Multiplayer leveled up big time when the N64 dropped. While Genesis and SNES let you and a pal play couch co-op or versus mode, N64 doubled the controller ports and allowed up to four players to play simultaneously.
You knew what that meant.
It was time to grab the Pepsi Blue and pour a bowl of Doritos 3D for some sweet four-player multiplayer action. Here are our picks for the top 10 multiplayer games on the N64 to help you get your next retro gaming night right.
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10. WWF No Mercy
Back in the day when the WWE still shared a name with a fund dedicated to saving the pandas, the famed wrestling entertainment company released this gem to follow up the critically-acclaimed WWF Wrestlemania 2000.
WWF games preceding Wrestlemania required players to input complicated button combos to perform perfunctory maneuvers. Wrestlemania reinvented the gameplay mechanics to simplify things, making the experience more manageable and providing more depth than previous entries.
WWF No Mercy took that same winning formula and cranked the volume up to eleven. THQ added in a Championship mode, adding a much-needed story behind all the senseless violence the game centered around. Additional match types like the legendary Ladder match were incorporated as well.
Hardcore matches got pretty hardcore as well, as now players could vacate the ring and head backstage to beat their opponents done with all sorts of colorful props in a variety of new settings from locker rooms to loading docks.
Of course, not everyone was into wrestling, so it wasn’t as universally enjoyed as other N64 titles, but the sheer magnitude of this epic game made it a worthy play and an excellent multiplayer experience. One-on-one exhibition matches against a friend were always satisfying, but four-player tag team matches, tornado tag, and Royal Rumbles with three other buddies were always tons of fun.
Whether you were a wrestling fan or not, WWF No Mercy was a totally dope experience that remains endlessly entertaining even today.
9. Mario Tennis
Sure, Mario had time for his hobbies back in the SNES days, taking the occasional break from adventure to paint or race go-karts with his pals and even his nemesis, Bowser, too. The N64 took things to a whole new level, though, and Mario started throwing parties and playing every sport under the sun.
On paper, it seems like Mario Tennis should be gimmicky and fall flat with audiences over the age of nine, but how wrong you’d be to assume that this cheerful tennis title is anything but tight, precise, and well-crafted.
You get your classic ensemble of Nintendo favorites including Mario, Luigi, Peach, and more, including the debut of everyone’s favorite weirdo, Waluigi himself. Each player was grouped in a category highlighting their strengths, with bruisers like Wario and Bowser showcasing power while speedsters like Yoshi and Birdo emphasized speed instead.
From character attributes to a variety of shots, all made possible simply by varying whether you hit A or B first, there was a surprising amount of depth to the experience. Not only was Mario Tennis excellent during the single player or in two player versus modes, four-player Doubles was an absolute delight.
Later on, Nintendo would up the ante on Gamecube with Mario Power Tennis and add in over-the-top power shots that gave each player a special ability to pull off mid-match. This feature was polarizing, with some criticizing the way specials interrupted the fast pace that Mario Tennis absolutely nailed while others felt the sensational addition added even more uniqueness and charm.
Regardless on where you land on the Mario Tennis versus Mario Power Tennis debate, the multiplayer experience offered by Mario Tennis on N64 was pure love.
8. Bomberman 64
Bomberman 64 was an underrated game for the 64, boasting inventive level layouts, excellent character design, and gameplay mechanics that were simple to learn but difficult to master. The main story was loads of fun, but the Battle Mode was four-player mayhem that could be played for hours at a time and never get old.
The goal of the Battle Mode was to blow up your opponents or throw them off the stage. Power-ups would pop up occasionally and allow you additional bombs to throw, bigger blast radiuses, or a heart to give you one free oopsie.
If you couldn’t pin down your foes within the time limit, everyone entered Sudden Death which would impose an environmental hazard on anyone who remained alive. This might include meteors crashing down from the sky, water rising, or walls closing in.
What made things even more interesting is that the dead could still return to influence the outcome of the match. Eliminated players got to return as a ghost and “possess” a living player, causing them to hold onto their bombs, walk off the map, or do something else foolish to get themselves inadvertently killed.
All of these factors combined made for a multiplayer experience that was easy for anyone to pick up and learn but gave enough depth and variety to keep everyone engaged for hours.
7. Diddy Kong Racing
Everyone was super stoked about Mario Kart 64, as the SNES version was a revolutionary title that combined everyone’s favorite video game plumber into a go-kart race with all his best buds.
