Nintendo Switch Online is a service that could be better. It’s Nintendo’s own version of PS Plus or Xbox Live, albeit with a less refined online play experience, a library of NES and SNES titles bolted on and some extra digital goodies here and there for subscribers.
That’s not to say Nintendo Switch Online is entirely without merit. The aforementioned NES and SNES libraries are quite robust at this point, offering up several classic titles alongside more obscure hits. NSO subscribers also have free access to the excellent Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 online multiplayer games.
But Nintendo Switch Online is on the cusp of getting much better. During the September 23 Nintendo Direct presentation, the company announced that Nintendo 64 (as well as Sega Genesis / Mega Drive) games will be coming to the service via a higher tier known as ‘Expansion Pack’.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of exploring some of the best games from Nintendo’s 3D breakout console, though, you’re in luck. We’ve put together a guide below, acting as a brief introduction to every N64 game currently announced for Nintendo Switch Online, and we’ll be updating the list as future updates roll out.
- A bizarre, inventive, British-developed 3D platformer
This quirky 3D platformer starring a dysfunctional bear and bird pair is just one of many excellent titles developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64. Not only is Banjo-Kazooie a superb collect-a-thon style platformer, it’s filled to the brim with a delightfully juvenile sense of humor, superbly creative level design and some Metroidvania elements where finding new power-ups is essential to progress.
Seeing Banjo-Kazooie come to Nintendo Switch Online was a bit of a surprise. Despite the titular pair featuring as DLC characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Rare and its IP are owned by Microsoft. That said, Nintendo and Microsoft seem to have an amicable relationship, so we’d love to see even more Rare titles like Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day come to NSO somewhere down the line.
- Should I play it? While we favor the excellent upscaled Xbox 360 port of Banjo-Kazooie (that’s available on Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One through the Rare Replay collection), being able to play one of the N64’s best platformers on the go is a novelty you shouldn’t pass up.
Dr. Mario 64
- A basic, if inoffensive puzzle game
Probably the most unremarkable addition at launch, Dr. Mario 64 is a revision of the NES original. A puzzle game where players have to line up pills with evil viruses of the same color, Dr. Mario 64 is a block-based puzzler where, unfortunately, the novelty can wear thin after just a few rounds. Especially as it doesn’t feel quite as fluid or straightforward as genre stalwarts like Tetris or Puyo Puyo.
Dr. Mario 64 does at least introduce some brand new modes, and obviously ups the presentation when compared to the NES original. But if you’re not a diehard puzzler, you’ll likely only be able to squeeze a few minutes of fun here before moving on to other – better – games available on Nintendo Switch Online.
- Should I play it? Probably not, unless puzzle games are your go-to genre. Even in that case, there’s not much here that you can’t experience in the NES original. Hopefully, more compelling N64 puzzlers like Wetrix and Tetrisphere make the NSO cut down the line.
- Blindingly fast racing at 60fps
Speaking of better games, F-Zero X is simply one of the best on the N64, and a must-play if you’re looking to check out a futuristic racing game that’s aged shockingly well. While the visuals are lacking, even for an N64 game (everything looks like it’s been made from cereal boxes), F-Zero X picks up the slack with a buttery smooth 60fps performance – a rarity on the N64.
There’s a good chunk of replay value available in F-Zero X, too, with tons of racers to unlock, as well as cups with new tracks across several difficulty levels. Pack in one of the best soundtracks on the system and F-Zero X is well worth anyone’s time, and might just be worth buying into the Expansion Pack tier on its own.
- Should I play it? Absolutely. F-Zero X shouldn’t be missed, especially if you’ve never played an entry in the series before and are looking to see what all the fuss is about. Ultimately, though, F-Zero X is still a brilliantly playable game despite its age.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
- One of the Kirbster’s best outings, period
You could make the argument that most Kirby games are somewhat homogeneous, and there’s some truth to that. Most feature the series’ iconic ‘copy’ ability that allows Kirby to take on the powers of his enemies, and most of them are also side-scrolling platformers to boot.
