Nintendo's debut 3D home console, the N64, is something of a mixed bag for a lot of gamers, even diehard fans of the Big N. However, it certainly broke new ground; both graphically, and with its 4 player multiplayer functionality.
On top of this, N64 is renowned when it comes to its array of colorful, charming platforming games, particularly from Nintendo themselves, and from one of their biggest second party studios, Rare. While there are a number of great ones that hold up to this day, some aren't quite as outstanding as fans may have remembered them over 20 years ago. In fact, there are at least a handful of these platformers that just may have unfairly hogged the spotlight from some lesser-known, more deserving efforts.
So let's venture back to the end of the 20th century as we take a look at 5 of the N64's most overrated platformers, as well as some underrated gems that deserve a second look.
10 Underrated: Banjo Tooie
This charming sequel from Rare, starring a bear and his loyal bird pal, tends to get overshadowed by the original breakthrough hit, Banjo Kazooie, a couple years earlier. It also didn't help that this was pushed out towards the end of the N64's life in late 2000, when next-gen hype was in full swing. Regardless, Banjo Tooie shines as one of the best platforms on the console, and just might even surpass the original in a few areas.
The game holds onto its colorful, whimsical charm, while containing a narrative that's more interesting and in-depth, along with added gameplay elements; making for one of the richest N64 experiences this side of Ocarina of Time. A plethora of new collectibles, features (including the ability to amusingly use Kazooie as a gun), and a surprisingly fun, robust multiplayer option flesh out this great platformer.
9 Overrated: Donkey Kong 64
Many fans of the stellar Donkey Kong Country, including this writer, got swept up in the whirlwind of massive hype following the release of those games. But many years after the dust has settled, looking back at this 3D platformer from Rare from a perspective of impartiality - DK64 doesn't seem as glamorous as it once did.
Sure, the gameplay is enjoyable, diverse, and robust, but ultimately, there's a bit too much bloat. On top of this, the player is burdened with lots of chore-like scavenger hunts, convoluted areas that force you to retrace your steps, and occasionally wonky camera work. And while it may not be fair to slag these 20-year-old graphics too much - the DKC games, which preceded DK64 by years, manage to hold up far better in terms of style and charm.
8 Underrated: Goemon's Great Adventure
Much like its 3d platforming counterpart, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, this quirky Japanese platformer was never too well known in the West. Unlike that game, however, this more traditional sidescroller - a genre that's sorely lacking on N64 - is both a tighter and more appealing experience.
While it's not exactly Super Mario, Goemon can certainly hold its own against the likes of, say Kirby 64, and even surpasses a few Nintendo hits which are similar, like Yoshi's Story. The game's 2.5D style makes for an appealing aesthetic that's both simple and nuanced. The game keeps you engaged with some satisfying mechanics, fun baddies/bosses, and a creative premise based on Japanese fantasy.
7 Overrated: Earthworm Jim 3D
Sure, Earthworm Jim 3D didn't exactly receive a ton of hype in the first place. Yet, this zany platforming franchise had plenty of expectations and love dating back to the 16-bit era. After all, the SNES and Genesis efforts were widely known as 2 of the most interesting, flashy, and all-around fun sidescrollers on those consoles. So what happened here? Well, a developer buyout certainly didn't help, making the already rocky transition from sprites to polygons even tougher.
Additionally, the tight, fast-paced romp that is Earthworm Jim, like many other franchises, just didn't translate well from the flat realm of 2D to full, 3-dimensional planes. The mechanics, camera, and control scheme all feel touchy, and the environments are dull and lifeless. And where's that trademark stellar Earthworm Jim soundtrack?
6 Underrated: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
It's tough to point to any Nintendo-made platformer as an overlooked or underrated title. But believe it or not, this enjoyably cute platforming romp never quite got the attention it deserved. A number of reasons can be attributed to this - including the game launching late to the party in 2000. You've also got the factor of Nintendo, as well as many fans', tastes shifting to flashier 3D games, rather than played-out sidescrollers.
Still, the 2D platforming gameplay is by no means a detriment to Kirby 64. In fact - it's quite possibly its best quality. The experience feels reminiscent of Kirby Superstar, augmented with some prettier 2.5D graphics, the introduction of satisfying, versatile "Power Combos," and entertaining 4-player minigames to boot.
5 Overrated: Yoshi's Story
While Yoshi's Island ran with a unique, overtly-cute visual style reminiscent of a digital coloring book, its sequel on N64 took this formula a bit too far with a weird "pop-up book" aesthetic. This time, not only did the game look like it was designed for younger children, but its overly-simple gameplay reflected that as well.
Of course, simplistic doesn't always equal bad, but in the case of Yoshi's Story, it makes for a bland, predictable, and uninteresting adventure at times. The game can be beaten pretty swiftly, as you breeze through the game's short campaign, and, in an odd choice by Nintendo, you can even bounce around to any level of your choosing initially. Yes, even without the annoying crying Baby Mario saddled on your back, Yoshi's Island remains the superior game.
4 Underrated: Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Part of the reason Ubisoft has become the renowned and massive studio it is today is because of the strength in one of their original, trademark platforming classics, Rayman. While the series as a whole remains fairly iconic, the 3D sequel to the original hit staring this strange limbless protagonist never got much attention on the N64. It's a shame, too, as it's one of the (few) third-party gems on the console.
Rayman 2 is rife with a thick atmosphere and delightful sense of unique character, enhanced by some pretty graphics, solid mechanics, and a premise featuring robo-pirates that's actually entertaining. This game marvelously balances accessibility with depth; a rare feat for 3D platformers of the '90s.
3 Overrated: Conker's Bad Fur Day
This one may draw some controversy - much like Conker's Bad Fur Day itself! And by no means is this raunchy Rare platformer a poor effort. It's actually a pretty good one. Yet, in hindsight, when stripping away the goofy humor and cheeky Matrix references, it doesn't quite shine as the "masterpiece" many claim it to be.
It might be different if the gameplay formula wasn't largely a retreading of Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Super Mario 64. CBFD dials back some of the nuances of those games (mainly by providing fewer collectibles). At the same time, it often hits you with some frustrating gameplay - that annoying WWII portion, for instance - and it still has some of the Rare camera/control wonkiness. It's also on the short and linear side.
2 Underrated: Mischief Makers
Forget platformers - Mischief Makers just might be one of the most overlooked games in the N64 library, and its retro flair fills a much-needed void for the console. This Treasure-developed action romp is a hidden treasure indeed. The game proves that oftentimes, more simplistic, stylistic graphics can age far better than polygonal jaggies.
MM's tight, action-laced gameplay feels like a delightful callback to those awesome action-shooters of the SNES/Genesis era like Gunstar Heroes. You even get to use the D-pad to move, which a lot of N64 games cannot claim! Tons of thrills await you in this one, thanks to some cool environments, imaginative foes, and fun abilities; like the power to smash all in your wake with a large human-like figure made of glowing-eyed blocks. Why not?
1 Overrated: Castlevania
Similar to Earthworm Jim, this game's biggest blemish is probably attributed to existing in a 3D space at all. Given the level of quality that the ghoulish Castlevania series is known for, and the promise that Nintendo's 64-bit console offered, this one was a letdown.
The lack of a subtitle following "Castlevania" is pretty much a representation of the lack of detail or character in this flawed 3D action-platformer itself. Unlike its 2D counterparts, this rendition lacks depth, excitement, and creativity.