Diddy Kong Racing, on the other hand, was a harder sell. Gamers knew Diddy Kong from his days on the SNES as well, but who were these other forest friends? The roster featured a bunch of nobodies at the time, including country bumpkin bear, a badger with flight goggles, a tiger with a hat, and a cutesy squirrel who would go on to star in a risque title filled with profanity and adult themes.
It was a real who’s who of nobodies and seemed to be a thinly veiled attempt by Rare to pull in some of that Mario Kart crowd for a best seller, and boy did it sell. When all was said and done, Diddy Kong Racing finished as the eighth best-selling N64 game of all time, selling over one million units in the first few weeks alone.
And how did it accomplish this? By putting its own spin to make it unique and innovative in its own right. While Mario and his friends drive go-karts exclusively, Diddy and friends race in karts, hovercrafts, and planes too.
Power-ups in Diddy Kong Racing functioned differently as well, as grabbing one red balloon let you shoot a rocket, two red balloons armed you with a homing missile, and three equipped you with a barrage of rockets. Diddy Kong Racing let you stack power-ups, if you felt it would be an appropriate strategy.
The four-player multiplayer was exceptional in this one. You and your friends got to race across a number of different tracks, many of which allowed you to choose from the car, plane, or hovercraft as you saw fit. The tracks often provided various paths too, making it unclear which one gave you an edge.
With a great collection of racetracks, the ability to pick from different vehicles, and an interesting mechanic incorporated into the power-ups, there was a lot to keep Diddy Kong Racing fresh for hours at a time.
Overall, Diddy Kong Racing remains one of the best N64 titles of all time.
6. Gauntlet Legends
Some folks didn’t feel so competitive with their best buds. Instead, they preferred to get some couch co-op going and beat down some baddies as a team.
Gauntlet Legends was one such game that let you rally the troops in a battle against the forces of evil. Acting as the N64’s take on the arcade classic, Gauntlet Legends let you and your friends pick from four different character classes– the Warrior, the Wizard, the Archer, and the Valkyrie– with the ability to unlock a few more down the line.
Players traversed through four unique worlds to battle hordes of creeps and massive stage bosses to unlock entry into the final dungeon. Unlike the arcade version, Gauntlet Legends allowed players to level up and build their stats to make the adventure all the more easier as you progressed.
The leveling mechanics and unique abilities of each class gave the game a satisfying amount of depth, and it was enticing for players to wrap on a level, look one another in the eyes and decide, against their better judgment, to push on for just one more level.
You knew it wouldn’t be just one more level, but that’s the thing about Gauntlet Legends. It’s so hard to put down once you get going on it!
5. Mario Kart 64
Players that loved the tight gaming experience offered by Super Mario Kart were predisposed to love Mario Kart 64 from the jump, but it immediately presented as one of the best multiplayer experiences on the console at the time and holds that title today.
Mario Kart 64 gave us a roster of our favorite Mario characters like the plumber brothers, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Toad as well as baddies like Wario and Bowser in a kart racing extravaganza that featured all new mechanics and race tracks.
Power ups included your classic combos of red and green shells, banana peels, and mushrooms that boosted your kart’s speed temporarily, but new items were added in for even more mayhem. The spiky blue shell, for instance, made its first appearance, seeking out the first place player automatically to even the odds for all racers.
The best thing about Mario Kart 64 was that any slight maneuver could turn the tides completely. Maybe one player is dominating totally until they drift off track and plummet into the abyss. Suddenly, they’re third, fourth, even last if you’re playing with computer-controlled characters too.
Zany items and racing mishaps kept things endlessly interesting. Roll in some incredibly inventive race tracks like Toad’s Turnpike, Bowser’s Castle, and Moo Moo Farm, and you had hours of fun before you.
If the racing ever got tired, and it rarely did, the game featured a Battle Mode as well which pitted you and your buds in a four-way brawl, shooting shells and laying down peels in an attempt to pop balloons until only one player remained.
All in all, Mario Kart 64 set a new gold standard for Mario Kart games and racing games in general, and it maintains its status as one of the best even today.
4. Mario Party 2
Mario Party was a fresh and fascinating game when it was released in 1998. Presented as a board game, it was the first installment of what would become an incredibly popular and lucrative series of games.
The original was great, but it’s an ongoing debate to this day whether Mario Party 2 or Mario Party 3 gets the honors as “Best Mario Party Game on the N64” or, heck, “Best Mario Party Game of All Time.”