Kirby 64 doesn’t break this trend, it just does it much better than most other titles in the series. Featuring wildly imaginative levels and boss fights (including a particularly creepy final boss), Kirby 64 takes the established series formula and just makes the best possible game it can with it.
The ace up Kirby 64’s sleeve is Power Combos, a system which combines the powers Kirby absorbs into something entirely new. It’s a fresh take on the formula, even to this day, and leads to some very fun and creative outcomes that help extend the game’s replay value.
- Should I play it? Much like Yoshi’s Story below, Kirby 64 is an easygoing, accessible platformer that’s good for players of all ages. If you’re not in the mood for something more intense like Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie, then Kirby 64 is a great fallback if you’re after something cheerfully easy to play.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Simply one of the greatest game of all time
Considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Zelda series, and perhaps one of the best games ever made, Ocarina of Time was the Final Fantasy 7 of Nintendo’s 64-bit machine – a breakout hit that catapulted the series to prolific new heights.
While OoT does suffer from some of that early 3D aging when it comes to the controls, the game’s appeal is still undeniable, and perfectly playable once you’ve adjusted to the slightly dated control scheme.
Arguably everything about Ocarina of Time is iconic. From locales like Kakariko Village and Lon Lon Ranch, to the wonderfully memorable soundtrack, Ocarina of Time is a cozy, nostalgic game for those who played it back in the day, and is to this day one of the series’ crowning achievements.
- Should I play it? While Ocarina of Time has aged considerably, with stiff controls and the occasionally obtuse dungeon design, we think it remains an unmissable experience for first-timers. The 3DS remake is a little more polished overall, but being able to play the original version in a portable format on Switch should be a novel experience for newbies and veterans alike.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
- Come for the adventure, stay for the existential dread
The second of two Zelda titles to hit the N64, Majora’s Mask somewhat lives in the shadow of its slightly older brother. And that’s a shame, as you can make a strong argument for it not just being the better of the two games, but potentially the best Zelda title ever made.
Majora’s Mask famously had very little development time, so the team cleverly reused assets to put Link in a land separate from Hyrule, known as Termina, where a colossal moon threatens to crash into the land in just three short days.
Majora’s Mask is best known for its overtly mature storytelling, invoking themes of existentialism and loss. The game is even theorized to be based on the five stages of grief – a real concept that details one’s thought process after experiencing the death of a close friend or loved one. The game isn’t for the faint of heart, but those who can stomach the darker, often creepier tone will be treated to one of the best games the N64 has to offer.
- Should I play it? If you’re after a Zelda game where there’s a bit more going on than just saving the princess, you absolutely shouldn’t pass up Majora’s Mask. The strict time mechanic can be a pain at first, but wandering through this time-looping adventure is one of the best experiences to come from the N64.
- It’s golf, but with Mario characters
Okay, there’s a bit more to Mario Golf on the N64 than that, even if it describes the game to a tee (geddit?). The game does use its Mario flair to the best of its ability, however, featuring a healthy selection of courses set all around the Mushroom Kingdom. There’s even an impressive amount of modes, including tournament play, mini-golf and a mode dedicated to unlocking extra characters.
While future titles in the Mario Golf series would expand the formula in terms of depth and modes on offer, they wouldn’t exist without this N64 origin point, and it’s a surprisingly good first effort from the development team at Camelot.
- Should I play it? You’re not missing much if you choose to skip this one. In fact, we’d recommend this year’s Mario Golf: Super Rush for a more robust and surprisingly deep golfing experience with Mario and pals. This N64 original is probably worth a few rounds if you’re curious enough, though.
Mario Kart 64
- The definition of insanity
Mario Kart 64 wasn’t the first game in the long-running series, but it arguably cemented its reputation as a friendship-ruining, controller-snapping exercise in frustration, thanks to 4-player multiplayer support (that’s even accessible via Nintendo Switch Online) and the introduction of Mario Kart’s most heinous item: the Blue Shell, a heat-seeking missile that makes a beeline for the player unlucky enough to be in first.
