Even though the official US launch date for the Nintendo 64 was intended to be Sunday, September 29th, 1996, as advertised, the vast majority of retailers broke that release date and began selling them before the start of the weekend. Following its successful launch, the Nintendo 64 achieved modest success throughout its life. The the decision to stick with cartridges in the age of the compact disc, along with a slight lack of third-party support, would cause Nintendo's system to be pretty handily outsold by Sony's PlayStation console. However, the Saturn's early departure from the field, combined with an absolute wealth of outstanding first and second-party titles, still solidified the Nintendo 64 as both an unquestionable success for Nintendo, as well as an object of great affection for Nintendo fans and gamers everywhere.
Thankfully for Nintendo, as well as Mario fans everywhere, they were clearly up to the challenge. Super Mario 64 was exactly the outstanding success that Nintendo needed it to be and it became the early must-have title for the Nintendo 64, as well as an industry touchstone in terms of how to properly make a fun three-dimensional platforming game, and do it truly well. While the rush to meet the launch date may have resulted in the game releasing with certain expected features missing (like Luigi), and the game may not have aged as gracefully as other series entries, Super Mario 64 still rightly deserves its place, both on this list, and in the annals of gaming history.
So Rare basically did the impossible, overcoming, not one, but two different industry stigmas, simultaneously. Delivering something so incredibly rare (no pun intended), it could only be described as the gaming equivalent of a unicorn. GoldenEye 007 was a fun, great-looking first-person shooter that had been brilliantly adapted to being played with a controller. In addition, it paid utmost respect to the fantastic source material it was based on through meticulous attention to detail, thoughtful additions, and a compellingly entertaining experience. Suffice it to say, the game was a massive hit as well as an incredible achievement. A title that easily ranks among the greatest, not only for the Nintendo 64, but of all time.
Like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time had a lot to live up to. It was to be the next installment in an already hugely successful and beloved Nintendo series, as well as the first to be playable in three dimensions. Also, like with Super Mario 64, Nintendo fans once again weren't disappointed. In fact, Nintendo actually kind of outdid themselves with Ocarina of Time, managing to deliver something that was truly nothing short of a masterpiece. A lengthy, thrilling, and beautiful adventure through Hyrule that still stands today as one of the very best titles. Not only of the Nintendo 64 or the Zelda series, but of the entirety of gaming history.
Aside from the roster, the other thing that set Smash Bros apart was that it was specifically designed to be more accessible than other fighting games on the market at the time while still maintaining a surprising amount of depth to the combat. The result was an addictively inspired new new concept that would go on to spawn multiple smash-hit sequels and become a cornerstone Nintendo franchise in its own right. While the Nintendo 64 original may now pale a bit in comparison to the series entries that followed it, for Nintendo and its legions of devoted fans, Super Smash Bros was still one of the single most important N64 titles ever made.
Following the success of that title, Nintendo smartly tapped Camelot to develop a second entry (if you don't count the original NES Golf game) for their own Mario Golf series. As they had done for the PlayStation, so too did Camelot come through for the Nintendo 64, delivering another top-tier game of golf with 1999's simply-titled Mario Golf. It was a critical hit, receiving heaps of praise for the attention to detail of the Mario universe and, most importantly, the golf itself. Mario Golf set a new standard for the series that arguably hasn't been topped since.
That being said, Nintendo was wise enough to create their Nintendo 64 console with a strong focus on multiplayer, launching with controller ports for four players built right in. Not only was it one of the first systems to ever offer such a feature, but it provided double the player capacity of the competing consoles, right out of the box. This brilliant move paid huge dividends later, with massively popular four-player titles like Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007 expertly taking advantage of this unique capability. The Nintendo 64 had the titles and the features to put up a fight against Sony's PlayStation console but it also marked a sea change in the gaming landscape, with Nintendo losing its spot as the number one console seller. A position it had held for a decade prior and only briefly regained in the late 2000s.
Nintendo would go on to take many of the various successes and failures of the Nintendo 64 into account with the strategy for its successor. While the GameCube may have been an incontrovertible improvement over the N64 in so many ways, Sony and console market newcomer Microsoft had many more hard lessons to teach Nintendo. Thankfully, that didn't stop Nintendo from eventually finding great success again. And though it may have been reduced to playing second fiddle to Sony's first PlayStation console, the Nintendo 64 will always have its place in history as both the expectation-defying little engine that could, as well as the home of the some of the greatest gaming experiences ever created.