For my money, I’m throwing it at Mario Party 2, and let’s dive into why. The first was fresh, it was new, and it was incredibly exciting. Riding off of that brand new concept that everyone was eager to get into, Mario Party 2 came riding in only a year or so after the first, capitalizing on the freshness but adding just enough to make things fresh yet again.
The themed boards feature a variety of new gimmicks, including a locomotive that runs over other players, a cannon that shoots when you land on a certain space, or a rolling eyeball that repositions your character if you so wish.
The themes extend even further because your characters get cool costumes depending on where you’re playing. If you’re in Space Land, you get a rad astronaut suit. If you’re playing in Pirate Land, you get to, well, be a pirate, as the name suggests.
Mario Party 2 brought 65 minigames into the mix, including favorites from the first game like Bumper Balls, Hexagon Heat, and Hot Rope Jump, while adding new classics like Shell Shocked and Mecha-Marathon. Mario Party 2 added Duels into the mix too, providing yet another way to grab some extra coin or otherwise besmirch your buds during gameplay.
So why does Mario Party 2 trump its sequel? For one, the minigames bring back favorites from the first game, while Mario Party 3 discards everything in exchange for all new content. It was a bold move by Nintendo, but you’re really going to do Bumper Balls dirty like that? For shame, Nintendo. For shame.
In addition, the boards were more memorable from the second installment. Some of the level gimmicks, like the day and night feature from Horror Land, would go on to become the defining feature for Mario Party 6 in the future.
If you happen to prefer Mario Party 3 over the second one, I’m not going to fight you over it. They’re both solid games. In the interest of featuring only one of these iconic titles on our list though, we’re giving it up to Mario Party 2.
3. GoldenEye 007
You could make a damn good case for GoldenEye 007 clinching the top spot on this list because there was literally nothing like this on a console before when it came out. The gameplay was so well-developed, so iconic, so fresh and innovative, that it would become the blueprint for future games in the genre to really shine..
What helped keep GoldenEye’s multiplayer so fresh, even when you’re on Hour 9 of a certified gaming marathon, was the endless array of options the player was given to customize the deathmatch experience.
You had a plethora of modes like Normal, which pitted you and your buds in the level of your choice to dash to the level’s best weapons and wreak havoc before it could be wrought unto you, You Only Live Twice, Licence to Kill, and The Living Daylights.
These modes inflicted new rules to manage while trying to unleash carnage upon your besties. Licence to Kill turned every weapon, including the standard karate chop, into a one-hit kill, making it all the more precarious to turn each corner of the map.
The Living Daylights, on the other hand, was more like a game of “Kill the Carrier”, as it required players to pick up a flag that would increase their score but make them unable to use weapons as they tried to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge away from their enemies.
If the modes weren’t awesome enough, the weapon sets were endlessly entertaining as well. You could go in with a classic loadout including the Klobb, D5K Deutsche, and Phantom for automatics, or you could turn it into a sci-fi shootout and throw the Moonraker Laser into the mix.
The weapon set basically dictated a lot about the rhythm of the match, as you may boldly charge into combat during a Normal match using Pistols Classic in the Facility. You may not feel so emboldened navigating the Complex when remote mines are in play, however, and walking into the wrong room spelled certain doom.
The game stayed fresh for hours and hours at a time. You could exhaust every level, mode, and loadout, and there would still be more permutations to put together and try out. If it wasn’t enough picking your weapon set, you could even customize the loadout so that everyone had throwing knives or proximity mines.
GoldenEye 007 walked so that Perfect Dark, Halo, and other FPS classics could run. There are just two rules of GoldenEye in my book–
Don’t watch my screen!
No playing as Oddjob! Seriously, folks. It’s just a cheap move.
2. Super Smash Bros.
Before NIntendo blew up Super Smash into the colossus it is today with nearly 100 different fighters in the most recent installment, we had the N64 classic Super Smash Bros. which gave you but twelve.
That didn’t make it any less fun though. When Super Smash dropped, people were going bonkers. Fighting games had always leaned on health bars, one-on-one matches with a best two out of three default format, and that was the expectation. Plus, fighting games liked building their own lore and introducing characters that were specific to that game series and that series only.
Enter Super Smash, which took all your favorite Nintendo characters from different games and pitted them against each other in an all-out brawl. Players could choose Pikachu and shoot lightning around the arena while Yoshi players pelted eggs all around. Characters like Captain Falcon, who no one ever saw outside his race car up to that point, were totally unique as he could soar across a stage and throw out an iconic “FALCON PUNCH!” to devastate anyone or anything in his path.