Still, Mario Kart 64 is an incredibly fun time, if lacking the polish of later entries in the series with unrefined drifting and relatively basic tracks to race on. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is objectively superior in pretty much every way, Mario Kart 64 is still well worth checking out on Nintendo Switch Online as a curiosity, especially if you’ve got friends to play along with.
- Should I play it? If (for some reason) you don’t own Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, then Mario Kart 64 will be your next best bet, especially as this NSO version supports 4 players online. If you do own Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, though, just play that instead.
- Tennis, with Italian plumbers thrown in for good measure
Mario Golf developer Camelot returned with Mario Tennis just a year later, and much like its golfing counterpart, served as a surprisingly competent foundation for future titles in the Mario Sports subseries. It’s also where Waluigi made his debut, so we’ll forever be thankful to the N64 classic for that.
Much like Mario Golf, there’s a swathe of modes on offer in Mario Tennis, all of which will test your skills on the court. There’s a good amount of depth with a range of shot options at your disposal, from top spins and lobs to drop shots and more. An energetic, catchy soundtrack keeps the game feeling frenetic, especially as you build up a minutes-long rally with your opponent.
- Should I play it? The Switch has a more up-to-date title in the form of Mario Tennis Aces, though some would argue that the game lacks the charm of the N64 original. We’re actually somewhat inclined to agree, and Mario Tennis is certainly the best of the plumber’s sporting escapades on the N64. Definitely one worth checking out if you have friends to play doubles with.
- A refreshing RPG adventure in the Mario universe
Paper Mario is one of the most beloved games on the N64, reintroducing Mario and friends to the RPG genre (after Super Mario RPG on the SNES) with a delightful papercraft aesthetic that holds up to this day. While several Mario stalwarts like Toad, Peach and Bowser are featured, Mario also teams up with a loveable bunch of original characters who help him out in battle.
And it’s the battle system that really stands out in Paper Mario, offering an easy to understand / hard to master turn-based system that throws in some interactive button prompts that can help to boost or mitigate damage based on who’s dishing it out.
Paper Mario stands out as one of the few actual RPGs on the N64, and it’s arguably the best on the system. However, it was eclipsed by its phenomenal Gamecube sequel, The Thousand Year Door, which we hope also hits Nintendo Switch Online should the company choose to add Gamecube games to its service (which it absolutely should).
- Should I play it? If you’re already a fan of RPGs, we can’t recommend Paper Mario enough. Like other games on this list, there’s no easy way to (legally) play Paper Mario unless you downloaded it from a previous Nintendo Virtual Console service, so you absolutely shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out when it lands on NSO.
- A quirky but unique photography adventure
Before New Pokémon Snap finally graced our Switches earlier this year, the original N64 title stood on its own as something entirely unique for over two decades. Pokémon Snap eschews the usual formula of freely exploring large worlds and battling Pokémon, to instead travelling down an on-rails track taking pictures of them instead.
It sounds utterly mundane, but there’s an undeniable charm to Pokémon Snap that makes it worth playing to this day. Throw in items and alternate routes that can lead you to discovering entirely different Pokémon on each run, and you have a game that’s tons of fun and can be beaten in a single afternoon.
- Should I play it? Yes, but only if you’re seriously into Pokémon. It’s one of the weirder spin-offs in the series, and the oddball gameplay might not land as well if you’re not already familiar with the wider franchise. That said, the game’s short length makes it more palatable to check out if you’re just curious about it.
Sin and Punishment
- Japan’s finest N64 export
Seeing Treasure’s Sin and Punishment arrive on Nintendo Switch Online is hugely noteworthy. Previously a Japan-exclusive, the game was eventually released in the west as part of the Wii’s Virtual Console service… which has since been shut down. Thankfully, the game’s resurgence on NSO will give curious players a chance to easily play this overlooked N64 classic.
An on-rails shooter similar to Starfox 64, Sin and Punishment instead takes place on-foot, where the player is able to freely move, strafe and jump to attack and avoid incoming fire. As is usually the case with Treasure titles, the graphics are incredibly impressive for the time, and features nearly impeccable gameplay matched with a superb soundtrack.
