Multitap: Best of the Nintendo 64′s multiplayer library

July 10, 2013

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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:

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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.

Vigilante 8
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.

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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.

Banjo-Tooie
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.

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GoldenEye 007
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.

{ 16 comments }

Chris Ingersoll July 10, 2013 at 9:19 am

Was hoping to see the Stadium games on this list. Lacking these kind of hurt the fun factor of the later “pokémon arena” console games.

Chris Dominowski July 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I strongly suggested them when this list was being formulated, so I, too, was sad to see they didn’t make the final cut. :(

Chris Dominowski July 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Wait a minute… *refreshes page* when did that get there…?

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 7:18 am

They were always there! I’ll always stand by Sushi-Go-Round.

Eric Albuen July 10, 2013 at 10:57 am

I was hoping to see Snowboard Kids on this list (at least the second one). Nothing like battle racing and being a complete jerk to all your friends because you got to the gate first and they went from 1st to 4th in a matter of seconds.

Chris Dominowski July 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I hear you on that. Snowboard Kids was one of the most stupid-fun multiplayer experiences you could hope for on the N64. It was quick, fun, and changed at the drop of a hat. :P

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 7:19 am

It is very good! It almost made the cut.

wkvrtis July 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Killer Orange kit.

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 7:17 am

It really is the best.

Chris Dominowski July 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I will always maintain that Diddy Kong Racing is superior to Mario Kart 64, because the tracks actually make use of the 3D space, where MK64 was, structurally, still a 2D game. At least in my perspective.

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 7:16 am

I will certainly grant you that it was a more ambitious game and a fun game. MK 64 was simpler but more tightly-designed, while DKR had the issues that any innovative game has: some things didn’t work very well, and some things weren’t quite at the level of polish they should’ve been and would’ve been if the series had continued.

Shawn Vermette July 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Great choices, but I have to take issue with Goldeneye 007 being on here over Perfect Dark 64. Perfect Dark took Goldeneye’s positives, fixed some of the negatives and added bots and multiplayer challenges and a number of other improvements.

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 7:21 am

Is Perfect Dark a better game? Yes, probably. But GoldenEye is here because, despite the fact that both have aged horribly to the point that neither are objectively particularly fun anymore, 007 has a separate, nostalgia-based appeal.

Eric Albuen July 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

On top of that, Goldeneye didn’t need an Expansion Pack just to play the full multiplayer experience.

Graham Russell July 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Well, that part isn’t great, but an Expansion Pak isn’t exactly the the hardest thing to find. In these lists, I’ve previously recommended, say, a game that needed 5 SNES controllers, an imported game, a system that can play it and a Super Multitap.

Shawn Vermette July 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I suppose that’s true. I’m sure for most people Goldeneye is the one that gives more nostalgia. My friends and I played a lot more Perfect Dark though, so I’m more nostalgic about it. I will never forget my trusty Laptop Gun.