The abilities were fresh, but it was such a satisfying experience because everyone’s moveset was the same. You didn’t need to roll forward on the D-pad or hit a complicated series of buttons to do combos or specials. Literally just hit the B button and Up or Down at the same time, and that’s it.
The result was a beginner-friendly experience that welcomed new players without the need to alienate them as they learned, as even noobs could button mash their way into accidental glory, but Smash retained the characteristic of being difficult to master.
Sure, you could execute every move, but do you know when the best time to use each is? Are you going to stand in front of me and try that “PIKA!” thunderbolt move like I’m not going to send you sailing off the map with a quick smash attack?
Straight brawls were always loads of fun, especially if you took it to maps with less gimmicks like the Great Fox in Sector Z. Others, like Saffron City with its revolving door of Pokémon cameos to interrupt the beatdowns, would throw environmental hazards at you and turn the tides at key moments.
Items added an additional element of surprise too, as you might have the complete upper hand only to have a crate plummet to your opponent’s aid and bless them with a hammer to spell your doom in a single hit. Crates could be a blessing, but they could also be rigged to explode. You just never know.
Circling back to how Super Smash Bros. deviated from the fighting game tropes that made many entries just cookie cutter copies of one another, Smash used an innovative damage system that recorded damage as a percent. The only way to score a KO was to knock your opponent off the stage, either by spiking them into the abyss, sending them sailing straight up, and socking them into the side of the screen.
That might mean a savvy player, hiding in a protected area, might be able to survive a hard hit even with 120% damage while another player might overreach on a spike and fail to return to the platform with only 32% before death. It was, and remains, a unique and interesting mechanic that players must consider at all times.
Between the colorful roster of characters, innovative mechanics, and overall polished experience, Super Smash Bros. was one of the greatest games of the N64 and may very well be one of the best of all time.
1. Perfect Dark
Admit it– when you saw GoldenEye farther down on this list, you had a feeling you’d find Perfect Dark up here, didn’t you? How could we give the top honors to Perfect Dark when it literally would not exist without GoldenEye?
Quite simply, it did everything GoldenEye did, but better.
Let’s take the weapons. There were some absolute legends on the GoldenEye roster like the Klobb and the KF7 Soviet. Perfect Dark threw in new variants of these classics, the aptly renamed KL01313 and KF7 Special, but added in a whole lot more.
You had guns like the FarSight XR-20, which could literally snipe through walls. You had the Maulers, which you could dual wield and charge up to deliver absolute devastation with each shot. You had the Super Dragon, which was a capable automatic weapon that doubled as a grenade launcher.
Let’s not forget the iconic Laptop Gun that was a fairly decent weapon in your hands, but a better weapon when tossed at a wall or ceiling to act as an independent turret.
Perfect Dark’s premise involved an alien element, so there was a plethora of cool regular guns, secret agent stuff, and extraterrestrial weapons that had no real world limitations whatsoever. They looked cool, did cool stuff, made cool noises, and even the reload animations were totally awesome.
I mean, how about that one where she literally put an ammunition orb thingamajig on top of the gun and it just absorbs it? How cool was that?
In terms of the maps, Perfect Dark gets the edge again. They recycled classics like the Facility, renamed “Felicity”, and the Complex, but included more like Area 52, the Villa, the Grid, and the Car Park to provide numerous new arenas for endless fun.
Perfect Dark featured a number of modes from your standard Combat mode, Hold the Briefcase, Hacker Central, and King of the Hill. Again, it borrowed heavily from its predecessor but expanded enough to give it the edge.
But the real nail in the coffin for GoldenEye were the bots.
For those that never played Perfect Dark, let me sell you on this feature alone. Perfect Dark allowed you to insert up to eight AI-controlled bots to play against, giving you the ability to do a 12-person “every man for himself” kind of game, team battles, an “us against them” structure, and more.
Bots ranged from the blundering MeatSim who simply meandered aimlessly squandering ammo by shooting the walls to the dastardly DarkSim that would appear suddenly like a Xenomorph and assassinate you instantly with no warning.
Beyond sim difficulty levels, there were personality traits to assign too. You could throw in TurtleSim, who would slowly find its way to a shield, or VengeSim, who essentially ignored every player except for the last one to kill it.
The sims added another element to the experience, making it even more entertaining and endlessly interesting.
Between the new guns, modes, maps, the addition of sims, the incredibly cool animations, and the excellent score, Perfect Dark is damn near perfect when it comes to the best multiplayer experiences on the N64.