While Sin and Punishment never garnered more than a cult audience, main character Saki did eventually show up in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as an Assist Trophy item.
- Should I play it? Definitely, especially if you have fond memories of playing on-rails style shooters in the arcades. Sin and Punishment rewards those who put the time in to learn the game’s levels and bosses, and it feels utterly satisfying to pull off perfect runs and set new high scores.
Star Fox 64
- On-rails shooter with a sci-fi, spacefaring twist
Still the best in the series to this day, Star Fox 64 (known as Lylatwars in Europe) is an on-rails shooter where you pilot your ship – the Arwing – through planets, asteroid fields and space colonies rife with obstacles and baddies to shoot down.
Simply playing Star Fox 64 feels great, especially with the lock-on feature that allows you to easily rack up points in each mission, allowing you to aim for each stage’s completion medal. Throw in some suitably intimidating and fiendishly hard boss fights and you’ve got a game that’s stood the test of time better than most on the N64.
Each campaign run lasts less than a couple of hours, but replay value is incentivized through multiple routes to the final boss, each offering their own missions and side objectives that, upon accomplishing, can lead to the game’s best ending.
- Should I play it? Yes. It’s one of the best games on the N64, and once again, not the easiest to play if you don’t own the original cartridge or the 3DS remake. And as one of the few N64 titles that’s barely aged a day in the gameplay department, new players are bound to have a blast with Starfox 64.
Super Mario 64
- Nintendo’s iconic platformer returns
We’re happy to see that Switch owners will still have a way to play Super Mario 64, especially if they missed out on the bizarrely limited time release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Nintendo’s seminal 3D platformer should need no introduction, but it does remain a wonderfully imaginative and iconic game to this day.
As Mario, you’re let loose in Princess Peach’s castle, exploring it to find paintings that contain portals to other worlds, each of which contains several missions where the player can gather Power Stars needed to progress through the game. There’s a total of 120 to collect, and there’s even a special surprise waiting should you choose to go for 100%.
- Should I play it? If you’re lucky enough to own Super Mario 3D All-Stars, then the addition of Super Mario 64 to NSO is a little redundant. For everyone else, it’s one of the most influential games ever made, and should be experienced at least once for those that are yet to do so.
WinBack: Covert Operations
- A dated cover shooter that was quietly influential
Considered to be the very first 3D cover shooter, Koei’s WinBack (known as Operation WinBack in Europe) was undoubtedly revolutionary for its time. Unfortunately, the game’s fundamentally awkward control scheme renders the N64 version of the game incredibly difficult to stomach.
Remembering to pop in and out of cover, aiming, reloading and keeping an eye on where the next onslaught of bad guys are coming from means that you’ll be employing both mental and physical gymnastics while playing WinBack. It’s an unexpected addition to Nintendo Switch Online, for sure, but if you have the means we’d recommend the slightly more polished PS2 version of the game.
- Should I play it? WinBack’s influence on the genre is hugely understated, but we can’t rightly recommend a game with such an awkward control scheme and fundamentally cheap level design. It’s a game of its time in the worst possible way, so we’d suggest swerving this one unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
- An oddball platformer with a ton of heart
Sadly, Yoshi’s Story gets somewhat overlooked among its N64 peers like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and while Yoshi’s adventure isn’t quite as memorable or as iconic, it’s got a ton of heart that makes the game hard to resist for at least one playthrough.
Yoshi’s Story carries on the tradition of the dino’s titles having experimental visual styles. While Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island featured a bright and cartoony look with thick, chunky linework, Yoshi’s Story opts for a more subdued pre-rendered style, looking like the world’s been made from a variety of arts and crafts materials.
It’s still got all the egg-chucking, enemy-devouring action you’d expect from a Yoshi title, but this time you’re not carrying around a screaming infant, making Yoshi’s Story objectively better than its predecessor.
- Should I play it? If you have the appetite for a more wholesome, laid-back platformer, you can’t go wrong with Yoshi’s Story. It’s certainly not as good as some of the other titles on this list, but it’s a nice, easygoing time, especially if you’re looking for something to wind down in bed with.