For the first popular system with four controller ports, the Nintendo 64 has a surprisingly shallow bench when it comes to multiplayer titles. It was an era of behemoths, of a handful of games that simply dominated the landscape. So yes, we’re recommending those, but we also went off the beaten path a bit to bring you some other great experiences on the system.
A good multiplayer game has to have at least one of these four aspects, and the more it has, the better:
Party-friendly: This one’s easy to pick up for newcomers and enjoy the first time even against stiff competition. It’s also good for spectators.
Deep: Multiplayer games tend to be rather evanescent. These games have more meat on their bones, and stand up to multiple sessions or lots of consecutive hours of play on content variety alone.
Competitive: These are the games you play against your friends, build up skills and keep on challenging each other as you go. They’re addictive because of the rivalries they create.
Cooperative: There’s something about working together with friends that can really make an experience special. These do it, and they do it well.
Games can have smaller bits of these elements, and for those, I’m giving them these minibadges. I didn’t forget about these parts of these games, but they may not define the core experience.
Anyway, onto the list:
Mario Party 2
It’s crazy to think that there was once an era in which the minigame-based party genre didn’t exist. It’s a thing largely because of this game, and not the first, because those who played much of the first are still nursing palm scars. The growing pains were largely over by the time the sequel released; Mario Party 2 is possibly the best game in the long-running series.
Super Smash Bros.
Surprise! Nope, not a surprise. Super Smash Bros. defined the system in many ways, and its relatively-methodical pace makes it different from its successors. It’s blocky! It’s clunky! It doesn’t look particularly nice at this point. But if you’re playing N64 multiplayer games, this is probably still what you want.
Twisted Metal was more popular, but Vigilante 8 had an extra layer of variety and polish than its PlayStation-only competition. It also competes well on the personality side, pushing its outskirts vibe as far as it can. Oh, and it’s fun to drive around and shoot other cars, and the N64 handles the modes of this era a bit better than the PS1. It doesn’t age particularly well, but… most of these games don’t.
Mario Kart 64
Battle mode. Mario Kart 64 had interesting courses and a more robust race offering, but if you’re playing Mario Kart 64 now, you need to be doing it for the battle mode. Before various attempts messed up the formula and after the SNES’ two-player-only original, the arenas and items of MK64 hit the sweet spot.
Beetle Adventure Racing!
If you actually do want to race, why not do something a little different? Beetle Adventure Racing is a game in which car choice doesn’t take center stage. Because you’re always a first-model New Beetle. This means there are interesting tracks with shortcuts and such, that… oh, right, you can’t play with four people. Then, you’re limited to the game’s battle mode. Which is fun in many of the same ways as Mario Kart.
In the early days of the long-running “tacked-on multiplayer minigames” trend the 3D platformer experienced around the millennium shift, there was Banjo-Tooie, but this selection was by Rare and fairly solid. There’s a pseudo-shooter, a quiz game and some challenges that feel like extended Mario Party events, and the mode itself is fairly well-packaged.
Let’s get this out of the way: GoldenEye 007 has aged incredibly poorly. It isn’t the game you remember, and playing any shooter since generally ruins it. But there’s something about nostalgia that makes it worth playing anyway. Sometimes. It’s about going back to the things you once did with the people you used to and remembering an era. An era of that one obnoxious guy who always picked Oddjob.
Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2
The core game is more about head-to-head battling, but the minigames in the two Stadium titles are simply addictive. They do weird things that don’t make any sense, and that’s okay. Also, if you have certain Pokemon on your Game Boy game in the Transfer Pak, you can bring them in and use them! No, it doesn’t change anything, but it’s a nice touch.
Dr. Mario 64
Four-player puzzle games are magnificent when done well, and for some reason Dr. Mario usually doesn’t go in that direction. For the N64, it made an exception, letting everyone bust viruses in a free-for-all drop-fest. I’ve had to make excuses for most of the things on this list, as they don’t hold up as well as they used to. Puzzle games like Dr. Mario 64 don’t have that problem.
Want to check out the other consoles’ lists? We have a lot of suggestions.