru Miyamoto, Wave Race 64 is the classic jet ski racing game on the Nintendo 64. Ever since the game was released in 1996, players and critics alike have been wowed by Wave Race 64‘s water physics. Even playing it today on the Switch’s Nintendo 64 emulator, the water looks amazing.

While Wave Race 64 is a fun single-player experience, like other games on the N64, it really shines when it comes to multiplayer, and with the Nintendo Switch Online service, you can race your friends online.

Younger Nintendo players might be surprised to learn that Wave Race is a first-party Nintendo IP. The first Wave Race title came out in 1992 on the original Game Boy, and the latest installment, Wave Race: Blue Storm, was released for the GameCube in 2001. Hopefully, we’ll get another Wave Race on Switch eventually. (Fingers crossed.)

Wave Race 64 holds a Metacritic score of 92.

Can You Play N64 Games on Switch Offline?

Yes, you can play Nintendo 64 games on the Switch offline. But if you have an internet connection, you can play N64 multiplayer games like Mario Kart 64 and Mario Golf online with your friends.

Do You Have to Have an N64 Controller to Play N64 Games on Switch?

No, you don’t have to have a Nintendo 64 controller to play N64 games on the Switch. Nintendo has mapped all the Nintendo 64 games available on the Switch for current controllers, so you can play with your Joy-Cons or your Pro Controller.

But if you want the real N64 experience on your Switch, Nintendo sells a wireless version of the Nintendo 64 controller for the Switch. It’s $49.99, full-sized, has built-in rumble functionality (no Rumble Pak required), and has been pretty hard to get your hands on. If you can find it in stock, this replica of the Nintendo 64 controller is the best way to experience N64 games on the Switch. It’s sold exclusively through the My Nintendo Store, so you can’t find it anywhere else.

Can You Buy N64 Games on Switch?

Unfortunately, you can’t buy most Nintendo 64 games on the Switch. A Nintendo Switch Online service subscription gives you access to a small selection of Nintendo 64 games, but unlike previous Nintendo consoles — looking at you, Wii U — you can’t buy actually buy N64 games on the Switch’s eShop.

There are a few one-off Nintendo 64 games that you can buy, though. Super Mario 64 is available on the Super Mario 3D All-Stars compilation. A remastered version of the 1998 N64 cult classic Shadow Man is also available on the Switch. Limited Run released a physical copy of Shadow Man for the Switch.

How Do You Play N64 Games on Switch?

To play Nintendo 64 games on your Switch, you’ll need a subscription to the Nintendo Switch Online service and the additional Expansion Pack.

For an Individual Membership, the Nintendo Switch Online and the Expansion Pack costs $49.99 per year. The Family Membership discounts the price quite a bit. You can have up to 8 different Nintendo Account holders on a single Family Membership for $79.99 per year.

Once you’ve signed up for the Nintendo Switch Online and the Expansion Pass, you can download the “Nintendo 64 — Nintendo Switch Online” app from the Switch’s eShop. After downloading the app, just launch it from your home screen, as you would any other game, and you’ll see the available selection of Nintendo 64 games.

What Nintendo 64 games would you like to see on the Nintendo Switch Online service? Let us know in the comments.

Justin McGee
Justin McGee
Lifelong Nintendo fan. Follow me on Twitter @PuffyRedShirt

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